On finishing this book I'm presented with a puzzle. This: why is this book, this author, not as vastly regarded among American letters as, on the showing of this book, he is due?
This is not, as it says all over it, a novel of politics. It has politics in it, sure. Rather it is a just a novel. Simply that. A big, bountiful, gorgeous piece of work. Surely a realistic candidate for the great American novel if ever there was one (and I can not think, off the top of my head, of another more deserving). This is a long, ramblingly poetic piece of work about two men, about relationships, power, influence, connections, careers versus personal lives, children, parenthood, corruption. I can't praise it highly enough. It is moving; the story contains a deeply tragic web and is one of those novels that illuminates how any little thing might turn out to be critically significant and you never even knew it. The writing is shaggily beautiful and deeply, hard-wonly wise; I am not remotely surprised this man won the Pulitzer for poetry in his lifetime as well as for prose.
A novel of regrets and life, a perfect example of one of those novels that you've heard of remotely in the background of literature, and turns out to be more powerful than you'd dared hope. This is worth five Gatsby's. It takes a little while to get into, to engage with but once you are in, this digressive book will enchant you. An American masterpiece, I am certain.
on 15 July 2011
This is the story of Governor Willie Stark, a character based on the real life controversial governor for Louisiana, Huey Long. The story is narrated by Jack Burden, a reporter who gets taken on as staff by Stark at the start of his ascent in state politics. The story of Stark's life is interwoven with that of the narrator.
It's set in the deep south of the 1930's and Warren does a great job in describing the heat of not just the weather but the complex relationships and machinations of politics in this area. Stark starts off as a well meaning idealist, and as the story develops he turns into just another greedy hog with his snout in the trough of political power and influence. It was written in 1946 and won the Pulitzer prize. On the back of my Penguin Classic edition it's described by the New York Times as `The definitive novel about American politics.' I like Gore Vidals political yarns, but RPW really excels himself here. An excellent novel.
This book is considered one of America's greatest political novels and reading the blurb on the back cover I think that in some ways people are being misled. If you are looking for a novel that is deeply political and not much of anything else, then this isn't it. This is subtle and more a meditation on human emotions and ideals. Narrated by Jack Burden this is more of his story than that of anyone else, but as in real life, one person's story always includes others and how they can be affected by what is going on around them. The big character of this novel is Willie Stark, 'The Boss', who is based on Louisiana Governor Huey Long.
Stark is only an employee of the State as such when he runs into trouble over his job and his deep honesty. Dabbling in politics he drops out for a time only to come back with a much more solid support base. At this time Jack is a journalist but later comes to work for Stark as one of his top men. But as I think we all know, politics isn't easy sailing and you have to go to bed with the Devil, however you may originally not wish to. In this book we see how Stark changes from idealist to a cynic, operating the same kinds of graft that he originally opposed.
Whilst this is going on though as Jack narrates this we see what is happening in his life, his loves and the secrets that a family may have hidden away. As things reach their climax tragedy occurs as people find themselves on a course leading to disaster.
This is quite a slow read, at times you may even think what certain events have to do with the story in the whole. It flicks between time periods as Jack looks back into the past, which does work as it gives you a deeper understanding of the main characters. It does ramble and wander a bit in places, but after reading it in its entirety I can't really see how you could remove certain things, as the story wouldn't then meld together properly. Personally I wouldn't call this the most definitive novel on politics in the US, but I would say that this was essential reading for anyone who is thinking of going into politics. In a world where we always moan about our politicians this book makes you think from a different perspective. No one I am sure goes into politics to try and make as much money as they can, if you talk to politicians they always seem to have had high ideals that they wanted to set in motion. Of course reality isn't always that flexible and the system can work against you, and even how high you work your way up the system can have more to do with other people's political wrangling than with what you actually achieve. Though provoking, more a meditation on us as humans and deeply absorbing, this has faults, but it is well worth reading.