Well, while I haven’t blogged for a month, I have been reading!
The women in my family took a trip to Myrtle Beach for a weekend. I’m not hard to entertain; I spent three days reading on the sand, and knocked off 3 books on my 20before20 list! It’s also been a month of firsts, which is what this blog is all about — end of my first year of college, beginning of a new job, and beginning of a summer class. I’ve been keeping pretty busy. A side note that I realized when writing this post is that all of these books have movie adaptations; I just added A River Runs Through It, with Brad Pitt, to my Netflix queue. I’ll let you know how it compares.
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
I began this book intrigued by Styron’s layers of background detail of the mysterious Sophie and her troubled lover, Nathan. But over the course of this book, which I read on the sand next to my twelve-year-old sister, I grew bored and exhausted. I grew bored of constantly having to shield pages of Stingo’s raunchy imaginings from my sister. I grew exhausted by Nathan’s mania, and Sophie’s defense of him. I grew exhausted by how close I was to liking the book — one less pornographic scene, or a little less buildup to Sophie’s Choice. When Sophie was forced to choose between her children, I almost missed it — and then the book spiraled on, to its dispiriting conclusion. I’m not sure what Styron was trying to say — if Sophie’s grief eventually caught up to her, or if the horrible end that she escaped at Auschwitz dogged her to a bedroom with Nathan, or if Stingo was always powerless to help the lost.
All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
I found this book’s prose and exposition slow at first, but then I became caught in the vivid Mississippi (Louisiana?) trawl of its characters. Maybe because the narrator, Jack, is a small-time reporter, or maybe because the story of Willie Talos (originally published as Willie Stark) is the inevitable arc of the politician. Talos’s change from small-town politician trying to make change for the common man, to a corrupt boss in the governor’s seat, is a mythic fall. But Jack recounts Talos’s story with an intriguing mix of venom and compassion, and Talos’s fall comes not from a lawsuit or another politician, but upon being revealed as an adulterer and a bad father. He built his career upon the faults of other men, and found his own faults exposed in a blinding instant.
I did not enjoy reading this book, but I liked it, and I liked it in the light of the last few pages, where Jack is looking at events in the light of his marriage. He has to live with the consequences of what Talos did, not only to the state, but also to his future marriage to Ada. The past and present do not exist in a vacuum, but are tangled ceaselessly together, and all the king’s men cannot right certain wrongs.
A River Runs Through It, by Norman MacLean
I had to get away from the Holocaust and corruption scandals, so I picked up MacLean’s novella. I knew only that MacLean was a Presbyterian and a writer, like me. I have never picked up a fly or a fishing pole in my life, but MacLean’s genius is in drawing in both the aficionado of fishing and the initiate.
Paul may be the best fly-fisher Norman has ever seen, but he parties and drinks at all hours, and Norman can never work up the courage to address Paul’s drinking problem. Drawn together by a lazy cousin who steals their beer, falls asleep naked by the river with a whore, and, worst of all, hates fishing, Norman and Paul share a moment of joy by the river. But MacLean quickly dashes a moment of foreboding, falling on the heels of Paul’s triumph: “‘Just give me three more years,’ Paul said… and I realized that the river must have told me, too, that he would receive no such gift.”
MacLean reminds me most of Wendell Berry, known for his pastoral elegies in rural Kentucky. MacLean enlists the natural world to tell us about Paul and Nathan, and the words we wish we would have said. Fly-fishing becomes a means to talk about brotherhood and debt. A River is not really about fly fishing; it is about the Calvinist shadow of debt and obligation that hangs over Norman while he struggles to make sense of his brother’s brutal death. I fell in love with this book in the closing paragraph, as Norman fishes and writes in a way to remember his brother. I fell in love with his turn of phrase that describes a river running through all things, and the words that lie beneath the water.
I need to go to the library to stock up on the rest of my classics, but I’m currently on a theology-philosophy kick, and have been reading some Lauren Winner and Frederica Matthewes-Green. On the 20before20 side, I also wrote a few letters and drew a sunflower with color pastels. And I started a new short story, inspired by Of Mice and Men. Have a lovely Monday!