This week on the Finished Book Pile, we have Making Americans by Andrea Most. Most examines how Jews invented the Broadway musical as a way to assimilate themselves into American life. Meanwhile, they created an idealized version of Americana, far rosier than the reality.
For instance, Rodgers and Hammerstein presented Oklahoma in 1943, a show full of optimism about pioneer life and a "Brand New State!" From what I've read, breaking in a new land was not all that perky. And never mind that in the ten years prior to the musical, desperate and dustworn Okies had been leaving the state in droves.
As I said in my title, I was ready to read some backstage gossip. But Most's book reads more like literary criticism, i.e. the symbolism of Joe Cable in South Pacific, what it means that Liat never says anything. To me, literary criticism is a suspect art. Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) once wrote about breathless students who had divined symbolism from her book ("The number four keeps recurring in your book. What is the significance of that?"). Tan says, "Just an accident, folks. I'm neither that good nor that organized of a writer to plant all that stuff in there intentionally." (I'm paraphrasing.)
So, what is the larger meaning of Joe Cable? All these theories can be fascinating. They might even be true. But Making Americans is certainly no beach book. Feels more like the lecture hall.
I also dipped into another Evelyn Waugh book, Put Out More Flags. It opens just as WWII is about to hit England. "It won't be that bad. The French will stop the Germans from bombing us." By eight pages in, I was already lost in a sea of characters, not to mention a lot of cultural references that I could only know if I read the same newspapers that Waugh read. It's probably a pretty good book, but the library wanted it back. So, with a combination of confusion and regret, I gave it up.
Coming up next: a horde of England books, to help me appreciate the things I'm going to see when I get there.
Now, since I'm typing all this with cold bony fingers, it's time for a soup recipe:
2 oz. bacon
2 slices onion
1 1/2 cups diced raw potatoes
1 can (16 oz.) cream-style corn
3 cups hot water
3 TB butter
1 cup evaporated milk
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Some parsley or paprika
Chop bacon and onion coarsely and put into soup kettle; saute until onion is soft and bacon done. Add potatoes, corn, and water, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender. Add butter, milk and seasonings; reheat to boiling and serve piping hot with a little parsley sprinkled over the top, or a few dashes of paprika. Serves 5 at 240 cals. ea.
Let's just say that I'm so sad when the last drops of this soup disappear.