This autobiographical novel of a young Southerner’s childhood, early youth and college days in the early 20th century has been criticized for its excessive length, its repetitive verboseness, its formlessness, its lack of a point, its self-indulgence, its surrealism. But readers who enjoy coming of age stories will enjoy it as will those looking for a literary masterpiece that reminds one of guitarist Buckethead. What I mean, both Wolfe and Buckethead will meander off on tangents, but then they hit the note, there’s nothing like them. Beautiful, compelling, awe-inspiring.
A doctor’s rebuke: “My dear, dear girl [. . .] we can't turn back the days that have gone. We can't turn life back to the hours when our lungs were sound, our blood hot, our bodies young. We are a flash of fire--a brain, a heart, a spirit. And we are three-cents-worth of lime and iron--which we cannot get back.”
The restless American soul: “...he was like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he had left, yet does not say 'The town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges.”
Youthful dramatizing: “Dull people filled him with terror.”
Provincial UNC at about the time of WWI: “Few of the university's sons had been distinguished in the nation's life--there had been an obscure President of the United States, and a few Cabinet members, but few had sought such distinction: it was glory enough to be a great man in one's State. Nothing beyond mattered very much.”
The riddle of our lives indeed: “Eugene looked with passionate devotion at that grand old head, calm, wise and comforting. In a moment of vision, he saw that, for him, here was the last of those giants to whom we give the faith of our youth, believing like children that the riddle of our lives may be solved by their quiet judgment.”
Writer Paul Ford said, “Pick any historical subject and the Internet will bring it to life before your eyes.” So, for readers into novels as artifacts of bygone eras (aka antique Americana), thanks to the web we can find out right away about allusions to pop culture of a hundred years ago. For instance, follow the links for contemporary tunes:
Eugene remembered the soft cool nights of summer, the assembled boarders and "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," which Gant demanded over and over; "Love Me and the World Is Mine"; "Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold"; "Dear Old Girl, the Rob-BIN Sings Above You"; "The End of a Perfect Day"; and "Alexander's Rag-Time Band," which Luke had practised in a tortured house for weeks, and sung with thunderous success in the High School Minstrels.
For discerning readers, a wonderful, shrewd epic.