I’m back! My wife still has quite a ways to go in her recovery, but we’re out of the woods. So, for the first time in a few weeks, here are a couple short reviews. These are books that I read for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
Title: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who Was Born in Newgate, and During a Life of Continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, Besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife (Whereof Once to her Own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at Last Grew Rich, Liv’d Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from Her Own Memorandums.
(aka Moll Flanders)
Author: Daniel Defoe (Probably)
Genre: Classic Picaresque
Rating: 3.5 of 5
The full title pretty much sums up the book (and should probably come with a *SPOILERS* tag). Like a lot of picaresque novels, mixed in with our hero’s roguish adventures is satirical commentary on the “polite society” that has led her to this lifestyle. The whole thing feels a bit tongue-in-cheek as Moll’s “penitent” confession of her wickedness frequently has an undertone of pride in her own cleverness. I’m really not quite sure what to make of the book, but I enjoyed it overall.
(I will be using this as my pre-1800 classic)
Author: Upton Sinclair
Genre: Socialist Propaganda
Rating: 2.5 of 5
This starts out as a captivating (if saddening) tale of a young man torn between loyalty to his unscrupulous oil magnate father and his friends (and other workers) exploited by the oil industry. It shines a light on the abuses and corruption in the oil industry and provides a largely sympathetic look at the broad spectrum of union, socialist, and communist movements in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, after a certain point, heavy-handed socialist propaganda (with plenty of sneering at religion and even an encouraging nod toward Soviet Bolshevism) pretty much drowns out any actual compelling story.
(I will be using this as my 20th century classic)
Title: (OMG) Don Quixote and Candide Seek Truth, Justice, and El Dorado in the Digital Age (LOL)
Author: Stefan Soto
Genre: Picaresque Satire
Rating: 2.5 of 5
First, thank you to the author for providing me a free copy via netgalley. (this does not affect the content of the review)
This book is basically an excuse to have various fictional characters interact with each other in the modern world. If you look up picaresque novel on Wikipedia, you will get a pretty good idea of the wandering, disconnected style of this book. The focus is on individual episodes and snarky quips rather than an overall plot with the connections between episodes being fairly random and unbelievable. If you like this picaresque style you will probably enjoy the book…personally, I’m not a huge fan (I was expecting a tighter plot due to blurbs comparing it to The Eyre Affair).
As far as the characters go, some of the characterizations were spot on (e.g. the idealistic Don Quixote and vain Cyrano de Bergerac whose interaction is one of the better scenes) and others were less so (e.g. the Star Trek characters felt like the author wasn’t very familiar with them other than in a general make-fun-of-the-best-known-tropes kind of way). The elements of irony, satire, and meta-fiction woven throughout were entertaining enough to keep me reading, but overall it was only a so-so book for me.
Title: The Sisters Brothers
Author: Patrick deWitt
Rating: 3 out of 5
I have a difficult time classifying this book both in terms of genre and in terms of whether I really liked it or not. Though set in the West during the California gold rush and featuring plenty of gunslinging, this doesn’t read much like a Western. It bears much more resemblance to the crime novels of the 1930’s-50’s by the likes of James M. Cain and David Goodis but with some of the levity and style of a picaresque novel.
The episodic storyline follows a duo of infamous hired killers on their latest assignment to hunt down a certain prospector. The first-person narration by the younger brother, Eli, paints a picture of a somewhat bewildered, often likeable man rather than a conscienceless monster (even as many of the brothers’ actions are sadistic and/or appalling). The book definitely kept my interest throughout, and the author’s extremely dry sense of humor was entertaining, but there were some parts that were just a bit too graphic and/or crude for me to really like the book.