Saturday, September 20, 2008

Look Homeward, Angel

Book review by The Movie Snob

Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. I had heard of Thomas Wolfe but knew nothing about him until my sister and I toured the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, North Carolina. It is a boarding house that his miserly mother ran during the first decades of the 20th century. Tom's father, an alcoholic carver of tombstones, refused to live there and stayed in the old family home down the street until illness finally forced him to move. Tom himself spent his childhood staying in one house part of the time and the other one the other part. Finally he left for college, traveled a great deal, and became a famous author partly because of this his first novel. He died young at about age 38. After hearing his story, and hearing that this book is intensely autobiographical (apparently enraging many of the townspeople who recognized themselves in it), I just had to read it. It's a long book (522 pages in my edition) and slow reading because of his ornate or operatic style. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The protagonist and stand-in for the author is Eugene Gant, a boy both sensitive and intelligent, who can hardly fathom how he could be related to his crazy family. Wolfe is a keen observer of the dark side of the human condition--loneliness and bafflement at human mortality are two of Eugene's greatest obsessions, and Wolfe writes of them very movingly. The tale runs from before Eugene's birth and ends as he finishes college and prepares to leave for further studies at Harvard. Apparently Wolfe continued Eugene's story in Of Time and the River, and I feel sure that I will look it up someday.


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