Friday, December 19, 2008

Novel vs. Novel

Due to a unique set of circumstances i find myself reading two novels at the same time. It's not unusual for me to interleave the reading of multiple books, but i try not to overlap novels if only because it's easy to confuse plot lines and characters. The two books are Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

Both are contemporary American novels written by well-respected authors. Both won the National Book Award in their respective years of publication. Both are pretty damn good books. And there ends the similarities.

Franzen's novel is about the Midwest and East, and the (sub)-urban inhabits thereof. It focuses primarily on two generations of the same family, an elderly midwestern couple and their children. Much of the conflict in the novel comes from the difference between these two generations. The parents need to see their children as successful even if that means a certain degree of willful reinterpretion of reality. The children (all now adult) seem to practically define their lives in contrast to their parents, to the extent that merely being in their parents' presence has become a burden.

I identify easily with the characters in Franzen's novel, even occasionally being reminded of members of my own family. The book covers a good span of both time and space, and includes some esoteric material that i assume required research on the part of the author. Yet it all strikes me as very familiar, very real for lack of a better term.

McCarthy's novel is very western, both in terms of geography and content. It starts in Texas, and proceeds southward to Mexico. The characters are ranch dwellers, comfortable riding horses and shooting guns. Other than several years spent in the desert Southwest and a general appreciation of ruralness engendered by my own youth on a farm, i don't have much in common with the people in the novel.

Still, i enjoy McCarthy's novel more. Perhaps it is just escapist fantasy for a middle-aged, middle-class, suburb dweller. The brilliance of The Corrections for me is that sometimes it cuts so close to the bone that it's painful. On the other hand, All The Pretty Horses makes me want to live in its world.

However both of these are uniquely American novels. The Corrections could be more easily compared to a European novel (Buddenbrooks comes to mind for me), but there is the pervasive theme in both novels of individuals trying to transform themselves rather than being transformed by the exigencies of history.

1 comment:

Tony said...

I have heard great things about both of these books, but have never actually read them. I may be making a trip to my local library after my book tour ends. Thank you for the post.

Tony Peters
Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping