Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut

SlaughterhousefiveThe story of Billy Pilgrim who becomes untethered in time during World War 2 and whose past present and future blend together to tell his tale, with the atrocities of the Dresden fire bombing at its core.

The novel is named for the place where Billy and his fellow POWs are housed during their brief stay in Dresden, the fifth building of a slaughterhouse used to kill pigs.

Similar in feel and format to Heller’s Catch-22 – nonlinear antiwar – but with a trip to Tralfamidor for a stay in their zoo and discussions on the futility of worrying about time – everything that is was and will be.

So it goes.

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Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte Bronte

300px-Jane_Eyre_title_pageIs Jane Eyre the Twilight of its time? Is the romance genre just a feminine commentary on the strange condition that is man? Does this make Tolstoy’s take on women in Anna Karenina more relevant or more insulting to women?

Jane Eyre has extremely flawed male characters bracketed by good (or good-ish) men. Between the unseen Mr. Reed and the reformed and closet-cleaned Mr. Rochester are a series of extremely damaged men, sadistic cousin John Reed, stingy Mr. Brocklehurst, and the emotionless and manipulative St. John Rivers. Mr. Rochester himself is selfish and distant but oh so deliciously mysterious.
 

Similar to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane is intelligent and intriguing in a story with good pacing. Good, that is, until Jane throws reason under a train three-quarters of the way through, where she strongly considers becoming a frigid trophy wife before divine intervention brings her back to her true love’s arms.

Divine intervention – the writer’s ‘get out of jail free’ card.

In its time the entirety of Jane Eyre was enjoyed by many a teenaged girl. Not so much anymore.

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Remembrance of Things Past (1927) – abridged, Marcel Proust

51ns76375hL__SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_This isn’t a novel it is a memoir. Remembrance is a particularly homophobic and misogynistic memoir that I did not fully understand.

Perhaps I was distracted. Perhaps the abridged version does not provide a good Proust experience. Perhaps I will revisit in the future.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Mark Twain

Huckleberry_Finn_bookInteresting dualism between Jim’s slavery and Huck’s.

I enjoyed it until Tom Sawyer shows up and ruins everything by constructing a ridiculous Rube Goldberg escape plan for Jim and Mr. Clemens.

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Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit_451_1st_ed_coverBeat up a smart kid, put on the joke channel, pop a pill and just feel good with your fake parlor family.

Gardens and porches and books lead to discussion and discussion leads to conflict and conflict leads to unhappiness. Manage unhappiness and keep the populace controlled.

It’s not ‘every man is created equal’ but ‘we will create equal men’ – via lowbrow humor, acceptable youth violence, and self medication.

An ending with an ironic cleansing fire that destroys many of the ‘books’ that remain.

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The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck

300px-JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrathA great novel of a displaced family tractored off their Oklahoma land during the dust bowl Depression years and fleeing west to seek a new life – only to find greed and discrimination.

Steinbeck’s prose carries the cadence of religion, like a missing verse from Genesis. God created California. And it was Good. It is a comforting choice in a story filled with uncertainty, fear, and anger. Also unique are the sections between chapters where the POV that is normally focused on the Joads goes omniscient and we see past, present, and future events through impartial eyes.

The ending was odd – like being beat on the head with a religious ax handle.

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On the Road (1957), Jack Kerouac

180px-OnTheRoadSal and Dean travel back and forth across North America, broke and hungry, meeting up with and leaving behind friends and stray wonderers, loving and fighting and getting high.

Sal is our narrator and a lonely semi-passive participant in this journey to nowhere.

Dean is wild and out of control. Only luck keeps him from calamity. He is an untamed exhausting need to experience, to poke a finger in the eye of what is normal. But when this passion is exhausted he must return home.

Home, a safe place where one stays for a time before being pulled back into the world.

They are lonely together and have a frantic need to keep moving. It is a journey without a destination because when they arrive they find nothing, splinter into their individual parts, turn back – seeking but never finding, only to reform and try again.

Sal and Dean do not know what they want, only that they want something different. They are the restless waves swirling and rolling against the safe and confining shore of society.

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