Sunday, January 6, 2013

I like Candy

Satire. I'm not always a fan. Reading it is hard work, and actually requires thinking. I'm not sure I always get it, and it's not always done very well. Jonathan Swift was pretty good at it, I guess, but maybe that's because I had professors explaining it to me at the time.

So, when a friend of mine (you should check out this blog, even though I won't tell you which of the great contributors is my friend) recommended the book "Candy" to me, and told me it is a satire of Voltaire's "Candide," I was a bit hesitant. First, I've never read "Candide," and I wasn't about to try to read it right now. I've always thought about it as one of those difficult books that requires a professor, lots of literary criticism and other background information to understand. I don't have the slightest idea what it's about, who the characters are, the plot, the importance, etc. Somehow I made it through a degree in Literature without any of this knowledge. So I was afraid I wouldn't really get the satirical remarks or nuances of Candy. Second, it's satire, and ...

But I was eventually sold on giving it a try because of one little word: sex. I'm human. And sometimes interested in the baser pleasures of life - my favorite of which is food. Sue me. So now my interest is piqued, but I'm still not sold. Then he actually gave me his copy of the book. This did it. It must be great if he wanted me to read it THAT much. Also, hey, a new free book!

So, after all my hesitation, did I like it? Short answer: Yes. Long Answer:


by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg

Let me say that the story of "Candy" stands on its own. It's pretty good without knowing anything about "Candide" or Voltaire. I kept meaning to do a little research on Voltaire and his famous creation before reading Candy. But I always thought about it when I was not near a computer or when I didn't have time, etc. So the other night I just picked up Candy and started reading. Before I knew it, I was 100 pages in. I finished it two evenings later.

The simple story is this: a young girl with serious daddy issues encounters several different men, each with varying degrees of sexual perversions and needs. Each man does what he can to manipulate Candy into being with him, and each goes about it in a different way. She, of course, goes for it every time, not because she's completely stupid (although she's obviously not bright), but because she's overly accommodating. She wants to be nice, and she thinks really highly of herself for being so giving and generous with herself. However, she's still kind of proper and she knows that all of these sexual encounters are kind of wrong, but doing the wrong is forgivable if she's doing it for someone other than herself. Right?

One incident in particular shows Candy's willingness to give without taking. When she decides to lose her virginity to the gardener, he sneaks into her room in the middle of the night. They begin kissing and things begin to move forward. As soon as she starts to feel pleasure, though, she feels guilty. She has this moment where she realizes that she is willing to suffer pain for this man , but she does not want to suffer pleasure.

One thing I wasn't prepared for was the comedy. I know satire means a lot of ridicule, and examination of human folly. But that doesn't always mean comedy. Does it? I don't know. I'm going to have to read some more satire, I guess. In any event, every scene of this book is comical. Events unfold comically, the characters do and say comical things, and more than once I actually laughed. Well, the sort of soft, grunt of laughter one does while reading alone.

To tell you any more of the plot would do nothing other than tell the entire story, so I won't do that. It's really much better if you let the events unfold on their own. This is a fast, fun read. It seems silly and if you only read it for the story, it certainly is as empty and unsatisfying as some of the sex in the book - pure sweet, unnourishing candy. But it is also very adept, as a satire should be, at examining human nature, with all of its ignorance, innocence, embarrassments, shame, darkness, and the way strong desires of any kind - especially sexual - can bring out the worst in all of us.

Now that I've finished the book, I spent some time and looked up some information on "Candide" and Voltaire to see how things compare, and to see if it enriched my reading of "Candy." By which I mean I spent ten minutes on the Wikipedia page for "Candide." Imagine my surprise when the first sentence told me that "Candide" is also a satire! If I totally understood irony, I might be able to call this ironic. It is the story of a sheltered young man who is indoctrinated into the religion of optimism by a mentor. But he spends the bulk of the story experiencing bad things to the point he becomes disillusioned with the idea of optimism.

The description of Voltaire's novella on Wikipedia could also be an exact description of "Candy." The story is that of "a more serious bildungsroman;" it "parodies many adventure and romance clich├ęs," and the events are "caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact." Also, like "Candy," "Candide" was banned when first published. Where will the similarities end?

Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg have apparently done a wonderful job of mimicking and modernizing "Candide." But they've also written a work that stands on its own and makes an impact. And beyond all of that, they've made me want to actually read Voltaire. Well done them. Although, just looking at him, I can't believe it's taken me this long to get to his work. What a nice piece of man Candy he is. I'd like to trade notes with him on skin and hair care.

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