Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

Boy was  this book different than I expected. The only book of Huxley's I had read in the past is his dystopian Brave New World, which this is a marked departure from (or maybe Brave New World is a marked departure from this). Gone is the futuristic setting, the omniscient, despotic government, the Soma. In it's place is a chattering group of wildly irritating British upper class characters who mill around, moving into and out of each others' lives.

The book is rather unstructured, mostly following around said characters as they drink, each, cheat on each other mercifully, and even commit brutal violence against each other. Oh yeah: and they philosophize. Oh boy, do they ever philosophize. During many points of the book, the dialogue degrades into what must be a vehicle for Huxley's own musings over various great, esoteric topics. While these are sometimes insightful and even enlightening, it gets to be a bit much when they stretch to more than a handful of pages. Anyone who has read Ayn Rand's fiction will understand what I mean. I don't know many people in real life who complete a fifteen minute monologue when surrounded by good friends.

Where this novel really succeeds is in its characters. Though they are all caricatures, Huxley creates such an amazing number of them and them manages to keep them all relevant throughout the story's entirety. This perhaps shows the social inbreeding that existed in upper-class British culture in the early twentieth century, but it seems like almost every character knows each other here. It is said that many of these characters are based on real people that Huxley associated during his lifetime. In fact, the only likable character in the entire novel is supposedly based on the author D.H. Lawrence.

While this is hugely different than Brave New World, Huxley's satire still cuts with the same sharp edge when dealing with the sheltered, filthy rich upper class as it does when castigating totalitarianism. As I said, these are not likable characters and I would put all my money down on betting that this is not accidental. They all seem to show a disdain for the poor (or even just the non-filthy rich), work, democratic government, and even each other. If Huxley wanted to show up that the rich were not good people, he has made himself loud and clear. There is no Great-like subtlety here.

I was on the fence about this one. I tore through certain sections of the book and then slogged through others. It's an interested, if flawed, book and I'm glad that I read it, but I don't believe that it has the staying power or accessibility of A Brave New World.

You'll like it if you like: social commentary, writing about early twentieth century England, sharp-witted satire, philosophical meanderings, excellently executed prose.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Wow, it has been a long while since I wrote a review. I didn't forget about you all, though. I've still been reading, though, so I'm five books behind. I'll be knocking these out in the next week or so to try to get up to date. I'm going to be changing to a briefer reviewing format to try to not get back in this situation again. Since I won't be providing as much detail in the reviews, feel free to email or tweet me with any questions on the novels. As always, thank you for reading and continue to feel free to send me any recommendations for stuff you've enjoyed recently!

Plainsong, written by Kent Haruf, tells the interconnected story of a handful of individuals' live who live in the rural plains of Colorado. In typical small town manner, the lives of each of these individuals touches each others', providing a very human, touching picture of a type of living that most of us readers don't even know exists. Plainsong is almost devoid of a plot, instead focusing on letting us "know" the characters and what drives them. This is a gritty novel that is at times very emotional.

The dreariness and featureless-ness of the plains both provides the backdrop for the story-telling and at the same time is the defining factor in what makes the characters tick. The writing style reflects this setting, forgoing eloquent, grandiose prose and instead relying on terse, short sentences that drive straight to the point. This is an amazingly touching novel. Too often we "city slickers" poke fun at the real rural community for its supposed uneducated and backward nature. It's too easy to forget that these individuals are not caricatures, but real people with real problems. While their problems are certainly different than ours, they are just as real and, many time, far, far less trivial. This is easily one of the best books I've read this year and give it my highest recommendations.

You'll like it if you like: Cormac McCarthy (but with a heart), human interest pieces, character building, concise writing styles, small towns drama, emotionally-driven works.