June 13th, 2008

christmas 2008

Dispatches from the Deep: #4 (June 13, 2008)

Earlier today, I thought that underway on nuclear power was an oh-so-wonderful way to spend a Friday night. I thought of some of my favorite people, and what they'd be up to this evening. I imagined Sara Bareilles getting ready to play a show somewhere; Tucker Max finishing another day of work on his movie, and getting drunk; and Lauren Weisberger giving a reading for her new novel, or perhaps just kicking back with her new husband. It led me to recall how I've given up my freedom so they can do what they do to benefit us all. As it turns out, something I encountered later today reminded me of the fine line between freedom given and freedom taken...

There's a story in today's Stars and Stripes about the military's stop-loss policy, particularly applicable to the Army and the Marine Corps. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that not only does this policy's life have no end in sight, it may actually be expanded in the next couple of years. I think it's a complete abomination; it makes a mockery of the all-volunteer force this country claims to cherish, and credits for our quick victories in the Gulf in both 1991 and 2003. The critics who call stop-loss a "back-door draft" are exactly right. When we join the service, we do so with the understanding that both the initial enlistment and any extension thereof are of our own free will. The fact that we choose to serve strengthens our armed forces and our country. It can also serve as a strong check on policy. If net military retention is negative, that's a signal that something about our foreign and defense policy simply isn't working. Stop-loss - or, heaven forbid, an outright draft - allows the Government to ignore that signal and continue upon a course that is folly.

The easy counter argument is that there are some instances where the public at large cannot see a threat on the horizon, and thus the executive must act to safeguard the country. Not even the Founding Fathers bought into that. In vesting the matter of war versus peace with the Congress, they recognized that issue to be the momentous action a nation can take. The all-volunteer force, created in the aftermath of the disaster in Vietnam, is a reflection of the nation's desire to never again embroil itself in a conflict that doesn't have the broad support of the populace. This goal is defeated the instant the first soldier, sailor, marine, or airman is stop-lossed. With a sound foreign and military policy, no citizen should be forced to give up his or her freedom (let alone his or her life) to defeat any perceived threat to that freedom. When the moment arises for the judicious use of our military might, we will respond, as we have so many times before. From Fort Sumter, to Pearl Harbor, to the Twin Towers, Americans have answered the call when it is in fact "go time." I have every confidence that such a spirit will persist well into the future, and that we don't need stop-loss to make that happen.
christmas 2008

Book review: "Chasing Harry Winston"

I spent the Saturday night before this underway going deep into the beer. As I drunkenly surfed the Internet, I happened to click on my link to Lauren Weisberger's site, and discovered something that I should definitely have known - that her third novel, Chasing Harry Winston, had dropped the Tuesday prior. I rushed to Borders on Sunday and purchased it, expecting it to be right up there with each of her two prior works. I was not disappointed by this latest effort; I founded it to be better than 2005's Everyone Worth Knowing, but not quite up to par with The Devil Wears Prada, the book that made her famous and rich.

Often, a key component of one's impression of literature - or for that matter, any form of art - is resonance. When I can relate to the characters and their tribulations, it raises my opinion of the work. I found some aspect of this resonance with all three of the main characters in CHW. From the very first page, I drew parallels between my frequent desire for aloneness and Leigh's neuroticism. In particular, the opening description of how Leigh came to obtain her apartment and her joy at finally having a place of her own struck a chord. I don't have panic attacks to quite the level she did; in particular, I'm not perturbed in any way by the subway. Leigh's predisposition towards the safe play was also noticed early on by me; just as I opted for the safety of the Navy, so did she for the editorial position at a major publishing house. When Emmy visited her sister in Miami, it reminded me of the fact that my own brother - nearly three years younger than me - is engaged to be married, whereas my lifelong bachelorhood doesn't show any sign of abating. My brother will probably beat me to the punch on kids too, but unlike Emmy, I'm not peeved about that. Both she and I dropped out of school; she fled culinary school, and I didn't see my undergraduate work through to the end. And even though Adriana and I are cut from totally different backgrounds, we have one point in common. We share an attitude toward sex; namely, that it's perfectly fine for it to be simply something fun. The final point of resonance is the thing that binds together all three ladies, and the thing that even drew me to Weisberger's work at all - the Cornell connection. It wasn't explored in particular depth, but merely having it there gave me memories of the old place that only enhanced my reading experience.

You could say that there's a fourth leading character in Chasing, one that has been prominent throughout all three of Weisberger's books: New York City itself. As much as the last two, this book serves as a travel guide to the world's greatest city and self-proclaimed capital. The author has an innate gift for setting a scene in detail, and it really shines through when she takes you to the coffee shop or the swank apartment in SoHo. As sharp as her eye for places is, her fashion sense is even more acute. It can occasionally get nauseating to read about exactly what every single person wore and how they wore it, but overall, it makes for better writing.

If there's one major criticism of this novel and its relation to the rest of Weisberger's work, it's that she's getting a bit repetitive. In various ways, all three ladies in Chasing come of age over the course of the novel, becoming better for discarding the fakeness in their lives and moving further towards living in the truth. Exactly the same could be said of Andrea from Prada and Bette from EWK. She also has a strong propensity toward having characters end up as writers; Chasing ends with Leigh going to graduate school for writing, and Adriana penning a column for Marie Claire and landing a movie deal. At opposite ends of CHW, Emmy and Leigh sever long-term relationships without the prospect of their rekindling, much as Andrea did in TDWP. Weisberger once again uses her work to depict the contact between two different classes of people: the ordinary working class (here, Emmy and Leigh) and the jet set (Adriana). The author once again draws significantly upon her own life to enrich the characters she creates. It's mentioned at one point that Jesse Chapman, the famous author Leigh is assigned to edit, attended an ashram; I was immediately reminded of Lauren's article describing her own visit to such a "spa." And Adriana getting a movie deal before ever having a column appear in Marie Claire is reminiscent of the movie rights to Prada being optioned before the book hit stores.

If there's a major new angle Weisberger adds here, it's that of marriage and how it impacts the lives of the late-twenty-something cohort. The various ways that each of the three women dealt with this question easily kept the pages of my copy turning. Lauren was also dead-on with her ending; I agree that you can change many things about your life, but there are some things that are simply ingrained in you. This was a great beach read, despite the fact that my "beach" was a submarine rack - nor did I have any qualms about displaying it in the line to eat. It might not be superbly deep, but Chasing Harry Winston is well worth the purchase price.