Friday, June 17, 2011

Look Homeward, Angel: Part One


From Pat Conroy to one of Conroy's literary influences: Thomas Wolfe. And maybe this was a bad move on my part. I can see the same pomposity (I looked it up this time. It is a word; pompousness is also correct) in Wolfe's writing that I disliked in Conroy's.

They say writers live in Mississippi because of Faulkner; they live in Asheville because of Thomas Wolfe. Look Homeward, Angel is a huge autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in Western North Carolina in the beginning of the 20th century. Wolfe's editor was the famed Maxwell Perkins, the editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. So why have the works of F. Scottie and Ernie entered the American literary canon, but old Tommy's books haven't? Apparently Wolfe was incredibly successful in his time, both critically and with the public. But that popularity hasn't lasted. I hadn't really heard about him until I read the inside cover of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn recently. Betty Smith said she was the "opposite" of Thomas Wolfe: she grew up in Brooklyn and moved to North Carolina to write about her childhood; he grew up in NC and moved to Brooklyn to write about his. And considering that I am a major book nerd and spend much of my time reading books, thinking about books, researching about books, and haven't heard much about him, I'm wondering why he fell out of favor. (Although, after 150 pages, I can kinda see why...)

I read the first page about five times just to try to get into my thick head what Wolfe was trying to say. My first thought was: "Pompous! Abstract! I want to slam my head in a door [repeatedly.]" Then I read it again. Then I read it again out loud (hoping Nathan couldn't hear me and discover that I'm an even bigger nerd that he already thought), then I read it again and thought that it was beautiful. Then I read it again and thought, "I don't think I could explain what Wolfe is saying here, but I feel it." I think he's saying that Man is lonely by nature... that one can never really know anyone, that we all will always be strangers to each other.... he's writing about a longing, a yearning, for a connection that has been lost.

I was hoping that even if the plot wasn't fast-paced and gripping, that I would find the language beautiful. To use the word "plot" is stretching it and the language, while sometimes beautiful, isn't enough to get me excited about this novel. Mostly it drones on in an endless regurgitation of verbose stream-of-consciousness and makes me want to, as I said, put my head against a door jamb and slam the door. (I used the word verbose, meaning "wordy," but ya know, it would be great if Wolfe would throw in some more verbs. Let's get some action going!) You can't COME of AGE without going somewhere!

Perkins eliminated over 100 pages of text before LH, A was printed, much to the chagrin of Wolfe. I'm wishing I could have taken a hatchet to the manuscript, myself, cause I could have helped him out with cutting about 200 more.

To be continued...