Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Report

Look Homeward, Angel
Thomas Wolfe

Very rarely do I hit a wall with a book that makes me think I will never finish it. I inherited this book from my parents, who inherited it from my Nana. It has been sitting on my nightstand for over half a year, where it rests while I turn to other reads for a break. It is currently in seven different pieces. Last Sunday, as I was reading it in my favorite breakfast spot, a page actually tore loose and landed smack in the middle of my oatmeal. Pieces of the binding, resembling dead moth parts seem to magically litter my floor. "I thought," groaned my dad as he handed it over, "I would never finish this stupid book."

"Is it worth reading?"


In short, the book had become - to echo a brilliant review on goodreads that made me keep going like a marathoner on the 23rd mile - the goddamn bane of my existence. It was also one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. As I finally set it down for good I actually found myself sighing poignantly, then looking around pretty embarrassed.

Plot? Thomas Wolfe doesn't need a plot. He just needs a good dysfunctional drunk North Carolina family, a misunderstood genius, southern whores, slightly crazed boarders, tobacco and lots of racial epithets. He needs his hero to wander around a graveyard spilling out gushes of morbid soliloquy strewn with masses of descript mountain evenings and overtones of escapism. He needs the harsh realities of loving your family so passionately you slowly kill them, in a way that manages to be so macabre it's funny. Plot, pshaw. Thomas Wolfe is a poet, pure and simple.

For example:

"And left alone to sleep within a shuttered room, with the thick sunlight printed in bars upon the floor, unfathomable loneliness and sadness crept through him: he saw his life down the solemn vista of a forest aisle, and he knew he would always be the sad one: caged in that little round of skull, imprisoned in that beating and most secret heart, his life must always walk down lonely passages. Lost. He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know any one, that imprisoned in the dark womb of our mother, we come to life without having seen her face, that we are given to her arms a stranger, and that, caught in that insoluble prison of being, we escape it never, no matter what arms may clasp us, what mouth may kiss us, what heart may warm us. Never, never, never, never, never."

Yep, existentialism just had an orgasm. A self-indulgent one, but still.

I really have no desire to find out what happens to Eugene Gant after this novel. I mean, I could, since there is a sequel, but he's not a particularly likeable fella. I like the thought of him exiting stage left, looking back longingly at mistakes he would never have been able to correct. If he turns around - well, then the whole title stops making sense.

Keep it around. It grows on you. You'll never look at October leaves shaking on the trees the same.

Five stars, disbelievingly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Report

The Virgin Suicides
Jeffrey Eugenides

Reading Eugenides is like being trapped in someone's nightmare. Someone's nightmare that is so aesthetically pleasing you don't want to leave. And he definitely knows the formula to keep you locked in.

Centering around the tragic mystery of the suicides of five sisters, one would expect that Euginedes gives us resolutions and answers, but none fit, making it all the more tragic. Expecting the usual macabre plot devices, you continue turning the pages, rushing through the onslaught of hormonal luminescence that engulfs the entire narrative. Were teenage girls ever so obsessively idolized while their physical flaws so excessively studied? Do men really lack the capacity to understand the harsh realities of "trapped beaver" (my favorite phrase in the book)? Is self-destruction always contagious? At what point is escape impossible? Eugenides makes the Lisbon story resemble an nostalgic ghost tale, stringing us along with its horrible beauty and scaring us silly while we want to listen to more.

Haunting. And, like its characters, finishing too soon.