The first clue is in the title, but even if you're too jaded from horror fantasies to take heed of this clue, McCarthy's narrative swiftly sets the toThe first clue is in the title, but even if you're too jaded from horror fantasies to take heed of this clue, McCarthy's narrative swiftly sets the tone: this book is extremely violent. Apologists will defend the violence on the grounds that the images of violence themselves are not the point, and to that end I would agree. The first page, where the reader is introduced to the kid (Blood Meridian's sorry excuse for a protagonist and/or anti-hero, neither of which really fit the kid's role), states a primary theme relevant to this notion that the violence functions on a level higher than vulgar entertainment: "He can neither read or write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence."
The introduction of the book's other central character, Judge Holden -- or "the judge" -- reinforces the theme of "mindless violence," violence without justification, provocation, or premise. Violence for the sake of violence. The judge incites a riot at tent revival, which undoubtedly costs the blood of several men, including the Reverend Green who falsely accuses of lurid sexual misconduct. When he is confronted by the mob and asked where he met the preacher, the judge casually reports that he had never met the preacher before this night. The mob, no doubt with the preacher's blood on their hands, can only laugh and buy the judge a drink.
The judge's violence is manipulative and absurd. There are many memorable images of the judge: his dancing, his careful notations in nature log books, his first meeting with the retreating Glanton gang and his successful solution to their plight, his hairless nakedness, his naked stand at the river with the fool and a howitzer (which he does not use), and of course the judge and the fool traversing the desert with the most outlandish attire and parasol you'll find. There are more, but few of them involve the judge actually killing anyone. His violence is accomplished through other agents, primarily the members of the Glanton gang in this book.
These introductions to the kid and the judge foreshadow the second half of the book, in which the Glanton gang have lost their ostensible warrant for killing Indians and emerge as mindless murderers. The force of their acts (and the gory detail McCarthy invests them with) is not easy to swallow. The quick successions of death and the offhand dispatching of victims (even the least empathetic observer must admit these poor souls are victims) leaves one no room to account for their cause. The trick is, there is no cause.
So what of all this loose violence? Through the course of the book, it mounts and mounts, but does it all add up to anything? The sum does in fact result in an overall image that complements some of the judge's musings towards the end. Namely, his claim that war is inherent in human life, and that any attempts to stamp it out are perverse (and will result in perverse outcomes). The general, accumulative impression of "mindless violence" stands as McCarthy's literary rendering of the judge's articulations. The impression, the image is a portrait of a portion of humanity.
Instead of quibbling with the accuracy of this portrait (no one is accusing McCarthy of being a realist-- in fact, the surreal is expertly employed in Blood Meridian), let's instead turn to some discussion of McCarthy's style. The violence is graphic, yes, and his trademark biblical-apocalyptic diction and cadence is in full flower, too. But my favorite stylistic tool he uses in this book is obscurity.
Again, the judge is a prime illustration of McCarthy's tricks in this regard. The judge often pulls people off to the side, he will be "deep in discourse" with, say, the ferry doctor (poor guy), or will be giving musical instruction to a mariachi band in the background. I'm not certain how McCarthy achieves it, but this deliberate use opaque descriptions proved very colorful. Often the obscure descriptions of movement, which may enhance the reader's sense of the surreal. As if the judge is moving in step with some dream rhythm. Or, it may be memorable because of the way McCarthy's obscurity forces the reader's brain to paint the judge's movements, within the carefully established limits of the judge's character.
Another instance of this tactic is plainly stated in the chapter heading "The darkest corner of the tavern the most conspicuous" (Chapter 8). McCarthy relates scant details about this tavern corner and the encounter that takes place there (while in the foreground the Glanton gang are trying to get a drink). But the details are so well delivered and well chosen, that the resulting narrative of a knifing carries with it a definite air of mystery (and smoke). In this case, the obscure description may only serve to enhance the reader's experience of the tavern in general-- but it is an approach to enhancement and embellishment that is very effective.
One aid to his opacity is the aforementioned chapter headings. Whatever you do, don't disregard these headings! It would be well to read them carefully before starting each chapter, and re-read them after the chapter's finished. They allow McCarthy to state explicitly what he prefers to only hint at (for reasons stated above) in the course of the narrative. The headings are another example of McCarthy making economic use of his words, a practice I admire and encourage others to appreciate in him.
This obscure style, it should be obvious to point out, is in direct contrast to the style McCarthy employs in his descriptions of violence. It may have some connection to the judge's manipulative behavior, his status as Glanton's lieutenant and adviser. How does the judge's behind-the-scenes ploys inform the mindless violence? Perhaps the "darkest corner" way of describing things provides a clue? Or perhaps the style of opacity has a connection to the epigraph attributed to Boehme (which in turn is related to the unadorned newspaper-account epigraph describing archeological evidence of scalping)?
The two (the dark obscurity and the graphic violence) do seem to be intertwined, but a full articulation of their relationship will have to wait, at least in my case....more
What can I say about Moby-Dick? Not much, I'm not going to even pretend I have anything new to add to the century and a half of debate that surroundsWhat can I say about Moby-Dick? Not much, I'm not going to even pretend I have anything new to add to the century and a half of debate that surrounds this book. Instead, just a few quick notes on my reactions to it...
-Overall, I enjoyed reading it. Most shortcomings were overcome in the final few pages when I learned Ahab was the source of the immortal Star Trek quote "From Hell's heart I stabbeth thee" (I'm not even much of a Star Trek fan).
-I had expected 500 pages at least detailing Ahab's obsession with the White Whale. Instead, it was flipped around-- less than a third of the book dealt with Ahab, and over 500 pages were devoted to Ishmael's observations of life in general, and life on a whaling vessel in particular.
-Life on a whaler in the 19th century was dangerous business.
Though Michael Herr was a war correspondent for Esquire during the Vietnam War, the essays that comprise Dispatches do not resemble traditional journaThough Michael Herr was a war correspondent for Esquire during the Vietnam War, the essays that comprise Dispatches do not resemble traditional journalism in the least. For several reasons (many of which Herr details in the "Colleagues" chapter), this is a good thing. But everyone should know that rather than an account of the Vietnam War, what Herr delivers is an account of his experience of the Vietnam War.
And on those terms, boy does he deliver. Most of the time Herr writes with a style that aspires to the best of Kerouac, lots of run-on sentences, rapid-fire imagery, and little to no transition from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. But he tempers this style with a discipline to avoid dwelling on one thing too long, and for every passage where he meanders into cloudy, unclear speculations he redeems himself with a memorable simile or metaphor (an early example from the first chapter: "Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar.")
This is all as it should be, being a book on Vietnam. And for all the craft that obviously went into the book, the visceral impressions (in true Beat fashion) are what Herr is most interested in. This pursuit in capturing the unadorned experience of warfare (for a reporter) is established from the first chapter, "Breathing In". It's an extremely disorienting beginning, and you can be sure that's no accident. By the time the reader makes it to chapter 2 ("Hell Sucks"), you're off balance, and you've already shared in more violence and casual death than you'd care to repeat.
My reading of fantasy fiction begins and ends with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so take this all for what it's worth, but I really enjoyed Game of TMy reading of fantasy fiction begins and ends with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so take this all for what it's worth, but I really enjoyed Game of Thrones and am looking forward to reading rest of the series.
Most all the fantasy genre elements (that I'm aware of) are here: the vaguely medieval setting and diction, the lords, castles, & magic, the banners and their bannermen, and many others. But despite the easy readability (this has to be the fastest I've read a 600+ book), GOT rises above pure genre fiction.
For one thing, Martin organizes the narrative by assigning each chapter to a particular character's point of view (and naming the chapter accordingly) filtered through an authorial 3rd person voice. In a less solipsistic way, it reminded me of As I Lay Dying. At first, this proves to be an effective means of introducing the characters and revealing their inner concerns on their own terms, all of which has probably been done thousands of times by other writers. But as the story progresses, Martin skillfully uses these character perspectives to tell the stories and events where another main character is at the center. Prime examples include Lord Eddard's unfortunate sentencing (as told by his fugitive daughter Arya) and most of the battle action (told by peripheral characters such as Tyrion or Catelyn, or related well after the fact by messengers or others). You might think this refracted way of storytelling would lessen the impact, but instead it adds another layer each time and avoids cliches that might have crept in had Martin told momentous events through a 3rd person omniscient voice.
Then there's the political intrigue. The Seven Kingdoms are in a state of flux as the novel opens (heralded by the discovery of the direwolves in the second chapter) and they only get less settled as the story unfolds. Eddard constantly reflects that he has no stomach for intrigue, but it's flying all around him. Martin does a great job of pacing the revelations that issue from these intrigues, and also paces the action resulting from these revelations well.
Many of the settings in the book have creative details that set them apart from the average fare. The Wall would be the ultimate example here: a 700 foot wall of ice that separates the civilized world from the threat of Mance Rayder (the King-beyond-the-Wall) and his army of wildlings; giants; the Others, and who knows what else. The Wall has stood for thousands of years, and the black brothers of the Night's Watch have walked the wall for just as long. Winterfell has a complex system of hot springs currents running through its castle walls to keep it livable during the winters (which last years instead of months). The Eyrie is a castle built on the side of a mountain, and can only be reached by riding a donkey up steep mountain steps past 3 watchtowers, making it seemingly unassailable. Its "dungeons" contain three-wall cells whose fourth side opens out into a drop off the mountain-side, and its floors slant just so toward the drop-off. Most prisoners go crazy and take their chances "flying" off the mountain. The Dothraki Sea is a vast plain of tall windswept plants of various species and color.
The imagination in evidence here really does provide that immersive experience of another world. But the characters that live in this world are all-too-human. I've read that some have complained that Martin shares too much tendency toward tragic Shakespearian turns of events-- and by the end, you can't deny he agrees with the Bard's sense of arbitrary tragedy. But that kind of dark cynicism toward human behavior, where folly and madness reign and honor is rewarded with death (at best), is alright with me. Looking at the story with this theme in mind, Sansa is central. She is eager to please, always hopeful, young and pretty, says all the right courtesies, and even proves to be brave (you might say). But boy oh boy is she disappointed. And Martin really rubs your nose in her cruel disappointment in the last chapter that bears her name. Despite all that, I knew she had it coming, and I don't believe it was just the book's world that set those expectations. Maybe it was just me and my expectations-- but I would also argue most people would find Sansa's blithe ignorance a recipe for disaster.
Finally, I'll mention the magic and supernatural elements of GOT. For me, too much talk of mages, spells, potions, etc. really starts to grate. Also, magic can be a serious crutch writers lean on to conveniently (and ham-handedly) reverse the course of events towards whatever outcome he/she prefers. Not so with GOT. The very first chapter confronts the reader with the Others, a mysterious race of (dead?) beings with the capacity for vicious combat. But after that, for 400+ pages, magic and ghost-talk flit at the outer edges of the story. You hear bed-time stories from Old Nan, the maesters (doctor-councilors) hint at what magic used to mean, but for the most part these things are dismissed by the main characters. Magic and spirits loom over the Seven Kingdoms, rather than playing a direct role. And it is a dark sort of magic-- there's no colorful wizards, no magic wands. When magic does appear at the end of Dany's part of the narrative, it is black magic ("bloodmagic" the Dothraki call it), with dire consequences. (Dany's last two chapters made for some haunting reading). In short, I can stomach Martin's use of magic so far, and wouldn't mind seeing more.
By my count, GOT ended with 4 kings and 1 queen all in conflict with no chance of peaceful resolution. The second book in the series is called A Clash of Kings. Here's hoping the clash won't disappoint....more
Only about half of the stories here grabbed me, but the ones that did were so good that I'm really glad I read them all. It was well worth it. The betOnly about half of the stories here grabbed me, but the ones that did were so good that I'm really glad I read them all. It was well worth it. The better half is represented by "Night-Sea Journey", "Ambrose His Mark", "Water-Message", "Petition", "Lost in the Funhouse", "Life-Story", "Menelaiad", and "Anonymiad".
You might say that I liked more than half the book, because all the stories I listed above were the longer ones. Barth creates such colorful characters (and riffs hilarious jokes off them) that his shorter, disembodied ruminations on the nature of narrative (such as "Autobiography" and "Title") rang cold and didn't absorb me nearly as deeply. The shorter half's post-modern/meta-narrative tricks struck me as the kind I can appreciate as highly influential but a bit dated. And the thing is, his thoughts about narrative come across much clearer in those longer pieces, so I'm not sure about the value of the shorter ones-- course, I've only read the book once, so I could certainly be missing many details.
Three-fourths into the book I was really on the fence about the collection as a whole, especially considering the Ambrose-centered stores made up the bulk of my preference. Couldn't he have developed a Ambrose tale-cycle on it own? But, whoa, those last 2 stories are whoppers, and the doubt went away. "Menelaiad" in particular floored me (warped, twisted, and refracted), and I have a personal affinity for the way Barth treats the desert-island conceit in "Anonymiad". And besides really bringing the book home, those 2 stories may well end up get me to re-visit the Iliad and the Odyssey, and imagine Homer thus: "on a lorn fair shore a nameless minstrel Wrote it."...more
It's hard for me to think of something succinct to say about this book, because O'Connor's easily the best writer I've discovered since David Foster WIt's hard for me to think of something succinct to say about this book, because O'Connor's easily the best writer I've discovered since David Foster Wallace (2 years, maybe). There's her treatment of race relations, neither forgiving of ignorance and oppression nor pandering to arm-chair conceptions of equality which so easily devolve into condescension when faced with real life. She's a straight-up prophet in this regard. There's the hard-fought revelations and epiphanies, usually paid for with death, so beautifully expressed. There's her placement of pride at the top of the pantheon of sins, and the multiple ways she examines the pitfalls of pride. There's the way that her characters' attitudes seem to dictate their fate, though they would have you believe their actions speak for themselves... little do they realize their attitudes subtly modulate the tone of their actions, mostly for the worse and with mortal consequences. I could go on.
It's a bleak view of things, a thoroughly treated portrait of the Fallen Man. I can see why she was Catholic, and probably had no problem with Original Sin. That's a doctrine I've always taken issue with, but O'Connor makes a strong case. Either way, when she's quoted in the Intro saying, "That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it is a matter of no great consequence," it's crystal clear why she said it.
But ironically, and to her everlasting credit, O'Connor's stories are not directed exclusively to those who believe in Christ. Perhaps, if I were to try to tease a single thread out of these stories, it might be a universal sense of moral failing (expressed in our interactions with others) and the impossibility of escaping the indictment of that failing. You can run but you can't hide, you can retreat back home but it won't erase the past, it may be okey-dokey in your head but sooner or later you'll have to deal with the real world, etc. etc. True, if you give yourself over to O'Connor's view, it's Christ or a lifetime of depression, but I guess my point is you don't need Christ to get into her stories. There's no didactic Christian spoon-feeding, and in fact, there's many a character who uses the Bible and Christ for insincere means, which may or may not be a rhetorical device to welcome non-Christians into her narratives.
On the brighter side of things, apart from all these serious considerations that permeate O'Connor's stories, she's deadly funny, like any great writer I tend to fancy. Her characters are life-like and colorful. The Southern diction she perfected in her dialogues and interior monologues are a treat, and often disturbing at the same time.
And if I were to pick out my favorite stories here, I'd start with the entirety of Everything That Rises Must Converge... seriously, I want to find a good paperback copy from the 1960s, and mount it in my office. It's as flawless as a short-story collection gets. Within it, "The Enduring Chill", "The Comforts of Home", and the devastating final three of her life, "Revelation", "Parker's Back", and "Judgment Day" would have to be the top picks. The endings of those three stories, always a strong suit of hers, leave enough haunting images for a lifetime.
Then with the rest, from A Good Man Is Hard to Find and earlier, I liked best the title story (even though it's a shame it's the only that gets anthologized), "The Displaced Person", "The Artificial Nigger", "The River", and "The Peeler". But I gave this book 5 stars for a reason-- it's all amazing.
Finally, did you know John Huston directed a film adaptation of O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood??!? Me neither, before a few weeks ago, but it's now most definitely on the Netflix queue. There a handful of stories in this book that were later re-worked for inclusion in Wise Blood, so I'm psyched to see it....more
Definitely not a perfect book, but well worth the small amount of time it takes to race through it. maybe I had been extremely ignorant up to the poinDefinitely not a perfect book, but well worth the small amount of time it takes to race through it. maybe I had been extremely ignorant up to the point when I read it, but I had no idea there was serious (and I mean *serious*) gang violence before the drug trade became serious business. All-out war over "territory"?? Crazy, but apparently true....more
For better or worse, Peace is a book that demands a re-reading. It starts off innocently enough, seeming to be a straight memoir of the aging, stroke-For better or worse, Peace is a book that demands a re-reading. It starts off innocently enough, seeming to be a straight memoir of the aging, stroke-saddled Alden Dennis Weer. But as you read, certain things start to dawn on you, and by the end you're left with the urge to pick back through Weer's narratives to piece together the loose strands of the stories. I could only sustain re-reading for a few vital details before moving on to the next book, but even that brief return was worthwhile.
The books starts with the curious first chapter titled "Alden Dennis Weer". Here the narrative bounces between an odd visit to the doctor (where Weer tells the doctor to prescribe treatment for a stroke he will have in 15 years), to boyhood memories of his role in the accidental death of a fellow boy, to impressions of his mother, aunt, and friends, to stories (including a whopper of a ghost story) his parent's cook Hannah told to him as a boy, to a Christmas trip he took with his mother to his maternal grandfather's house in the country.
All of it is well told and simple enough, if not a little too loosely connected. But the chapter's end returns to Weer's doctor visit, and the doctor provides the rest of the novel's framing device: he engages Weer in some sort of psychological exam where Weer is to turn over a series of cards, and for each card "Tell me who the people are and what they are doing".
From there, the narrative stays focused for longer stretches, though the separate chapters themselves still seem disjointed in respect to each other. The second chapter, "Olivia", deals with Weer's aunt, who, after the death of Weer's boyhood friend, takes custody of the 6-year-old Weer while his parents travel overseas for an indefinite amount of years. Weer's memories focus primarily on Olivia's (or, Vi, as she prefers to be known) three suitors during his stay with her: a college professor, a well-off local merchant, and a banker who inherited his fortune and position and who would rather do anything else than banking. Much is revealed about Olivia through her relations with these men, and through the memories Weer has of spending time with his aunt the suitors.
Then, in the next chapter, "The Alchemist", the story moves on to Olivia's eventual husband, Julius Smart. This is the chapter that really hooked me. Weer recalls (to the doctor) a story Julius told at an informal gathering before he and Olivia had even became involved. The gathering included Smart, Olivia, one of Olivia's current suitors (the merchant), and Weer up past his bedtime. Smart, who has recently arrived in town as the new pharmacist, tells about his first pharmacy job out of college. The story involves his employer, Mister Tilly, an unusually tall, sickly man. He tells Julius he's haunted by the ghost of his dead wife who is poisoning his food with a substance that is slowly turning his skin to stone. He hires Julius as his store assistant and offers room & board if Julius will take care of him and allow him to work on pharmaceutical experiments he hopes will cure his skin condition. The whole chapter takes on the vibe of a first-rate ghost story in the hands of Julius, and grabs with you the creeps until the very end (which of course is pretty anticlimactic).
Plus, in the midst of the story, Julius lays frightened awake in his first night in Mister Tilly's house, and he has a vision of bright moon as a big orange (the orange playing a role in his bizarre interactions with Tilly during the day). In the fourth chapter, "Gold", you realize how important that vision of the orange would prove. Weer tells how after Olivia and Julius married, Julius founded a company that manufactured an orange-flavored juice. You also piece together that Weer made a decent living working in his now-uncle's highly successful company. Aha- Julius the alchemist forged the orange into gold. Right?
Well, "Gold" veers pretty drastically from any extended treatment of Julius the entrepreneur. Instead, Weer recalls his affair (in his mide-late 30s) with a local librarian, who in turn draws Weer in contact with the eccentric local bookdealer Louis Gold. So, if Gold is "Gold", then is Julius really the alchemist? Who forged Louis Gold (and his offspring, Aaron and Sherry Gold, both of whom play a part in Weer's memories)? Weer, the storyteller?
Further layers stack up as the plot of "Gold" culminates in Weer's realization that Gold is forging (ha!) rare books and selling them to the highest bidder. At first ashamed, once he realizes Weer will not turn in him in, Gold declares himself an artist and in the process delivers some interesting insights into history. The spectre of the ghostworld darts around the edges of this chapter too, because Gold is especially interested in rare books on necromancy.
This is also the only chapter that contains the word "peace" (so far as I could tell), which is cited as a quote from the ludicrously alliterative rare romance novel (and likely Gold forgery) The Lusty Lawyer. Fittingly the use of the word "peace" in this silly context provides little clue on how I might interpret the novel's title.
The final chapter "The President", much shorter than the first 4, gives the reader a glimpse of Weer's life as president of the orange-drink company. No obvious narrative arc appears, no surprise ending to tie up the loose ends-- rather, the Weer memories of this chapter focus on a rather off-hand account of he and his company's PR director escorting a journalist through the company's factory. Again, a ghost story is related (this time to the journalist, told by the PR director to distract the journalist from any substantive reporting). The factory tour ends, and after Weer learns of his secretary's sudden death (the enigmatic Miss Birkhead), the novel ends quietly and without any obvious revelations.
But, then the itch to re-read pops up. In lieu of an comprehensive review, I settled for remembering (as who could forget?) that the novel peppers little details throughout the novel, such as Weer's (post-stroke) house and its bizarre design. As he tells it, the house is comprised of all the rooms he remembers most fondly from his life. He wanders around the house as his stroke will allow him, looking for his scout knife. Each room has something to do with the stories that have been told throughout the book.
And, I did manage to track down the passages toward the end of "Alden Dennis Weer" where Weer tells the doctor (who, recall, is supposed to be treating a stroke Weer will have 15 years in the future) that he could "wipe out" the doctor if he wanted-- that, in effect, he was in complete control of the world they were both in now. It was an odd exchange the first time around, but after the accumulation of details about Weer's strange house and the countless ghost stories and books of the dead, I could think of one of two explanations for Weer's boast: 1) either he's capable of time-travel, or 2) everything below the narrative layer told by the stroke victim Weer is completely made up, and could be altered as he pleases.
Both possibilities seems plausible after reading Peace, and are perhaps not mutually exclusive.
The way the common experiences of memory sit so unassumingly next to the supernatural in this novel could be its best trait. In fact, on the surface the book has little to do with anything out-of-the-ordinary, and the ghost stories always have a rational explanation. But that doesn't stop the atmosphere of the stories of the dead from slowly pervading the memories of Weer's unexceptional life, until the atmosphere and memories become inextricable (upon re-reading), and new ways of approaching the novel's narratives (and how they connect with each other) begin to emerge....more
Instead of writing something that would need a spoiler alert, I'll just talk in general terms. This book has had a more chilling, lasting effect on myInstead of writing something that would need a spoiler alert, I'll just talk in general terms. This book has had a more chilling, lasting effect on my than many other books. It delivers the kind of slowly unsettling horror that comes when the author avoids graphic violence in favor of black humor (even though O'Brian indulges in the former early on in the book, and he's good at it).
I've read that this book has been rated as the first postmodern masterpiece, what with all the meta-fiction and the lengthy footnotes. And yes, I can see that it's an antecedent to many other stories and novels that have used the same devices. But one thing that struck me during the narrator's interactions with the 2 policemen (Pluck and MacCruiskeen) is that O'Brian's dialogue is a close precedent to Russell Edson's nonsensical dialogues. Both authors' character interactions also have the quality of taking place in a vacuum.
The narrator's obsession with the fictional eccentric de Selby is also an obvious highlight. De Selby is the kind of character I love to read about: he believed that night was the cause of the accumulation of insanitary "black air"; he felt that houses were contrary to the human spirit, and therefore to be avoided; he theorized that the world was "sausage-shaped", and that nearly all of humanity only travels in one direction, along the circumference of the sausage-- and that to achieve greatness, one must travel the along the barrel of the sausage; etc. etc. But apart from the pure joy of reading about such a character, and the way that O'Brian uses de Selby to introduce certain themes, you have to wonder how the narrator's retention of his de Selbian scholarship (while he forgets everything else) fits in with the rest of the novel's goings-on. This scholarship was the narrator's life work, after all.
Another thing connected with de Selby: his commentators. The narrator's great work in regards to de Selby was a comprehensive index which collated all of de Selby's works and the commentaries on them. Naturally, he gathered a large amount of information on these de Selbian commentators, and whenever you read a passage (sometimes lengthy) regarding a commentator or commentators, you can't help seeing the narrator's reflection in them (he being a commentator on de Selby himself).
But this is all making the novel sound boring and academic, when it is anything but. The narrator travels through a strange world, utterly bewildered nearly the entire length of his time there. That's one of the more unsettling parts of the book (and what makes the ending linger): the narrator never gets his bearings. He's always off-kilter, whether it's through the actions and daily work of Pluck and MacCruiskeen, the random occurences which effect him, the unbelievable things he's shown, the sure mugging/murder he nearly suffers at the hand of Martin Finnucane, the revelation of the secret of omnium.... all of these things contribute to the narrator's (and reader's) unbalanced position. Of course, the narrator only has one good leg (the other being wooden), and that only adds to the effect.
All in all, a lot of punch for only 200 pages. And I am sure that the overall impression that the novel leaves will stick with me for a good while. In my opinion, it's the best literary depiction of a certain place we all like to think we know well....more
Great stuff concerning how gradually the books of the new testament came to be regarded as canonical. Also includes a lot of interesting intro materiaGreat stuff concerning how gradually the books of the new testament came to be regarded as canonical. Also includes a lot of interesting intro material on the various sects of early Christianity that fell outside the catholic (spelled with a small 'c' & not yet "Roman Catholic") church-- Marcion, Montanism, the Gnostics.
Written by a Christian, but handled in an extremely even-handed, scholarly way....more
A bit uneven, but this was my first foray into the history of biblical canonization, & it was fascinating. Never knew much about Constantine or thA bit uneven, but this was my first foray into the history of biblical canonization, & it was fascinating. Never knew much about Constantine or the history of the fourth-century, so it was a good intro...more
As with anything canonical, this little history on jazz leaves out a lot, but I have 66 of these LPs so far, & as a broad-based/in-depth intro toAs with anything canonical, this little history on jazz leaves out a lot, but I have 66 of these LPs so far, & as a broad-based/in-depth intro to a ridiculously steep subject like jazz, it's a winner. Each album gets a thorough treatment from Lyons in the context of the musician's own history as well as of the period of jazz history he/she was working in.
Also, outside of the 101 "best" albums, Lyons recommends a boatload of other LPs that everyone's more than welcome to explore....more
Once you take this book as a cartoon (as indicated in the subtitle "A Cartoon"), it has a lot going for it. Lots of crackling language, the fracturedOnce you take this book as a cartoon (as indicated in the subtitle "A Cartoon"), it has a lot going for it. Lots of crackling language, the fractured narrative device (I, the author vs. I, Big George), the parallels and allusions to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the arbitrary Stephen King-like violence becomes part of the over-the-top characters and general atmosphere surrounding the book.
BUT, in the end everything hung too loosely together. The characters' identities don't have quite enough coherence (this is obviously as Vollmann intended) and the narrative arc disintegrates too often for me. The pros and cons pretty much even out, which isn't quite gonna cut it for a 600+ book. Especially towards the end I found myself wondering why I should care about Frank, Parker, Wayne, Bug, Mr. White, etc. etc. Made for a sluggish sprint to the finish line (purely as a reading experience). ...more