Jake Conrad

Jake Conrad
Blog dedicated to my writing and whatever else I want: movies, games, books, electronics, music, ... anything Jake. The interior of my mind is a mixture of grindhouse, steampunk, Lovecraft, and 80's pop. Be very afraid.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Light in August, Black Dogs, The Picture of Dorian Gray - Three books with nothing in common except that I read them in the last 2 weeks

I've really been reading a lot lately.  Since my last post I have read a very American novel by William Faulkner with strong Christian overtones called Light in August written in 1932 and 2 English novels, one written fairly recently in 1992, "Black Dogs" by Ian McEwan, and The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 by Oscar Wilde.

Light in August - I tried to read 2 books by Faulkner when I was young and didn't get beyond a chapter or two before giving up.  I think it was mostly because of the combination of the language being southern and old-fashioned to me that I gave up.  Listening to this book on CD helped immensely with this as the reader had a great southern accent and even interjected interesting voices and pauses that made the dialog and internal monologues flow in a way that gave the book a play-like quality.  The interesting way the story was told with no regard for a timeline (I knew Tarantino didn't come up with that on his own :) made me have to guess the point of the story and even who the main characters were as people flowed in and back out of the spotlight.  The main character turns out to be and orphan boy, half black and half white named Joe Christmas.  When the story begins you find out he has likely committed a terrible crime, and with what little you know of him, you easily hate him.  When the story takes a sharp turn and begins describing a pitiful orphan, it took me a while to realize that this was also Joe Christmas, when he was younger.  As the novel progresses and you realize you are learning about Joe's humble and pitiable beginnings, Faulkner turns your initial hate for the man on its head. I never really grew any empathy for Christmas through the course of the book, but plenty of sympathy.  With this very troubled character, Faulkner examines race, religion, and even the confusing relationships of men and women.  Although he has a JC name, Joe Christmas' issues are very different from Jim Casey's from the Grapes of Wrath with the largest of these differences being that Joe is a victim.  Never at any time do you feel that Joe had even a small chance to escape his fate.  Even when he does act, it is just in response to having been acted for so many years.  I'm sure there are tons of symbolism and themes I missed through my reading.  To be honest I always have vague notions of these things as I read the book, but I can never disguise my "Eureka" reaction when they are spelled out for me by Cliff in his Notes or by a well-meaning professor.  I kind of thought I would reach an age, like before I turned 35, when this stuff would magically come to me, but alas, it hasn't.  I do know that there were tons of Christian references and themes in the book and lots of ideas on racism and prejudice in general.  From the prejudice of the women-folk directed towards Lena, the unwed, pregant young woman searching for her baby-daddy, to the turmoil JC feels towards himself for not being able to find his place in either the white community or the black community.  I think that I connected less with Reverend Hightower.  His story, although also tragic, still seemed disconnected to me from the rest of the novel.  He is also a doomed character, but seems to choose his doom much more than the others.  One thing I found interested was a constant "deus ex machina" as the characters were led to their fates one step at a time, by what seemed to be instinct or a higher force.  When Joe walks through the darkened house, when McEachern is lead directly to Joe at the dance, and when Byron Bunch is led to Lucas.  This constantly gives the characters a fated or doomed feel to them and was not done by accident.

The best I can say is that this is a book that you should read.  The writing is just incredible and has a style I know now I've seen imitated but never duplicated.

The few quotes I found online don't really do the writing justice, but I will add them below anyway.  One drawback to the book on CD thing is that it is not easy to underline favorite lines.  Here are a few I did like:

There is a price for being good the same as for being bad; a cost to pay. And it’s the good men that can't deny the bill when it comes around. . . . The bad men can deny it; that’s why dont anybody expect them to pay on sight or any other time. . . . Maybe it takes longer to pay for being good than for being bad.

Man knows so little about his fellows. In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what that other man or woman is doing.

Like the cat, he also seemed to see in the darkness as he moved as unerringly toward the food which he wanted as if he knew where it would be; that, or were being manipulated by an agent which did know. He ate something from an invisible dish, with invisible fingers: invisible food. He did not care what it would be. He did not know that he had even wondered or tasted until his jaw stopped suddenly in mid-chewing and thinking fled for twentyfive years back down the street, past all the imperceptible corners of bitter defeats and more bitter victories, and five miles even beyond a corner where he used to wait in the terrible early time of love, for someone whose name he had forgot.

Black Dogs - A novel set as a memoir of a man's father and mother-in-law.  The main points of this short novel are the contrasting beliefs of science vs. faith and a look at how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected those who once saw Communism as an answer to our social problems.  The mother-in-law's account of a supernatural intervention when she was attacked by 2 enormous, black dogs supports the faithful belief in things not seen, and the pragmatic, scientific father-in-law, who also happened to be a socialist and support communist beliefs represented the other side of the argument.  With the exception of the account of the dog attack and narrator's fight with a man abusing his young son in a restaurant, I found little to peak my mind.  Here is a case of good writing with what feels like nowhere to go.  I would encourage you to read "Atonement", also written by McEwan, before trying this one.

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Gad I'm sick of British writers right now, and Dorian Gray was the vain, priggish, simpering nail in the coffin for me.  I have never enjoyed the formal aristocratic educated lords and ladies with their inner turmoil centered normally around their boredom because they don't freaking do anything.  The idea of going to a formal luncheon to gossip about lord whoever and lady whatever makes me want to throw myself off a bridge.  Maybe that is because I just read Faulkner, whose characters are the salt of the earth.  Maybe because I'm not a 14 year old girl.  Either way I'm done with the Brits for a while and Dorian Gray, although sometimes quite a funny and accurate social commentary on turn-of-the-century England, was still just a bunch of English mincing dandies trying to look beautiful, and bored out of their minds because they don't know what an honest day's work looks like.  Ugg.  I kind of want to take Dorian Gray and have him get the series of whuppins Joe Christmas gets from his step father when he is forced to memorize Bible passages just to see what happens.  I'm sure there was more to the story about youth and the duel personalities of man (Jekyll and Hyde) but I was too busy getting irritated by the general pansiness crybabyness of the characters to care.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the review on Light in August. I've struggled with Faulkner, too. The review on Dorian Grey cracked me up! That's why I just can't get into Jane Austen.