Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel—strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact.
Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to "beat hack the past," while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, 10-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is "spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom." Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway—near death with a newborn—and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter "has palsied the house" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the "Pauls" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the "Sweet Home" plantation under two owners—one "enlightened," one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away—as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, "Beloved." Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister—found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love—refracted through a short nightmare life—will end with her death.
Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."
The Book-of-the-Month Club dual selection, with John Gunther's Behind the Curtain (1949), for July, this projects life under perfected state controls.
It presages with no uncertainty the horrors and sterility, the policing of every thought, action and word, the extinction of truth and history, the condensation of speech and writing, the utter subjection of every member of the Party. The story concerns itself with Winston, a worker in the Records Department, who is tormented by tenuous memories, who is unable to identify himself wholly with Big Brother and The Party. It follows his love for Julia, who also outwardly conforms, inwardly rebels, his hopefulness in joining the Brotherhood, a secret organization reported to be sabotaging The Party, his faith in O'Brien, as a fellow disbeliever, his trust in the proles (the cockney element not under the organization) as the basis for an overall uprising. But The Party is omniscient, and it is O'Brien who puts him through the torture to cleanse him of all traitorous opinions, a terrible, terrifying torture whose climax, keyed to Winston's most secret nightmare, forces him to betray even Julia. He emerges, broken, beaten, a drivelling member of The Party. Composed, logically derived, this grim forecasting blueprints the means and methods of mass control, the techniques of maintaining power, the fundamentals of political duplicity, and offers as arousing a picture as the author's previous Animal Farm.
Certain to create interest, comment, and consideration.
Those (guessably not the general reader) who do not find the labyrinthine configurations of Señor Garcia-Marquez's mighty myth impregnable, and at times interminable, will be rewarded by this story of one hundred years and six generations in the peaceful, primal and ageless world of Macondo.
This is where his earlier No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1968) took place and it also features the same Buendia clan and its Colonel, a figure of dauntless energy and pride and stamina who carries on 32 small wars and fathers 17 sons by 17 wives. The Buendias are, for more direct purposes of identification, deliberately inseparable by name (and impulse—incest abounds) in spite of the helpful family tree frontispiece. At a rough count there are four Arcadios from the sire Jose Arcadio and six Aurelianos, including a pair of twins. Perhaps it does not matter since they all share to a degree the stubborn simplicity and outsized contours of comic folk characters. But if Senor Garcia-Marquez' book is fable, it is also satire with some of the fanciful giantism of earlier proponents (cf. the sections on war or government and the finally perceived "emptiness' of the former). For a time the Buendias remain untouched in their innocent world and are stunningly surprised by the artifacts of civilization which reach them—ice or false teeth. And even though they are afraid of a horrible precedent (a child born with a pig's tail) they pursue their closely inbred ways. But the incursions from elsewhere and above persist: there's the early plague of insomnia to the later four year, eleven month, two day rain. In the beginning so full of life, the Buendias give way to death and dispersion, and the last scenes of great-great-great-grandmother Ursula, living in the somnolent margins of memory, have great pathos. "Time passes. That's how it goes, but not so much" is a byword of the Buendias.
Those who pass time with the Señor will find this a luxuriant, splendid and spirited conception.
"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.
Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest was one of the best novels of he 1962 season and certainly the most striking in many years. The frantic nostalgia of the half-Indian schizophrenic, his remembrances of the Great Wakonda Valley in Oregon, the anti-conflicts between the institutionalized over-sane and the institutional collectivists, these were portents of things to come. And they've come abundantly in Sometimes A Great Notion, a novel of mammoth size and proportion: eloquently gritty, uncompromisingly exhaustive, big, bold, unique and haunting. It begins when Lee Stamper returns home after 12 years in the East. Home to the Stamper logging camp to pull off "the greatest put-down in history." To avenge himself, his mother, his lost childhood, Lee Stamper, hipster, intellectual, plans cuckold his strong-willed, phlegmatic Captain Marvel of a brother, Hank. He also returns to a dying father and a union squabble between the town of Wakonda and the Stamper philosophy from time immemorial: NEVER GIVE A INCH. The conflict between the brothers brings Lee to the realization that to fully be is to recognize oneself as a will, as a force, whether the object of that force is a river, or a tree, or a community of factious men... There are those who will find Kesey's narrative-form distracting. The narrative is told by every character in the story, and there are many. He interpolates, parenthesizes, changes from voice to voice with heady abandon. He NEVER GIVES A INCH, because possibly it's the only way...Attention certainly.
A successful juvenile by the beloved New Yorker writer portrays a farm episode with an imaginative twist that makes a poignant, humorous story of a pig, a spider and a little girl.
Young Fern Arable pleads for the life of runt piglet Wilbur and gets her father to sell him to a neighbor, Mr. Zuckerman. Daily, Fern visits the Zuckermans to sit and muse with Wilbur and with the clever pen spider Charlotte, who befriends him when he is lonely and downcast. At the news of Wilbur's forthcoming slaughter, campaigning Charlotte, to the astonishment of people for miles around, spins words in her web. "Some Pig" comes first. Then "Terrific"—then "Radiant". The last word, when Wilbur is about to win a show prize and Charlotte is about to die from building her egg sac, is "Humble". And as the wonderful Charlotte does die, the sadness is tempered by the promise of more spiders next spring.
The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often informative as amusing, and the whole tenor of appealing wit and pathos will make fine entertainment for reading aloud, too.
One of her best. Poirot, again on vacation, falls foul of a murder on board a Nile river steamer, followed by two successive murders, obviously connected. A sophisticated group, an ingenious plot, clever deduction, swift-paced narrative. A little romance on the side lends glamour. First rate entertainment.
Roth's elegiac and affecting new novel, his 18th, displays a striking reversal of form—and content—from his most recent critical success, the Portnoyan Sabbath's Theater (1995). Its narrator, however, is a familiar Rothian figure: writer Nathan Zuckerman (of The Ghost Writer, et al.)—and in case you're wondering whether he still seems to be his author's alter ego, Nathan is now in his early 60s, recovering from both cancer surgery and a longtime affair with an English actress. Essentially retired, Nathan is approached by a high-school classmate's older brother—and the well-remembered hero of his youth: Seymour "Swede" Levov, once a blue-eyed athletic and moral paragon who strode through life with ridiculous ease, now nearing 70 and crushed by outrageous misfortunes. Swede asks his help writing a tribute to his late father, and soon thereafter dies himself. Piqued by the enigma of a seemingly perfect life (superb health, a successful family business, marriage to a former beauty queen) inexplicably gone wrong, Zuckerman "dream[s] a realistic chronicle" that reconstructs Swede's life—compounded of information gleaned from others who knew him, and centering in the 1960s when Swede's life began to unravel. His only daughter Meredith ("Merry") had rebelled against her parents' and her culture's complacency, protested against the war in Vietnam, claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing in which innocent people were killed, and gone "underground" as a fugitive. Most of the scenes Zuckerman/Roth imagines, therefore, are intensely emotional conversations in which the conflicting claims of social solidarity and individual integrity are debated with pained immediacy. Here, and in more conventionally expository authorial passages, meditativeness and discursiveness predominate over drama. Nevertheless, passion seethes through the novel's pages. Some of the best pure writing Roth has done. And Swede Levov's anguished cry "What the hell is wrong with doing things right?" may be remembered as one of the classic utterances in American fiction.
Vicious and violent mob cruelty in a boy's prep school is not a new theme but Cormier makes it compellingly immediate in this novel of Trinity High, a boys' day school with the close, concentrated, self-contained atmosphere of a boarding school, temporarily headed by the venomous, manipulating Brother Leon and unofficially run by power-obsessed senior Archie Costello, the ingeniously audacious "assigner" for a secret organization called the Vigils.
A typical Vigils assignment, which no student would consider refusing, is to spend the night undoing the screws of all the desks and chairs in one classroom, so that they collapse on touch next morning. More serious though is the assignment given to freshman Jerry Renault, who must refuse for 10 days to participate in the chocolate sale on which Brother Leon has staked his position. In strong, staccato scenes that shift from one boy to another Cormier tells about Jerry's persecution when he decides spontaneously to go on saying no after his ten days are up and Brother Leon induces Archie to see this as defiance of the Vigils. No underworld gang closing in on a victim is more menacing than this teenage army led by a Leon-Archie alliance against one boy whose locker poster reads "Do I Dare Disturb the Universe."
Mature young readers will respect the uncompromising ending that dares disturb the upbeat universe of juvenile books.