Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Come to farm a crazy land..."

Just recently finished this here book called Hunting Mister HeartBreak by Jonathan Raban. It is the story of a Brit who, in the 1980’s, came to America following the footsteps of a 1780’s immigrant and author who wrote on how to reinvent oneself as an American. Raban himself tries this reinventation (I made that word up) in the same way, from blending into the crowds on the streets of New York, to not blending in at all in the rural South of Guntersville, Alabama. I laughed so hard at the familiar hilarity of situations in this book (having lived in both the state of NY and in AL, I recognize and sympathize with his tribulations), that I almost cried. Raban was quite adept at catching on to what’s what. He is one sharp student of human nature, and is quite poetic in his descriptions of what he observes.

Pg. 163 “People in Alabama knew the stigma that was attached to the name of their state. It was like saying you came from Gomorrah or Sing Sing. Strangers instantly got the picture. They saw flatlands, cotton fields, Klansmen, blacks in tarpaper hovels, rednecked white supremacits talking loose and dirty over quarts of Jim Beam, George Wallace, Bull Connor…the body of a man swinging by his broken neck from the top branch of a tree. For the Alabamian, the worst of it was that there were still things in this picture that were true-or at least not so untrue as all that.

Although I am disheartened by the truth of Raban’s statement in the above paragraph, I have to applaud the image he invokes of quarts of Jim Beam, George Wallace and Bull Connor. All three are potent, and taken in the right amounts, could cause nightmarish behavior.

I knew I was going to like this book when I saw that Raban quoted John Berryman’s Dream Songs in the beginning (Berryman, the very dead-from-suicide poet who is still somewhat confusing to me, regardless of how often I revisit Dream Songs). The fact that Berryman is referenced right off the bat indicated to me that what lay beyond that quote was going to be a fantastic and possibly confusing journey. I was right. What lies between the pages of Hunting Mister Heartbreak is a journey that we can all understand, the journey of becoming someone else.

Listening to: Jack Johnson
Reading: Terribly confusing essays on the organization of information (for class).
Enjoying Most: This wonderful Autumn-like weather...


Eric Wright said...
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Eric Wright said...

the "quarts" line is one of my favorites from that book. I am so glad I found "heartbreak" Raban's a pretty clever fellow- it seems like everyday I come up with a situation or a perfect anecdote from this book.

La_Petit_Rouge said...

I am a huge fan of using language in an unexpected, but fitting way. If the metaphor fits...

I can't thank you enough for the loan of this book. I have passed your copy on to Nicole, so that she may read it. She is taking several classes right now, so it may take her a bit more time.