Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Alena by Rachel Pastan Not What I'd Recommend...

Works at 54th Venice Biennale,
 special edition for the 150 Anniversary
 of Italian Unification, 2011-2012
"...the highlight of Louise's life was the Venice Biennale, to which the museum did not send her but which they encouraged her to attend--on her own dime--no doubt in part because it was restful having her away from the office. I started working at the museum in October, and the following spring Louise announced that she had a treat for me. She invited me into her crepuscular office, thickly hung with frame exhibition posters from her shows, and pinned up invitations to openings, and dusty shawls, and a special rack where she kept several pairs of expensive shoes, and she announced that she was taking me with her to the Biennale.
The Crucifixion of Rimini
"You've been to Venice? No? To Italy? Heavens, and you an art history major! What a crime--never to have seen the Giottos.
""I felt such contradictory feelings--the thrill of the idea of Venice (Italy, travel, glamour, the Biennale) and the sting of her false sympathy that was really scorn. Dismay at all the time I would be forced to spend with Louise, dread of the obligation I would be put under, shame that I didn't have anything decent to wear. But mostly the thrill. I was twenty-five years old and I had never been on an airplane! I would have to get a passport. I would step into a gondola in the golden light and watch the fabled facades drift by. I would dazzle my eyes with the riches of Saint Mark's and stroll down narrow byways overhung with flowers where a handsome Italian with a cigarette would follow me with his smoldering eyes.
"And so I found myself, in the last week of June, in a small room adjoining Louise's large one in the Hotel da Silva in Venice--crowded, hot, smelly, bedazzling Venice, city of water and glass. We spent the first days of that trip in a whirlwind of parties and pavilions. Never having been to Venice--hever having been anywhere--I would have liked to spend a day in St. Mark's Basilica, to visit the Accademic and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. But of course, we were here to see the Biennale, which along with the other exhibitions, programs, and special events that spring up in its shade every odd-
numbered year, spreads its tentacles out from the Giardini and hold the city tight in the grip of glitter and celebrity.
"Nothing could have prepared me for the way all of Venice was possessed by the passion for art, for the new, for the most outrageous. I had seen a lot of strange disturbing art in New York, of course, but in Venice the work seemed bigger and stranger: giant insectlike forms hulking in marble rooms, heavy canvases thickly smeared with what looked like bloody footprints, video projections showing image of glaciers cut with bodies crowded into hovels, crystalline constructions shattering the dazzling light, monoliths made of counterfeit money, collages of naked superheroes tumbling through space.
There  was no quiet art in sight--no understated painting, no delicate sculpture of spun thread, no place the eye could find rest. Or maybe it was partly the crowds, the echoing cries as people greeted each other, the constant jockeying and air kissing and insincere murmuring and sizing up...
By Rachel Pastan

It's funny how different people can perceive the same novel so differently, don't you think? For some earlier readers, and perhaps even the author[?] it was felt this story was "homage" to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Oh, there were a few comparable issues that readers may pick up, but, for me, the gothic atmosphere was nowhere to be seen... The romance just was not there, especially since the lead was gay and showed no interest in changing... Perhaps there was the obsessiveness between the two--the deceased female and the lead male. And certainly there was obsession on the part of the older female friend and co-worker, but the setting, the players and so much more is so contemporary that I saw nothing significant that you should plan on, if you enjoy gothic suspense... When a classic loved by many is chosen to emulate, it must be great in all ways... Just my opinion, of course....

At the same time, the story was interesting, if only for the many questions I had while reading...

It didn't matter to me that she, the narrator, was never named, as in Rebecca. Frankly, for the majority of the book, I would have forgotten her name even while talking to her; in fact, I wanted to slap her a couple of times to wake her up! Dare I say a wimp! Some people would call me a country girl from way back, but at 25, this lady had apparently done nothing except go to college and get a dead-end job with a woman who does not need help except for a gopher. In fact, when they arrived in Italy, that became even more so as she ran after her boss, getting things, etc... I wouldn't have been surprised if she had been a nun in college; she was so backward, it was, quite simply, unbelievable...

"My mouth was dry. She continued toward me
down the hall, growing larger, blocking out the
light, her starburst of keys jamgling on their
leather strap.
"Do you want to know what's behind there?"
She asked. She was so close that I could smell
her: the burnt chemical odor of her hair, and the
sweetness of incense, and the pungency of old
cigarette smoke and cloves.
"I shrugged. I didn't care what was behind the
door, not anymore. I wanted to get away from
her, but I knew I had to stay.
"Why don't I show you." Agnes drew nearer still.
Heat radiated from her body in the cool hall.
She was standing far too close to me. I took a
step back and she took one forward, and now I
was pressed up against the door. There was
nowhere to go. She chose a key from her dangling
bundle and shook the whole bunch at me until
my slow brain understood that she wanted me
to move aside.
When she gets there, she happens to catch the eye of a well-known small private museum owner, who is presently the brunt of constant gossip because his former curator has disappeared and assumed dead... murdered?

They meet because of her expertise and involvement in the art works when she has been able to escape from Louise and get into deep conversations. This time in their lives is quite enjoyable and perhaps is the best part of the book since their discussions were also informative...

When Louise becomes ill, however, she wants to go home and the girl, woman, assistant who is nameless (sigh) goes running  to Bernard Augustin. His museum is on Cape Cod and when confronted with "her" desire to remain in Italy, he impulsively suggests she stay with him and then come to become his curator...



Once they got there, Bernard left  for other activities. Although hired as the curator, age 25, she allowed the business manager to intimidate her, not providing her a key, not even providing what would be considered the first thing, which would be a tour of the entire facility.

In turn, instead of taking over as she should have, she tried to find out more about the past curator...

Really, it was just toooo much! Of Nothing... The last part of the book finally got into the details of it all and, if better presented, the book could have been finished in about half the size of the novel...

Disappointing to say the least because the conceptual under-story is sound. The main female character was a complete flop...

I am aware that my personal experience as an administrator and facilities manager formed my bias; however, nobody these days would hire somebody and retain her given her actions. She "allowed"
 everything to happen to her, which is just not the ways of contemporary women in today's world. Unfortunately, in allowing this to go on and on, the author prevented any potential suspense and atmosphere to develop simply due to lack of action by that character. The parts that she did finally do in relation to getting an exhibit started seemed hurried, unprofessional, and indeed, was done without any consultation with anybody...Duh... 

A shame really... 


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