The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The main problem with this post-apocalyptic novel is that it’s monotonous. Regarding the action and the feelings of the two characters, what happens on page one is happening (with little variation) on page seventeen, and on page 84, and on page 116 – which is when I suddenly found myself flipping through the remainder of the book. In his depiction of love between a father and son, McCarthy spreads it on too thick; he’s in his true element with menace and cruelty. But since I’m not a fan of horror flicks, I couldn’t appreciate the atrocities committed by the cannibalistic monsters he has roaming the land. Nor was his style of writing to my liking; I’ll close with three examples. The opening sentences: “When he awoke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some glaucoma dimming the world.” From page 31: “He woke toward the morning with the fire down to coals and walked out to the road. Everything was alight. As if the lost sun was returning at last. The snow orange and quivering.” And here’s a conversation between father and son (each person’s words occupy their own little paragraph): “Is it cold?” “Yes. It’s freezing.” “Do you want to go in?” “I dont know.” “Sure you do.” “Is it okay?” “Come on.” As was the case with Hemingway, McCarthy calls attention to his prose under the guise of simplicity, and I find this annoying and false.
Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence
First Snow on Fuji - Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese)
The inconclusiveness of these stories (or at least the five I read) left me asking “What was that about?” and “Why did the author bother to write this?” Only “Nature” was fairly interesting, but it too wanders about in search of a narrative. It’s as if Kawabata lays out pieces of a jigsaw puzzle for the reader; though each piece has a discernible image, they don’t fit together to create an entire picture; not even a clearly defined character or emotion emerges. The author’s preoccupation with sex (wife swapping, gender change, etc.) puts him in step with modern Western sensibilities. As does his dialogue (“Yeah, your nerves are really worn down. Divorce is a tough thing for anyone to have to go through.”). I wondered if that dialogue, which stands in awkward contrast with the rest of the prose, was an accurate rendering into English of what Kawabata wrote. But it doesn’t matter – these glum, constricted stories have little to offer. I was amused only once, and this came in the Introduction, when the translator thanked Joyce Carol Oates for her help. That woman is everywhere.