Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Look Homeward, Angel (by Thomas Wolfe)

Oh my god, I hated this book so much. The longer it went on, which is "interminably" in case you were wondering, the more I hated it.

In my journal I said that it's "like The Corrections, only autobiographical and bad." It's about a family, and it's supposed to be realistic, because it's the author's barely fictional account of his own life. Except The Corrections is entertaining, and I cared about the characters. Not only does this novel have no forward momentum whatsoever, there is absolutely no reason to care about the characters.

First of all, we meet Gant, who is only important (we later learn) because he's the father of Eugene, a barely veiled stand-in for the author. Two hundred pages we spend on Gant and find out a whole lot of trivial details that mean nothing. It's incredible to me that so much verbiage is spent on this guy and he's still a caricature by the end of it. He's a mean alcoholic and he "wets his thumb" before he talks, and he is irrational and yells at people. For six hundred pages. That's it. He doesn't grow, change, or evolve. Because nobody grows, changes, or evolves in this stupid novel.

Then there's Eugene. Why do we care about him? We don't. He's a genius and a dreamer and he has an ego that the author means us to affectionately laugh at. (Although this begs the question, because the author clearly hasn't "outgrown" Eugene's problems with ego, as evidenced by the fact that the novel exists.) Why should we care? He hates his family, he learns some things, he's mildly sympathetic, but he's not especially interesting. And his family, although it's supposed to be this terrifically real portrayal, is written about in excruciatingly repetitive style. Helen "plucks her large chin." Ben says "Oh my God" a lot. Eliza is cheap. By the end, it's so ridiculous that I wanted to fling the book across the room. What's the point of having an "Eliza is cheap and Ben yells at her" scene every 50 pages? This book would have been far better, and gotten the exact same points across, if it were 200 pages long instead of 600 pages long.

And all the while, we learn about the minutia of Eugene's ENTIRE FUCKING UPBRINGING, to the last decimal point, and we do not care. And barely anything happens. And it sucks.

Apologists for this stupid ass novel admit that it is self-indulgent and all, but it's just so well written! It's brilliant! No, it isn't. It's someone trying to be Joyce and as much as Joyce annoys me at times, at least I can respect him. There's a whole chapter where Eugene pointlessly wanders through the town and the end of every paragraph is a quote from Shakespeare or similar. It's supposed to show Eugene's inner self, be a stream-of-consciousness thing, whatever. Show his erudition and self-absorption, I guess. But it comes off as tiring and gimmicky and absolutely as pointless as everything else in this novel.

I seriously can't think of another novel on my reading list that I think is so overrated. Also, between this and An American Tragedy, I am very tired of modernist bildungsroman novels. One bright side is that one of the few books remaining on the list is Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I can't help but feel that I will like it much better after having read Look Homeward, Angel. Bleh.

Oh, just to adhere to the "yin-yang" principle that I tell my students gives their reviews some credibility, there is some nice writing in this novel from time to time. I guess. Below is one of the only sentences in the entire novel that I enjoyed. But a lot of the time it just seems so strained, like "oh look at me, how poetic I am!" and it made me want to throw the book across the room again. Ugh. Ugh. Thomas Wolfe. I hate you.

"'My dear, dear girl,' he said gently as she tried to speak, 'we can't turn back the days that have gone. We can't turn life back to the hours when our lungs were sound, our blood hot, our bodies young. We are a flash of fire--a brain, a heart, a spirit. And we are three-cents-worth of lime and iron--which we cannot get back.'" (Page 461)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more.

4:04 PM  
Blogger A Real horrorshow said...

Feeble, restricted minds, cannot understand the true meaning and language in this reading. It is long because thats how he wrote it....and I don't think that your personal opinion against it winning numerous awards counts for shit. The reason I got so heated whilst reading your entree was for the simple fact that you kept going on and on.....the very thing you accused the book of doing. I don't know what time of the month it was when you read it, but if you can step outside of the box, out of the everyday fast paced bul shit nothingness that our society has become, and get off the rag long enough to feed your mind with good literature.......I think you will find it rather amazing. If not, I am sure "RENT" is right up your alley you fucking twat. Smootches,


2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that I did enjoy the book, but I am not about to agree with this other guy. Some people just have different tastes in literature... I'm suprised that someone who accuses others of feeble, restricted minds isn't is following his/her own advice when it comes to accepting others opinions. Have an open mind... smootches...

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with the hating of the book and how overrated it was... It was one of the most boring romantic bullshit stories i have ever heard.

12:27 PM  

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