karen's Reviews > The Ungodly: A Novel of the Donner Party

The Ungodly by Richard Rhodes
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Jun 02, 10

bookshelves: table, tastes-like-people, icky-sex

i really wanted my last pre-proust book to be a home run - i figured if i was going to be immersed in one author's work for the entire summer, then i should read something memorable just before it as a springboard to prousting.

didn't happen.

and this review is doubly precious because the Creator may be watching- this is my first review that otis (my new goodreads.com friend - yay!) will be seeing. i imagine this is how the deeply religious feel about their particular deity - the constant scrutiny, the judgment, the pressure to please and impress...
here i am, living in your world...

but - book:

when i flipped through and saw that it was written as a series of dated entries, i naturally assumed they were diary entries, fictitiously but historically-plausibly attributed to a member of the party. but they're not. it is broken down like that simply to give a chronology, so you get things like this: May 16 - prairie travel. May 17 - Sunday. Traveled nonetheless. May 18 - Prairie travel. May 23 - prairie travel. May 23 - prairie travel.

i was so bored, that if richard rhodes were here, i would have made a stew out of him.

the whole first part is like that - it reads like a dull nonfiction timeline with no characters to hold on to, and then in the second part, it changes to having some characters given thoughts and dialogues, but by then, i was already pissed at the book, and each dated passage contains three different perspectives of people in three different locations without giving any real transitions, and i kept forgetting who was where, probably because i wasn't given a chance to "know" them in that introductory part - i had to keep stopping and trying to remember how many kids each person had, etc. this book should have pleased me more: it has survivalist elements, man against nature, and cannibalism. so why was it so freaking dull? the thing is, if i want to read nonfiction, i will bloody well read nonfiction, sir. don't trick me into reading it. in fact, richard rhodes, i am going to go out and buy the new nonfiction book about the donner party because it looks like good narrative nonfiction, and not some hodgepodge of the two.

but this is not a complete waste of a book, it just wasn't what i was expecting, so i was disappointed. despite most of the writing being perfunctory, there are a couple of gorgeous passages that just make me angrier because of what could have been:

He watched his wife and the 3 Murphy women and the children eat the stew. The had eaten hurriedly and hungrily before but now they dawdled over their food. Played with it with their spoons as if it was too hot. Toyed with it but not because it was a toy. They toyed with it because it had become precious to them. He felt the urge to do the same. To study each chunk of meat as it floated in his bowl. Look at the way the fibers were arranged. The patterns of the melted fat on the snowwater. The veins that ran like tunnels back into the meat. The smell that made his stomach ache. People shouldn't have to feel that way about food. Food shouldn't be that important.

(that was when they still had some meat - he isn't talking about people-meat there)

two donner-facts i did not know before starting this book: 1) that both of the donner brothers were over 60 when they started their journey. that is some serious balls. i mean, neither of them made it,true, but it is still impressive - their gumption. and 2) at one point there was a real need to eat the dead bodies because there was literally nothing else. but as the snow thawed and released some stockpiles of beef that had been inaccessible before, and the bodies of ponies etc, the survivors chose to continue to eat the human corpses, claiming that beef was "too dry". makes me wonder what i am missing out on, with my boring old beef meats.

so i am not taking it off of table - people can decide for themselves; the "banished from table" shelf is only for books i truly hated - this one just kind of bored me.

now i dive into marcel...
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Hah! Reading up on survival/cannibalism? I hope Esteban del Mal hasn't made you worried.


karen i'm thinking it can't hurt. plus, reading about people trapped in snowstorms makes me feel better in the heat.


message 3: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal This is such crap! I've cornered the cannibalism market already!


karen howzat?? i have a "tastes like people" shelf, what do you have?


message 5: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal I ATE MINE!!!

*burp*


karen hhahah okay - you get a point for laughter.
but i will be back...


message 7: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! There was icky sex in the Donner "party"?


karen well, if you don't mind eating dead humans, you probably won't be bothered by fucking them.

i will write a review for this as soon as i figure out why i didn't like it.

i should have liked it - it is a fascinating subject matter.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

i'm excited you are turning to marcel next. i'm still on sodom and gomorrah, but the prisoner and the fugitive just showed up from the uk this morning!


karen yup - june 1st - summer of proust.

well, four books of proust - i'm not rereading the first two...

hurrah!


message 11: by Courtney (new)

Courtney i bought the first book of the series. maybe i'll tackle that after the seducer series.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

whoa! that is a rather intense month, courtney. :)


karen seriously - both of those writers are so spiraling and intangible. but in a good way.


message 14: by D. (new)

D. Pow I am obsessed by the Donner Party. Been out to the site. spooky spooky place. There is a cool novel called 'Snow Mountain Passage' you might like, Karen. If you want to read more about boiled man meat.


message 15: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Then there's this one, "The Indifferent Stars Above"

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60...


message 16: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell 'Prousting'! That's a great term.


message 17: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Mmmm-mmmm, good!


karen finally able to get back on here!

thank you, d'pau - i ordered that book into the store today - look forward to it. and jessica - i am already all over that book - that's what my link was to; it looks really good! and brian, if it's people recipes you want, check this book out: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13...


message 19: by Jessica (new)

Jessica oh I should have noticed that link karen! you're ahead of me as usual


karen no, i am glad you were looking out - it was only an accident that i ran across it at work last week. it's true i see a lot of books in the course of my day, but there are so many i overlook. keep the recommendations coming, please!


karen perfect! it is a must-have for any serious gourmand.


message 22: by Lizzie (new)

Lizzie What's with Richard Rhodes? He's written such a weird variety of books - atomic bomb, his awful stepmother, sexual ecstasy, cannibalism. I love that in a writer!


karen that's what i love about both richard powers and barry unsworth.

i could give rhodes one more chance to impress me.


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