Monday, May 26, 2014

The Graduate: A Partial Book Review

The Graduate Charles Webb.jpg

So I've been reading The Graduate, a novel published in 1963 by Charles Webb.

I am not at all sure I am going to finish it, both because it reeks of privilege, and because it is so tedious, and the misogyny, frankly, is just wearing me out.

Though misogyny may be misleading,  Webb hates women, but he doesn't like the men any better.  Everyone is useless, including his hero, Benjamin Braddock, brilliant 21 year old who has so much ennui.

I'm only halfway through the book, and have reached a scene where Benjamin takes young Elaine Robinson out on a date.

Those of you who know the movie will remember that Benjamin is sleeping with Elaine's mom, which is basically the entire plot of the book so far -- Ben comes home, having graduated from college at the stunning age of 20 with all sorts of prizes, because brilliant don't forget, and having been accepted to Yale, Harvard, and Columbia for graduate school, with all sorts of scholarships, basically, and yet, such is his overwhelming ennui, that he decides to toss all this aside.

For intellectual pursuits are nothing!  The life of the educated man is nothing!  He briefly claims he wants to live life among the common men (farmers, truck drivers, Indians) but after three weeks with them he decides they are nothing too!

So he sits in the house drinking and watching TV and smoking cigarettes.  Because, at twenty, he has determined life is pointless.

Then he begins sleeping with Mrs. Robinson.  He calls himself a loathsome pervert for doing this -- I think because of the age difference, or perhaps because it's adultery.  Why he's a pervert exactly is not made clear.

Then he begins dating Elaine, at the insistence of their fathers (his father and Mr. Robinson are law partners).  And on the first date he does his best to humiliate her.  The bit where I quit reading is when he takes her to a strip club and the stripper whirls the tassels from her boobs in front of Elaine's face.  Ben is amused by this.  But when Elaine cries and runs out, Ben chases after her and begs her not to cry, because "everyone is watching."

Then he buys her a hamburger and apologies about sixty times*, because he's "not really like that."  Though the novel has shown us, in fact, that he's exactly like that.

After this, Elaine and Ben go to the same hotel where Ben has been fucking her mom, and all the barkeepers and the bellhops and so on whisper and snicker about him showing up with a new woman, and Elaine figures out that he's having an affair (though not with who), and calls him on it.

Then she agrees to go out with him again. Which is when I quit reading.

I don't know if I'll finish the novel.  I mean, maybe.  Because it's sort of a weird look at the weird 1960 male mind.  And apparently this book was hugely popular at the time.

But Jesus, it's so dull, and Jesus, what an entitled little whiner, and Jesus, why would Elaine ever go out with this guy twice?  I mean, I'm not sure I would have gone out with him once -- she knows him, after all, it's not a blind date, she knows what a whiny loser he is.

But twice?  Why?

Only a male writer could conceive of a woman character accepting a second date from this asshat.

And frankly, I don't know why Mrs. Robinson is sleeping with him, either.  It's established that he's a virgin, and his personality is nasty, and he's obviously got terrible hygiene.  Not to mention the whole problem of him being her partner's son.

Implausible, badly written, dull, and thoroughly unlikable.

Not recommended.

*A big problem with this book, and one thing that makes it so tedious, is that Webb never says anything once if he can say it sixty times.  It's only about 200 pages long, but frankly it could have be sixty pages long if he'd had a decent editor.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I feel about the same way about everything I've read by John Updike. I find him insufferable. I have no idea why he's so popular.

delagar said...

OMG, yes, John Updike.

I've never made it all the way through any of his novels. I've finished short stories, but even those I can't see what the fuss is over. Everything he does, thirty or forty other writers have already done, and much better.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Agreed. Updike is an asshole. I am guessing he got popular through some sort of mass patriarchal conspiracy. I read his first Rabbit book and hated every minute of it. I don't even know why I finished it -- maybe to see if the guy was punished or not. I was astounded to hear that there was a series about that douche bag. Ugh.

undine said...

Privilege--that's an understatement. What I remember about the movie is that Elaine has exactly two choices: marry Benjamin or marry the other guy. Two. Choices. She's going to Berkeley so that the movie can have a road trip, and she drops out, jettisoning her future, so it can have a happy ending of sorts.