"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)


An American Epic

I finally finished a behemoth of a book, Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk's Youngblood Hawke. It was a fascinating, if uncomfortable read. I love a book that stretches my mind, and this was able to do that. I learned a lot about Hollywood, publishing, the theater, coal mining, and the communist witch hunts back in the '50s.

The book was not without flaw. It was drawn out and rambling in some parts; occasionally the dialogue didn't seem to work very well. However, it was a compelling story about a topic that interests me very much right now -- the life of a rising star author.

Wouk did an excellent job of characterizing. You really got a feel for the people he created. Youngblood Hawke was a larger than life, beast of a man. As a writer, I recognized the qualities that most of us can probably relate to: a huge ego, necessary to even consider putting pen to paper; tormenting bursts of self-doubt; the belief that one can write much better, as you'll see in the next book; and that strange compulsion to keep writing, whatever the circumstances.

The supporting characters were just as compelling and well-sketched. As Wouk revealed more and more about his characters, kind of like peeling the skin off an onion, you experienced the same loss of innocence and disgust that Youngblood Hawke, himself, felt. The few moral characters in the story shined brightly, tugged at your heart and earned your sympathy.

I won't spoil the book for you, but I have to admit that the ending was very unsatisfying to me. That was probably due to my attachment to some of the characters. I didn't feel that the ending was necessarily wrong, per se. I just think that the author could have chosen the alternative and still remained true to the story.

Now, I'm not satisfied reading a book unless I am able to take something from it to add to my craft. To that end, Wouk was masterful at using foreshadowing. Throughout the book, he sprinkled subtle, poetic hints at what would happen in the story. It was not surprising the way the events unfolded, it was more like a fulfillment of promises.

I don't know if I would heartily recommend this book. It had such a cynical and pessimistic tone. I also personally could have done without a lot of the profanity; hey, I'm sensitive that way. But I don't regret the time I sacrificed to read it.


Renee said...

I used to read H. Wouk's books...when I "had a brain" that could grasp them better. More power to you for reading it Shelli...It does sound intriguing..

Donna Hole said...

"Wouk did an excellent job of characterizing. You really got a feel for the people he created."

As a character driven writer, that's a comment I'm hoping a reviewer says about my novels some day.

This sounds like something I need to put on my TBR list. That list grows and grows, but I don't often get the opportunity to read just for pleasure.

I'm reading the Sookie Stackhouse series right now; but that's because a co-worker got hooked on them, read them all over the last few weeks, and handed them to me. She expects frequent updates on what part of the the novel I'm at and how much I'm enjoying them.

Not that they're bad books. Very enjoyable.

I'm rambling. I've been visiting everyone's Body Language blog fest and so I'm in that Chatty Cathie mode.

Thanks for the book review, and for stopping by my blog. Always a pleasure to meet new and interesting people.


Shelli said...

A pleasure to meet you, too, Donna! A great book to read for ideas on characterization is Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Before I had finished the second page, I had a feel for her main character. Plus, her writing is so simple, it feels attainable. In fact -- Since I reread it gearing up for her new release, I'm going to be writing a review of it soon!