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Monday, June 25, 2012

Generational History or Novel?


 There are times when the description that I receive from The Bookplex gives me an impression of the book that differs considerably from the book's actuality.  When I requested The Duke Don't Dance, I thought it was non-fiction.  If it had been a generational history as I originally expected, I might have had more positive reaction provided that the author had clarified his subject matter.

                                              


I found this author’s conceptualization of “the Silent Generation” to be rather muddled.  If these are Americans born in the time frame of 1925-1942, there were those among them who became young adults in the 1950’s, and another set of people within this group who became young adults in the 1960’s like the protagonists in this novel.  The ethos of the 1950’s is diametrically opposed to the ethos of the 1960’s.  It seems to me that the older members of this group are true representatives of “the Silent Generation”.  If you have ever encountered an individual who is stuck in the 1950’s, then you know who they are.  My opinion is that the characters in The Duke Don’t Dance are in the first wave of the Boomers.  These characters are too dynamic to be considered “Silent Generation”.  Frank and Francesca began by appearing to be the best examples of the 1950’s mindset, but they both ended up surprising me more than any of the others.
                                                                                         
Characters that are successfully drawn should be individuals with contradictory facets and complex motivations rather than exemplars of a generational pattern.  Richard G. Sharp should be congratulated for the diversity of the personalities in his novel.  Defining characters too rigidly stifles their growth. Fortunately, Sharp’s characters escaped their limitations. I guess that I don’t understand the author’s purpose in constructing this straw concept of a “Silent Generation” in order to demolish it so completely.

There was a great deal of didacticism in The Duke Don’t Dance that I considered inappropriate.  I think that readers of fiction should be given the freedom to interpret the meaning of a novel’s context for themselves.  It bothers me when an author interferes in this process by endlessly editorializing, as Sharp did, about the Boomers.   As a Boomer myself, I found this very irritating.  Although stereotypes may seem valid, they are really overly broad generalizations.  There is as much variation among Boomers as there was among Sharp’s alleged “Silent Generation” characters. 

 If the confining generational framework and associated sermonizing were stripped away, the unencumbered narrative would emerge and take its place as the true focal point of this book.  I sincerely believe that the result would be a much better novel.

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 Research Sidelight:  RIP 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team

As a fan of figure skating, I noted the memorialization of the February 15, 1961 crash of the U.S. figure skating team in Chapter 3 of  the novel reviewed above. This is an event that should be remembered more. I do have a minor correction.  This was a team bound for the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague.  It was not an Olympic team as was stated in The Duke Don't Dance.

Here are some resources for those who want to find out more:

a page from History.com

a more detailed documentation of these athletes including several photos

There are two books about this tragedy:

Frozen in Time by Nikki Nichols This is link to the book's page on Google Books.

Indelible Tracings by Patricia Shelley Bushman This is a link to a review that appeared in International Figure Skating magazine.

There is also a movie devoted to this event:

Rise   Available on DVD and Blueray.  A portion of the proceeds goes to help skaters that need funding to pursue their dreams.

                                                  












1 comment:

  1. Very good catch regarding the US figure skating team Most of the 1960 Olympics skaters had retired, and it was basically a "new generation" of skaters (if I can use that term here very loosely!). I was in Colorado Springs in 1963 and had classes with some of the doomed team's replacements, so should have caught it myself. If my novel goes to another edition, I certainly will make that correction, as I try to be as accurate as possible on the historical context. Thank you.

    While I don't share your perspective, being a 1941-born non-boomer, I appreciated your review. Nice web site.
    ;) Richard Sharp

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