Sunday, October 28, 2012

On Edge

I beg your pardon for the unjust emptiness I'm sure you've all felt dwelling in the pits of your souls, during what I'm sure has been a very tumultuous time, in my extended absence from this blog. The lack of my constant wit - all but bedazzling and enlightening in an instant - and my well-crafted prose - cobbling the odds and ends of the Universe into a pure pantheon of distinguished ingenuity - must have felt a tremendous burden for these past few weeks. One might only hope, that my exceptionally crafted apologies must alleviate your deep misery, assuage the heart that has grown tender and raw after being subjected to the cruel, slicing pages of books not yet read and recounted by me, and renew the blushing joy you feel in accompaniment with the accelerating swells of your chest, when you see that yes, I have returned, and I have a new blog post.
Unless, of course, you didn't experience such pain? Unless the only pain you're feeling at the moment, is an abject embarrassment in regards to my use of such an obnoxiously effusive and flowery writing, and assumption of deeper emotional connections to trivialities, as is demonstrated above? 

If that's the case, then good. Move on from my temporary struggles in reading and writing, by eliminating the cause of such struggles from this very dialogue. I have finally finished W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. 

The novel revolves around a group of friends hobnobbing around Chicago and Europe (and for one of them, India), and takes place, in total, over about forty years. It is one of the new genre that my friend Maggie and I, over a mutual bowl of pomegranate seeds, have dubbed, "the Marathon novel." It's the kind of novel where, upon turning the last page, you are able to salvage some semblances of accomplishment and self-pride, while still feeling numb and exhausted, murmuring to yourself "I can't believe I just did that." (Examples of the "Marathon": The Grapes of Wrath, The Fellowship of the Ring. ) "Marathon" novels typically gain their heftiness from heavy subject matter, nigh-indomitable writing style, and sheer bluntness of force, whether it's the emotional impact of content, or your head smacking against the table once you've fallen asleep. Such is The Razor's Edge. 

First off, the title itself refers to the path to salvation - religion itself being almost a tell-tales sign of a marathon novel - as one of the main characters forsakes all luxuries of life to pursue deeper meaning. Then, upon immediately immersing myself in murky wording, the likes of which I have previously displayed, I should have checked the second red flag. However, it is not until I fully reached the end, that I finally realized the extent to which this book has the capacity to bore someone into a headache.

Ironically enough, the contributing factors to my discontent with the plot line were what I initially appreciated about the novel itself: it's conversational nature and religious pseudo-monologues. 

When I say "conversational nature," I mean it. Not only does the book bank on conversational writing style, flowing in the way only a winding story from a friend can be told - frequently peppered with self-interruptions and mild-mannered observations about the narrator's surroundings - but it is built mainly of the conversations had, or recounted, by others. Initially it was a novel concept to me; however, after coming to the quick realization that no normal person talks like this, not even an well-culture Englishman from the '20s, and to be honest, I don't think anyone should. Ever. 

And when I say "religious pseudo-monologues," I mean it. I understand that the novel focuses primarily on the inner journeys and real travelings of a man seeking the meaning of life in the form of a question he doesn't fully understand, but come ON. It's one guy. And it's not the narrator. So do I really have to sit through ten pages of him borderline-soliloquizing about the nature of faith? (I'm saying "soliloquizing" here because I'm guessing that even after one minute of this guy spilling his heart out, everyone would have stopped paying attention, and it would be almost as if no one else was even there. He's rather self-infatuated for someone who strives to be selfless.) 

However, with that last semi-comment, I do find myself having to make a distinction: it wasn't the greatest book, in my estimation (obviously I'm disagreed with by most critics), but if there was any shadow of greatness within it, it shone forth in the expert crafting of the characters. Well-made, multi-faceted, realistic and all-at-once sympathetic and worthy of hate, I loved how each of the players that walked this stage could have just as easily walked down the street. Maybe it did owe a little something to the conversational presentation, but this book could have easily been a gossip-fest rather than a sermon if fit into a different format. Not an archetype was present, not a stock character in sight. I loved every last detail that went into the ultimate ruin of an almost-martyr and the self-made salvation of a snob. These people were grand, even if the plot was not such, and the styling was too much so. 

Anyways, those are my feelings on a book that has been sitting on my desk, accompanied by class readings and Scantrons, for the past two weeks. How about this time, I pick something a little lighter... :) 

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