Monday, July 31, 1995

Just Above My Head

by James Baldwin

This is a masterpiece. It's well-written, full of emotion and power and imagery that reveals everything. Like this phrase at the end of the book: "It is true that our judgement flatters the world's indifference, and makes of us accomplices to our doom." The text is full of that kind of startling truth posed in passionate and flowing prose. The characters were real and their actions and emotions were moving. I have to say that Baldwin has, like any truly great author must have, a deep understanding of the human psyche and the various impulses that make so many and so disparate people act the way they do. Although there are powerful physical descriptions and psychological analyses, the most powerful passages in the book for me are ones of pure emotion, especially the beginning and the end, which Baldwin neatly tie together after 550 pages to bring a full understanding of the extent of the narrator's grief which opened the book. I also enjoyed the unusual style of the book – there was a first person narrator (the brother, Hall), but omniscience often took over the description without seeming forced or contrived; rather, it was natural and a strong aspect of the narrative.

five stars

Wednesday, July 19, 1995

The Talisman

by Stephen King and Peter Straub

A 750-page monster that's been taking up all my reading time with its non-allegorical, simplistic story.  It was very well written in some ways.  I enjoyed the passages that took place in America, because one or both of these writers has an expert eye for describing human foibles (the description and psychological outline of the inhabitants of the run-down, trashy town of Oatley was especially perspicacious).

However, there was no foreshadowing, no imagery that was not explained for the reader, no metaphor, nothing that makes a book a work of literature rather than escapism.  There was also a lot of purple prose filler.  My other main gripe is that the world of this book is one in which evil is always impalpably evil, and good is always recognizable.  The hero, Jack Sawyer, did nothing especially strategic or thoughtful to defeat his enemies, he needed only to touch the forces of good to destroy evil.  Simplistic, and not that exciting.

two stars