I was excited to read this book because of comparisons made to Mark Twain, Charles Portis, Cormac McCarthy and the...moreSomewhere between 3 1/2 and 4 stars.
I was excited to read this book because of comparisons made to Mark Twain, Charles Portis, Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, all artists I like very well. I think my expectations had everything to do with why I initially didn't like the book, but I stuck with it and am glad I did. On its own terms it is a very good book.
I think the Coen Brother comparison is the most apt (by which I mean it is the only one of the listed ones that is apt). In of the Coens' movies there is a shadowy, creepy fat cat type behind a desk with a cigar who is in some way controlling things (think Paul Newman in The Hudsucker Proxy, Michael Lerner in Barton Fink, Albert Finney in Millers Crossing, etc), and as Eli confronts the Commodore in the end, I thought of this type. The anachronistic dialog in the mouths of folk who should be more simple also recalls them.
The elevated dialog is most likely why the book has drawn comparisons to Portis, since Marshal Cogburn and crew spoke similarly anachronistically in True Grit. However, that was due to the narrator being an elderly Presbyterian woman, filtering the story through her politics, religion and disappointment. This lends True Grit much of its humor and pathos. Here, the dialog is more of a true anachronism, much like O Brother Where Art Thou or Raising Arizona.
The McCarthy comparison is tempting because it is a western and is remarkably violent in places. Also McCarthy's humor is somewhat underrated. However, the violence here seems to be a true nihilism, whereas in McCarthy violence is a part of the landscape, a part of the way things are, a part of the meaning of life. The fading of the West and the incorporation of the landscape into modernity make McCarthy's work almost an elegy for a pre-industrial world. The world that replaced the old has made many things easier, but only masks the savagery of humans toward each other. There is much more to be said about McCarthy's vision, but suffice to say that vision is not DeWitt's.
This is more a comedy in the vein of a Coen or Tarantino movie. The exaggerated characters, the dialog, the violence all create a vivid image and it is very entertaining one. Its nihilism is much like the Coens' or (in a comparison I doubt has been made yet) Seinfeld's.
All in all, I'm glad I pressed through and got over my initial expectations, since I ended up enjoying the book very much. Still read McCarthy and Portis first...(less)
More like a 3 1/2. This brief book gets the information across, but suffers by comparison to Chernow and McCullough and, to a lesser extent, Ellis. If...moreMore like a 3 1/2. This brief book gets the information across, but suffers by comparison to Chernow and McCullough and, to a lesser extent, Ellis. If I hadn't just read four excellent biographies by them I may have rated this higher. If you want a succinct biography of Madison, however, this is certainly not a bad one.(less)
I have to say that the bar has been set pretty high for my chronological presidential biography reading...moreI finished this on my lunch break last night.
I have to say that the bar has been set pretty high for my chronological presidential biography reading project. Both Chernow's Washington and this on on Adams have been excellent.
Next up American Sphinx, and maybe another Jefferson biography I found at a used book store a couple of weeks ago. I'm probably going to read Chernow's Hamilton book before a Madison biography, since Hamilton seems to be the foil to everyone else.(less)
This is the first book toward my latest reading goal: to read a biography of each President chronologically. This is mainly to get an overview of Amer...moreThis is the first book toward my latest reading goal: to read a biography of each President chronologically. This is mainly to get an overview of American history that is not written by a single author. I'm not setting a time limit on this goal, particularly since I'm trying to get back into school, but I think it will be worth the time spent. I'm going to read the McCullough John Adams book. Anybody have a suggestion about a Jefferson biography?
The Washington biography was excellent. It seems fair, it didn't gloss over his status as a slaveholder, his chronic money problems or the criticisms leveled against him by the Jeffersonians. I did not want to read a hagiography. However, the book did illustrate why he has such a prominent place in history. This is a very well researched, well written biography, and I would recommend it.(less)
More like a 3 1/2 stars but I'm rounding up. Edit: after further thought it is a solid 3.
I wanted to completely dislike this book. There are other au...moreMore like a 3 1/2 stars but I'm rounding up. Edit: after further thought it is a solid 3.
I wanted to completely dislike this book. There are other authors who do fantasy with techniques cadged from that other genre literary fiction far better (Gene Wolfe and Jeff Vandermeer come to mind. In one sense Pale Fire stands in relation to Shriek: An Afterward much in the same way that Voyage of the Dawn Treader stands in relation to this book. Shriek is, however, by far a better novel). The literary references are so on the nose. The characters are all self absorbed rich brats like someone in an 80s movie based on a Brett Easton Ellis novel or Money by Martin Amis. Grossman tries so hard to subvert the Narnia books, to make them Adult that he forgets to tell his own story. This is how I felt reading the first novel, and the first third of this one. Then, something happened.
The characters begin to grow and change. The introduction of Julia as a counter-point of view to Quentin's (the point of view character for the first novel and two thirds of this one)really adds some perspective to the readers understanding of the first novel. Both characters have horrible things happen to them (particularly Julia). However, her journey is much tougher than Quentin's. The characters grow and change, and as one reviewer I read points out, there is another character, Poppy, who is actually well adjusted. They move past the angst and ennui to a certain extent.
I will never be able to be objective about the Narnia books, particularly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, having read them probably 20+ times as a kid. My mental wiring is set. I still love that book. The Magician King tweaks the story of the Dawn Treader, which was more of a travelog than a quest, and it tries to show Fillory, the stand in for Narnia in a more adult light, but the echoes of the Lewis novel may account for my coming around to enjoying enjoying it as much as I did.
The Magicians felt like someone was trying to see what would happen if Ellis or Amis or Franzen had written a Narnia book (very obviously and self consciously). About a third of the way into this novel he seems to let go of some of that attempt, and pretty effectively tells the story. Still, there is enough of the self conscious literary gamesmanship and petulance on the part of the main players that my thoughts about the novel remain mixed.