I’m afraid I have fallen behind with this blog so I will record two meetings with this entry.
The February meeting enjoyed more pleasant temperatures for the discussion of The Naked and the Dead, a very young Norman Mailer’s novel about World War II in the South Pacific.
This was the first novel in some time in which opinions were sharply divided on the virtue of the book, probably not far from 50/50. Even Tony who proposed the book opened with a concession about “the perils of recommending a book one is not familiar with” and lamented what many felt were cardboard and stereotypical characters.
Nevertheless discussion drew out the implicit satire of the book bitterly critical as it was of how the US military conducted the war. Perhaps the nugget of the evening was the observation that victory came not because of heroism, nor because of brilliant leadership or strategy, but because of soldiers with training doing what they were told in the combat manuals. Obedience. Like a cog in a wheel, blindly doing what they had prepared for. In Mailer’s vision, there was no greatness among the troops or the leadership. It was anything but the “greatest generation.”
As discussion developed, opinions also warmed up. Characters were realistic to some, fake to others. The psychology of characters was a good representation of how soldiers would act some said, others decidedly not. It was agreed that the first 2/3 of the book frequently dragged while the last 1/3 picked up.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry was the book for March. While I personally read the book, I was not present at the meeting. However reports are that for the second month in a row, many found the book hard going. No doubt. Lowry’s book falls in a small category with Joyce’s Ulysses for it’s stream of consciousness style, dizzyingly long sentences, sections of verbal opacity, vast quantities of allusions to history, literature, film, war, astronomy, and so on, and so on.
And yet it must be acknowledged that it is a great book. Indeed, it was reported that upon a second reading the book becomes much more lucid and can be read in less time. A second read will also make the work more enjoyable and enriching.
One personal comment: I think nowhere in literature have the idiosyncrasies, the degradations, the mannerisms, the thought patterns of alcoholism been better portrayed. For all of its first-reading obscurities, Volcano is a marvelous book.
The venue switched back to Gourmands this time where it will remain for the time being. This was due to the crowded quarters, the constant near traffic, and the death metal/biker bar across the street that drove us out.
The book for April is Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The book for May is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.