Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Call of the Wild and Selected Stories - Jack London
Call is one of the books that set me onto the path of reading, so there was no need to revisit it; it will remain safe from adult reevaluation. All the accompanying stories take place in the Yukon. Some are no more than good fare for boys. “An Odyssey of the North” was the weakest of the lot – melodramatic, silly, written in an archaic style. But when London took on the study of man surviving (or not surviving) he rose to greatness. “To Build a Fire” follows in relentless detail the events that culminate in death. What makes it so effective is that London shows no feeling for the man – he could be a bug under a microscope. This authorial remoteness is perfectly fitting, because London was writing about uncaring nature. In “Love of Life” we are close to the emotions of the man – so close that his struggle to stay alive becomes a harrowing experience for the reader. In both these stories the prose is hard, direct, stark. When London tapped into his deepest fears, out came two masterpieces. *

Territorial Rights - Muriel Spark
Spark assembles a large cast of repellent characters in Venice. I hung around until a mystery was solved, then called it quits. The improbable plot didn’t engage me very much, and I didn’t care to spend more time with the equally improbable characters. In this outing Spark’s distaste for humans dominates; she doesn’t present one person for the reader to care for (and thus about). Some may claim that she’s exposing the void left by an absence of religious faith. But it’s Spark who’s stacking the deck, so the void is in her.

Famous Writers School - Steven Carter
Carter had a clever idea, but it became a mishmash, with the author tossing in new twists to try to keep it going. His characters can’t emerge from his format. The story at the center of the proceedings was generic (gothic horror/mystery novel, with a crew of murderous, amoral cretins). Meanwhile, Carter is juggling two other plot lines. It all became so unwieldy that I stopped reading halfway through.


jimmy scoville said...

Seeing your "comment" about Call of the Wild. That was an early book I read. Just the thought shoots me in reverse to 5th grade where it was coupled with White Fang. It's a memory book for me, one I'll never touch again, either, only holding it up to moonlight of the past instead of the glare of sunshine. Just to hold it, examine the cover art, & read the first couple of pages was magic to me in those days. Jack London... I've actually stayed under the same roof he once did. It's inland of southern Oregon at the Wolf Creek Tavern. Once a stagecoach lodge, now open for tourists sleeping over or grabbing a good meal.

Phillip Routh said...

But what about his two masterpieces -- "To Build a Fire" and "Love of Life"?