Yes, this is a war novel. The Red Badge of Courage describes Henry Fleming, a teenage soldier, as he first encounters the red monster god that is war.Yes, this is a war novel. The Red Badge of Courage describes Henry Fleming, a teenage soldier, as he first encounters the red monster god that is war. He is first tested and found wanting, then proves himself. The depiction of the battles is brilliantly done; Crane's bold use of metaphor and imagery, electric. Yet, while the larger setting is The Civil War, more particularly the battle fought at Chancellorsville, Va, the battle of greater importance is Henry's internal one as he develops from a callow, at times craven youth beset with self doubt to a man cognizant of his range of strengths and weaknesses.
Having taught the novel to high school sophomores, it has been my experience that young students become bogged down with Henry's persistent self-analysis. This amazes me since Henry's struggles so perfectly mirror their own, minus the actual battle. Here I am just musing...how might the book be taught in a way that makes the most of this aspect?
Crane's descriptive powers are famously powerful as is his sophisticated presentation of the young man's psyche. In Henry he creates a character who is at once despicable and noble, one we ultimately see as ourselves.
Question: Is the novel "anti-war." My father, a high ranking military officer and Civil War historian, has never read it as such. He sees it as a accurate description of war and the typical emotional struggles soldiers face. However, many people think it is so. I am not sure. Is Shakepeare's Henry V anti-war? The depictions of the carnage are horrifically graphic. The thoughts and actions of the characters at times deplorable. But, war is hell. Does depicting it as such make a novel anti-war? Or is it how Henry is described as succumbing to a mob mentality becoming part of the killing machine that makes people think so. This is certainly something to think about. My inclination is to say it is not. ...more
I rarely give books five stars, and even though I am not yet done with Main Street, I have 25 pages to go, I know that I will be giving it five stars.I rarely give books five stars, and even though I am not yet done with Main Street, I have 25 pages to go, I know that I will be giving it five stars. For me a five star book is one that I do not want to end, that when I'm not reading I am still living in its world. I can hardly bare to leave Carol to soldier on in Gopher Prairie. ...more
I read this in the early 1980s shortly after I had graduated college. I can't give a really great review except that the book has stuck with me so I wI read this in the early 1980s shortly after I had graduated college. I can't give a really great review except that the book has stuck with me so I want to say something. The premise did not sound promising, but more like the soap opera themed books I avoided; second rate movie actress and model has affairs, marries, divorces, drinks, feels bored and hopeless, cracks up... However, in Didion's hands the story packed a wallop from which I am still reeling. Didion dissects the ephemeral, hapless Hollywood life in which glamor is the grail; ennui the general model. It's an ugly world, but Didion writes beautifully about it. Maria is self-absorbed, self-pitying, tragically passive. Why should anyone care about such a woman? Well, I did. This is a heartbreaking book with just a shimmer of hope. ...more
Let's clear something up right away. This book has nothing to do with the author of Tom Jones. I gave it hardly a glance as I passed time and again atLet's clear something up right away. This book has nothing to do with the author of Tom Jones. I gave it hardly a glance as I passed time and again at my favorite booksellers figuring it was just another fan fiction sort of thing. As my fellow readers gushed over "that baseball book" (Note to friends: books have titles which are really handy in making more precise identifications), I still did not put two and two together. No, I was still coming up with old Henry. Seriously, self, does that look like the cover of a book dealing with (Henry)Fielding? Seriously? No, this book is about (partly) Melville. To some extent I feel toyed with on this account. Melville and baseball.
Now that I have cleared up any misconceptions, what do I say about this peculiar book. Is it possible for a current book, in current time to be a period piece from another period? Every time a character pulled out a cell phone or an ipod, I was taken aback. What was he doing with a cell phone...an ipod? Isn't it something like 1970? Obviously, my lack of clarity continued well beyond the title. I suppose the combination of an obsession with baseball, which seems rather quaint in this day and age, and an obsession with Melville and "The Book" (the author's words, not mine, though I have frequently referred to it in that manner), plus a small college setting add not a timelessness but a retro aspect to this book. Face it, professors come and go, new courses and departments are introduced, but a new generation of kids is still reassembling VW bugs in the rotunda or putting bubble in the fountain. The heart of things never really change on small college campuses.
Characters in The Art of Fielding are all in flux, half wishing nothing would change, and hoping everything will change. The college president, an alumni, helped reshape the school when as a student he stumbled on some Melville documents which linked the school to the great author. This discovery reshapes his own direction, finally, years later finding himself as president of his alma mater. Mike Schwartz, a middling pre-law student, stymies his own progress by applying to only the most prestigious law schools. The president's daughter has come home after a disastrous marriage hoping to rebuild her life and future in her past. Then the hero of the piece, Henry (No, I am not kidding you!)a baseball phenom obsessed with a book, The Art of Fielding written by his hero an near-faultless shortstop, has come unhinged after committing a first error while simultaneously breaking his hero's record for error-free plays. How the two are simultaneous is a paradoxical technicality. All Henry has ever wanted was to always stay the same, perfect in his ability to make a play. Thus the book is partly about Henry's Fielding (God bless!). Stasis, flux. Stasis and flux at once...Come-go-stay. Faithfully to the Melville thread, these characters have a Moby of an obsession or complex to endure or bash to bits. Except Owen, whose last name is not Wister although his mother's is. Once again, not kidding. Owen is, despite being the cause of turmoil, to some extent unwittingly, is the calm center, the smiling Buddha, a little island of Zen, the one character comfortable in his own skin in a conflicted microcosm.
Last word: Peculiar, beguiling book which is at times both wise, witty but also one with some hugely annoying tendencies. The main annoying feature is the names which are more outlandish than ones that Dickens, Twain and Hawthorne might have come up with if they put their heads together. There is acutally a character named Suitcase, and no, it is not a nickname. For fans of baseball linked fiction, this is not The Natural though it is a darn fine baseball book. Non-baseball fans, most of my friends who have gushed over this book loathe baseball, and none of them is a Melvillite. I happen to be a lover of both baseball and Melville.
Note to female readers: There is really only one developed female character in the book. The near total lack of female presence might be off-putting to some readers. The bookseller had some reservations about the Harbach's female characters that she wanted to talk about once I finished the book. Quite honestly, I am not sure what those reservations would be since there are so few. Curious? I had no issues on that front, either the dearth of females or how they are presented. (About a year later, many of my reservations are gone. I keep thinking about this book. Be warned though it is quirky. ...more
Wanted: Promising novel by award winning writer seeks merciless editor. At the heart of this book is a great story with "big themes" of inevitabilityWanted: Promising novel by award winning writer seeks merciless editor. At the heart of this book is a great story with "big themes" of inevitability and acceptance. However the narrator, 15-year old Dell, hashes, rehashes, and re-rehashes and hems and haws his way through the first book. And then the second. There isn't a single point upon which Dell does not able seem to consider from at least thirteen different points of view and then review his findings at least ten more times. I enjoy a pensive narrator, but at times this was too much. Languid pacing, good. Limping under the weigh of too much introspection, bad.
The cast of oddball characters and their equally odd choices makes for piquant reading as does the huge likability of Dell, despite his many- corridored mental rambles. The sense of place is keenly developed - both the loser town "Great Falls" (going all Hawthorne with the naming there-huh?)and the lost towns of Canada's prairie are grimly depicted, without sacrificing some element of beauty to be felt in both. This is in part because Dell is an appreciative, hopeful narrator who does strive to like and be liked.
There are so many books in which children either become eternal victims of their parents' irresponsibility, incompetence, or abuse or in which through their gosh darn pluckiness rather David Copperfield-wise rise above the murk. While Dell's counterfoil, his twin sister Berner, is an example of the former, Dell is, interestingly, neither. Instead of meeting adult-made mayhem with pluck he relies on patience, hope and observation. His passivity seems the perfect recipe for doom, but is ultimately his vehicle for survival and modest success. He receives counsel from some of the a host of peculiar types including a hostile, transvestite Metis named Charlie Quarters, and the awkward Nurse Remlinger. Both are depicted in such a way that one can admire them while being actively creeped out by them.
After a life time of reading it is hard not to make comparisons between books, to have mental bells ringing in one's memory as one reads. When I think of Ford, Henry James does not ordinarily come to mind as his literary godfather, but this book reminded me very much of James's stunning portrait of a child in a world of amoral adults, What Maisie Knew.
This is an ARC which I read for our local book seller, Fountainhead Books....more
Remember the car trips as a child when you watched the houses you passed wondering who lived there, what were they like...sometimes you were lucky enoRemember the car trips as a child when you watched the houses you passed wondering who lived there, what were they like...sometimes you were lucky enough to have your voyeuristic desires filled by an actual scene of life. Perhaps two children squabbling over a swing and whose turn it is, tugging the chains to and fro, hissing, squealing, maybe calling names. Then your car glides on by; the story of the swing is left behind. You never know who wins the war, or perhaps it all ended when one lost her grasp and banged her head on the curb, or maybe his best friend came up with a new pack of army figures and all interest in the swing is lost. There is no resolution; you are only left to wonder.
Much of the art of The Train of Small Mercies is owed to this gliding past life stories in progress, being granted permission to see fora bit, but then the train moves on, and we are left to wonder. Some readers may be apt to fuss about the lack of "closure,"; we have become such suckers for closure these days, but tidy resolutions would have devalued the whole story.
The premise is that on the torpid summer day on which the funeral train carrying the body of the slain senator and Presidential candidate, Bobby Kennedy, people are making plans to watch the train pass by so that they might honor the beloved Senator, a man to whom so many in the nation were looking towards for the fulfillment of of their hopes. Thus, hope becomes a central theme in the novel. The author chooses roughly a half dozen people from whom to spin his story: a young Irish nanny who was to be interviewed for a position with the Kennedy family, a boy who has already had his summer marred by trauma and confusion, a no longer young man who hopes to have an inaugural pool party in his above ground pool in hopes of recapturing something vague, a black college student who is working the first day of his summer job with the train company, a woman who must create a web of deceit to see the passing of the funeral train since her husband is dead set against the Kennedys, and a young man and his family learning to adjust to his disability since his return to Vietnam, plus be at their best for the young reporter who is coming to interview him. Finally, there is the concierge at the Churchill Hotel where the Irish girl is staying.
Rowell imbues each glimpse into these ordinary peoples' lives with a poignancy and concern. His device of offering a glimpse into one set of characters' lives then gliding off to another creates an added wonder and curiosity. I do not want to say suspense since that word lacks the subtly for the actual sense created. Perhaps, heightened concern best names the feeling. These people are so very really, so fraught with sincere hopes and concerns that it is impossible not to care for them. While there is no resolution to any of the vignettes, their stories are in no way diminished, in fact they are left more alive and subject to our wonder. ...more
I read this because it was reviewed in Johnathan Yardley's Second Readings. I have always felt that I should read it but a sort of snobbishness kept mI read this because it was reviewed in Johnathan Yardley's Second Readings. I have always felt that I should read it but a sort of snobbishness kept me from it. I imagined that it would be one of those little pat pseudo-philosophic novels along the line of The Old Man & the Sea. My judgement was not too far off. Unlike the The Old Man, The Bridge of San Luis Rey is well and elegantly written. The characters seem less stock and there is not penchant for poor dialect. That said I did not love this book. I suppose I have a low tolerance for obvious allegory and "message" stories. However, I didn't dislike it either, the way I disliked Siddhartha and The Old Man. Actually, I loathed those two. Any book I can see someone closing and saying "Wow man, that was heavy," automatically loses a point or two. Now, I like heavy, even love heavy. Hell, I read Spinoza for kicks. However, I want the heaviness to come at me aslant and kick me in the ass or even better sneak up on me a few days later and make my head spin 180 degrees a la Exorcist, rather than come straight at me and hit me between the eyes.
Four stars for the elegance of the prose and the humor which redeem the work....more
Before 200 channels of TV, radio, computers, and journalism, writers could write the way Hawthorne wrote. Readers had the patience to make their way tBefore 200 channels of TV, radio, computers, and journalism, writers could write the way Hawthorne wrote. Readers had the patience to make their way through sentences so dense that you could chew them, description so vivid you could taste them. This is not to say that there hasn't been quantities of fine writing since the electronic age, but there sure hasn't been another Hawthorne or James, his literary heir. Some readers may be glad of that. Not me. I love the richness of 19th century prose. When I sit down with Melville, James, Trollope, G. Eliot or Hawthorne, I know I am going to be quite pleasurably lost in a sea of words.
The Blithedale Romance to some extent follows the pattern of The Scarlet Letter and The Marble Faun; strong independent woman with a secret in her past and a shadowy maleficent man from whose hold she cannot break free. However, this novel of the founding of a Utopian community takes several new paths both in tone and narrative. As with all of Hawthorne's work there is a mysterious aspect to the narrative and the relationships of the characters, but in Blithedale the sense of other-worldliness is immediate and lasting. Another difference is that despite the tragic nature of the tale, the tone is more buoyant than in any other work that I have read by him. And, also not typical, with the use of the cynical Miles Coverdale who is willing to laugh at his own play at idealism as narrator, the book is often very funny. Thematically there is a great deal to chew on with the most important or interesting themes being, I suppose, the question of whether or not we can really better mankind as a whole and the paradox of the philanthropist, a man or woman who begins with a genuine concern for their cause but in the end becomes dehumanized by it.
Fanciful, funny, rich in sympathy, sobering and thought provoking... The Blithedale Romance deserves a wider readership than it has had. It is in not the great work that The Scarlet Letter is, but is very wise in its own way, a great tale, and probably more fun....more
Plainsong is at times both raw and tender, and sometimes both of these at the same time. The story spanning a year in the life of a small rural ColoraPlainsong is at times both raw and tender, and sometimes both of these at the same time. The story spanning a year in the life of a small rural Colorado town is told from the point of view of seemingly wildly different characters, a pregnant teen; two young boys who have been abandoned by their mother who suffers from depression; their father, a high school teacher, and two much older brothers who have sent their seventy or so years as bachelor farmers and for the most part removed from town life. What all these characters share is a loneliness and alienation. In some cases heartbreaking, despairing loneliness. All in all, the characters are well-drawn and believable. The setting is magnificently rendered in all its brutal beauty.
A flaw with the book is that some of the situations seen unlikely, or at least so in this day and age. Of course the actually day and age of the book is hard to pinpoint. There are references to Reagan, we are looking at at least the '80s, but at the school they are using a hand-crank mimeograph machine. I started teaching in the late Reagean years and while we had an electric mimeo, not a hand-crank one, it was considered a relic. In this day and age, teachers would be admonished if they were to take in a troubled student or even had them as visitors in their home, though this situation seems to be a stock of 70s and 80s lit, remembering Ellen Foster and Bridge to Terbithia. These elements made me raise an eyebrow at times, though I don't suppose they stretch too far the realms of believability. Perchance rural small towns operate on a different plain in these areas. Granted as a 11 year old my father was adopted by a bachelor seminary student, but that was the '50s. I can't imagine how many red flags that would send up today.
And finally, too often I felt I was being set up to feel a particular way. Never was I surprised or taken aback by emotion. No, I knew where the book was going because it was crafted to manipulate the readers' emotions. Perhaps this a criticism that is too easily lobbed at so called "heartfelt" books.
Despite these two criticisms, I did like the book, especially the humor evoked by the elderly McPheron Brothers who are the heart and soul of the book. ...more