Look Homeward, Angel

This review will be a little bit different from other reviews I have done in that I’ll be reviewing the book based on questions from bloggers who also participated in this past week’s Weekly Geeks theme.

How I discovered:

I actually purchased this back in high school, because I scribbled – and I do mean, scribbled – my name and section, 11 Ac. 1 (which I’m guessing stood for Academic 1) on the back of the front cover. I bought it at a used book sale because the copy I have still has a used sticker on its spine. Most likely it was on one of those reading recommendation lists we would get every summer. Since high school, it’s been setting in a box in the basement at my parent’s. What made me bring it out after all this time was the Southern Reading Challenge. That, and as my mother was born in North Carolina, I felt obliged to read this masterpiece of North Carolinian literature, although I learned after reading it, it’s actually an American masterpiece as well.

The setup:

A novel depicting the coming age of Eugene Gant — his boyhood in North Carolina and his growing passion to experience life. Wolfe’s first and probably most wide read book.

From the back of the book

Dewey: I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read that Wolfe said it was fairly autobiographical. I’m assuming this means the Eugene Gant character is based on Wolfe’s youth. Is this an accurate assumption? What were some qualities you admired in the Gant character? Any qualities you disliked?

From what I’ve read online, especially on The Thomas Wolfe Society website, where I found this biography, it is an accurate assumption that Wolfe based the Eugene Gant character on himself. Probably what I admire most about the character of Eugene Gant and Wolfe himself was his love of books. Throughout the novel are sprinkled either direct or indirect references to books. Sometimes as I was reading the novel, I thought that what Wolfe was writing sounded familiar, but couldn’t quite place. I definitely would like to re-read this again sometime to try to catch more of the allusions. What I admired least about Eugene Gant was that he was fairly egocentric. He often didn’t seem to care about the members of his family, although in his defense, sometimes they didn’t really give a care about him either.

Joanne: I’ve got a couple of questions for you: Did you find “Look Homeward Angel” to be a realistic coming-of-age story? While reading it did the characters become real to you? What emotions did this novel or the characters evoke in you? Did you feel a certain connection to any particular character? When you finished the last page and closed the book what was the first thought you had?

Look Homeward, Angel absolutely was a realistic coming-of-age story, in that what Eugene went through, we all go through to one extent or another: in sometimes feeling different from our parents, in sometimes feeling alone and alienated from everything else. For that reason, I probably felt the most connection with Eugene, because of that feeling of loneliness, for example, as he starts at college. I felt that too as I went off to college and for most of my four years.

When I finished the book, my first thought was “Thank God, that’s over, “because I had been reading it over the space of a month. But my second thought was “Wow. That was good,” and even though I hadn’t seen The Dark Knight yet, I knew it would be better than that or any movie I’ve ever seen.

Answer:

Beastmomma: What does Look Homeward Angel tell us about home?

Home sucks, get away from it. No, really. Go west, young man or young woman or young hermaphrodite, as the case may be.

bybee: I’m very curious about this book after reading a biography of Maxwell Perkins. Apparently, Thomas Wolfe could write like a house afire, churning out page after page of lovely prose, but hadn’t a clue about shaping, polishing and editing, so Maxwell Perkins took thousands of pages and did just that. Is it a very long book? Does it flow well?

From what I’ve read, his last novels, You Can’t Go Home Again and The Web and The Rock, published after his death in 1938 at the age of 38 from tuberculosis, were originally intended to be one novel, but his publishers didn’t think that people would be able to maintain the interest for that long.

For the most part, though, at 522 pages in the edition I have, it flows well. However, at least one section I felt could have been removed completely and I wouldn’t have missed it: a good chunk of Chapter 14, where he has a group of characters from Eugene’s hometown of Asheville continue for about 12 pages of dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I’ll be honest. I think I skimmed it, but I’m glad I persevered because I think otherwise I would have missed one of the greatest American novels ever written.

That said, and despite that one section in Chapter 14, in my…

Final Analysis: I give this one a 10 out of 10, because this is a story not only of North Carolina and the South, as I said at the start, but also a story about America.

For excerpts from the book, I refer you to a previous post I wrote about the book while I was reading it, which can be found here. I also will leave you with one last excerpt for me, which captures the spirit of America:

Around him lay the village; beyond, the ugly rolling lands, sparse with cheap farmhouses; beyond all this , America — more land, more wooden houses, more towns, hard and raw and guly. He was reading Euripedes, and all around him a world of white and black was eating fried food. He was reading of ancient sorceries and old ghosts. but did an old ghost ever come to haunt this land? The ghost of Hamlet’s father in Connecticut.

“…I am thy father’s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
Between Bloomington and Portland, Maine.”

He felt suddenly the devastating impermanence of the nation. Only the earth endured — the gigantic American earth, bearing upon its awful breast a world of flimsy rickets. Only the earth endured — this broad terrific earth that had no ghosts to haunt it. Stogged in the desert, half-broken and overthrown, among the columns of lost temples strewn, there was no ruined image of Menkaura, there was no alabaster head of Akhnaton. Nothing had been done in stone. Only this earth endured, upon whose lonely breast he read Euripedes. Within its hills he had been held a prisoner; upon its plains, he walked alone, a stranger.

O God! O God! We have been an exile in another land and a stranger in our own. The mountains were our master: they went home to our eye and our heart before we came to five. Whatever we can do or say must be forever hillbound. Our senses have ben fed by our terrific land; our blood has learned to run to the imperial pulse of America which, leaving, we can never lose and never forget. We walked along a road in Cumberland, and stooped, because the sky hung down so low; and when we ran away from London, we went by little rivers in a land just big enough. And nowhere that we went was far: the earth and the sky was close and near. And the old hunger returned– the terrible and obscure hunger that haunts and hurts Americans, and that makes us exiles at home and strangers wherever we go.

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4 responses to “Look Homeward, Angel

  1. I just don’t get what you saw in this book! I STRUGGLED through and would rate it a one out of ten. Yes, it is beautifully written – the prose is lovely, but there is not plot what so ever. The book drags on with detail out the wazoo, but nothing moves the story forward to the end. I too was EXTREMELY relieved when it ended.

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  3. Wow! 10 out of 10! I have to admit that until you mentioned it for the classics challenge I hadn’t heard of it. I have heard of Thomas Wolfe, but always get him mixed up with Tom Wolfe (I own several of his books but haven’t read any). Shame on me, I know. Wait…I’m reading Literate Housewife’s comment above and now wondering if these authors ARE in fact two different people??

  4. I have this book and I’m looking forward to reading it. I read I Am Charlotte Simmons and it was okay, but I’m positive that early Wolfe must be spectacular. Your post certainly helps to confirm my suspicions. Thanks! I’m going to have to check out Weekly Geeks! 🙂