Tuesday, October 3, 2006

All the King's Men

I came into this novel with a bad attitude. I was sure that I would dislike it, and dreaded its slow, 400+ pages. I thought it would be horrendous like The Last Hurrah, which I was forced to read in college. But it ended up being much better - a lot better, than I had expected. In fact, I liked it better than The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Appointment at Samarra, and Winesburg, Ohio, yet they all ranked above All the King's Men on the Modern Library list. Then again, it ranked higher - along with The Bridge of San Luis Rey (which I greatly disliked) - than On the Road, which should have been in the top 25 in my opnion. But they didn't ask my opinion.

My favorite part of AtKM is Jack's flashback to the night he and Anne almost consummated their relationship as teenagers. That scene - from making sandwiches in the kitchen to when his mother comes home unexpectedly was wonderful. The description of Anne undressing in his room was one of - if not the best of such scenes I've ever read. It was honest, realistic, and tender - something that was actually happening.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Sound and the Fury

I HATED this book at first. I opened The Sound and the Fury only because of its position on the Modern Library's list. Wading through the first chapter, narrated by severely mentally challenged person for whom everything is a constant present and the events that he's talking about switching mid-sentence, I thought that this would be another that I just "read" and not completely understand, and then when I was done, I could check it off the list and put it on the shelf to point to and say, "yeah, I read it." Little did I realize that by the third chapter (each chapter is 100+ pages), I would actually like it. Who would have guessed, way back in A.P. English when I was suffering through "Barn Burning" that I would someday be able to say that I was actually enjoying a Faulkner novel - especially one that is so disorienting as this one - and that has 100+ page chapters!

Granted, I'm only 3/4 through, and as I know from my experience with Things Fall Apart, for example, one's opinion of a novel can drastically change in the course of reading. There is still an opportunity for this to become really bad.

There are a few points I want to bring up: the last chapter is narrated in the third person; the other three are narrated by Benji, Quentin, and Jason, though the central character is Caddy. She is the cause of the novel, but she never gets to speak. We are told her s tory through male voices. Is this the same thing behind As I Lay Dying? The central character is dead - I don't think that she ever spoke, did she?

Jason as the new head of the family, which had once been "governors and generals" has hit a new low with him. How is this realted to his mother's conviction that the Bascomb family is good stock, etc.?

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Native Son

I really enjoyed this book. I was a little worried, of course, because it’s known as quite as sensational book, and purportedly purposefully. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf since high school. I remember talking to my English teacher at the time about it, asking if she had read it. She told me that she didn’t read things that were written purely for the controversy they would cause. Whether that’s true or not about this book, I don’t know. I believe it was James Baldwin who wrote a damning piece about Wright’s novel, stating that he fed into stereotypes about black people that probably shouldn’t be perpetuated.

I have a tendency to read not so exciting books – not in the sense of “not good” but just not with a lot of action, so this book kept my attention, particuarly in the first half. I knew, however, starting out what Bigger Thomas was going to do, and the outcome of those actions is pretty predictable. But I often find that knowing the outcome of a story will make it more intreguing (and less annoying – I’m someone who hates surprises!) because rather than wondering what is going to happen, I’m wondering how. Anyhoo, I thought that it was good.

I was particularly interested in certain social commentaries that are added to the narrative: Mr. Dalton appears to be the wonderful philanthropist, giving money to black causes and hiring black labrorers, donating ping pong tables to boys clubs on the South Side of Chicago (where the novel takes place), etc. But what is the use of all that when we find that he is the owner of a major real estate company that not only refuses to rent apartments to blacks outside of the “designated area” so to speak, but he also charges ridiculous rents for the apartments in the south side which are basically rodent infested fire traps. Though Mr. Dalton and his wife are dedicated to having their “Negro” laborers get an education, they then do not hire them after they are educated. The second commentary that I found thought-provoking was at the inquest for Mary Dalton’s murder. They use Bessie’s body as evidence. Nobody cares that he killed Bessie (who was black), except for how they can use her body and death to show Bigger’s guilt in the murder of Mary (who was white). Sometimes, particular points or scenes from novels stay with you for a lifetime, and I feel that those will be two that will remain with me.

I thought the last part of the novel (“Fate”) was a little drawn out, but while that might bother me in other books, for some reason it didn’t bother me with this one. I suppose I felt that the speeches fit the narrative, and the action in the first two parts was balanced out by the lull in the end.

I did tear up a bit in the end when Bigger is sitting in his cell thinking about how he is going to die (this was before Max visited him). Even though Bigger really was despicable, it somehow made me a little sad. I was glad, though, that the story ended when Max left. I really didn’t want to read about Bigger being led to the electric chair (images of “The Green Mile” came to mind…along with how ill that movie made me).

All in all – good.