I am a most critical reader of books. I mull over each sentence, judging both the book and the person who wrote the book, and because of this there are few books that really tickle my fancy. (Okay, see? I’m already being snobbish about this topic.) I actually have read a bunch of books that make me giddy with thought. What I should say is that few writing styles leave me pondering and smitten with life’s questions and in an overall awe of sentences. I love sentences and it is the way that these little bits weave together to construct a book that will make or break a novel for me. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love descriptive settings, and character development, and plot twists, and story telling, but when all is said and done, I love the puzzle pieces that build these things more. I love adjectives used in ways never thought before, and cleverly placed adverbs, and punctuation (especially the semi-colon), and words that flow into seeming one being to make my main squeeze… sentences.
In this way, Ken Kesey did not disappoint in Sometimes a Great Notion. Aside from the fact that the story line is gripping and I felt as though I was thinking what his characters were thinking, it was his sentences that helped hook me, line and sinker.
At the resistance of spoiling the story for you, I’ll give you a brief rundown: The story takes place in wet Oregon and focuses mainly on the Stampers, a family that owns a logging business. Okay, that’s all you get. (Read it.)
You probably know Kesey better via One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is also a stupendous book, but Sometimes a Great Notion, (also about a sort of madness, but a different sort) really shows off Kesey’s ability to write in much more lavish (peacock tail grandeur) way. There were more than a couple times where my mouth literally dropped in awe of the brilliance that just one single sentence he wrote was constructed with. On top of that, he flip flopped between characters’ minds in a most unconventional way, seemingly defying logic at times (sometimes in the very same sentence), and yet somehow at the conclusion of the story, made that seem as if there was absolutely no other way it could have been written. Brilliant. Esquire would critique this book by saying “[Kesey is] an exuberant storyteller… The words flow… in a slangy, spermy, belt-of-bourbon surge, intimate and muscular.” Although, this is very much true and these points directly build his characters… I think at the very same time, it is so much more. This is the type of book that as I am turning the very last page and soaking in the deep thought that always comes at the end of a story, makes me simultaneously think ‘I could never write a book because I could never do this.’ As humbling a thought that is, it means I just finished a damn good book.
I guess it should be noted how this book was suggested to me as well, because that in itself is a little bit of a story and maybe adds a bit of a nostalgic feel to my end review; maybe not. Either way, the suggestion came in a gesture not so typical.
(Prepare for rambling…)
You see, I have this obnoxious and uneconomical habit of visiting a bookstore and purchasing more books than your average person does in a year, 8, 9, 10… 15 sometimes. (I can’t help it really. My boyfriend has a running joke that I have to ask permission before setting foot in a bookstore.) On that day, about two years ago or so, this was the case. I stood browsing through shelves with an overwhelming pile of books already crowding my arms; the books boasting titles such as The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe and Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac and a bunch of others I can’t quite remember at this moment. I stood, with books teeter tottering, one on top of another, browsing the shelves for more books, when someone dared (gasp!) interrupt my searching of sentences bound.
“Uh, excuse me?”
As I turned to identify the voice I did not recognize, I had to look up at a decently built, semi-attractive guy probably towering over me at least a foot. (If I had to guess an age, I would have said 32 years, 4 months, and 23 days.) I was immediately caught off guard by the smirk he wore. Mainly because I couldn’t decipher if it was mocking my current state of cluttered and disorganized shopping or if it was expressing some sort of endearment towards it. Regardless, I was put into defense mode, gave a look of irritated interest, and began formulating comebacks in my mind ready to offend his hipster outfit at a moment’s notice. He just smirked some more and ignored my tense stature.
“Have you ever read this book here?” He held up the novel I am now hailing by Ken Kesey and waited. I relaxed a little, but was put off by the fact that I indeed hadn’t, and in not having done so, avoided the chance to show off by judging it of it’s contents. Damn it!
“Uh, no. I haven’t,” I said in as apologetic a tone I could muster without sounding like a whiney child, attempting to erase the manner in which I had originally reacted to him. (You know, without actually having to say the words “I’m sorry. I can be an uptight douche.”)
And then he did the most peculiar thing. He gently placed the book on top of the others that filled my arms, said ”You should. I think you’ll like it,” and walked away. (This would be one of those moments that I would raise a single eyebrow if I could.) I shrugged my shoulders, figured aw, what the hell?, and made my way to the register before any other strangers had the chance to surprise attack me. I left his suggestion at the top of the stack mainly out of curiosity, but uh, also because I didn’t have the ability to really use my arms to remove it.
Now, I’m glad I bought it, and even though it took me two years, he was most right in assuming I would like it. It’s a shame that I don’t know this dude so that I can ask him for other suggestions. Oh well.
Anyway, although I can’t be there to place Sometimes a Great Notion on the top of your already teetering stack of books, I can blog about it to you, and I hope you heed my suggestion and read it when you get the chance. If you hate it… then we probably can’t be friends.