Monday, September 3, 2012

Heavily Skimmed: All the King's Men


Um, yeah. This one wasn't for me.

My friend Lori lists All the King's Men as one of her favorite books, which is what inspired me to pick it up on sale a few years ago. It's also one of those great American classics that is supposed to be amazing. It's a novel about the rise and fall of Louisiana politician Willie Stark, loosely based on the life of famed politician Huey Long. The narrator is his aide and ally, Jack Burden. (Even the heavy-handed names got on my nerves.) It's structure reminds me of The Great Gatsby, in that it has a narrator telling of the rise and fall of a powerful and complex main character.

On the plus side: it's beautifully written. The author, Robert Penn Warren is a poet, and it shows. The language is sumptuous. And reading a story about politicians in an election year was also sort of interesting. I found myself marking a few pages with particularly pithy statements about politics.

Here's my problem--the novel's language totally eclipses the action. In the first chapter, which runs 80 some pages, the following events happen: Jack and Willie visit Willie's hometown. Jack ruminates on his first meeting with Willie. A judge in a neighboring county publicly states his disrespect and lack of faith in Willie. Jack and Willie visit the judge at his home and essentially threaten to blackmail him if he doesn't back down. I'm sorry, but it shouldn't take 80 freaking pages for inciting incident to unfurl. Ugh. I wanted to shoot myself. This is one of those few books that makes me wish I would have just watched the movie!

I tried to read it all very carefully, but the truth is I skimmed prodigiously. I hate it when I read a classic and feel so miserably disappointed. Perhaps it's just bad timing, because mostly I just didn't feel in the mood for this one. I'll keep it and read it again at some point. It just wasn't what I was looking for this summer.


1 comment:

  1. Seems like two things might have been working against you here:

    1. All the hype. Very few things ever live up to expectations when everyone says how it's the Best. Thing. Ever! Right? I mean, it happens sometimes, but for the most part, I feel like it's an uphill battle for a book, movie, restaurant, etc. if my expectations are too high.

    2. Speeeeed reeeeeader! We've talked about this before -- you're a super fast reader. When reading a book like this, you're slowed down. I know you *can* slow it down, but it seems like it takes a lot of work for you and (at least it seems like) that book better be something you are *reeeeally* interested in to go to that effort.

    Sounds like it might make a good audiobook -- those poetic ones usually do.