04 March 2010

As Good a Day as Any

For a fresh post on some good reading.

On the menu today:

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First thoughts:

Lot 49 is in serious need of some commas but is a whirlwind story none the less.
Ivan is a great alternative to the old worn out distopian novel.

So, Lot 49, by Pynchon. I've heard tell that Tommy is the guy you go to after you've gotten fed up with Chuck Palahniuk, or that people only read Chuck because they don't know about Tom. Either way, I haven't read much Palahniuk, seen the movies and have just been somewhat shy about approaching the books. There is just something about a book becoming a movie in its own time that seems a bit off to me. I guess I am bit pretentious when I say that if it can be made into a movie so easily, it's probably not a good book, but if you really think about it, the difference between pictures and words is so enormous that the translation should be difficult. Anyway, I digest. (Yes I know it's digress). Pynchon wrote a pretty good story. It's interesting, it's certainly engaging, it was, to use a cliche, hard to put down at times, but damn man, use a comma. That's the thing, Pynchon has a very inhuman way of describing things and details often get lost in their own descriptions which made the novel very difficult to jump into. A little bit like one has to get used to reading iambic pentameter when she hasn't picked up Shakespeare for awhile. Pick it up if you're looking for something to tickle your brain, just don't even attempt to read the thing on a train, plane or automobile, and don't use it as a novel to fall asleep to. You need all your wits to follow this mad man's pen.

Ivan was a whole other story. A few weeks (months?) ago I talked about The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which was a captivating story but a very worn out distopia. I've read my share, they were my favorites in high school. 1984, Brave New World, you know the lot. And they all seem to follow this pattern: the world sucks and it's trying to beat me up and I am the one Lone person awake to reality, no wait, there are others like me, hurray! let's bring the system down, oh crap it looks like they won in the end, but shocker! there's an appendix and we actually won. Ivan is different. It is, as the title divulges, about one day in the life of a man named Ivan Denisovich, a Russian sentenced to ten years hard labor in a Siberian Gulog. Instead of complaining about how much life sucks, he talks about how great today is. Hey, it's only negative 10 degrees today, not negative 40, alright there are two rancid potatoes in my bowl of stew, I only got beat up by a guard once. The thing that bugs me about the other novels is that if the distopias were really as good at keeping people controlled as they were written to be no one would even be able to see the difference, and that is basically what life for Ivan is like. He's been in so long that he doesn't see his world as painful anymore, he sees it as the world he must live with. It's brutal, don't get me wrong. You don't leave feeling exactly happy for the man, but he leaves the novel sort of happy and that's what makes it hard. He's happy in a living hell, because today was less hellish than others. That's what I've always thought would make a good distopia: a man or woman living in surroundings that suck (by our standards) but enjoying them because they do not know better. A world where the distopia has one. That's the most powerful, and Ivan is great for it.

Pick up both, they're slim and easy to enjoy. Ivan is my personal favorite of the two, but Lot 49 does have it's merits and is not at all a novel that should be ignored.

No comments:

Post a Comment