Book Review: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller is a controversial novel that has piqued the interest of censors since it was first published in France in 1934. To some, it is prosaic. To others, it is masterpiece. Either way, there is no denying its impact on censorship and on readers who care for the novel.

The best place to start in telling you about Tropic of Cancer is likely with language. If you are averse to "filthy" language, it is best to leave its reading to others. However, if "offensive" bursts of obscene language please you or do not affect you negatively, you have a shot at finishing this book un-offended. From start to finish, it is a lesson in obscene verbosity. Henry Miller could re-teach a sailor how to swear with this novel.

Now, in order to enjoy Tropic of Cancer it is essential to eke the meaning from these words and set aside any averseness to the words with which he conveys these meanings. You might wonder why anyone should bother if you are a not a fan of unpopular words. My answer to that would be that lying beneath those words is the strange beauty of one man's love and obsession with women and words. In a way, it is a romance.

Okay, perhaps calling Tropic of Cancer a romance novel is a stretch, but for some, it is truly that. While difficult to follow with its unpredictable switches between biography, fiction, past, future and present, it still manages to tell a story. It is essentially the story of a man's pursuit of his basest needs while coping with life as a pauper, lover, slightly insane writer, jealous admirer, etc. This novel is a whack on the head with a hammer. Forget plot. This book is a literary seizure and I loved every second of it. Pick it up, if you dare to challenge your concept of acceptable language or if all language is acceptable.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Changeling by Roger Zelazny

The Changeling by Roger Zelazny is a sci-fi fantasy novel about a boy named Dan and a man named Pol who are actually one and the same. It is the novel that comes before Madwand, which I sadly read and reviewed out of order. Both novels can be read as stand-alone novels. However, like any good series, they feel more complete together.

The Changeling begins on an exciting note. Rondoval castle is under attack and two wizards are going head-to-head. The end result of this battle is a child being removed from this magical world of wizards and being taken to a world that is more technologically advanced and less magical. It is the polar opposite of the first world in that respect. The child is traded for a young boy named Dan. Dan is taken to the other boy's world. The other boy, whose real name is Pol, is raised as Dan. Dan is raised by a simple farmer.

Eventually, the trade-off proves bad and Pol must return to his world to stop Dan from bringing too much technology into this magical place. Pol learns he is a wizard and takes back his parents' fallen castle. In many ways, it is a better novel than Madwand. The clash of magic and technology is more pronounced. The urgency is more vivid. In addition, there are more magical creatures and odd happenings.

Like other Zelazny novels, The Changeling is not too histrionic. He writes of magic as if it were a simple thing, explaining it visually and viscerally. He is an excellent writer, so do not mistake the last to mean his pieces are too shallow. It just means that he does not try to be overly dramatic. It is not a majestic dragon whose mountainous body alarms and astounds. It is a dragon and it is big. Okay, he words it better than that, but the dragons do not sparkle and he does not write himself into plot holes that no amount of backtracking can fix, *ahem* Stephenie Meyer. He does fantasy so it does not seem too fantastic. There is more room for an appealing, quick read this way.

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer is a wildly successful author and I admit to reading and enjoying some of her work. She has to admit that the vampire pregnancy and no reaction to menstruation things were just not easily explained, though. Venom is not sperm and blood is blood. However, I have to give her credit. She could probably make a house out of money. Zelazny might not have been able to. However, his novels do tend to hold water. 

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King

To be quite frank, I do not know where to begin with The Long Walk by Stephen King. I have read it several times and just recently reread it to write about it here. Reading it, thoughts swirl in my mind. However, when it comes down to talking about it, it is just plain hard to explain why it is so good. It is a mind screw -- a visceral, touching, horrifying and praiseworthy piece of writing. That string of adjectives does not do it justice. You will just have to bear with me while I try to find the right words and fail. I will start by saying that it was Stephen King's first novel, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It makes my first novel look like a piece of chewed gum on the landing at South Station.

In short, The Long Walk is the story of a twisted sort of competition set in an alternate present. King does not go into too much detail about how or why the United States is this nation fraught with abuse of power, but we do know that is what it is. We also know that The Long Walk is a product of this complacency toward violence. It pits 18-year-old men against each other in a walk to the death. One hundred men set out on foot. One crosses the finish line. Along the way, people cheer on this massacre of young men. It is incomprehensible but says a lot about reality television long before reality television became the bane of society that it is today.

You will have to read The Long Walk for yourself to really understand how truly messed up it is. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is as realistic as it can get. If you do not think competitions to the death are realistic, you need to study history a little more. Despite the fact that reading it for oneself is ideal, there are a few points I can pick that highlight how gruesome of a creation The Long Walk (the book and the novel) is. The first is insomnia. These men walk until they cannot walk anymore. When they stop walking, they are shot and killed. Having suffered insomnia, I can say that three days without sleep under that kind of pressure can make you insane. King knew it too. Reading the novel, I could imagine exactly how that aspect would feel. It was terribly unnerving to think about it.

Another point about The Long Walk that really stood out to me was these young men's willingness to participate. Stephen King never ceases to amaze me with his insight into humanity. He hit the blind faith in living forever of every youth right on the head. To teenagers, death will not come until far in the future or at their own hands. That is the mind of a teenager. Adults could easily exploit this. In fact, adults do exploit this in reality television today. They do not exploit the death aspect, but certainly the "nothing can hurt me aspect." There are likely hundreds of individuals who are mortified at their behavior for our entertainment during their teens. I digress. The simple point is that Stephen King makes something like The Long Walk realistic. He makes suspension of disbelief effortless by using simple human truths to weave a fictional tale.

In conclusion, read it. Give it to teen boys. Remember, there is some language, but this is the kind of book teenage boys love.

Shelly Barclay