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Download Alfred and Guinevere (New York Review Books Classics) epub

by Harry Zohn,John Ashbery,James Schuyler

One of the finest American poets of the second half of the twentieth century, James Schuyler was at the same time a remarkable novelist. Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country. There they puzzle over their parents' absence and their relatives' habits, play games and pranks, make friends and fall out with them, spat and make up. Schuyler has a pitch-perfect ear for the children's voices, and the story, told entirely through snatches of dialogue and passages from Guinevere's diary, is a tour de force of comic and poetic invention. The reader discovers that beneath the book's apparently guileless surface lies a very sophisticated awareness of the complicated ways in which words work to define the often perilous boundaries between fantasy and reality, innocence and knowledge.
Download Alfred and Guinevere (New York Review Books Classics) epub
ISBN: 0940322498
ISBN13: 978-0940322493
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Genre Fiction
Author: Harry Zohn,John Ashbery,James Schuyler
Language: English
Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Paperback Edition edition (February 2002)
Pages: 144 pages
ePUB size: 1895 kb
FB2 size: 1180 kb
Rating: 4.9
Votes: 950
Other Formats: lrf lit lrf azw

Schuyler is best remembered (with Kenneth Koch, John Ashberry, and Frank O'Hara) as one of the "New York" school of poets. This slim little novel, however, shows that his talents in prose have been underappreciated. ALFRED AND GUINEVERE is a hilarious little story--told entirely through dialogue, letters, and Guinevere's diary--of two very precocious children sent to live in the country with their uncle and grandmother for reasons initially unclear to them. Their attempts to piece together the larger adult world (which may comprise adultery, death, disappointment, and loneliness) are very funny and poignant, and though Alfred and Guienevere often get on each others' nerves their mutual devotion still rings quite true. This is a fast read, and its high quality may still not justify the exorbitant cover price. (NYRB has been charging too much for its editions, which are beautiful and spectacularly chosen, but often run to novella-length rather than to full novel-length). But I was glad I had bought--and read--this little-known jewel.
Prince Persie
I worked with children for 14 years, and Alfred and Guinevere is one of the few books that seems to "get" kids. The brother and sister in A&G seem like real kids you might know. The book is rich and psychologically penetrating.
(Another great book about children: Nicholson Baker's The Everlasting Story of Nory)
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This review is from: Alfred And Guinevere (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
A delicious read, told entirely in conversation between young Alfred and his rather older sister Guinevere; and in the diary of the latter.
As their parents appear to be having issues, the pair are sent off to Granny and Uncle Saul.
I particularly loved the exchanges between Guinevere and her new friends; their attempts at adult conversation, from clothes ("my ideal evening dress," Guinevere said, "is an all-raspberry chiffon with a sequin bodice and Juliet cap, slashed sleeves and an ostrich-tip fan and floating panels.") to the future ("my first ambition is interpretive dancing - gypsy and light-classical - and my second is hotel management") and the bitchiness that comes into their relationship when a third girl joins in.
Brilliantly observed and highly entertaining.
This slender novel consists primarily of the bantering of two children as imagined by a childless poet. Alfred is maybe six (too young to read) and Guinevere is maybe ten (just beginning to focus on fashion). The two live in a world with adults otherwise occupied and are thus largely depend on each other. While we can sense the devotion and shared bond between them the book primarily provides us with the surface blather back and forth between the two, But the language is idealized and imaginative. It reads like an idealized version of childhood. Not better, simply skewed by adult imagination.

"They had no operated before you could say scat to a cat with a rat" perfectly works as language, as poetry. But as the dialog of a six year old? No. Same with "Uncle Saul found marbles in his humidor." And "completely taken in by the clever girl's faultless imitation." It is fun to read, but there is no depth behind the well-crafted words. There is also a general lack of character study. Uncle father, grandmother, mother all serve the same purpose in the novel. Each is a variation on the loving Adult, the Other that is generally well meaning but extremely obtuse about kids. Pretty language bantered about by pseudo-kids living in a world of cardboard adults doesn't make for a very satisfying, or successful, novel.
The plot of this short novel--if it can be said to have a plot--is exactly what the cover says: "...Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country." Simple enough--and I've wanted to read it for a long time. I don't remember what I expected; perhaps children discovering nature in the countryside and poignant relationships with the elderly. But what a horrible surprise in a wonderful way, for this novel has truly pulled me in opposing directions: frustrating and perfect at the same time. Alfred and Guinevere was published in 1958, well before the wide-spread academic interest in subtext, in the effects of consumerism, as well as deconstruction theory, and social science theories of human development. Alfred is about 10 years old (4th grade, perhaps) and Guinevere about 12; and it becomes obvious to the reader looking for subtext that both children are products of the 1950s, offspring of well-to-do Anglo-American parents. Heaven knows what the author Schuyler intended, but right up front, he has Guinevere scribbling in her diary (in 3rd person) about her hoped-for adulthood: "She is one of the leading women spenders of her day and her example has done much to further the cause of women" (4). Even at 12 or 13 (remember this is 1958), she desires lots of shopping, and the "cause of women" is appropriately vague and immaterial.

An unintended topic of this novella must surely be how a certain economic class of white, sub-urban children start on their way to shaping themselves as upper middle-class consumers. For that reason--if that's what you're reading for--the novel is shocking: how little has changed in fifty years of childhood. And their dialogues--written like courtroom transcriptions--are dismaying and saddening; these comfortable white children are natural anarchists or nihilists, dominators, manipulators, deconstructionists without theory or method, button-pressing and provoking, natural lawyers or rhetoricians who can argue any point in any direction. In short, these children believe in nothing. Their lives are based on nothing, with no trajectory except satisfying the moment (well, except for future fame and profit, as G.G. plans).

The timing for reading a novel can be crucial to what we bring to it. For example, I noticed that Alfred and Guinevere are uncannily like the children I encounter when a school district substitute--rich or poor kids. Alfred's need for attention is insatiable; his primary activity is to show his sister things like how he learned to "spit through my teeth" (67). Guinevere's efforts to find friends with two other children are surely some of the most painful scenes I've ever read involving children. Chapter 12 reads like a telling expose of adult domestic roles through the surface perceptions of two twelve-year-old girls, a dialogue as though transcribed right from "reality" as the girls prepare themselves for debutant balls, expensive women's colleges, marriage to high-society doctors and CEOs. What comes through in this novel is how horribly vulnerable children are to the advertising around them. The paradox is that given the post-World War II development of a middle-class (in hindsight), Guinevere does seem to be a well-adjusted girl--well on her way to "making it" in the U.S. of A. One hopes that they will become hippies, and Alfred a draft dodger.

But there is more to this novel. I concluded that, stylistically--in a "post-modern" way--Alfred and Guinevere is an anti-novel: a primer on how to make one's characters remain the same while advancing the "plot" through the device of moving them around, from the town to the country, then to a ship to Europe (paid for by their father, to join him there). What was the "problem" with this novel? I asked myself. It had occurred to me that this story has no story; it's too raw a transcript of reality. And, surely, I thought, this depressing-undressed meaning I'm making of this novel was not intended by Schuyler.

If you've read this far, here's the lagniappe mystery gift that I got from this novel: when James Schuyler decided to give us child characters, he wrote them as they see themselves, not as we adults wish to see them. This is the absolutely miraculous thing Schuyler brings to literature: The adults in the novel suddenly appear on the page from an oblique angle, without warning, without narrative--just as they do in real life--right out of the immediate perceptions of a child, unclear images of adults who are rather ominous in a world which children know is controlled by them.

A sociologist with a literary bent or humanities expert with knowledge of the intersection of society and the craft of writing would have fun with this novel. Michel Foucault would have loved it.