1. I liked the novel. Yes, its style is probably immature, full of adolescent pathos, but not much more than, say, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (I know Wolfe isn't Joyce, but anyway). It is often accused of being "disordered", but also I didn't find it much more disordered than many other modernist novels. For example, it doesn't jump around in time and the narrative voice isn't always unexpectedly changing, as in Faulkner (I know Wolfe isn't Faulkner, but... etc.).
2. Characters are portrayed with a very strange mixture of love and a total lack of mercy. For years, Wolfe had to absent himself from Asheville, as people were hurt and angered by their portraits in the novel. The same happened to Proust (I know Wolfe is not Proust, etc.). Oliver Gant is an incredibly complex character, a cultivated and even erudite man who is prey to his chronic depression, manifested in a violent alcoholism. His tirades are overbearing and repetitive, but he must have been like that in real life, and just one example of the rhetoric pieces wouldn't have been enough to convey the feeling. Eliza's process of descent, from admiration towards her husband, to greed and avarice, is wonderfully depicted, as well as its impact on her children's lives, especially Ben's, another key character. Helen and Luke are also acutely portrayed, the hysterical, strange woman, and the stammering, optimistic guy.
3. There is a fine, implicit analysis of the impact of the "protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism" on young people's consciousness. The Gants may be an extreme example, but I would like to know how frequently American obsession with money deranges family life. Eliza's insistence on accumulation, and Oliver's permanent whining about money, seem to be the single most important factor in the family's dysfunction, perhaps even more than the father's alcoholism.
3. The novel is also an invaluable document about life in a small North Carolina city in the first quarter of the XX Century. It seems like the whole place is x-rayed, from the millionaires, to the black slums. The square, the pharmacy (which, strangely, doubles as soda-fountain, bar, and meeting place), the streets, shops, churches, post office, police station, newspaper, everywhere. If this is not the Great American Novel, it is certainly the Great North Carolinian Novel.
4. It is also a bildungsroman in the best tradition of the genre, since "Wilhelm Meister": the said pathos belongs there.
5. Finally, it is also courageous, a therapeutic action, which is probably the origin of its most egregious defects. Wolfe was likely a madman, but he had talent.
: I'll keep trying for awhile. It is our
: September/October book, so I'm not exactly
: behind yet.
: I agree with Joffre that it is painfully
: slow-paced, which sometime is all right with
: me (Heck, I like late Henry James!), but LHA
: somehow does not feel that it is rewarding
: the effort. I think the poetic images,
: while sometimes effective, are overused.
: The effect is like an over-rich dessert that
: tastes wonderful at the first bite but of
: which one soon tires.
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