Sunday, February 15, 2015
Donald Ray Pollock has created a powerful tale of violence and hopelessness which weaves in and out of rural Ohio as it follows the lives of seemingly inconsequential people. A returning World War II veteran. The beautiful waitress he meets at a diner. A travelling preacher. The sheriff. His sister and brother-in-law. The pastor of the local church...
Behind the quiet anonymity of these regular people however, is a decaying world of small hushed towns, dark cornfields and run down motels, with its strong bigotry and its weird religious fervor, its violent rapes and its horrific murders.
Adding to the sense of getting hopelessly ensnared in a lawless world are the multiple narrative threads that run through this book - all constantly connected by person or place. With Arvin returning to Meade - where the story of the little boy forced into fanatical blood rituals began - the vicious cycle of this sordid tale comes full circle.
The genius of this book lies in the fact that while I have neither met, nor relate to, any of the people in this tale, I see the overwhelming "humanity" borne of helplessness and frustration that lies at the core of it. The tragedy of the story of course comes from the fact that there are no good guys that will come blazing through in the end to stop the madness. Safely ensconced in remote lands and tiny minds, this terror will continue unchallenged.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Vladimir Nabokov tells us the story of Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, a Russian-born professor living in the United States, and his experiences of living life in a very alien culture.
The great joy of reading this story was, for me, how small individual and isolated incidents came together to create this beautiful portrait of a man, humorous at times, nostalgic at others, but always so richly layered. From taking the wrong train to deliver a lecture, to organizing a party for friends and colleagues, hosted with sombre propriety, we see a man who struggled throughout to meet life with the greatest possible dignity. Pnin reminded me at times, of Tagore's protagonists - with that deep pride and honour that shines through the darkness of poverty or humiliation around them.
That picture of Pnin washing the dishes ... Somehow that image has seeped into my mind and refuses to let go.
It would be amiss of me not to mention Nabokov's richly poetic narrative, of course. "A copious spring shower kept lashing at the french windows, beyond which young greenery, all eyes, shivered and streamed."