Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Canon fodder

I have to admire The Second Pass. While everyone else (including me) has been compiling lists of books we believe you should read, their contributors have compiled a list of 10 highly regarded novels they want chucked from reading lists and academia.

I am particularly pleased to see “Absalom, Absalom!” on the list. (Which they misname, omitting the all-important exclamation mark from the title.) No, I still haven’t been able to read it. And I’ve been trying for more than 20 years. Similarly, still unsure why its sloppy lazy prose has been so exalted, I felt a frisson of glee at seeing “On the Road” on the list. I’ve seen the ecstasy it spins some people into, but to the rest of us it’s just a bad trip.

I don’t remember “One Hundred Years of Solitude” being as bad or as arrogant as it’s made out to be here. But I read it about 25 years ago, so who can say with authority? I can say that some of the scenes of magic realism that I so enjoyed then — when, for example, a woman simply floats away — now seem to me to be, well, cheats. (In much the same way that most of Dali’s paintings now seem.) But I’d have to reread the book to formulate an informed opinion, and I don’t see that happening.

The title that I think they’re deeply mistaken about is “The Road.” I’ve written about that novel often enough here that I’m not going to go into it again (this link sums it up, and provides links to a few other references here). I’ve read the other Cormac McCarthy books mentioned by Second Pass (“All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing), and they are necessarily different tales told differently. In these books, young men are experiencing the challenges and responsibilities and wonders of adulthood for the first time, and doing it in a foreign land; these books are adventures. “The Road” is told from the opposite point of view:  that of a man desperate to shepherd his eight-year-old son somewhere safe after what appears to be a nuclear holocaust. Like the terrain, like his psyche, the language is accordingly stripped bare. It’s a book with deep resonance, one that sticks deep in the subconscious and leaves readers more aware. At least, that’s how it left me:  feeling far more glad for everything I have, and far more aware of how easily it could all be lost. That’s the power of a truly good novel; complaining about the stripped-down prose seems like beside the point.

I’m sad to see “The Corrections” on this list, though the criticisms enumerated in the essay ring true. To me the novel’s core achievement is in the way the family history is gone over repeatedly from the different points of view of individual family members, until finally the father’s seemingly inexplicable behavior is revealed and with it the extent of sacrifice he has made for his children. That’s the “moving last section” that the critic mentions here. Something else merits mentioning:  Despite all the books flaws, it was tremendous good fun to read. That’s worth noting.

2 Responses to “Canon fodder”

  1. Dan Says:

    Recently re-read (after 40 years!) ON THE ROAD while taking a trip out West, and it is one of those books that makes you see things differently as you read it. Somehow the whole trip was more intense for Kerouac’s input. By all means, a book for your bucket list.

  2. Lex Says:

    “On the Road” didn’t do all that much for me, I just read it because Mr. Kuglen said it was his favorite book ever. I did see how it would of appealed to him though.

    Now, I thought The Corrections was fantastic. A little slow and overwritten at times, but, in this case, the end justified the means.

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