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Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2002 23:28:37 -0700
From: maa32 
Subject: (urth) pandora

It was mentioned that the reasons Pandora by Holly Hollander was an 
unenjoyable reading experience seemed undiscernable to some on the list.

For me, I think Wolfe's one weakness is his portrayal of female characters - 
I'm just being honest.  However, that doesn't really matter to me (please 
don't stone me Alga; I'm talking about literary great-making qualities - not 
feminism).  I really don't think Wolfe is good at a first person female 
perspective - and especially a first person, pot-smoking, mother hating, 
"liberated" female like Holly - as far as possible from the tortured but 
ultimately physically powerful Silk and Severian (Silk is even pretty handy 
with a staff into his geritol-stage thanks to his superior (engineered? 
surely) genetics).  If I'm not mistaken, there is a quote in Pandora which 
states that Larry Lief is a "dreamboat" (or something to that effect).

Let's be honest - Wolfe's oppositional themes (perfect memory/end of the world 
vs. no memory/dawn of history) are usually fabulously pulled off from work to 
work, but Pandora is too different.  Even though I think you can find hints 
that Holly's flying horse (you think I'm kidding, eh?) was complicit in the 
death of Larry Lief, you can also find some big German special forces 
conspiracy hints dropped all over the place, too.  And Holly knows a lot about 
what masks the scent of pot for someone who claims she won't write about 
smoking it for the first time in her introduction; it seems as if she already 
has throughout the text - and her mom confronts her about "smoking", too; a 
smoking that is never directly narrated by Holly in any other scene.  I don't 
trust that girl.

In any case, I think that there are two big factors involved here in the 
general ill repute in which Pandora by Holly Hollander is held: your average 
reader of Wolfe appreciates the absolutely amazing technical skill he has "in 
spite" of his depiction of women (I know I'm generalizing; please forgive me); 
also, Wolfe is notoriously ambiguous in many respects, yet I find little 
ambiguity in his treatment of women.  It just so happens that having a female 
narrator, while to an amazing degree subverting this picture of weak and 
accepting or duplicitious and conniving women, reaffirms the stark dichotomy 
and emphasizes it at the same time (in my mind, Holly really wants to get rid 
of her mother and is just as culpable as whoever really did commit the 
murders; perhaps Wolfe wanted to present her as an opposite of ideality (a 
real word, by the way, or at least a word I read in a recent piece of 
criticism on Borges) - we were meant not to like her narrative since it 
reflects some of her undesirable traits - but this is too devious and I cannot 
imagine Wolfe composing something that he envisioned as a "failed" narrative 
from the beginning, simply for the purpose of challenging the liberal 
convictions of its narrator.)

Marc Aramini


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