Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Ox-Bow Incident - Walter Van Tilburg Clark
A great novel, flaws and all. The main flaw is that in some scenes the characters say too much, almost to the point of expounding. But the greatness comes from the theme and how it’s handled. This is a morality tale in which humans (including, significantly, the narrator and his friend, both decent men) fail to do the right thing. There’s an inevitability driving this book; events move slowly, gathering intensity. Clark creates a large cast of vivid characters, and the reader sees, and believes in, the forces (some never stated) that propel these people to commit a terrible injustice. The landscape where this takes place is forbidding; the frontier world was a hard one, making people hard. A dark novel, but it presents harsh truths in a way that moves the reader to ponder them. *

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
Endearing. It was a delight to enter the world of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad. Though a book for children, and a funny one, there are deep aspects for adults to consider. How do we live our lives? What is our place in the great cycles of nature? What is contentment? Also, the eminently decent way the characters treat one another – with compassion, kindness, consideration, generosity – are a model of the way things should be between people (but, of course, aren’t). *

The Aerodrome - Rex Warner
The characters are stilted, one-dimensional puppets. The philosophical point is vague. The book is almost devoid of action. It’s drab and the writing is pedantic (as each emotion is slowly pondered to death). At the end the main character performs an about-face unjustified by events: he opts for Life!

In Transit - Mavis Gallant
Gallant’s talent is obvious on every page, but I didn’t care to read all the stories. She studies her characters at a moment in time; we’re given fragments of life. I want something more fully developed; when she does this the results are excellent. Or sometimes the fragment suggests much more, and again the story succeeds. But far too often I felt shortchanged.

No comments: