Thursday, July 09, 2009

"It was just where I went"

NOW READING: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

This is one of those books I've been reading in fits and starts, but not because I want it to be that way. I am totally interested in it, I like it, and I want to devour it. I just seem to have too much going on and not enough laziness to my summer days to allow for reading it in longer stretches.

I totally think that long lazy summer stretches are the perfect way to read this novel. Perhaps this is in my mind at the moment because I am just finished reading about narrator Jack's summer romance, complete with porch swings, sultry swims and swan dives, plus a few dashed hopes.

Thematically, All the King's Men reminds me of War and Peace as it ponders the interconnectedness of mankind and history. Jack, the historical researcher, sees the ripple effects of men's actions, but he also senses a certain inevitability to it all. Even when it is not inevitable, it is out of our hands:

"And so my luck became my wisdom (as the luck of the damned human race becomes its wisdom and gets into the books and is taught in schools...)" -- p. 447

In addition to the bright jumble of melancholy that is human interaction and the ruminations on human history, Warren has delighted me here in the 400s with Jack's drive West. Specifically, his summation of what the West is.

"For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gices out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go." --pp. 405-406

I like reading a Southern writer's perspective on the West. The South is a mythical, misunderstood place too, just as the West is, full of legend and lore and history and mistakes and all sorts of other things. And I think both regions seem equally mysterious to some people who live in places like, you know, Long Island. I guess if nothing else, on some level the insular viewpoints of New Yorkers or New Englanders help the West to be that much more free and awesome. It's like their ignorance of things west of the Mississippi (or the Hudson) help fuel the frontier mentality that persists a little to this day. Even when you're escaping something, it takes courage to go West. It takes less courage to remain in your Long Island enclave for the eighth generation in a row.

At any rate, it is interesting to have a little bit about the West in this novel that had been completely Southern up to this point. As I have mentioned on this blog many a time, the South has seen way more than its fair share of excellent writers and stunning writing.

The strength of this book continues to be the way the narrator observes things in powerful sentences that make you feel both that only he could have stated the thought so well, but also that it captures what was on everyone's mind.

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