It’s been a long time since I’ve updated you on my books read list. This is an update for November. Only two go on the November list:
- Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
- Angels by Denis Johnson
I could add a third, Modern Baptists by James Wilcox, which I started in late October and finished up in November.
All three are books on my informal 100-novels reading list, which I’ve periodically been writing about here. I haven’t made an update on that either. I’ll do a brief one here on the above two novels.
Annie John reminded me of a short novel in the vein of Virginia Woolf. As far as action or actual plot goes, nothing much happens. It’s essentially about a girl growing up in Antigua in the 1950s and 60s. Much of the narrative is a deep reach into the mother-daughter relationship. Like Woolf, Kincaid explores character through the Woolfian "halo of perception." Most of the novel, as Jane Smiley acknowledges, "detail[s] Annie’s simultaneous disillusionment and quest for independence as she becomes a ‘young lady’ … a star student in a rigidly British educational system, and her mother’s loved and hated antagonist."
I was fond of the scenes at the school. They reminded me of Jane Eyre. It was also interesting to pick up on the mild homoeroticism between the young girls. The mother-daughter relationship dissolves at an odd moment–a hunt for illicit marbles. I thought this was strange. It’s never clear what sort of morality is attached to Annie’s possessing marbles, but it becomes the pivotal moment of deterioration between the mother and daugther and the moment when Annie begans to move toward independence from her family.
Denis Johnson’s Angels is a marvelous brief walk on the apocalyptic. This is the third time I’ve read this novel. This time I read it after having been alerted to the many "angelic" messengers that Francine Prose notes when she talks about the novel in her book Reading Like a Writer. Paring the novel to its essence, it’s about single mother Jamie Mays, who is essentially running away from herself, and her journey through the underworld of American culture, following the guide of lost soul Bill Houston.
It’s a dark ride, one that ends with Jamie placed temporarily in an asylum and Houston on death row. One of Johnson’s conclusions is the dark one that Americans are inherently violent, or tend to be easily consumed by violence. The novel itself descends along several violent paths, including rape and murder. It ends with this poignant passage:
But that was just a story, something that people will tell themselves, something to pass the time it takes for the violence inside a man to wear him away, or to be consumed itself, depending on who is the candle and who is the light.
What candle do we pick? What light will we follow?