The more I think about it, the more I dislike this book. I was hungry to read a bio of Thoreau since I’ve been nibbling at his journal entries for the last several months (full review to come). I was excited when I heard about this newest biography, thinking new = better, but not in this case. Sims seems constrained by factual telling and ends up writing fairly bland prose, doing a disservice to HDT. I also retch at the subtitle, unsure of how exactly his path to Walden was “unlikely.” Pro-tip: stick to the source documents, get yourself a copy of the new edition of selections from his journal.
I struggled mightily with this one, not struggling to understand it (since it’s a tolerably well written story), but to clamp down my internal editor who raged against the errors in the text, the spots where Catton failed to line up the pieces of her pattern correctly. Overall an engrossing tale with many many characters (shall we trot out the tired old “Dickensian” again?) who contribute their bits of knowledge either in the large secret meeting of thirteen men at the Crown, through questioning in court, or through ill-advised flashbacks. It’s a tale of murder(s), greed, gold, drinking, prostitution, fraud, and love.
Why was it 830 pages? The Zodiac inclusion before each section wasted a good many trees, along with the strange tapering off that happened at the end, where pp 811-830, make up Parts Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve. Four parts in nineteen pages! All complete with their Zodiac chart intros. Is this Catton’s attempt at creating rhythm and timing, rushing the story to a close? It fell flat with me.
As Moody peruses the stash of letters he finds in Lauderback’s chest from Lauderback’s bastard half-brother, Crosbie Wells, he reads, “I do not know your age so I do not know if you are the elder or if I am the elder. In my mind the difference signifies & because I am the bastard I imagine myself younger but of course that might not be the case. There were other children in the whorehouse, several girls who grew up whoring & one boy who died of smallpox when I was very young but I was the eldest always & I should have liked a brother to admire. ” Unfortunately, a few pages later, Catton makes this same character, Moody, believe that Lauderback thought Francis Carver was Crosbie Wells’ brother, something that could not have happened since Lauderback knew Crosbie had no brothers (see above). “For Carver had called himself Francis Wells, leading Lauderback to believe that he and Crosbie were brothers: fellow whoresons, brought up in the same whorehouse… born, perhaps to the same mother!”
Sadly this is not the only error. In addition to overusing certain high octane vocabulary words and referencing Dick Whittington’s bundle as a common thing (it’s a bindle used by hobos, Catton refers to it twice where I would have forgiven it a one time use), she has another character flub some lines: “‘How had you learned of Mr. Wells’s death?’ ‘Mr. Carver had conveyed the news to me in person,’ said Mrs. Carver.” Four paragraphs later, Mrs. Carter: “When I read of Crosbie’s death…” Which is it, read it or heard it from Mr. Carver?
Somewhat lukewarm on this one, but a decent complex story that was hard to put down for too long.
I never would have picked up this “self-help” book (it’s not) had it not been urgently pressed on me as a recommendation from a trusted source. The title makes the book something you want to hide under brown paper as you read in public– who could be so gauche as to want to be filthy rich? Oh wait, I live in San Francisco, which is currently awash with twenty-somethings here to make a quick million then skedaddle back to Ohio or New York or wherever they’re from. At any rate, book in hand, I quickly devoured the story couched as a self-help book. Rising from poverty in India, luckily the third child, educated, bicycle courier for DVD business which connects him to “pretty girl”, his first (and only) love, he gets into the bottled water business, marries a woman he doesn’t love, has a son he loves immensely (hinted to be gay, but no overt admission). The story tracks him through old age and ultimately death, following his rise and fall, and always pointing at the self-help story within. Smart book, quickly consumed.
Reco’d by Maggie
In an effort to better understand the term “Dickensian” which gets thrown about so often to describe authors, I picked this up for a re-read. For some reason I threw one of my favorite chapters from Copperfield up on this site over a decade ago, and as I read it in the context of the book, it was again one of the more enjoyable ones. The story, as everyone knows, follows the eponymous hero from a tough early childhood (father dies before he’s born, mother remarries an ogre who drives her to her death, the boy is sent to work as a wine merchant before escaping away to his aunt’s where he begins formal schooling in earnest) through to successful adulthood (famous author, very autobiographical). The writhing Uriah Heep and Mr. Micawber are remarkable characters, along with Agnes, Dora, and Mr. Dick, but Dickens stacks his story full of dozens more, just inserting a new face whenever he feels a tiny bit bored. Written as a serialized piece over many months, he had to make each chapter interesting as a stand-alone. There is something very Bartleby-esque about Micawber’s refusal to heed Uriah Heep during his explosive chapter (“Because I, in short, choose”). So to sum up what the Dickensian epithet means to me, a story crammed with characters, tolerably well written, and for a fifth-grade reading level and above.