There's something wrong with judging books entirely by some presupposed standard of literary merit. Because it seems to me that a lot of the time theThere's something wrong with judging books entirely by some presupposed standard of literary merit. Because it seems to me that a lot of the time the most cliche-ridden and intellectually barren books are the best. Not that cliches are all good, but they're cliches because they've managed to resonate with enough people to be deemed worthy of imitation. There's probably some Campbellian monomyth type of explanation for this, but what I'm getting at it is that they're the currency of our stories, and in good check they can be used very effectively.
In so many words, Swan Song is a cliche-ridden mess, and that it happens to be a very good book. Pretty much every action movie trope imaginable is utilized here, the characters are all archetypes with almost no personality, and the moral spectrum in post-apocalyptic America is pretty much relegated to black and white. We've all seen these characters and situations before. And normally, I would throw the book down in disgust and write strongly-worded letters to the author, but McCammon does something right. It's never too over-the-top and he doesn't rely of any his tropes to carry the story. It's really well-balanced.
And the story. It's basically The Stand with nuclear bombs instead of superviruses. The characters and plot structure are a bit too similar for this to be a coincidence. No, McCammon unabashedly borrows from The Stand, and does something that makes this totally acceptable: he improves it. Where King overwrites and overdevelops characters, McCammon writes with a remarkable subtlety. Where King makes the apocalypse out to be a minor annoyance, McCammon paints a picture of a hellish nightmare. Where King tells, McCammon shows.
That's another thing. McCammon is an excellent writer. The novel is ~1000 pages and there's no lag time. There was no point where I felt that I was growing tired of the book. Also, just check out the opening line:
"Once upon a time we had a love affair with fire, the president of the United States thought as the match that he'd just struck to light his pipe flared beneath his fingers."
Daaaayum. King ain't got nothin' on this guy.
But I think the most important this about this is just that is was a joy to read. It's dark visions regularly sent shivers down my spine. It has a really deep sense of beauty and a lot of really touching scenes. I have to admit my eyes were watering up quite a bit while reading and I even cried a bit at the ending, tropey action scenes and all.
Essentially Gravity's Rainbow lite, in the sense that it's easier to read and has all the seeds of greatness that really blossomed as Pynchon maturedEssentially Gravity's Rainbow lite, in the sense that it's easier to read and has all the seeds of greatness that really blossomed as Pynchon matured as a novelist. Which is not to say that this novel should be overlooked--it's still a great book and shouldn't be ignored any more than Joyce's Portrait should be because of Ulysses. A very powerful novel and an example of the medium at its best, provided you don't mind the manic prose and Pynchon's distinct brand of paranoia....more
It's been a looong time since I've found a book compelling enough to keep me up into the wee small hours of the morning, but this book did it for me--It's been a looong time since I've found a book compelling enough to keep me up into the wee small hours of the morning, but this book did it for me--twice! Incredibly powerful stuff, this....more
I feel guilty. I've been handing out five star ratings like candy lately. I'm sorry denizens of GR. I simply can't help it. It's one of my literary siI feel guilty. I've been handing out five star ratings like candy lately. I'm sorry denizens of GR. I simply can't help it. It's one of my literary sins. Like how I read too much male American literature and how I still haven't gotten around to finishing The Brothers Karamazov. But the new year is a time for change GR, and as a resolution I've decided be more critical and selective with these barbarous reading habits of mine! To start this off I've decided to read some Margaret Atwood, who is not only a woman but Canadian to top it off. And she's really good and classy and wonderfully literary as well. And of course you're thinking: "Josh, you're crazy! Women can't write literary fiction! It's against the law or something." But set your fears to rest (you prejudiced dirt-bag), she really is awesome.
This novel has fragments of another novel in it, except this novel-within-the-novel corresponds to events and characters in the book, and it's all very original and creative and pretty much impossible for me to convey how awesome and intricate this was, except that it was very well written and compelling and right after finishing it I feel a strong urge to read more of her work....more
First of all--and it has to be said--raving fanboy that I am--this book is a gigantic Cormac McCarthy ripoff! And I'm not talking about minor detailsFirst of all--and it has to be said--raving fanboy that I am--this book is a gigantic Cormac McCarthy ripoff! And I'm not talking about minor details here, William Gay pretty much stole McCarthy's voice along with the general plot outline of Suttree.
Which is not to say this is a bad book by any means--far from it--but it was something I couldnt get over for the first 100 pages. Which is also kinda unfair, considering a) McCarthy did the same with Faulkner and b) Gay takes everything I liked about Suttree and made a great book out of it.
So it doesn't matter that it's extremely derivative, because it's also extremely good. The characters are all quite memorable and their stories interweave and it never feels too muddled, because Gay is a good storyteller. There were some very powerful scenes in this book, and I have to admit they were only enhanced by the McCarthian voice used, so I suppose it's not a bad thing to copy something that's good.
But yeah, great book. A good recommendation for all fans of fine southern gothic lit.
Also: I can't help but wonder how much somebody with the last name "Gay" would get on in school....more
"I bear within me the seed, the rudiments, the possibility of life's capacities and endeavors. Where might I be, if I were not here? Who, what, how co"I bear within me the seed, the rudiments, the possibility of life's capacities and endeavors. Where might I be, if I were not here? Who, what, how could I be, if I were not me, if this outward appearance that is me did not encase me, separating my consciousness from that of others who are not me? An organism--a blind, rash, pitiful eruption of the insistent assertion of the will. Far better, really if that will were to drift free in a night without time or space, that to languish in a prison cell lit only by the flickering, uncertain flame of the intellect."...more
The best book of poems I've ever read. I've only read like 2 other books of poetry, and I don't know anything about poetry, but still it's pretty darnThe best book of poems I've ever read. I've only read like 2 other books of poetry, and I don't know anything about poetry, but still it's pretty darn good. For example:
Man on a Fire Escape
He couldn’t remember what propelled him out of the bedroom window onto the fire escape of his fifth-floor walkup on the river,
so that he could see, as if for the first time, sunset settling down on the dazed cityscape and tugboats pulling barges up the river.
There were barred windows glaring at him from the other side of the street while the sun deepened into a smoky flare
that scalded the clouds gold-vermilion. It was just an ordinary autumn twilight– the kind he had witnessed often before–
but then the day brightened almost unnaturally into a rusting, burnished, purplish red haze and everything burst into flame:
the factories pouring smoke into the sky, the trees and scrubs, the shadows of pedestrians singed and rushing home . . .
There were storefronts going blind and cars burning on the parkway and steel girders collapsing into the polluted waves.
Even the latticed fretwork of stairs where he was standing, even the first stars climbing out of their sunlit graves
were branded and lifted up, consumed by fire. It was like watching them start of Armageddon, like seeing his mother dipped in flame . . .
And them he closed his eyes and it was over. Just like that. When he opened them again the world had resembled beyond harm.
So where had he crossed to? Nowhere. And what had he seen? Nothing. No foghorns called out to each other, as if in a dream,
and no moon rose over the dark river like a warning—icy, long-forgotten— while he turned back into an empty room.
And unlike the other two books of poetry I've read, I thoroughly enjoyed every single poem in this book. And I don't even like poetry!...more
It's only the first volume but I already know I will be reading and re-reading this mammoth work for the rest of my life. Durant is a great stylist anIt's only the first volume but I already know I will be reading and re-reading this mammoth work for the rest of my life. Durant is a great stylist and a great mind and I find myself delighted every time I pick this book up. ...more