MILWAUKEE, WI, United States | Member Since 2012
Wallace Stegner's books, from the three I know, confront questions of identity, specifically how identity is tied to external factors--be it fate, friends, or family. This novel, in particular, deals with how fate and friends influence how lives are lived. Ostensibly, this book deals with the friendship of Larry and Sally Morgan with Sid and Charity Lang. What drives their friendship is shared hardship--for the Morgans this is financial and medical and for the Langs this is professional and existential. How do these people define themselves? Is it through work? Is it through money? Is it through illness? But for a time, their greatest defining characteristic was their friendship. Told through a series of flashbacks, Larry Morgan relates their friendship, on the occasion of one last weekend together, reflecting on what this friendship meant to him and to the others.
I am naturally skeptical of existential novels and meditations, as the texts can sometimes devolve into a depressing mix of self-loathing and pity. While Sheltering Sky does not devolve that far, the issue is that you have a set of characters who are seemingly unaware of how their actions have consequences. Too often, I was left to wonder why these characters would be so unwilling to look at their actions in a critical fashion, which caused me not to feel any sympathy for the relatively disturbing fates handed out in this novel. The one redeeming quality of this production was the narration of Jennifer Connelly.
Along with Ginsberg's length poem, Howl, On the Road defines the literature of the Beat Generation. Discussing this book with my friends, we came to realize that our relative appreciation for the book depended on when we first encountered it. Those who came to the book at a younger age were more enthusiastic than those who came later to the book. The qualities of Kerouac's writing are well-known, but I think that the crazed aspect of Beat literature overlooks some beautiful prose that describes the American landscape. In particular, as a native New Orleanian who grew up in Algiers, I found the description of Algiers and New Orleans as some of the more beautiful writing of the 20th century. But all of the beautiful descriptions get overwhelmed by Dean Moriarity, haunting the text with his incessant "Yeah" and "Dig that."
This is an unsympathetic view of depression-era life in Georgia. The opening scene of the Lester family stealing turnips from their son-in-law, Love, deploying their own hare-lip daughter as bait, is a stomach-turning incident. Because of the unsympathetic view, readers will find no character as morally praiseworthy. Each character has multiple foibles, and those failings overwhelm any depiction. Unlike the more famous Grapes of Wrath, the depression is so all-encompassing as to leave no hope for any of the characters, with all of the characters falling victim to their circumstances in some manner.
Though Midnight's Children won the Booker of Bookers, this text is less engaging and, I believe, less successful than The Satanic Verses. While MC tells the story of one particularly magical child, Saleem Sinai, who is writing this story for the purpose of telling his young child, who perhaps retains some magical qualities of his parents. The story is also the narrative of India and Pakistan, and the tensions that have existed since their twin births. While the story of Saleem Sinai takes many turns, the narrative takes its most significant turn when Rushdie unleashes a scathing critique of Indiria Ghandi's leadership during "The Emergency." Rushdie, as he explains in the Preface, was sued for libel over one particular sentence that Ghandi found offensive, regarding her relationship with her son and her role in her husband's demise. While Rushdie removed the offending sentence, this incident proves that his takedown of Ghandi was, in fact, accurate over her power grab. This book demonstrates the necessity of literature, both in how narrative allows for someone to make sense of events and the power of literature as social critique. For anyone interested in serious literature, this book should be engaged with for both the pleasure of literature and the power of literature.
This narrative moves quickly, but it never seems that the events of the narrative are being pushed to further the action. Though the actions of three weeks are compressed into just four hours of story-telling, the story never feels rushed. While Richard Hannay is thrust into political intrigue, his history as a military officer and mining engineer allows him to engage with German operatives without being out of his element. Though perhaps the narrative allows him to escape too easily from capture or figure out connections a little too readily, this story is quite enjoyable and worth the time.
This book, an oversight in my own literary life, tells the struggles of life during the Great Depression and the journey West to California to escape the Dust Bowl. The issue with this book, I believe, is that you have two competing forces. You have the engaging narrative of the Joad family, desperately seeking a new start, and then you have the non-specific reflections on the Great Depression told through a series of vignettes involving unnamed characters. While the two strain are related, they work against each other. The non-specific vignettes never illustrate an unknown concern; rather, they work to illustrate the general struggles of the Great Depression. However, since the Joad narrative also does this, this non-specific narrative strain is superfluous. But what works against this strain is that the characters and experiences are painted in such broad strokes that the reader can never establish anything more than a passing interest. So while I found the Joad narrative engaging and well-sketched, the secondary story seemed to take away from the book.
This is an amusing tale, which seeks to outline how Claudius became the unlikely emperor of Rome. Filled with multiple marriages, murders, and general mayhem, Graves engages the reader with the auto-biography of Claudius, who serves as both narrator and commentator of the events in the empire. The story drags initially as Claudius outlines his family history, especially how his grandmother became the wife of Augustus; however, once Claudius comes of an age where he and his brother, Germanicus, are actors in the realm, the story picks up dramatically. Of particular note is a wonderful scene between Claudius, a budding historian, and Livy and Polius (?) about what makes an engaging history. As one of the classics of 20th century literature, this text should be atop the list of most persons, especially those who enjoy witty and lively discussion about the interaction of politics, history, fate, and ambition.
Having now read Ethan Frome and Age of Innocence and listened to The House of Mirth, I can say that Edith Wharton is an unsympathetic author. She expects her characters and readers to look at the world through an objective lens. She places her characters into situations that have extreme consequences, and part of her program, so it seems, is to see how people will respond when tempted. What seems a small decision lingers throughout the narrative, especially for Lilly Bart, whose life descends into degradation as she is forced to compromise who she is for the sake of money. Simple decisions exact a terrible toll on her, and in the end, she succumbs to the hardships of her existence. If you enjoy happy endings or you feel too much for characters, then Edith Wharton might not be the author for your tastes. If you, on the other hand, expect a text to point to larger truths of how society functions--here late 19th/early 20th century--then her books are a fine source of how so much of life depends on the external forces of other people.
Wallace Stegner confronts the family dynamic in this book, asking the reader to consider how much family impacts day-to-day actions and character. This story revolves around the Mason family, as the family seeks security during the Prohibition and Great Depression in the Western US and Canada. The story dragged during the beginning stages, as there was an awkwardness in the narrative when the children were still young. Bruce, the youngest child, was a difficult youth, and the sections that dealt with his troubles dragged down the story. But once Bruce became an adult, independent from his father, his confidence allowed him to engage in the family dynamic in a more interesting and substantial manner.
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