I didn’t really like Ragtime. I didn’t really hate Ragtime.
The novel was a little like a plain, dry biscuit without much seasoning. It might nourish you a little bit, but you’ll probably have forgotten about it by the time you take the last bite, or close the back cover—if you get that far.
I don’t know that I ever really got Ragtime. Maybe it’s the historical fiction angle. Like, why do I care to read about people like Harry Houdini and J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford and Booker T. Washington (all of whom are characters in the novel) if the story is just that—a made-up story.
If I’m going to read about Booker T. Washington or J.P. Morgan, then I want to know what really happened in their lives, not a concocted, fictional account. But that’s just my view of historical fiction. And that’s definitely what I’m left thinking after having read Ragtime.
In full disclosure, the above historical figures aren’t main characters or protagonists, but they appear enough to be a distraction to the main plot, at least in this amateur reviewer’s opinion.
If I had to describe The Sun Also Rises in one sentence, I’d probably say something like “Imagine a European, classier version of the movie Animal House, and you’ve got The Sun Also Rises.”
I think that’s fairly accurate.
The book details the adventures of several American ex-pats who travel from Paris to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls, watch bull fights, drink enormous amounts of alcohol, and engage in casual sex.
In addition to Animal House, the novel reminds me a little of a European version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. And that’s actually a little strange because Hemingway and Kerouac couldn’t have more polar opposite writing styles.
It’s just a lot of care-free twenty-somethings traveling around, meeting new people, and “living the life.”
Call me cynical, but when I hear the term “experimental novel” I just assume that the author got bored and wanted to do something different.
Really, it’s probably just a different way of interpreting what we call the traditional novel. And one of the ways an author can do that is through structure.
Pale Fire, which I reviewed last month, is a novel that fits that bill. And, two novels later, completely out of coincidence, The Golden Notebook is another one.
The novel focuses on Anna Wulf, author of a famous novel who, after suffering from writer’s block, decides to record her thoughts, reactions to events and news stories, and all sorts of interesting stuff, into four colored notebooks.
Snow Crash reminds me a lot of a typical Saturday Night Live episode.
If you know the SNL formula, they start with the strongest skits first. Since the show airs at 11:30 eastern time in the U.S., they schedule the funniest stuff at the beginning, hoping to keep as many viewers for as long as possible.
Around 12:45 a.m., though, and some might argue that it happens much earlier, the stinker skits come out on stage. These aren’t near as funny. They’re sometimes awkward. And, as you sit on the couch while not laughing, you ask yourself, Why did Chris Rock ever leave SNL?
That, in a nutshell, is Snow Crash.
For about 100 pages, I was in love with this book.
Passages like the following jumped off the page:
This is one of the strangest, most fascinating books I’ve ever read.
Essentially, Pale Fire is a poem inside a novel inside a novel. Follow? Probably not. It’s still a little confusing to me, and I’ve read it.
Vladimir Nabokov, famed author of Lolita, frames the novel around a 999 line poem written by fictional poet John Shade. The poem, which is a story in itself, is the launching point for a literary critic (who claims to be Shade’s neighbor) to provide a couple of hundred pages of commentary—through footnotes—about the poem.
The problem is, our fictional commentator (Charles Kinbote), appears to be a crazy man who stalks John Shade, and who claims to be a former king of a land called Zembla. This guy is certifiably nuts, and it’s hard to know how much he is telling is truthful and how much is purely delusional. Toward the end of the book, you may even begin to question if Kinbote just made the whole thing up entirely.
But that’s part of the fun. Pale Fire is entertaining because Nabokov basically allows you to be a detective as you try and figure out how much of what Kinbote is saying is true, a lie, an honest mistake, or just plain crazy.
“To dance is to live.” – Famous dancer person
Dancing represents life, vitality, happiness, even sexuality.
A good dancer is never more alive than when she dances—heart thumping quickly, blood churning through her veins, sweat pouring profusely from her pores.
All of these are good things. They’re happy and festive and joyful. They’re interesting and intriguing. I like them. You like them. We all like them together.
They’re everything A Dance To The Music Of Time is not.
This review seems pointless.
I think everything that can be said about The Great Gatsby has already been said. So I’m not reinventing the wheel here, not that I ever do during any of my reviews (I use the term “reviews” loosely).
Having read this novel many times, you’d think I could write pages and pages about The Great Gatsby—and I guess that’s what I’ve done over the last few weeks—but, still, trying to sum up the amazingness, fabulousness, splenderificness of this novel in a short review is difficult.
So I’ll start with this:
Ever read this plotline before?
Rich aristocrat has the perfect life in massive estate with beautiful wife and perfect child. Rich aristocrat’s beautiful wife gets bored and begins an affair. Rich aristocrat experiences brutal tragedy. Rich aristocrat escapes reality by going on an adventure that goes terribly wrong.
I don’t know if I’ve read that exact plotline before, but I’m certain I’ve seen variations of it. The good guy has the perfect life but sees it all fall apart.
In A Handful of Dust, a title that comes from a passage in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Evelyn Waugh follows that formula with incredible results. This is an outstanding novel, even though, yes, it’s depressing. I’ve grown to accept that from almost every book I read on this list.
Invisible Man is hands-down one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read.
I read the novel in college, and I don’t know whether it was age or maturity, but Invisible Man slapped me across the face this time around. I won’t forget it.
It starts with an unnamed protagonist—the “invisible man” modeled after the unnamed protagonist in Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground—who grows up in Harlem in the middle of a racist society. To earn a scholarship to college, he has to participate in a “battle royal” while blindfolded with other young black men.
Older white men mock them from the crowd and then force them to scavenge for coins on an electrified rug. It’s one of the most degrading scenes in literature…but, because of that, it’s one of the most powerful openings in literature as well.
The story continues with the narrator getting kicked out of college by the school’s African-American president who caters to the white trustees. He then finds a job in a New York factory before finally settling in as a speaker for “The Brotherhood”—basically a group of white communist men who are looking for support in Harlem.
What to do with this novel?
Atonement is a rich, emotional story with outstanding characters, and Ian McEwan is a fantastic storyteller. But, yet, portions of this story bothered me…a lot.
I’ve mentioned this in prior posts about Atonement, but the novel, at times, feels like it was written with Hollywood in mind. Certain turning points in the story are too perfect, too clean and convenient, and that puts a stain on the story for me.
But I’ll get to more of that later. Let’s focus on the good stuff first.