Monday, November 16, 2009

Cake or Death?

For those of you who can stand a few f-words mixed in with your stand-up comedy (and by "a few" I mean QUITE a few), check out Eddie Izzard's DRESSED TO KILL. Parts of it are cannibalized for YouTube, but it's worth watching in its entirety. But if you haven't got as much time to laugh, he does do one segment on the Church of England with the tagline "Cake or Death?"

I was reminded of this favorite routine of mine because I'm slogging through THOSE WHO SAVE US by Jenna Blum, which might be aptly subtitled LOTS OF NAZI SEX or even CAKE OR DEATH? Because the mother character Anna literally works in a bakery and becomes the local Oberstuermfuehrer's mistress in order to survive WWII. Flashbacks to Anna's endlessly symbolic, endlessly demeaning sex life alternate with her earnest daughter's present-day life as a German History prof in Minnesota specializing in--wait for it--German women who collaborated with the Third Reich to survive! Everyone stumbles around choking on their secret shame, and so on.

Call me practical. Or practically free of morals. But I forgave mom by about chapter four, if not page four, so this is reminding me of Anthony Trollope's CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? In which I found, I could, in fact, forgive her, so I got very tired of everyone else not forgiving her. A girl's gotta live!

Maybe the contrast is too sharp because the other book I'm reading is Edith Wharton's THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY. Now her heroine, dear Undine Spragg, doesn't have a moral fiber in her. She rampages through New York society, leaving heartbreak and decimation in her wake, without a backward glance or twinge of guilt. Years of sleeping with the Oberstuermfuehrer might not even have warranted a journal entry with the amazing Undine. Ms. Wharton must have known all about Freud because other characters in the book call Undine "Undie" at times, and whenever I type the title, I always accidentally come out with THE CUSTOMER OF THE COUNTRY.

Both protagonists prefer cake to death, and I'm just fine with that. I just wish Anna would hold off on the second helpings of guilt.

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