Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: The Graduate

The Graduate
Charles Webb

More favorite movies. More novels they were based on. An ongoing pastime. It dawned on me: I’ve never read The Graduate, the book the movie of the same name sprang from. Copyright 1963. If we knew then what we know now, we could’ve read it and seen the Fifties dying and the Sixties coming into view. But we couldn’t have, and that’s why it’s interesting. This is a novel, and novels don’t signal change the way, say, manifestos do. But The Graduate did get good critical notices and it sold extremely well, so people were paying attention to it, just not the way they would have in, maybe, 1966. Most readers probably liked it chiefly because it reads very easy.

Ben Braddock comes home to L.A. after a stellar college tour back east. He’s achieved as much as anyone his age probably can, but it means nothing to him. His parents try to persuade him he’s at the top and that he should go to grad school, but Ben sees that as more of the same rut. Mrs. Robinson, Ben’s dad’s law partner’s wife and close family friend, invites Ben to have an affair with her. He takes her up on it, but this provides no meaning for him, either. But he does fall in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine, and this turns up the drama exponentially. Ben’s reckless and self-destructive, but he has his eye on something more. He wants to extract himself from the artificial gravity world he and everyone he knows seems to live in, a life of blankness well-illustrated by the flat dialogue, questions that usually end in periods and thoughtless statements that often come across to the reader as a strange species of gallows humor. Ben wants to be an awake human being, a very tall order, maybe impossible, worth risking all for. This is at heart a story of an existential crisis, but it’s a very wrenching and funny one. These days, Ben’s highest yearnings wouldn't seem nearly so odd. They’re something…common?

Sometimes I’m impossibly sanguine.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

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