One of the finest American poets of the second half of the twentieth century, James Schuyler was at the same time a remarkable novelist. Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country. There they puzzle over their parents' absence and their relatives' habits ...Read MoreOne of the finest American poets of the second half of the twentieth century, James Schuyler was at the same time a remarkable novelist. Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country. There they puzzle over their parents' absence and their relatives' habits, play games and pranks, make friends and fall out with them, spat and make up. Schuyler has a pitch-perfect ear for the children's voices, and the story, told entirely through snatches of dialogue and passages from Guinevere's diary, is a tour de force of comic and poetic invention. The reader discovers that beneath the book's apparently guileless surface lies a very sophisticated awareness of the complicated ways in which words work to define the often perilous boundaries between fantasy and reality, innocence and knowledge.Read Less
The plot of this short novel--if it can be said to have a plot--is exactly what the cover says: ?...Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother?s house in the country.? Simple enough--and I?ve wanted to read it for a long time--but I don?t remember what I expected. Perhaps, I thought it would be about children discovering nature in the countryside and poignant relationships with the elderly, a lyrical plea for the beauties of childhood. But what a surprise, for this novel has truly pulled me in opposing directions: it?s frustrating and perfect at the same time. When James Schuyler decided to give us child characters, he wrote them as they see themselves, not as we adults wish to see them--and that is the absolutely miraculous thing Schuyler brings to novel-length literature.
_Alfred and Guinevere_ was published in 1958, well before the wide-spread interest in the effects of consumerism on children, including social science theories of human development. Alfred is about 10 years old (4th grade, perhaps) and Guinevere about 12; and it became obvious to me that both children are products of the 1950s, offspring of well-to-do Anglo-American parents. Heaven knows what the author Schuyler intended, but right up front, he has Guinevere scribbling in her diary (in 3rd person) about her hoped-for adulthood: ?She is one of the leading women spenders of her day and her example has done much to further the cause of women? (4). Even at 12 or 13 (remember this is 1958), she desires lots of shopping, and the ?cause of women? is appropriately vague and immaterial.
An unintended topic of this novella must surely be how a certain economic class of white, suburban children start on their way to shaping themselves as upper middle-class consumers. Their lives (as kids) have no trajectory except satisfying the moment (getting along with other children, or planning for future fame and profit, as G.G. plans in her diary).
The timing for reading a novel can be crucial to what we bring to it. For example, I noticed that Alfred and Guinevere are uncannily like the children I encounter when a school district substitute--rich or poor kids. Alfred?s need for attention is insatiable; his primary activity is to show his sister things like how he learned to ?spit through my teeth? (67). Guinevere?s efforts to find friends with two other girls are surely some of the most painful scenes I?ve ever read involving children.
But there is more to this novel. I concluded that, stylistically--in a ?post-modern? way--Alfred and Guinevere is an anti-novel.
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