Review: You Can’t Go Home Again

This is a sister review to my review of Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg.  When that book was finished I had a list of about five books I wanted to read, and the first one that I managed to get at the library was You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.                                                                                                                                                                                         First of all a disclaimer. I don’t review books negatively.  If I write a review here, or elsewhere, I only write positive reviews. If I can’t write a positive review I say nothing. I got into that habit with poetry. There is a lot of poetry I just don’t get and there are a lot of people who don’t get the poetry  or prose I write. I have a spreadsheet full of rejections to prove that. But, some do like what I write.  I refuse to be critical of another writer on a public forum because it may be a work that just doesn’t resonate with me.

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Thomas Wolfe photo by Carl Van Vechten Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Now to Thomas Wolfe and his book. As to the author I will be brief, and refer you to A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins, or to one of the many biographies (which I have not yet read) of Thomas Wolfe who lived a short life from 1900 – 1938. He was a big man with big appetites and was rather notorious for writing novels which were essentially, fundamentally, chapters out of his own life.  My opinion is that all writers do that, including me, but he was more blatant about it than most, and wrote when the world was a wee bit less litigious than it is now. If you read A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins you will recognize many of the people mentioned in that work.

The book itself is fantastic. A rolling, rollicking, ramble of stories connected together. I have never read anything like it.  A little bit like stream of consciousness, and a bit like Faulkner only with shorter sentences. But it works. It reads to me like life is. It reads to me like the way life comes at us is as we live it.  There is a plot,maybe, but often it is not all that clear exactly what the plot is.   I see my life like that.  As  one scene after another loosely connected which from certain vantage points manages to have a certain coherence, and perhaps even develops a certain meaning.

In the book the characters are so sharply defined, and undoubtedly taken from Wolfe’s own experiences.  One of the most compelling, in kind of a creepy way, is Judge Bland who is now blind but manages to “see” what is going on all around him. He was a person of some promise who unexpectedly turns into some kind of  malevolent creature. Reminds me a little bit of Gollum from The Hobbit. But I digress.

What is the story line?  The main character, I won’t use the word protagonist since this is not an English Lit class, becomes a big city New York  writer who pens a best seller using the backdrop of his hometown and it’s citizenry for material. Place and persons are only marginally disguised.  Yes. He really did do that.  It is magnificent. However, there is a price to pay not only for fame, but for writing a very public best selling novel which is in essence a gossipy tell all of your hometown.

You can’t go home again.  Not really. But you can revisit your version of what it was like in your mind, or you can put it on paper like Wolfe and every other write does. Highly recommended.

 

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Time Travel, Letters, and a Poem

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This week I found three brown plastic file boxes. Inside my garage, and unopened for years. A literal treasure chest of stuff. Much of which I had forgotten about, or thought I had lost.

I found my press pass from when Ronald Reagan came to town, Kodachrome slides, my discharge certificates from the Army and the Navy, and letters. A huge pile of letters I had written to my Grandfather at P. O. Box 261, Sturgeon Missouri. I am actually thinking about writing and seeing who answers.

The letters were unbelievable. Evidently while stationed at Ft. Riley, and living in Manhattan, Ks., I was dating a “cute girl,” named Debbie who was under five foot tall, and we went to a Buddy Rich concert.

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I went to a Buddy Rich concert?

I don’t remember her or the concert. I do remember watching Buddy Rich play the drums on the Johnny Carson show. The letters cover all three years from my first days in basic training at Ft. Dix, to medical training at Ft. Sam, to my permanent duty station at Ft. Riley, Kansas. There are even some letters from Germany when I went there for training. There were also some letters to my uncle Bruce who lived with them. As you can see they were written on the stationary they used to sell at the PX.

In honor of my Grandfather, and all of my family members that have passed – especially my father. I offer it as a tribute to those “working class” people who lived decent lives and worked harder than they should have, for less than they should have made. A tribute to the struggle of the working person. I offer up this poem written in August of 2013 and published by The Poet’s Haven in December of that year along with another poem called Flight.

All My Relatives

I see them
in the small
secluded places
outside of office buildings
alone or
in small groups
smoking
listening to music
on their phone
or even reading a book
taking a break
whatever it takes
to escape
from their waged
slave labor
where they must
comply
with a smile
and a thank you
to the humiliation
of being
captured
and incarcerated
in a system
where they are used
and then discarded
at will
when they are
bent and broken
but before that
they stand
they stand on
the small corner
of the tiny
nation state
of their existence
where they can
enjoy
the diluted freedom
allotted to them
I see them
in the still small
secluded places
outside of office buildings
all my relatives
living on the reservations
of capitalism

It is sad that nobody writes letters anymore. Or reads poetry. When my two youngest girls went to camp I wrote them, but they never wrote back except to ask for money.

A poem, perhaps a dirge, for our times.

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The Children of Hegel

Whoa...

I need to catch my breath
as I look out the window of an ancient childhood
take inventory of the moment ponder the question:
what is this world we have become?
as we wound our way through
the serpentine flow of history
which started as a clear stream, with direction
only to slow to a trickle
then halt in a moribund morass of sludge
which has ground we the people to a halt, and history no longer flows free
but threatens to backup like a sewer
and we the children of Hegel are stranded stuck
stuck
in an eternal synthesis
in a fused bipolar cycle which is the
worst of both worlds
no thesis, and no antithesis
Marx, Hegel, and Fukuyama never saw it coming
the sucker punch of technology - Heidegger’s enfolding
and we have become the slave of it
what we failed to envision
is the possibility that good might fail
and that in the end, before the end of times
that evil would prevail
fed fat on the cancer of malignant capitalism
we descend anew into the Dark Ages
the questions remains...

Will we emerge or destroy the very foundation 
of the earth we stand upon?

Two issues. Heidegger warned that technology might not be what it seems.  He sensed something sinister in it, and wrote about it in The Question Concerning Technology. He called it an enfolding. I hope to have a lot to say about that later in future posts.

The second issue.  A nation of vision, strength, and no little amount of moral integrity has become a debauchery of greed and indulgence, and we are ruled by a plutocracy.  Reagan’s light on a hill (say what you want at least he was no cynic and believed the rhetoric) is now a dim, and flickering, flame.  We are fading, and the grand experiment in democracy is in peril.  Oh, I know, we were never perfect.  Far from it.  But we thought we could be. We had that audacity.  God bless us for that.  We believed we could become something good, and better all humankind.

I must say a word about capitalism.  Note I used the term malignant capitalism which I want to define rather narrowly.  The one lesson America has not learned is moderation. Everything is supersized, everything is breaking news, everything is over the top.   Capitalism in and of itself is not malignant.  But, when it becomes the focus, and when the business of America is business (or making money – there is a difference and that is our present state) something bad happens. Unchecked, and monitored it becomes grotesque, and the traits of it that were virtuous become a vice. Just like the hunting rifle of old has turned into a weapon, and dangerous parody of what it once was.