I just finished The Violent Bear It Away. I have not read a single review of the book. I like to come up with my own interpretations of a book before...moreI just finished The Violent Bear It Away. I have not read a single review of the book. I like to come up with my own interpretations of a book before I read others, not wanting to be drawn along or biased. After I’ve done that I enjoy looking at what others have had to say about a work. If you google “Catholic Writers” Flannery O’Connor’s name comes up. And this, “… her writing is deeply informed by the sacramental, and the Thomist notion that the created world is charged with God…” Thomism is defined as the theology and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
After reading more on this subject I have come to the conclusion that my own Catholic education is limited and inadequate for use as a tool to understand this work. Therefore, I will confine my review to those areas I am familiar with.
I knew Flannery O’Connor was Catholic, but after finishing this book, I am reluctant to term it, Catholic Fiction. After all, she doesn’t seem to write about Catholics much. Her characters are more of the Protestant persuasion, or Southern Baptist. They would never set foot inside a Catholic Church. So what is O’Connor getting at here? Perhaps this is payback, as I have heard that in the early and mid twentieth century American South, Catholics were as scorned and shunned as black people. Maybe. And what is her theme? Here’s what I came up with: the quote, “Character is Fate” by Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. This book seems to me to be a cautionary tale about fanaticism, you know, the old time preacher who has only read one book in his whole life: the bible. And he looks at everyone who does not follow it literally to the letter as damned for eternity. Tarwater (great name) appears to be a sociopath. How did he got that way... maybe living alone with the fire and brimstone Uncle? O’Connor doesn’t say. But Tarwater has a very strong character as well. A staunch contrarian, he ends up doing to the little retarded boy, Bishop, what the Uncle wanted him to do anyway, but not what his real uncle, Rayber, wanted him to do. Uncle Rayber, a school teacher, is a ‘modern’ Southerner, secular humanist. But despite all his efforts to use reason, learning, science, etc., he too is slave to his character, namely his inability to act. And by not acting allows the awful climax to happen.
I would characterize the book as dark and fatalistic, but due to Flannery's masterful writing, compelling and entertaining. There are light, laughable moments due to the ignorance of the characters. And despite the fact that the people depicted are as rare in today’s South as are Third Reich Nazi holdouts in Argentina, it is still a worthwhile read. (less)
I just finished 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. I gotta say that I was kind of snookered into reading it. Someone recommende...moreI just finished 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. I gotta say that I was kind of snookered into reading it. Someone recommended it to me online at a time in my life when I find myself interested in this topic. And when I went to Amazon to order it, I misunderstood the sub-title, thinking the ‘fiction’ referred only to using that technique to make the argument (for the existence of God). After finishing the novel, I went to the book’s Amazon page and read the description by the author and she states that “… the (book’s) subtitle (is) to be understood as a sort of joke, but as a serious one, too.” That’s kind of snarky to describe such an important and worthy topic -- the existence of a transcendent God -- and a contradiction, for how can we impugn something with a joke and consider it important at the same time? Or, can we?
Anyway, now that I got that off my chest… let me say that I really enjoyed the novel. I thought the characters were engaging and colorful, and I enjoyed seeing new worlds through their eyes (the Ivory Towers of the chosen and Intelligentsia, a Hasidic sect’s poor, but happy, enclave) that I would not normally get to see. Goldstein’s prose puts you there, capturing all that is going on between the players: the dialogue, the scene, stares, posture, smells; as a fellow novelist, I believe she gets the job done. I especially loved Klapper, a Faustian character without whom the novel would not have worked for me. As a newbie, the main character, Cass, can be forgiven for not seeing what he’s (Klapper’s) becoming. But I wondered what Gideon’s problem was. But it becomes clear that Gideon is a ‘true believer,’ unable to see that Klapper is like a Super Computer with a bad bearing in one if its drives, which, despite its massive intelligence, is about to screech to a halt issuing a big puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. Goldstein handles the sad story of Azarya well. Despite what ‘could be,’ he ends up sacrificing himself to carry on the family tradition… for the sake of The Community. I’ve seen people make similar sacrifices in other religious movements.
The great debate was captivating and well written, most of it seeming to hinge on the argument from suffering. Cass seems to have won it. The crowd thought so (and so did I). The ending of the novel was good, but I don’t believe that Cass and Roz will spend more than a few hours at New Valden. My impression is that they are not there to find God, but rather to connect with their roots.
Kudos to the author for making Cass an atheist with a soul, as that enabled me to hang in there with him for the duration of the book. In reality, most atheists would probably not make good protagonists as they seem to be arrogant and mean. I’m not surprised that atheism seems to have an especially strong appeal to people ages sixteen to forty, as they are in that phase of their life when they know it all.
Anyway, enough of that. Very good novel. Well done!
This is an obscure book, out of print. Nobody knows about it anymore, what with all nifty new books out about dystopian societies, and hunk vampires a...moreThis is an obscure book, out of print. Nobody knows about it anymore, what with all nifty new books out about dystopian societies, and hunk vampires and … whatever. But there might be a few folks who would enjoy it, maybe a historian or sociologist, maybe a high school teacher who assigns books about writers and writing, instead of The Hunger Games, or Dreams of My Father. And me. I know about it because I went and looked at James Jones’s classic novel of World War II, From Here to Eternity, when I was first thinking of relating my own experience of war in the form of a novel. And you might want to take a look at it too if you’re interested in WWII. I mean, why not start with a work by Frank MacShane, renowned literary biographer, about one of the best, if not the best, war writer of WWII? Although I’ve never read any of MacShane’s work before, I think he did a great job with this book and I’d be inclined to read his others. It’s a seamless job; you just go with the flow, soaking up the story of James Jones and his obsession with writing. It’s almost as if Frank MacShane had been a little bird perched on Jones’s shoulder and seen it all. Actually, MacShane interviewed over a hundred people who knew Jones, from fellow writers, neighbors, and doctors… to editors and fellow soldiers he served with. It all pays off in Into Eternity…
MacShane divides the book into three parts. The first deals with Jones’s youth, his stint in the army and his subsequent wounding on Guadalcanal, his medical evacuation back to the states, his treatment in Army hospitals, and his longed-for and hard-fought honorable discharge.
Part two follows Jones as he returns to his home town of Robinson Illinois. Like a lot of future returning vets, he did not fit in very well with wartime civilian America. He is lost, and it is not until he meets Lowney Handy, wife of one of the wealthy town locals, that he begins to move in the direction his life has been pointing him in, namely, picking up and learning how to use the writer tools required to lay down, over years and years, the book that he has long dreamed of, that would, when finished, be titled, From Here to Eternity. Lowney and Jones had a ‘master/disciple’ relationship, in more ways than one, and it could be argued that Jones would never have made it to ‘Eternity’ and Maxwell Perkins, winning the U.S. National Book Award in 1952, and a block-buster movie with Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, and Burt Lancaster (google them) -- WITHOUT Lowney Handy. Their relationship was… what do the moderns say… complicated. This part of the book, the (writers’) Colony part, or Lowney’s part, would make a GREAT movie, as I’ve already pointed out to… well, I won’t say.
Part three sees Jones and his new wife (Lowney is now completely out of the picture) sail off to Paris to start a new life. They rent, and then buy, a place on the Ile de la Cite. There they would channel domesticity, while at the same time, become gracious hosts to a collection of visiting literary types, musicians, actors, American students, and freeloaders. MacShane documents this in delicious details. Despite the wonderful distractions of fame and fortune, children, and a passionate marriage, Jones continued to work on his next book, never abandoning his dogged, Handy Colony writer’s ethic. By the way, MacShane includes many photos in the book and they serve as sweet icing on the literary cake he bakes.
MacShane’s book is worth a look to students of modern American literature. The exchanges between Jones and his friend and nemesis, Norman Mailer, are fascinating and telling, saying much about both men, as are all the quotes of other writers and luminaries on Jones and his work. The most shocking critique of Jones is what the great writer, Papa Hemmingway, offered when approached for a blurb. Won’t go into it here, but it does lend credence to the notion that the writers that love war most, are the ones who don’t really get that close, or if they do, make sure they have a ‘get out of town’ card tucked safely in their back pockets. Jones knew this and didn’t hesitate to say it.
And what about today’s literary lights and salt-of-the-earth bards? Is there a stunning, critical, tell-all biography of Neil Gaiman, Jhumpa Lahiri, or 50 Cent in the works? I have no idea. But until then, Into Eternity is a damn good example of the genre.
Okay, since I must review and rate it, in order to 'create' it in the Goodreads site, I rated it five stars and I think it's a damn good read, dark, b...moreOkay, since I must review and rate it, in order to 'create' it in the Goodreads site, I rated it five stars and I think it's a damn good read, dark, but honest and realistic. Contains no seemingly-invincible arm chair heroes and no fairy dust.(less)
I came back to this nightly, enjoyed it very much. It is moving and vivid. Given all the changes the Nanny State is institutionalizing -- rubberizing...moreI came back to this nightly, enjoyed it very much. It is moving and vivid. Given all the changes the Nanny State is institutionalizing -- rubberizing playgrounds, outlawing dodge ball because some kid might get hurt, giving the whole team a trophy so as not to hurt any one kid's feelings -- it's hard to believe there was a time when young Americans midway through their teens were so... mature, I can't think of any other word that applies, and ballsy, yeah, young American males with balls. Surfing the channels these days I feel sorry for young males in this country. They're subjected to tepid tales of metrosexuals, macho females... No wonder so many of them are lost. But I digress. This novel does almost require having a Spanish to English dictionary handy. And I found a site on the web that translates most of what's in there for you. This novel is reminiscent of Faulkner's work and I'm afraid that for too many young people pushed through American schools, it will be impossible for them to read. I could be wrong. But if they do read this they will discover some truths to life which, hopefully will negate some of the happy horseshit they've been fed over the twelve years of schooling they received. No, Billy does not make a Teddy Bear and Flower shrine for Boyd down in Mexico. As someone who writes I loved this book and it's motivating. I would love to meet the writer. There you go.(less)