zut, alors! i don’t even know where to begin. i had such a complicated reaction to this book. am i the only person who didn’t find this depressing?? this book is life – it is tender and gentle and melancholy and real. not everything works out according to plan here, but what ever does? that’s not necessarily depressing, it’s just a reality that can either be moped over and dwelled upon, or accepted and moved on from. this is the emotional truth of life – we don’t understand our urges, we make bad decisions, we work hard to no great end and no one notices, but sherwood anderson noticed. this book is us – amplified. life gets all of us; it is the struggle to be understood, the struggle to not get lost in the crowd – to make a noise that someone hears. these characters are believed, cared for, delicately rendered by anderson to really get to the core of human shortcomings. i apologize in advance – this might become my most oddly formatted “book review” ever, just because i can’t stop free-associating with the way i am feeling from this damn book that i didn’t even like from the outset, but as the stories progressed, something in me kept brewing and growing and mutating, and now it is an unstoppable force in my heart-region.
the plot is deceptively simple: it is a town full of people unable to express themselves properly clawing and clutching at the one person they feel has the power of expression and who will release them somehow from their mute longings and joys and limitations. and then in turn releasing him into the the wider world with all of their rage and suffering and love inside of him. my god, the pressure!
i had to give it five stars because of how it made me feel at the end. the last sentence made me say (out loud, unfortunately) “oh my god, ridiculous”, because it made the whole book perfect, despite several stories that i thought were only okay. but that’s the trouble with short stories, even if they are part of a cycle like this – there are going to be some thin ones. but the ones that are good here are superfuckinggood. at the end of it all, it is like after reading dubliners or nine stories when this giant Dome of Connection just sort of drops over the whole thing, encapsulating it and preserving it as one exploration of the same problem – in this case, the spectacular inability to communicate and that sort of inarticulate mute howling we so often feel in the presence of emotions larger than ourselves; to know what to say, but to have it come out all wrong – too brassy, too wishy washy, or aggressive or too much bravado or too passive or pompous – just wrong… and then the aftermath of self-recrimination. i mean, we are all inarticulate grotesques sometimes; mine is appearing in the form of this book review.
it’s also this wonderful noble hopelessness that gives me the same feeling watching Bubble gave me (which i think is also set in ohio – i will check)(it is) or the wayward bus, or donald harington’s stay more cycle, or that oingo boingo song “sweat” which as a nostalgia song i always found more compelling than “jack and diane” or “summer of 69” as far as pure (north) american nostalgia songs go:
The cool boys bit the dust
They couldn’t take the pressure
The cool girls got knocked up
They only wanted to have fun
(Where did they go?)
They fell in love and suffered
(Where did they go?)
They picked up guns and hammers
(Where did they go?)
i mean, you can open this book pretty much anywhere, and find a beautiful phrase or a whole paragraph:
–Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.
–“I want to fill you with hatred and contempt so that you will be a superior being.”
–“Let’s take decay. Now what is decay? It’s fire. It burns up wood and other things. You never thought of that? Of course not. This sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there – they’re all on fire. They’re burning up. Decay you see is always going on. It don’t stop. Water and paint can’t stop it. If a thing is iron, then what? It rusts, you see. That’s fire, too. The world is on fire. Start your pieces in the paper that way. Just say in big letters ‘the world is on fire.’ That will make ’em look up. They’ll say you’re a smart one. I don’t care. I don’t envy you. I just snatched that idea out of the air. I would make a newspaper hum. You’ve got to admit that.”
–In an odd way he stood in the shadow of the wall of life, was meant to stand in the shadow.
–It seemed to her that the world was full of meaningless people saying words.
i mean, if i keep going, it will be nothing but quotes and none of you will ever have to read the book. but you should. because i have already reread several stories just to try to recapture it all inside of me, and this tiny little book has as many scraps of paper shoved in it as my prousts, just for well-turned phrases that gripped my heart..
it got me. i got it.
makes me wanna werewolf at the moon a little…