RARA-AVIS: Dos Passos, Steinbeck & others

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 31 Mar 2003

In a message dated 3/31/03 4:15:49 PM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

 If it helps, I was shocked by the ending of GRAPES OF WRATH (I was a
 teenager then). I didn't read that Dos Passos, but I did read, IIRC, THE USA
 TRILOGY long ago. Lots of desperation, urban unemployment, ordinary working
 stiffs in suits (like my husband said guys used to wear at the pool room).
     Would Horatio Algers be anti-proletarian novels?
     BTW, let me pass on a compliment I heard about Navy civilians and their
 writing. My father was complaining about some IRS instructions--the senior
 citizen deduction guidelines are tossed together in the same paragraphs with
 a slew of arcane trivia--and he said nobody working for the Navy could get
 away with such sloppy work.
 Miker wrote:
>. . . . I'd really like to read THE
> GRAPES OF WRATH, but it's killing me to read Dos Passos's
> 42ND PARALLEL. The characters are interesting but nothing
> much is happening. The child in me demands action. The only
> thing that allowed me to continue was that he slacked off on
> the Marxist rhetoric after a while. I don't like that, and
> it has nothing to do with political preferences. I don't
> like Horatio Algers either.

Actually the 42ND PARALLEL is one of the novels in the USA trilogy. It's been many years since I read the trilogy but I do recall it getting tedious at times. I would recommend MANHATTEN TRANSFER (1925) a one-shot for those wanted to sample Dos Passos in his best remembered style. I like Dos Passos a lot. His magazine and newspaper pieces, as assembled in many collections are well worth seeking out.

One novel that had me hooked solid for 2/3rds of the way was THE GREAT PRINCE DIES by Bernard Wolfe. What killed it for me was when it buried the story under endless "who hit willie" back and forths about Trotsky and Stalin and how the revolution was betrayed. After moving along at a nice pace towards Trotsky's assasination, it bogged down to a crawl. I finally wanted to scream, "Just bury the axe in the back of the little muthafucka's head!" There were some great scenes and some nice characters but eventually, I just didn't care.

I've maintain a love for old John Steinbeck. Not sure why the critics and the literary gentry turned against him so completely. Maybe he was taught in one too many high school lit class.

Miker, I do think you would enjoy B. Traven. He hated all governments. Beyond the well-known TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (a novel I have reread more than any other single book), try his THE DEATH SHIP for a tough novel that also reflects his hatred of bureaucrats and such things as passports. THE COTTON-PICKERS also comes to mind.

I appreciate George V. Higgins' art. I salute him. But sometimes a few too many pages of his endless dialog gives me a headache. I guess I have to be in the right mood to appreciate his genius. And sometimes I am.

Richard Moore

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