Does TV Belong in the Bedroom?

By Lynne Rogers
Who’s Afraid of Meryl Streep?
By Rashid al-Daif, trans. by Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno
Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 2014
Once again prominent Lebanese author Rashid al-Daif crosses cultural divides in his recently translated novel, “Who’s Afraid of Meryl Streep?” Hoping to understand his own painful isolation, al-Daif’s confused narrator, ill at ease in his own culture, looks to connect with another by focusing on one of its iconic figures. In a stinging jab at Lebanese consumerism, the narrator originally buys the TV as a means to be sexually closer to his wife, yet ends up watching it alone. The novels opens as the narrator watches an old re-run of “Kramer vs Kramer” without subtitles. In an overt period piece, the narrator, who doesn’t speak English, actively translates the film to himself from the visuals and his own psychological muddle. Fantasizing that Meryl Streep, who is too good for Dustin Hoffman, would have been better off with a male like him, the narrator’s pathetic and mundane daydreams of the unattainable actress begin to unravel the reasons behind the sinister failure of his own marriage and his wife’s “sleeping at her mother’s.” Justifying his brutal obsession with his wife’s virginity, the narrator explains, “I am just a simple man asking that life give me the minimum: a virgin.” Al-Daif examines the conflicting male desires to adore and to possess in graphic and violent sexual details. Despite his wife’s marital defiance and ultimate escape, the narrator’s gender assumptions remain unperturbed and steadfast. Subsequently he fails to arouse even an inch of sympathy from the reader, an unusual strategy that allows al-Daif to bare the marital bed, exposing the destructive underpinnings of male-female relationships in Lebanon, “the land of public and personal liberties."
Unlike his previous novel, “Dear Mr. Kawabata,” here, the war does not play a major role in this unreliable narrator’s loneliness and demise. Instead, this unlikeable character engineers his own misogynistic hell, reaffirming al-Daif’s artistic role as a serious and creative interrogator of culture and personal ethics. 
This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 19, No. 68, 2015.
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