Monday, June 15, 2009


It's been a weekend of frame stories. For those of you unfamiliar, frame stories are stories-within-stories. The book/film opens with some characters, and it turns out this isn't the main event. Those opening characters are there to introduce the real deal. Sometimes the frame adds to our understanding of the main story, and sometimes, when the story returns to the frame, we'd forgotten all about it and it feels tacked on. Generally I'm not a huge fan, but occasionally it works.

Firstly, we finished THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Frame: daughter reads strange man's diary aloud to dying mother and discovers her mother's secret past life and love, as well as her own paternity. To show my hand, we loved this movie and want to use it in this year's ("Coming of Age") Literary Night. The frame wasn't totally necessary--each time we returned to the daughter talking to her mother while Hurricane Katrina drew nearer I thought, uh-huh, uh-huh, let's get on with Brad Pitt's make-up jobs. But it did pay off with poignancy points at the end. BUTTON's frame worked tons more effectively than TITANIC's, say. In TITANIC, what was the point of that granddaughter anyway? And by the time you return to Rose, now ancient, on the looking-for-Titanic ship, all you can think is, Wow, Lady, you sure do own and travel with a huge collection of pictures of yourself.

Secondly, I finished July's book club reading, David Benioff's CITY OF THIEVES. Frame: grandson interviews grandpa about grandpa's adventures during the Siege of Leningrad. Loved this book, too, by the way. MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD crossed with I LOVE YOU, MAN or another of the recent R-rated "bromances." The frame never got returned to, and I wasn't sure why it was there, other than to mislead the reader into thinking the book was somehow true.

My all-time favorite frame story, if one can have such a thing, is probably Wallace Stegner's ANGLE OF REPOSE. Here the frame story doesn't just enclose the main story--it interacts with it, is changed by it, as the main story unfolds. As Lyman Ward (or whatever his name was)reads more about his grandmother and her marriage to his grandfather, it affects his own thoughts about his life and his failing marriage. The mores of his grandparents' time comment on the mores of the frame story (1960s). (ANGLE is also probably top ten for best-last-lines-of-a-book.)

One of my least favorite frames has got to be in Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. If you haven't seen the frame, it's because plenty of people hate it, and it often gets cut. To be fair, I have to admit I loathe drunk scenes in movies and books because they're almost never funny, and like opera arias, take an inordinate amount of time to move the plot along. SHREW's frame is irrelevant to the story and has a drunk in it. Boom--two strikes. Flush.

There are too many to go into, but the dream-frame is worth a mention. You know, the whole story unfolds and then cut to some person waking up, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Whew! It all didn't really happen. Think THE WIZARD OF OZ (film).

Or the frame/main-event switcheroo. Will the real real story please stand up? Think SOPHIE'S WORLD by Jostein Gaarder.

All my commenters have fallen silent, which makes me think I ask ineffective questions. Or else you're all hoping you'll wake up and find these posts were only nightmares. In any case, if you have thoughts on any of the above, let me know.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still here--just not often that I have anything intelligent to say on the subject. I'm just enjoying reading and learning from you.