Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Initial reactions.

Okay, now that I've gotten a free moment -

First of all, I'm going to say that now I have way too many books left unfinished, which drives me completely nuts. I'm going to finish the Umberto Eco book soon if it kills me.

But onto Johnson.

This is the thing. I really like the book sometimes, and other times, not as much. He has so many different characters going on, that you can't help but like some of them more than others. For instance, to me, the opening is beautiful. The whole shooting the monkey thing - so heartwrenching. The Houston brothers are my favorites. I could follow them forever. The scene with James getting all fucked up and drunk at home, with his girlfriend crying - wonderfully rendered. I dig that. I just find the Houston brothers amazingly compelling.

Then there's the Colonel. He's all sorts of weird, which I love. I love the scene where he's giving this long ass speech about Notre Dame vs. Michigan State, going on and on and how this relates to war and everything. It's hilarious yet true and intelligent. Maybe because I'm so into football these days, but I found the comparison so compelling. This idea of not opting for victory and instead, taking the draw. It works so well with the bigger backdrop of what Vietnam was all about.

And Vietnam man. I don't know if I've said this before, but Vietnam is my country. I mean, no, I'm not Vietnamese, but I have a love obsession with the country. It's beautiful and sad and the people there are so friendly it breaks your heart. I LOVE the country. And I love it aside from the lens of the war, although I guess, really, everything I love about it also has been a byproduct of the war in a way. But I'm digressing. So I love the sections with the Vietnamese guys, and seeing their perspective on things. The Buddhists burning themselves. That sort of thing.

The part I had trouble with? Skip. Oh god, the beginning of his section was boring boring. I know this novel (according to the flap copy) is mostly about him, but god, man, his section in the beginning is just NOT interesting, not compared to the other wonderful characters. He's starting to grow on me right now, but I wish we could follow the Houston brothers all the way through.

I have sections I like, but I'm at work, and I won't post right now.

Okay, but the big things I want to say. I love the messiness of this novel so far. I like the departure from all the other familiar Vietnam war books we see. Or war books in general. I like the way he renders the aimlessness of the characters, all of them trying to find something, who knows what. A lostness. Now, I didn't live through the war, so I don't know. But I think this lostness feels akin to what I suppose this war sort of was. This not understanding. This searching. I like that.

I do have to say though, that it takes some work for me to get through parts of this novel so far. And I definitely also feel like it's a "guy" book - in language, in characters. I mean yes, it's a novel about the war, and soldiers and stuff like that. So it's maybe a little bit harder for me to relate than a dude.

But the parts that are good in this book, to me, so far have more than made up for the slower portions.

One more thing -- I do tend to cringe the teeniest tiny bit whenever Vietnamese whores appear on scene. I mean, maybe (very likely) it's exactly like that, the way they talk, etc etc. But the walking cliche of it makes me cringe. Especially because my love of Vietnam comes from a place where I love the people, and I love the children. And knowing that a lot of the kids in Vietnam that were born during that time were a byproduct of the prostitution makes me dislike the one-dimensionality of Vietnamese prostitutes in pop-culture. It may very well be accurate, but I just can't stop thinking about what happens when these women go home to their families, when they become mothers. How they're not like that, don't talk like that, etc etc. It's a minor bone to pick, and I'm not even saying that Johnson shouldn't have rendered it that way. I mean, since it's a book about the soldiers, and not about the whores. I guess I'm making a general blanket statement for all Vietnam war stories.

Must keep trucking. Will keep you all updated.

2 drops:

moonrat said...

that's one of the reasons i hated Oryx & Crake. you never know where Oryx is from, but the implication is that she's southeast asian, and she's sexualized her entire life. you're supposed to see her as oh poor thing, she was so exploited, but on the other hand, there is literally NO other dimension to her character.

vivian said...

The Houston brothers are the most sympathetic and interesting characters in the book, which is probably why the New Yorker excerpt was about them. The Colonel and Skip are hard going, for me, probably because they're carrying the thematic weight of the novel and therefore are a little forced. I think Johnson is trying too hard to Say Something Important.

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