Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: The Graduate by Charles Webb

The Graduate by Charles Webb
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication Date: 1963
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 238.
Goodreads & Amazon

Benjamin is a recent college graduate who is feeling lost and jaded with his newly acquired degree. He moves back in with his parents, and is drowned in questions from his mother, father, and upper class friends with what he is going to do with his life now. The annoying question hangs on his back and the directionless feeling sinks in when he realizes he doesn't want a career in what he went to school for. In this haze of post-graduate depression, Benjamin is seduced by Mrs. Robinson, a beautiful and lonely friend of his parents. Another wrench is thrown into the mix when he meets Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine. Finally, he has the direction he's been waiting for, but there are major roadblocks preventing him from going there.

"The whole four years," he said, looking up at his father. "They were nothing. All the things I did are nothing. All the distinctions. The things I learned. All of a sudden none of it seems worth anything to me."

I really wanted to like this book. After all, I'm as much of a hopeless and directionless college graduate as the rest of them, and even though I haven't yet seen the forever-talked about film with Dustin Hoffman, I've only heard good things about the movie. However, I found The Graduate to be absurd in such a way that I couldn't tell if it was trying to be absurd or not. 

As a big fan of dialogue, The Graduate had an overwhelming amount of it, so I can see why the film may have been more successful than the novel. After graduating, Benjamin is ultimately lost and frustrated with the direction his life is going, and this feeling is enhanced by the dialogue because every single thing Benjamin has to say is interrupted or cut off entirely. No one wants to hear what he has to say, and the constant stopping and starting of Benjamin trying to speak not only makes us curious to know what it is that is so important, but makes us angry because he never gets around to saying it after all. Also, I think there is a very specific formula to writing dialogue that seemed to be chucked out the window. People interrupt and cut each other off all of the time in real life, but on the page it creates a very huff-worthy effect that made me want to skip lines of dialogue at a time to see what people were getting at. The cutting off also created a lot of redundancy and repetition that made me want to move on. 

"Oh no," Benjamin said. "You can ask me anything you want. I'd be happy to--"
"Are you a virgin?" she said.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want."
Benjamin frowned at her. "Am I a virgin." he said. 
She nodded.
Benjamin continued to frown at her and finally she smiled. "All right. she said. "You don't have to tell me." 
"Well what do you think," he said. 
"I don't know," she said. "I guess you probably are." 

The lack of prose in The Graduate gave me little understanding to the characters. From what the reader is told, Benjamin is a very bright student who has won awards and has offers from Ivy League graduate schools. However, the Benjamin in-dialogue is irrational, awkward, and not very bright sounding at all. A closer narrative with more prose that is tapped into Benjamin's thought process at little more would have helped me understand more why he finds himself in the situations he does, and could have helped me decide more if this story was supposed to be as absurd as it was. 

"But Benjamin?" she said.
"I can't see why I'm so attractive to you." 
"You just are."
"But why." 
"You just are, I said. You're reasonably intelligent. You're striking looking." 

I really wanted to understand Benjamin's feelings for Elaine Robinson, as she felt like such a flat character that was used only as a vessel to stir up some drama between him and her mother, Mrs. Robinson. Benjamin takes her out to appease to Mr. Robinson and his own father and is a royal jerk for the entire date. It is only when she is humiliated at a strip joint that he feels sympathy for her, and decides she is his life partner. As shown in the above dialogue, he cannot even come up with an acceptable answer to justify his affections towards her, which proved to be frustrating for both Elaine, and myself. Elaine also is somehow the catalyst to this shit storm of events that I cannot even begin to explain, and you'd have to read the book to see just how the cookie crumbles. Benjamin's actions were brash and made with infuriating haste. Again, a closer narrative could've tightened that up just a little bit, so I could have seen where Benjamin's head was at when he does the things he does to win the affections of Elaine. 

Mrs. Robinson was perhaps the best character in the whole book but she fell into a cliché. A saucy one, but a cliché all the same. She played the role of wealthy, lonely wife very well, and she ends up being a great villain that had me cursing her name out loud, "damn you, Mrs. Robinson!" We also learn more about her past than Benjamin's which was interesting, even though the knowledge we learn about her is not relevant or used in the rest of the book.

As for the affairs, y'all know I love Jacqueline Susann, so at first I thought the affair was thrilling. Awkward, as I think that's how an affair should be between an older married woman and a fresh-faced college graduate, but thrilling all the same. Mrs. Robinson turned Benjamin into putty in her hands, and that made me wonder how many other lovers she has taken and manipulated in this way. But with all the Elaine stuff and the dramatics that fall around it, I couldn't tell if I was supposed to take this affair as a serious romantic tryst, or something worthy of being on a comedy show.

Sadly, The Graduate  by Charles Webb disappointed with waaaaay too much dialogue, a lack of prose and character insight, and character action that just didn't make sense in the world of 1960's love affairs that I typically really enjoy. I am, however, looking forward to tracking down the film and finally watching that because I think that Webb's dialogue for his characters would be much better suited for the screen or stage.

Rating: 2 / 5

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