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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Michael Cunningham - The Hours

Wow, I feel like I blinked at this book was over with. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I was reading. After finishing McMurtry not too very long ago, I sort of have the sense that if I don't hate every waking moment of my life for having to read a very long and very mediocre book then I must not be awake. Reading Cunningham was very refreshing, although a painful and hard-bitten book filled with what seems to be very petty people, Cunningham writes his like masterpiece with such confidence, at times to a slight fault.

I couldn't help be feel the entire time reading it how great of a writer Cunningham might think himself to be with his painfully exact little idiosyncrasies and maybe a little too over the top coincidences peppered throughout the novel. If there were one removed I might have found them charming, but overall I thought they were distracting. I think we really come to understand that these characters are living parallel lives, and they all coincide in the final chapter, and trust me I like that approach. I really do, and I thought it lovely, and the wool was completely covering my eyes as to the final chapter, and I sort of felt foolish for not picking up on it earlier, but I loved it either way. I really enjoyed this book, and as of yet, I don't know if I would definitely recommend a single pulitzer to my wife, who is not as 'accomplished' a reader as I am, but this one is going on her to read list. Cunningham for all the trashing I did earlier in this post, trust me with his acclaim he can stand it from a little piddly book-reviewer such as myself, he writes with clear, and I mean, crystal clarity into the heart of humanity. His subject matter was at times painfully alien from me and reader of readers so to speak, but this culture was pretty foreign to me, but it is still an accurate representation of the human condition far and away pristine in his retelling of real events. Cunningham is a master observer of life and love and heartbreak and a fine reteller of such events. I want to read more by him just to see him look into our soul's unselfishly and tell us our own stories. Cunningham is brilliant, a little overconfident at times, but he is brilliant.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ernest Poole - His Family

Boy am I confused about this book. I appreciated reading this work. Poole is a fantastic writer. He can really write an important sounding sentence. Poole fills this text with repetition, symbolism allegory, foreshadowing. At times Poole is really trying to write this novel, forcing images and symbolism that doesn't seem true to form. At other times, the way he constructed his characters seems as natural as breathing.

I want to read more of Poole, if I can find any of his work. I also would like to read this novel more than once. This would be a perfect novel to teach in a college course. Throughout the novel I found myself saying that there is probably more going on than I am able to comprehend at first glance. I wish I could have slowed down a little and taken my time with some of the portions I had questions about and I may revisit this novel.

One of the most interesting themes running throughout this novel is this surreal positive undertone. So many times things take a fantastic positive turn in this novel, and it is jarring. Poole is extremely supportive of Deborah's worldview which is pre-communistic if there is such a thing. Setting up a Utopian apolitical, a religious orphanage in the heart of Little Italy in NYC before WWI. It is incredible to think of Poole's story and how this book basically a forerunner of Communist Party literature winning America's prize and the first one at that. Poole went to Russia in 1919 to report on the People's Revolution. With this novel, Poole sort of comes out of the closet with his stance toward communism. Other than these repetitive overtones of the work, there is more going on than just a message art novel. Poole is a master craftsmen and I am glad that I was introduced this his artist heart.

The final thing on this novel is that it is the most original ending we have read so far. It is interesting that it is the first book on this list that has the most interesting ending, so be find the intriguing ending in the beginning for whatever that's worth. I have never read something so philosophical as the ending of this work. I would be remiss to give anything away about this ending, it isn't a twist, it is completely predictable, actually this is the most conventional ending of any book I have ever read, but the way he wrote it was a very very interesting choice. That is all I am going to say.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Larry McMurtry - Lonesome Dove

I don't have much to say about this book. I could not muster any sentimental feelings at any point during this way too long book. Drew and I talked a great deal while reading this one and sometimes that shades your view of the work, but this time I had my own opinion which was to be thoroughly unimpressed and most often perplexed by this novel. Now, I say perplexed not for anything that the writer did, but more of why did this novel win the Pulitzer prize for fiction? I didn't think that this was a bad novel. By any stretch of the imagination this novel made sense. All of the sentences linked together to form paragraphs, the paragraphs were grouped together to form chapters that led to a consistent theme and for predictable but more often than not well-rounded characters. There was plenty of conflict, and there moments when I wanted to see something happen to this or that character or to see a situation resolve itself. So all of that combines to not thinking that this was below average writing, but at the close of this work I couldn't help but think that this was just one in a long line of genre fiction that McMurtry has churned out an a stagger pace and with an inconceivable amount of words. But I think that is my point, I don't know why they picked this novel. I appreciated the characters and some of them were memorable and some were forgettable. I like to think Gus McCrae was worth following, I don't know about 900 pages of following, but at the end of the day, I was just confused. This is an pretty good novel. I wasn't staggered by its beauty or writing.

If anything it was the most underwritten thing I have ever read. McMurtry placed you in very interesting and poetic situations which I appreciated, but when it came to really capturing your heart McMurtry backed off and did nothing, let the moment fall flat and I didn't understand why he did it. Then he made things happen that were so counter-intuitive of a genre fiction Western, where he made a difficult and complicated ending out of a predictable, very conventional novel. McMurtry isn't a terrible writer. I might even be inclined to say that he is an above average writer that can tell a story. McMurtry even did so well for me to think that I actually have given some more attention to the American Cowboy as a very potent story in American history rife with plot and conflict and beauty. Whatever the case, McMurtry won for a novel I wouldn't have readily picked. If I had been asked to read this novel outside of this conflict, I wouldn't have finished it. If I had finished it, I would have felt ambivalent about it. If asked to discuss it, I would simply shrug to the person who recommended it, and ask them why. So to the Pulitzer committee of 1986 - Why Lonesome Dove? Any reason is fine, and I am not entirely mad about your pick, it was just a very perplexing book.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Julia Peterkin - Scarlet Sister Mary

For a majority of this read I was trying to piece together what the central conflict for this work was. There were a lot of pleasant sub-plots, but as for a central redeeming conflict for our conflicted main character to overcome, I was in the dark. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the work thoroughly, but that as a reader I was a little uncharted at times. I like to guess a little throughout the work of what is going to happen and what the conflict is, but in this one I couldn't really tell. One of the major reasons it was hard to look ahead was because our protagonist isn't always the most likable characters. Sister Mary is hard to get a handle on, which begs a very interesting question of this novel. Mary is rebelling ferociously against her very specific culture. Freed slaves in the south around the turn of the century that still live in the Plantation they were enslaved on in south Carolina. Mary is a very different main character and I loved her. According to her culture, she was a wicked woman, but according to our time and place she wouldn't have been to out of the ordinary, which made the reading of this character difficult. Then I think also that this book was written in the 1920's which would have made a black female protagonist that is a wicked woman a very controversial main character. To go a step further, for Mary then to be a character that Peterkin defends and justifies in her wayward ways would have been an incredible statement to the general population making a lot of claims about Christianity and proper marital relations.

Then comes a big part of the novel that I really admired. Along with the conflicted main character and the very avaunt-garde social dynamics that the main character displays was really eye-opening for me in this read. Peterkin was extremely ahead of her time in the writing of this novel. To think that Age of Innocence won not too long before this and that novel plays on a social tension that uses a lot of the same old Victorian dynamics that England had been using for the last 100 years. So for Peterkin to employ the same protagonist to go against the grain of her culture and the culture of the time in the way that Mary does is an extremely brave move. Then to put that all together, I got the very vague sense toward the very end of the novel that Peterkin was sketching out a very vague picture of the Odyssey in her novel. One of the only clues, other than some not to beat up on an overused word, but, vague overtones of the Odyssey's classic themes. On page 200 of my copy, Peterkin gives reference to Dawn rises and Peterkin personifying the sunrise as is famous from Homer, also having a cripple as a main character, Mary's journey into the 'underworld' of dramatic divinely inspired visions. All of this to combined in me the slight sense that some Odyssey allusions would be too far off.

To wrap up succinctly I really enjoyed this read. I can't help but think that Alice Walker's later Pulitzer-winning novel The Color Purple borrowed heavily from this work, in theme and some characters and situations, but I could see Walker giving a great nod to this novel than stealing from it. I would like to do some research on Peterkin and see how influential this novel was to African-American literature as a whole. I have taken college level English classes based on this time period and never read or even heard of Peterkin before this challenge which is remarkable to me for a writer or her caliber.