Friday, August 03, 2007

Reflections in a Golden Eye, by Carson McCullers

(hb; 1941)

From the inside flap:

"... the story advances through the tangle of the emotional life of a Southern army post. The characters are strong and varied. Each is met in a revelatory moment: a captain safe only in impersonality; his golden, cruel wife; and a private mutely in love with her, watching the moonlight on her face as she sleeps, unaware of his presence."


The plot: An army Captain (cuckolded kleptomaniac Weldon Penderton), his wife ("feeble-minded" sensual Lenora), and their neighbors (Major Morris Langdon, Lenora's lover, and his sickly wife, Alison) are living in the social fishbowl of a military outpost, when a possibly-psychotic intensely-Xian Private L.G. Williams begins to stalk Lenora. In doing so, he helps bring about events that will ultimately shatter the fragile social structure that defines and restricts them all.

Bizarre, compact study of perversity, pettiness and antiseptic-toned cruelty, this: this is one of the most unique novels I've ever read; stylistically, it's incredibly different than McCullers's earlier novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which was a warm, rambly affair. It's difficult to believe that these tone- and theme-divergent novels sprang from the same mind.

This is also one of the most unsettling books I've read in a long while. Its brutality lies in taut-threatening-to-snap smiles, hissed comments and sudden, shocking acts of aggression.

The violent ending is flat and uninspired, after the creative displays of intimate cruelties that precede it. That said, Reflections in a Golden Eye a literary masterpiece, albeit a disturbing one.

Reflection in a Golden Eye, the film, was released stateside on October 13, 1967. Elizabeth Taylor played Lenora Penderton. Marlon Brando played Major Weldon Penderton. Brian Keith played Lt. Col. Morris Langdon. Julie Harris played Alison Langdon. Robert Forster played Pvt. L.G. Williams.

John Huston directed, from a script by Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer.

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