Under the Pear Tree: The Seventh Day

June 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: The Decameron.

I have to admit, Dioneo’s day was a disappointment. I really thought we were in for some truly filthy stories and maybe an orgy or two, but there wasn’t really much of an uptick in filth or sex. That being said, it is a day befitting a trickster-figure like him: Boccaccio begins by telling us Lucifer is the only star left in the sky when they awake, and the tales revolve around wives tricking husbands. (As an aside, the names of the three men in the group are interesting and probably important, at least rhetorically, in ways I don’t understand: Panfilo, the all-lover; Filostrato, lowered or tortured by love; Dioneo, a Dionysian reveler.)

This seems like a setup for some old-fashioned misogyny, but most of the time the stories are really quite gentle — or at least, no harder on the wives than the husbands. Lauretta speaks best for him, introducing her story, the fourth: “O Love, how manifold and mighty are your powers!… What philosopher, what artist could ever have conjured up all the arguments, all the subterfuges, all the explanations that you offer spontaneously to those who nail their colours to your mast?” Women who trick out of love, or boredom, or for anything but money, really, are okay in Boccaccio’s book; as Lauretta sums up her story, “Long live love, then, and a plague on all skinflints!”

The most interesting stories are the first, Emilia’s, in which a wife convinces her husband that it is a werewolf, not her lover, that is tapping at their door at night, and the ninth, Panfilo’s. This is one of the most famous stories in the work, the magic pear tree story. It’s one of the few stories to take place outside of Italy, in Argos, Greece. In order to win the love of one of her husband’s handsome retainers, Lydia agrees to undertake three crazy tests. To show just how committed she is, Lydia says she’ll not only accomplish them all, she’ll make love to Pyrrhus (the retainer) while her husband watches. Once Lydia has completed her tests, they fulfill her final wish when Pyrrhus climbs up a pear tree and convinces Lydia’s husband that he can see him making love to his wife, even though they’re just sitting under the tree. Afraid the tree is enchanted, the husband climbs up himself, and sure enough, there’s Pyrrhus and Lydia, getting it on.

I mean, this is brilliant in any number of ways. It’s a mockery of magic and superstition; it’s breezy and utterly Boccaccian (is that a word?) in its insistence that people who want to screw will screw, and it’s silly to fight such forces as Love and Horniness; it’s ingenious in that the trick is that there really is no trick: it’s all in the husband’s head, all in his strange but utterly plausible combination of credulity and disbelief. All perspective and self-delusion. I think Chaucer uses it, in the Merchant’s Tale, which I need to go back and read again.

Lawyers, Wolves, and Bridge

April 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow.

This is the werewolves-in-L.A. novel, written in verse, that I mentioned a while back.  My favorite subplot so far involves two of the werewolves in a pack led by a cutthroat lawyer named Lark.  The wolves are sometimes like dogs, sometimes wolves, sometimes human; Barlow’s not your typical genre writer in that he’s fairly disinterested in the specific mechanics of such things.  Anyway, Lark teaches them all bridge, trying to sniff out a player who seems to have an interest in dogfights.  The two wolves who seem to have a talent for the game get sent to a tournament in Pasadena, playing little old ladies and such.  Great conceit, there.

If this isn’t a novel inspired by Warren Zevon songs, I don’t know what is.

The Combination to Unlock the Vault of My Heart

February 1, 2008 § 3 Comments

So between books is the time when I engage in that futile attempt to catch up with the magazines we subscribe to. (We only get 4 or so; somehow I am always behind by 4-6 months. I have no idea how I do this.) Reading Nick Hornby’s column in a Believer from a few months ago, I came across this: a novel, in blank verse, about werewolves in Los Angeles. And one of the epigrams, sez (probably-compensated-or-even-employed-by-the-book’s-publisher) Amazon reviewer Alexander Chow-Stuart, comes from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”–a song (and singer) I unabashedly, unironically, unequivocally adore. Apparently this book was, serendipitously, just released in the US. I must have it. Oh yes, I must have it.

So now you know: outlandish formal experiment + classic horror film plot elements + Warren Zevon-inspired author=the combination to unlock the vault of my heart. Use this knowledge only for the good of mankind, please.

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