The Adventures of Augie March

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Another occasional foray into reading Serious Literature; The Adventures of Augie March is on most Official Lists of the Greatest Novels Ever. It was a slog, though; I finally waded through it on my third checkout from the fine library at the University Near Here. The checkout period is 4 weeks, so it was "only" about 20 pages/day. But they are very dense pages.

Here's an example, the first paragraph of chapter XI:

Now there's a dark Westminster of a time when a multitude of objects cannot be clear; they're too dense and there's an island rain. North Sea lightlessness, the vein of the Thames. That darkness in which resolutions have to be made--it isn't merely local; it's the same darkness that exists in the fiercest clearnesses of torrid Messina. And what about the coldness of the rain? That doesn't deheat foolishness in its residence of the human face, nor take away deception nor change defects, but this rain is an emblem of the shared condition of all. It maybe means that what is needed to mitigate the foolishness or dissolve the deception is always superabundantly about and insistently offered to us--a black offer in Charing Cross; a gray in Place Pereires where you see so many kinds and varieties of beings go to and fro in the liquid and fog; a brown in the straight unity of Wabash Avenue. With the dark, the solvent is in this way offered until the time when one thing is determined and the offers, mercies, and opportunities are finished.

No, it's not Finnegans Wake. But it's not Lee Child either.

My guess is that the initial reference is inspired by one of these Monet paintings, probably the one housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I wouldn't even have gotten that if not for a dim recollection of paging through an art book years ago. But that's only the start of unwinding the paragraph. One could spend maybe an hour puzzling out the allusions and sussing out references. I didn't have time, and probably not the depth of knowledge required either, so I probably missed a lot.

Unlike the edition of Lolita I read last year, the library's copy of Augie was unannotated, and this is a book that could use annotations. But I muddled through, got the "good parts", and enjoyed it.

It starts out in early 20th century Chicago, with Augie's already-dysfunctional family: absent father, a simple-minded mother, a tyrannical scheming grandmother, two brothers, one "born an idiot". Augie has to scramble to make a living, and this causes him to interact with no end of colorful folks, some of whom rope him into "adventures" of varying legality. One of the more successful enterprises has him shoplifting expensive books and selling them to university academics. But another scheme, hatched by the clearly reality-challenged Thea, involves an odyssey down to Mexico with a young bald eagle, which Thea hopes to train to catch giant iguanas; Augie goes along because he's hopelessly infatuated with Thea. It winds up in post-WWII Europe, with Augie still doing borderline-shady stuff, with a wife hoping to break into film.

I don't disagree that it's a great novel. But I'm ready to read more fluffy stuff again.

Last Modified 2024-06-03 5:59 PM EDT