Having overheard many disparaging, pretentious, and overtly dismissive critiques of this book for some time, I finally resolved to give John Kennedy T...moreHaving overheard many disparaging, pretentious, and overtly dismissive critiques of this book for some time, I finally resolved to give John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize winning novel its due...
Ignatius J. Reilly's exploits are intended to please a particular cross-section of the reading community. Geeky English majors, take note: you'll see frequent allusions to Boethius, Chaucer, Swift, Foucault, Conrad, etc. In addition to a litany of disparaging remarks made about Mark Twain, you'll get an abundance of insane internal dialogue. Sound good? Keep reading...
Non English-major types, proceed at your own risk. Don't get me wrong; this ain't a "New Yorker" cartoon, in fact, far from it. The seedy low-brow antics of the characters will likely entertain you with their face value alone. Then again, with a merely topical or superficial reading, you may just heave the book out of your window in frustrated disgust.
Toole develops rich, multi-dimensional characters and scenery to the extent that the tea-leaf rankness of Ignatius' befouled bedchamber, Jones' nimbus clouds of cigarette smoke and dust, and the atrociously watered-down drinks at the "Night of Joy" become material. There is some originality here that begs for a second or third reading.
"Confederacy" entertains the senses while moving rapidly through a network of easy-to-follow narratives (which is impressive, considering the number of them included in the book). While indirectly commenting on the relative nature of madness (see "Madness and Civilization" by Foucault), the middle class' absurdities, minority rights, homosexuality, politics, worker rights, psychoanalysis, and a variety of entertaining blue-collar New Orleans psychoses, Toole ably paints a portrait of Ignatius' ill-defined agendas, comical verbosity, and his socially inept masturbatory lifestyle. Throughout the book, the aging grandiosity, stickiness, and creole gumbo existence that is the French Quarter is explored in depth. I dig it.
Many readers will be outright annoyed by Ignatius. The rest of us will find levity in Toole's immense hyperbole. (less)
While I found the subject matter / circumstances surrounding Chris McCandless' "expedition" to be nothing short of amazing and intriguing, the build u...moreWhile I found the subject matter / circumstances surrounding Chris McCandless' "expedition" to be nothing short of amazing and intriguing, the build up of the novel (flow, organization, presentation) felt rather pedestrian (or heavy-handed in the case of some of the pre-chapter literary quotes; as if quoting Thoreau in excess would lend the text instant gravitas? Too much of a good thing, IMHO). While I understand the need for accessibility in this genre, I don't think "Into the Wild" is the transparent read it set out to become. Beyond extracting the "yes, nature can and will kill you" cautionary repartee, I think Krakauer missed some opportunities with the other aspects of McCandless' tale as a writer of creative non-fiction.
Ultimately, Krakauer's novel exhibited many of the traits I find unappealing about the non-fiction genre... poorly reconstructed dialogue, jagged "reporting style" observations, and a generally clumsy authorial presence throughout.
I did enjoy the chapters detailing Krakauer's trek across the Stikine Icecap / summit of the Devil's Thumb, which proved to me he had the ability to write well... I just wish the entire book was written from a similar perspective! I think a basic one page dossier about Chris' background would have been sufficient to support a more organic (less "Outside Magazine") storyline (did the movie do this?). If I had read this as a serialized magazine story over the course of a year, I might think it was more profound... but having consumed everything crammed together and touted as a "book", I feel differently.
In some ways, Chris' self-imposed asceticism is an important psycho-social commentary; heralding from one of the most affluent parts of the country (Annandale, VA), Chris' rejection of/revulsion with the "system" speaks loudly to those of us inundated with excess and materialism. This "other side of the tracks" mentality is something most fail to even contemplate (they ask: is this even an option?).
I wish Krakauer had spent more time formulating an opinion of Chris beyond "whoa, this kid reminds me of a slightly less lucky version of myself" (save that for your autobiography, bro).
While I wanted to see this book as a modern update to Kerouac, I still have some unresolved feelings about the survival methods of McCandless and the literary approach of Krakauer.
While the delivery is far from perfect, the story is worth a read; for the outdoor-inclined and metropolitan alike, this explores a side of human nature we should all contemplate from time to time.(less)
While I enjoyed Cheever's writing (as a thing in itself), the subject matter of this particular work may be a bit "over-the-top" for more reserved / c...moreWhile I enjoyed Cheever's writing (as a thing in itself), the subject matter of this particular work may be a bit "over-the-top" for more reserved / conservative / thematically sensitive readers (or somewhat age-inappropriate for folks less than 16-18). Cheever explores some interesting aspects of institutional imprisonment, drug abuse, psychology, homosexuality, and violence in such a way (and with such detail) it is difficult to imagine that Cheever is not speaking from personal experience... which is in a sense, the culmination of quality writing.
Clearly, Cheever is a masterful short-story writer... my only "complaint" (more of an observation, really) from a construction oriented perspective is this: Falconer feels like several interesting short-stories cobbled together. In a sense, most novels / books are built this way, but there are usually more connective tissues fusing the "episodes" together.
As a device (a prison setting), Cheever's positioning is nothing short of brilliant. How else could a writer juxtapose so many disparate personalities and get away with it? By using prison as an apparatus / explanation for fusing these aberrant stories/people together, Cheever has free license to do what he does best; tell us interesting short stories rife with palpable details and descriptions. Where else (but prison) would you find such a ripe, unusual, oftentimes revolting cast of players? Cheever has no need to waste time justifying their relationships... he can just "go" and write.
Farragut's nonchalance toward the themes of addiction, sexuality, and freedom (hey, being a prisoner does guarantee 2 hots and a cot!) leaves us with much to ponder.
If you couldn't deal with watching "Brokeback Mountain", leave this on the shelf. Some folks need a happy ending. Falconer is an articulate and interesting nightmare (that you can happily wake from).
Admittedly, I viewed the film based on this book prior to reading the work itself (though not recently) which definitely warped/directed my perspectiv...moreAdmittedly, I viewed the film based on this book prior to reading the work itself (though not recently) which definitely warped/directed my perspective (hard to NOT imagine Jack Nicholson, Christopher Lloyd, and Danny DeVito assume their respective roles). It was difficult to imagine the ward, staff, and characters outside of the film's rendering (which speaks highly of the casting/acting, I suppose). Furthermore, the "shock factor" (no pun intended) of the more erratic and graphic scenes (at least those not omitted from the film) was reduced in my reading (I sadly anticipated the more catastrophic events).
The added narrative perspective of "Big Chief Bromden" (back to the book!) was a welcome alteration... his internal monologues alone made the book a worthwhile tribute to the inebriation of excessive psycho-drug therapy, EST, cognitive castrations, etc. in the mental health institutions/asylums of the 1960's.
Take the subject matter of Foucault's "Madness and Civilization", update the setting, infuse it with colloquial vernacular (read: "easy reading"), "Keseyian" anecdotes, and a creative non-fictive edge ala Tom Wolfe, and voila! "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"...
Initially, the bravado, lunacy, and extremity of Kesey's characters seems a bit heavy-handed; R.P. McMurphy appears to be needlessly "over the top", Nurse Ratched's subtle manipulations are inexplicably cold and sadistic (unless ALL army nurses over 35 go "bad", Kesey?), and the portrayal of minorities and women (as often noted by critics) is less than politically correct. But below the bombastic exterior, through clever introspective devices like "Big Chief", we get a sense for the dual-madness of the "system" ("Combine") Kesey explores. Who is crazier? Harding, McMurphy, or Nurse Ratched? The deluded PR rep who circles articles from year-old Harper's Weekly magazines for the inebriated patients to read? The drug-cocktail prescribing "doctors"? The pot smoking/cough-syrup ingesting night watchman? Sefelt the epileptic?
"Madness", Kesey would have us believe, is at once subjective, poorly managed (by clinical 1960's standards), and completely misunderstood.
While I gave the work "5 stars" ("I loved it"), I would have preferred a solid 4.5...alas, "1/2" stars are not an option.
For a "first" novel (at 26/27 years old, no less!), "One Flew" is a creative literary legacy Ken Kesey can proudly rest (in peace!) upon.
In terms of criticism, early on, I felt some disjointed dialogue b/w McMurphy and the patients on the ward... basic "flow" issues I would attribute to a relatively "new" novelist / passive editing.
All in all, I would totally recommend this to anyone desiring a more robust appreciation (an unfortunate "update" to Foucault!) of late 60's mental health rehabilitation practices and procedures.