Friday, March 28, 2014

#71 - "The Adventures of Augie March" by Saul Bellow

I'm happy to report that I'm finally finished The Adventures of Augie March, my 71st read from Time's list of 100 All-TIME novels. Sure, it was on the longish side, at 612 pages, but really, this one shouldn't have taken this long.

Unsurprisingly, this book follows the adventures of one Augie March, a Chicago-born middle child in a poor, single-parent home. Augie seems to drift from one situation to another, without any real aims in life, or any drive to change his situation. Almost every change for Augie is the result of happenstance, not because of some conscious decision he had made to do something.

Augie drifts between various jobs, never sure of where he's going, and never really concerned with what happens. His long list of occupations include human trafficking, book thieving, training an eagle, dog keeping, and a hitch with the Merchant Marines. Sprinkled among these odd jobs are a series of women who Augie tends to feel passionately about to a point, before losing interest in them; much like his career.

The story is told in first person, as if Augie is writing his memoirs, and most chapter focus on a different occupation or woman, without any real connection to previous or future chapters. It's almost as if he remembered a story, put it to paper, and continued adding little anecdotes until he had reached 600 pages.

Each story in and of itself, was interesting and entertaining, and the writing was excellent. I understand the hype in that regard. But because each episode of Augie's life was seemingly unconnected to the others, I wasn't able to be enthused about where the book was headed, nor what would eventually happen to Augie. It was simply a little too disjointed for my tastes, reading more like a collection of short stories instead of a novel. I enjoyed each story, but was never pining to read the next one.

As for the character of Augie March, I never really felt like I got to know him. I didn't really understand his motives or his desires, and never felt any attachment to him, which is why I wasn't all that interested in finding out what would happen to him. As it was Augie telling the story, the book was usually just his observations of what was happening around him, without an inner monologue. 

While the writing remained at a consistently high level, it became more and more difficult for me to maintain any interest in reading it. By the final couple hundred pages, I came to realize that the book wasn't heading in any specific direction, and that it would simply end after yet another anecdote. Little did I know how right I would be, as the book did just that; another chapter in his life came to a close and that was the end of the book.

When I look back at The Adventures of Augie March, I think what will stick out the most for me is it was a book I enjoyed reading, but had no desire to do so. I can't really think of another book among the previous 70 that I felt this way.

This marks the fifth of nine authors with two books on the list, where I have read both entries. Left are George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four), Evelyn Waugh (Handful of Dust), Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow), and Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire).

In my effort to get back on track, I'm taking some advice I received, and making #72, Are You There God? it's me, Margaret. I'm hoping a quick one can get me back into a groove.

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