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Thursday, December 29, 2011

John P. Marquand - The Late George Apley

Sitting here in Starbucks on a Thursday morning, I read the last 90 pages here in the sweet smells of coffee and a variety of incongruos music. I can't find the particular reading mental energy from my apartment. I haven't read very much in my apartment since my wife and I moved to Lombard, IL. I find in my own recollection of this project that many things in mine and Drew's life has changed considerably. Though this project remains the same, same goals, same challenges, but the entire tone of that which we do now has changed. The motivations seem the same, but viewed in a different light given our different courses in our recent past.

When Drew and I began this project, we were so full of hope for what the future held for either one of us in the scope of this journey and our friendship. Several sharp turns later, especially for Drew, and we arrive at this current moment different people, changed for better or worse. I find this to be a central issue raised during the course of this project and especially raised in the novel I just finished.

John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley is a novel about a landed Bostonian arsitocrat during a time difficult, challenging, and potentially causing the existinction of everything he ever loved. Marquand picks his setting, timing, and contexts very well to execute his agenda against this character, but I found the novel not too one thing nor another which was very frustrating. Drew read this work a little while ago, and we talked about it before I began reading it. I have chosen the last few novels I have read by the website which generates a random number for me. I just plug in that the my minumum in 1918 the year the project began, and my maximum of 2010 which is the last year we had before we began this project. Nevertheless, Drew and i talk about this novel before I began it and he had a very ambivalent view of this work. As you can track over the course of this conversation between Drew and I we often have simliar reactions to books, where neither one of us have loved while the other has hated a particular work. Often if we have differing reactions they are shades of gray of one another where I believe I quite liked Martin Dressler where Drew was luke-warm to it, and the like. This novel proves no different for our track record. I remain ambivalent toward this novel with a strange conflicted like and dislike for it.

There are several aspects of this novel that I like very much such as the character development and the format that Marquand chose to pioneer it seems in this novel. His use of personal and professional tones through personal and professional letters written by Apyley was incredible. Marquand is a master of voice. Marquand can change tones and directions on a dime, and you never have to look back to the beginning of the paragraph to figure out who is talking because the voices of the different characters are stark and alarmingly distinct.

The aspects of this work that I couldn't stand were some of the things that Drew and I talked about before I begain reading such as: the idea that this work is a satire of the Boston elite. I have nothing but glowing approval of well-done satire even if it limits the work due to the nature of satire to the context of its own time and concerns. There are several conflicts that are so universal that can stand the test of time but often this is not the case. Apley I think can stand the test of time if it is made obvious to the reader that this is in fact a satire but not one that is terribly funny. Given these parameters the jury is out as to whether this novel works as a true satire at all. Certain aspects can only be seen as purely satire, but much of the novel is completely genuine and emotionally quite evocative. I am very uncertain about this book, but is was a pleasant read, and I am glad it is over.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sinclair Lewis - Arrowsmith

I know that it has been awhile since my last post here. Drew and I started a new blog on WordPress I believe, but I do not remember the login information there so I am just going to record my blog here and transfer it over there so I start my next book. Right now I have my Winter Break from seminary courses at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. My wife and I moved from Bradley, IL in September, quit our jobs and got rid of a lot of our stuff to pursue this thing, and now that I am done with my first quarter of school work, I am finally able to get back to reading fiction which is a welcome relief from theological reading and writing. The one thing that I must really train myself to do is when school gets back into session, that I am not pining after reading more pulitzers. This project has been something that I have been able to put down and let it stay down for awhile, but when I pick it up again, it consumes all my waking attention.

Sinclair's Lewis' book I started reading quite some time ago, I believe I started reading it while I was a substitute teacher at St. Anne High School. I had a prep period one period there and I forgot to bring a book, or maybe actually I finished the book the period before, I don't remember, and I look through the English teacher I was subbing for's little library. This little library was for students to take books from to do book reports if they forgot to go to the library or bring one from home. I found Arrowsmith the same edition I had and nearly the same shape, tattered and marked. So I began to read it, but shortly after that Drew and I must have come up with a challenge because I put it down and didn't come back to it for a couple of months. I eventually, because I had bought copy I had used and it was in terrible shape, I went and bought a reading copy at Barnes & Noble. So I finally pick it up and discovered that I only had 250 pages left to read, so I decided it would be an easy finish for me at the beginning of my break to sort of get me back in the spirit of the project.

Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith is a convoluted book that seems like it saying one thing when it is definitely saying another. I enjoyed reading it, but as has been the case with some of the Pulitzer's so far, I wondered what it meant and why it won the award. I don't think fiction has to mean something, but more specifically I wondered what it meant to him, what it meant to the Pulitzer committee, and what it is supposed to mean to me. I really like the turn of the century Christian influence that Arrowsmith buts up again through out the plot who are mostly ambivalent characters if not a little annoying. My favorite quote is one from one of these zealous Christians, Ira Hinkley, addressing Arrowsmith very early on in the plot, "You think you have some of these fancy modern doubts, but I tell you simply got indigestion." Then he tries to convince him to go to a YMCA and exercise and study the Bible. I just thought Lewis' recollection of these characters to be funny and mostly amiable. Lewis really really investigates the scientific aspect of this novel, and if any one out there is a Scientist and is looking for a novel to read this holiday season - this is the book for you. There are large portions of this book that I had to read somewhat slower to track why this experiment going wrong would effect the plot, but at points he gets pretty technical with early 20th century scientific jargon. It is fun to read things of that time period and see how entrenched in the time that it is, but also how timeless these pursuits are.

Lewis paints a picture of a altruistic scientist, Martin Arrowsmith, who is constantly finding himself impeded by the influence of others on his time and research capabilities. All that Arrowsmith would like to do in the world is sit in a laboratory and experiment for the rest of his life. The first hiccup to any of that is experience in Medical School at Winnemac where people are constantly intruding on his time like the above quoted Ira Hinkley, Cliff Clawson, and eventually Leora, his soon to be wife. Then Leora and Martin go and live with her folks for awhile while Martin practices medicine in Wheatsylvania, North Dakota where Leora is from. Here, Martin is impeded by Leora and her family who not only don't understand scientific research but don't understand fully the practice of medicine. Martin's reputation is tarnished here and they moved to Nautilus, Iowa where he meets another loud-mouth Christian with political aspirations Pickerbaugh. Pickerbaugh saps all of Arrowsmith's time with grand standing and general phoniness. From here Martin joins a practice of his follow Winnemac student Angus Duer in Chicago, this from here he goes out to be with his professor and life-long hero Gottlieb. Here is where the book actually starts to be a book, all the rest of the book really seeks only to affirm the relationship between Martin and Leora in a quasi sincere way. I believe the characters and their relationship, but I am not sure I take it all the way Lewis wants me to. So the ending isn't as powerful to me. But the novel begins when Martin lands in New York. The characters are there for awhile and it really develops the atmosphere perfectly, then Martin meets up with a previous character, Sondelius, and finds himself in St. Hubert of the Caribbean fighting plague. This scene is a great protracted scene with some bitterness in it. Then Martin returns to New York and lives out his days in general lackluster writing. This book has over a hundred times where it could have stopped and didn't, and it is mostly the question of this reader where things should have ended and why they didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think it was a complete waste of my time having read this book and would recommend it as a very decent read to anyone who has the time.