Have I read this before: Nope
Review: This is a very beautifully written and insightful coming of age story in the early 1900s. It’s long and covers a lot of the family’s history and Eugene’s growing up, but I like how it all works together and how it all is shown to shape who Eugene becomes when he finally leaves home. Also, the way it is written is very engaging and beautiful. Some of the descriptions used are so specific and perfect that they really stand out.
Favorite part: Ben’s death was particularly heartbreaking, because he’s built up (at least in my opinion) as a very sympathetic character and because of how close Eugene was to him. Also, a few phrases:
Gant trying to wake up his sons in the morning:
“‘When I was your age, I had milked four cows, done all the chores, and walked eight miles through the snow by this time.’
Indeed, when he described his early schooling, he furnished a landscape that was constantly three feet deep in snow, and frozen hard. He seemed never to have attended school save under polar conditions.
Ben, Eugene’s older brother, to Eugene after they have a fight over Eugene’s inability to let go of a woman he’d fallen in love with:
“‘There are a lot of bad days. There are a lot of good ones. You’ll forget. There are a lot of days. Let it go.’”
On Ben’s death:
“We can believe in the nothingness of life, we can believe in the nothingness of death and of life after death – but who can believe in the nothingness of Ben?”
Have I read this before: Nope! First time.
Review: Oof, there’s a lot going on in this book. Not that that’s a bad thing. I knew nothing about the book before I started reading it, and after I was done I looked up some more info on it. Apparently Wolfe was trying to capture 1980s New York the same way Thackerary’s Vanity Fair tried to capture 19th century English society. Having read Vanity Fair, I think Wolfe does a pretty similar job of it. There’s a very serious issue going on at the main heart of the plot, but there’s a lot of humor and satire throughout. Also, a lot of the ideas and issues are still relevant in the US today…maybe even more so than they were, say, ten or twenty years ago, like the differences in wealthy and poor individuals and racial tension.
Favorite part: The style in which the book is written is very engaging and seems to poke fun at itself sometimes. Here are a few quick sections that I felt captured this pretty well:
“Who in the name of God would bring a half-eaten eight-ounce jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise to a public meeting?”
[Sherman on the elevator with his dog and another owner gets on.]
Browning stepped on. Browning looked Sherman and his country outfit and the dog up and down and said, without a trace of a smile, “Hello, Sherman.”
“Hello, Sherman” was on the end of a ten-foot pole and in a mere four syllables conveyed the message: “You and your clothes and your animal are letting down our new mahogany-paneled elevator.”
[Attorneys in their office.]
“Come on, Larry,” said Andriutti, “tell the truth. Deep down, don’t you wish you were Italian or Irish?”
“Yeah,” said Kramer, “that way I wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on in this fucking place.”
Caughey started laughing. “Well, don’t let Ahab see those shoes, Larry. He’ll have Jeanette issue a fucking memorandum.”
“No, he’ll call a fucking press conference,” said Andriutti.
“That’s always a safe fucking bet.”
And so another fucking day in the fucking Homicide Bureau of the Bronx Fucking District Attorney’s Office was off to a fucking start.