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19th December
2008
written by Tony
1989 (kind of)

1989 (kind of)

Let me first say that this book intrigued me for several reasons. One, I loved A Confederacy of Dunces. Two, I love the album of the same name by Arcade Fire, which has absolutely no relation to this book. Three, it's a name that appeals to me conceptually. I'm not the first to say this, but I'll say it nonetheless: if you liked To Kill a Mockingbird then you will also enjoy this book. The simplicity of the writing and the authenticity of the voice combine for an easily digested, yet powerful language that is compelling and engaging. The story is not a complex one, and it revolves around the actions of a simple-minded protagonist named David who is trapped by his poor roots and meager intelligence in a small town in Louisiana. The story is a retrospective told in the first person and generally serves to bring the reader up to speed on the events that open in the first chapter. Each proceeding chapter covers roughly a year in David's life and we are taken from when he is a small child to when he is a man of 19. The back-story on this book is almost as interesting as the book itself, and serves to shed a little light on the brief life of Toole. He wrote this book when he was 16 and it makes me sick. Toole at 16 was already a brilliant writer and it shows in this work. His ability to choose the right phrasing and the right vocabulary throughout the book continued to astonish me every time I recalled that, at 16, I was barely able to express how I felt about even the simplest things with any great aplomb. And here we have Toole who captures the essence of what it is to live in a small southern village and deal with the complex racial and social issues day to day. The book was published posthumously, as Toole felt it was too amateurish to publish while he was alive. The fact that Toole considered this book unfit for publishing suggests that, had he lived, this would have been the least of his masterpieces, and we are all poorer for his passing. Still, to create something this authentic at 16 is astouding. I suppose that it doesn't hurt that he grew up in rural Louisiana, and this certainly adds to the authenticity of his writing, but it still can't account for the vivid portrayal of the people in the town and how they deal with the changing times. Simply put, the writing is powerful, honest and has a way of shedding insight on every subject it deals with in a way that is almost inexplicable. I think a large part of the success of the story has to do with how simple the narrator is. The point Toole is making never gets lost in flowery language or too much introspection. David sees things from a very practical point of view and because he is less than mentally gigantic, his thoughts tend to cut through the rationalization and mental subterfuge that ordinary people use to hide from themselves and others. It's a short book, so ultimately there is very little to say without giving away too much of the plot. The story is certainly not a happy one as our protagonist can't get a break, no matter what the situation, but that just adds to the honesty of the book in the long run. I loved this story and it has certainly made it onto my list of classics. I recommend it to anyone really; I think the understated simplicity and truth of the writing have an almost universal appeal. 4.5 out of 5

2 Comments

  1. 12/26/2008

    Hi, I’m Chavonne. I did an internship in Houston with Steph a few years ago. Nice to meet you! 🙂

    Thanks for this review. I look forward to reading it. I am quite a fan of “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

  2. […] As an aside, I must mention that it is just so sad that Toole ended his own life before he ever had the chance to see his book get published and attain the loyal and delighted readership it ultimately deserved. It did, after all, eventually go on to win the Pulitzer Prize.  Such an insanely gifted writer, gone well before his time. I look forward to reading his only other published work, The Neon Bible, which Tony read and reviewed here. […]

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