Meghan Fidler's Reviews > Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
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's review
Oct 17, 2014

liked it
bookshelves: american-literature
Read from March 20 to April 04, 2012

I picked up Henry Miller because he was a lover for one my favorite writers, Nin. If she liked him, maybe there was something to him?
Well... "Tropic of Capricorn" explained why Nin was able to depict, with a kind of intuition that borders on clairvoyance, what happens when woman fall for egocentric male characters.

Miller is famous as a bad boy. He wrote of the pitfalls in American society and he wrote frankly of his 'sexcapades' before the 1960s, breaking the conventions of what one does, and does not, write about in texts (accolades to my lover, a historian, for this insight).

And, frankly, some of these visions of social relations are stunning. For example:

"There must have been millions of them like him, big children with machine guns who could wipe out whole regiments without batting an eyelash; but back in the work trenches, without a weapon, without a clear, visible enemy, they were helpless as ants. Everything revolved about the question of food. The food and the rent—that was all there was to fight about—but there was no way, no clear, visible way, to fight for it. It was like seeing an army strong and well equipped, capable of licking anything in sight, and yet ordered to retreat everyday, to retreat and retreat and retreat because that was the strategic thing to do, even though it meant losing ground, losing guns, losing ammunition, losing food, losing sleep, losing courage, losing life itself finally. Wherever there were men fighting for food and rent there was this retreat going on, in the fog, in the night, for no earthly reason except that it was the strategic thing to do. It was eating the heart out of him. To fight was easy, but to fight for food and rent was like fighting an army of ghosts. "

It sounds and feels familiar. It depicts the rise of the Occupy movement, it says what so many of us struggle to find the words to express.

And then he keeps on saying it in one long never ending tangent.

Stream of consciousness is great, but this particular consciousness? The plot, or any sort of movement, is there, buried within one long never ending motif of ego, subsumed beneath the I think this, I did this and think this, I see and think this, I, I, I.

All of which would be fine, if Miller was a man whom I would like to speak with, a man whose thoughts on the world were something I enjoyed. This is not the case. Miller is a man I'd avoid, and be polite just so that I could call him 'honey,' insuring that I would never give the time or energy to memorizing his actual name. I would erase him in my daily movements, treating him as a peg, a placeholder, another person lost within the swelling seas of people with whom I will never know, or will never care to know.

There are a number of good insights and well written lines in the book...which I didn't finish, for I feel no obligation to continue the relationship. This means I may have missed some even better descriptions. I am fine with this. To find them I would have had to wade through a never ending flippancy of the rotating subjects surrounding Miller's I, and "hang out" with the man... or at least with his mind.

I decline.
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Peter Thank you for this very thoughtful, helpful review. I also could not take the egotism and put this down less than halfway through.

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