Wednesday, May 21, 2008
By Nick Hornby. ISBN 978-0-141-32140-0. Other than the shorter length and larger typeset, Hornby's first crack at writing for young adults reads very much like his adult novels. A Long Way Down came the closest of any book I've read to capturing what I felt as a college freshman suffering from and later coming out of a bout of serious depression. I never found myself suddenly a teen parent, thank God, but if I did I imagine it would feel something like this. Sam experiences bouts of hopelessness and despair, as youth's freedom and infinite possibilities are suddenly replaced by the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood. Breaking this particular taboo leaves him feeling profoundly isolated, as the stress of the class distinctions between the two families quickly becomes a point of friction. A science fiction element, reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, doesn't quite work except to highlight the evolution of Sam's perspective over time. Hornby's depiction of the teenage mother, Alicia, is the most successful aspect of the book. Sam's telling of the story bends over backwards to keep his audience from siding with her, but he can't quite hide her patience, decency and strength of will. Sam and Alicia aren't exactly happy by the end of the story, but they aren't terrified either. And as teenage parents go, a baby could do a lot worse than these two.
By Saul Bellow. ISBN 0142437298. One of the great classics of post-war literature is very hard to get into. Nearly all of Bellow's novels are bogged down with his own intellectual ponderings as refracted through his protagonists, and this is especially true for Herzog. The novel begins with the title character, a Jewish intellectual with a malignant ability to attract women, alone on his couch, nearly catonic following the collapse of his second marriage. The intellectual ponderings, in the form of letters that he never intends to mail, are all he has left. The novel's structure parallels Herzog's mental state, becoming more linear and less fragmented as it goes on. His anger returns with his mental stability. As the pieces of his life are put back together, he learns that he has been betrayed by every person he has depended on. He is not a great father, but wants to be. He knows his son is in good hands with his first wife, but becomes convinced that his Machiavellian second wife will ruin their daughter. Upon arriving in Chicago, however, reality obfuscates his convictions. From the outside looking in, he reappraises the situation with greater honesty than is strictly convenient for him. Finally, his emotional journey climaxes at a police station with one last showdown against wife. His story ends at the place where it began. But, for perhaps the first time, Herzog is embarking on a life free of the dependancies that plagued him, and writing letters that he fully intends to mail. Bellow's novels reflect the guarded optimism through which he viewed the world, so that by the end at least a little light is visible at the end of the tunnel. Moses Herzog's story moved me, in spite of his faults.