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Look Homeward, Angel (2006)

Look Homeward, Angel (2006)

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3.94 of 5 Votes: 3
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0743297318 (ISBN13: 9780743297318)

About book Look Homeward, Angel (2006)

Look Homeward, Angel, A Story of Buried Life: Or, Why I Can't Go Home Again Look Homeward, Angel, First Edition, Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, NY, 1929The manuscript Thomas Wolfe submitted to master editor Maxwell Perkins was not titled Look Homeward, Angel, A Story of Buried Life. Rather, Wolfe had chosen O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life. Thomas Wolfe, a buried life?I call Perkins the master editor for he was already responsible for neatening up the works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was accustomed to diplomatically dealing with authors' sensitivities reluctance to have the language of their creations changed. Hemingway could be an absolute beast about it. Now Perkins had what appeared to be a new prodigy on his hands. He found Wolfe more malleable. THE editor, Max PerkinsPerkins explained to Wolfe that he considered Wolfe's alter ego, Eugene Gant, to be the central focus of the novel. To emphasize that Perkins said portions unnecessary to accomplishing that parts had to be cut. And Perkins cut. Sixty-six thousand words. Initially, Wolfe considered Perkins a friend and mentor. As he published additional work he soured in his opinion of Perkins. In 1934 Wolfe left Scribners and signed with Harper Brothers.The original manuscript of "O Lost A Story of the Buried Life," was published on October 3, 2000, by the University of South Carolina Press for the centenary of Thomas Wolfe's birth. The manuscript was restored by F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, and Arlyn Bruccoli. But, back to the novel in question. "Look Homeward, Angel" was published less than two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929. However, what was the beginning of the great depression did not deter readers from buying Wolfe's first novel. The reviews were generally glowing. The debut of the novel was a literary sensation.In short, Wolfe wrote his autobiography as fiction. As in real life, Eugene's father was a stone cutter of funereal monuments, while his mother established a second home in a boarding house she purchased. Some of Eugene's siblings lived with their father, those who had not escaped by death or marriage. However, Mother took Eugene to live with her at her enterprise, "Dixie Land." However, from time to time, Eugene's mother forgets that she has stashed him at his father's. W.O. Gant, the stone cutter who can't carve an angel is the epitome of excess and at times largess. Mother Eliza, however is the very symbol of deprivation. She could make Lincoln scream on a penny. Eugene never knows which room is his. Eliza is prone to moving to smaller quarters to make room for her boarders.Eliza keeps Eugene's hair at little Lord Fauntleroy length until age nine. He is teased and bullied by his school mates. Mother and son share the same bed until Eugene approaches adolescence. Through the years Eugene's resentment toward his mother grows until he confronts her after leaving for college.“By God, I shall spend the rest of my life getting my heart back, healing and forgetting every scar you put upon me when I was a child. The first move I ever made, after the cradle, was to crawl for the door, and every move I have made since has been an effort to escape.”Eliza responds by calling Eugene an unnatural son. We follow Eugene throughout his life. The novel ends near Wolfe's twenty-ninth birthday.Eugene's sibling to whom he is the closest is his brother Ben. Ben acts as Eugene's reinforcement in escaping home. He urges Eugene to take whatever he can from his parents to complete his college education. However, Eugene repeatedly tells Ben he has enough.Wolfe takes us through life on the home front during WWI. He vividly portrays the deadly Spanish Influenza epidemic which swept through soldiers and citizens alike.There are moments in this novel that are unforgettable. Wolfe can write a sentence that paints the portrait of a place and time. His characters are drawn memorably. I first read "Look Homeward, Angel" in October, 1973. I was almost two months past my twenty-first birthday. Professor O.B. Emerson, the late Professor of English at the University of Alabama, taught a hefty canon of titles to be read over the semester. Emerson believed a week should be a sufficient period of time to read "Look Homeward, Angel." I loved the man. However, he was one of those professors who could be a bit tyrannical regarding his sympathies for his students other classes. "What classes," he murmured in his lilting southern drawl.Sighing, as I opened the thick Scribners paperback, wondering how I was going to manage other class assignments, I experienced a euphoric high as I became entranced by Wolfe's story. I became immersed in it. I swam in it. I believed I had stumbled upon a previously undiscovered god.I assure you I came to consider Eugene Gant a kindred spirit. I knew exactly what was meant by a buried life. I suppose those in the agonies of adolescence and those on the threshold of manhood, womanhood, have at one time or another felt that portions of their lives were indeed buried by any numbers of things. Families could be difficult. They were barriers to freedom. School mates could be horribly cruel for any number of reasons, the primary one being they looked down upon you from a lofty pedestal formed by their much higher social and financial position.O Lost. The object of one's romantic obsession. The girl too virtuous to be touched. The girls who kicked over the fences of virtuosity, who yearned to be touched and allowed me to touch them. It was confusing whether love and lust were elements of one human need, or were completely different entities.Eugene is extremely tall by the time he is sixteen. Women tend to think he is older than he is. One is Laura James who is twenty-three. Eugene falls hopelessly in love with her. They spend considerable time in the evenings on the porch swing at Dixie Land. He dreams of marriage to her. She promises to wait for him. And then Eugene learns that she has married. Now that she has become unavailable to him, his thoughts become fantasies of vivid sexual attraction.“Come up into the hills, O my young love. Return! O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again, as first I knew you in the timeless valley, where we shall feel ourselves anew, bedded on magic in the month of June. There was a place where all the sun went glistening in your hair, and from the hill we could have put a finger on a star. Where is the day that melted into one rich noise? Where the music of your flesh, the rhyme of your teeth, the dainty languor of your legs, your small firm arms, your slender fingers, to be bitten like an apple, and the little cherry-teats of your white breasts? And where are all the tiny wires of finespun maidenhair? Quick are the mouths of earth, and quick the teeth that fed upon this loveliness. You who were made for music, will hear music no more: in your dark house the winds are silent. Ghost, ghost, come back from that marriage that we did not foresee, return not into life, but into magic, where we have never died, into the enchanted wood, where we still life, strewn on the grass. Come up into the hills, O my young love: return. O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.” I sympathized with Eugene, the prisoner of two parents controlled by completely conflicting belief systems. Yet, Eugene had the knack of making himself miserable through his own worries separate and apart from any family influence. When you are young everything is of momentous importance.When my group "On the Southern Literary Trail" chose "Look Homeward, Angel," I was eager to capture the reaction to it I had at age twenty-one. I went to the library bookstore and found a very nice Modern Library Giant edition of the novel. $2.00. A deal. Done.I opened the cover. Inside was a library label of my college calculus professor. Yes. O Lost. But she was not a forgotten face. As much as I might have asked her ghost would not come again. It was a moment that caused me to pause and think that perhaps, just perhaps, this read would not be the same as the first.Although I have done many re-reads of novels selected by my group, I have never been disappointed. It has been like having a conversation with an old friend.But this time it was different. Nearly forty one years of living took the gloss off Wolfe's novel for me. I decided "Look Homeward, Angel" is best left to the younger reader. I shelved "Look Homeward, Angel" in 2010. Based on my memory of my first read I rated it four stars. As you can see, through the passage of time my feelings have changed.I have a sign that says: Res ipsa loquitur, The thing speaks for itself.Throughout my career I kept that sign on my office desk with its message facing me. As I served the wounded, maimed, molested, and aggrieved ones who lost a loved one it reminded me of the good fortune I have had in life to not have suffered as the many with whom I worked. Although it has become a cliche I find this to be true. Surrender to the fact that life is unfair. Don't sweat the small stuff.Thomas Wolfe died a few days shy of his thirty-eighth birthday. He suffered from miliary tuberculosis which attacks the brain. Perhaps in those final days he began to realize life wasn't quite as he had imagined it in his writing. On his death bed he wrote to Max Perkins calling him his closest friend, acknowledging that Perkins had provided him so much help when he was a younger writer.Me? I'm glad to be here. You really can learn something from another day of living. That's why I can't go home again. "O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”

Granted, I went into this book wanting to like it. I had heard good things from Kurt Vonnegut saying it changed his life when he read it around the age of graduation from college and from another writer who said it impacted him. But I believe Thomas Wolfe's first novel here is an exceptional work and one of the best coming-of-age stories for anyone that enjoys the Bildungsroman novels and is fairly literary.I am not certain that someone who is not an English major or a lover of long and in-depth literature would enjoy this. I'm an English teacher and I naturally fell in love with at least 25 passages in this book. They just knocked me off my chair they were so powerful. I would like to assert that this book is not as "flowery and lyrical and poetic" as many people seem to make it out to be. Granted, there are about a dozen paragraphs in the novel that contain refrains of "O Lost!" and the Preface is basically a prose poem, but once you get past all the initial stuff, it is a very lively and, at times, dialogue-driven book. Most people's reviews are so heavily concentrated on the first few pages...but this is a long book and has so much more to it than the beginning with "Which one of us has known our brother?" and so forth. A lot of people also seem to say this book doesn't age well over time and re-reading it later in life doesn't work as well. I am only 22 right now, but again, the only examples I've seen given are from the preface and the first page of Chapter One. It is a lively book that is not rooted in symbolism or even much subtext, but just a close depiction of what life is, why it is lonely, and how different people make up for it.If you are not hooked by the time Eugene Gant is born and the narrative shifts in tone and style and jumps of the page before page 100, then you probably shouldn't read the rest of the book. But odds are, you'll see why Thomas Wolfe was so striking to readers in the late 20s and 30s.

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This book is my nemesis.No, seriously: I've been trying to read it for almost six years. I've tried to read it in the spring, the summer, the fall, the winter -- on planes, on the bus, on the El, in Chicago, in Baltimore, in North Carolina. And every single time, I stall out about 60% of the way through.Stargate: Atlantis fans think that John Sheppard's still trying to read War and Peace after three years in the Pegasus Galaxy; I canonically can't finish Look Homeward, Angel.I know it shouldn't bother me -- I'm not really a big believer in there being books you should read, like classics; you should read what you want -- but it does. It bothers me because I'm a student (albeit an amateur) of Southern literature, and this is one of the big ones, right up there with all of Faulkner and The Moviegoer and Kate Vaiden. In North Carolina, it's the big one.And I just can't finish it.I don't know if it's good, or bad, or simply hanging on by its academic reputation. All I know is that this book is the great challenge of my life, and I just bought a used copy at the public library, and I am going to finish this frelling book if it kills me.

There’s a large rock near the road in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains. Every time I pass it, I think of the sunny afternoon in 1984 that I sat there and read Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical “Look Homeward Angel.” I didn’t finish the book there, it’s far too hefty, but it’s the place that I mentally connect to the story of Eugene Gant, i.e. Wolfe himself. After finishing the book, I drove to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Home in downtown Asheville, just to see the boarding house his mother operated that is so prominently featured in the novel. I was separating somewhat from my childhood nuclear family at the time—a process that's both painful and liberating at the same time—and Eugene’s narrative resonated with me. It's a coming of age story. Who are these people that call themselves my parents? And for that matter, who am I?I loved Wolfe's poetic prose—a sharp contrast to the sparse modernist writers of his era. At times it IS poetry: “a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?We are all searching for the same answers, but like Eugene, do we ever find them?

In revisiting this novel, I found it to be very different from the masterpiece I considered it to be in my 20's. I would have rated it a 5 star at that point in my life, because it rang so true. It no longer resonates in the same way because (maybe sadly) I no longer have the patience for a young man who just wants to get away, from parents, friends and hometown, and rails against them incessantly. The writing is still lyrical, and thank goodness I can appreciate that. Good-bye Thomas Wolfe, nice running into you again, but our relationship is no longer a close one. I'm going to give a little more thought to rereading a favorite book in the future, it's too disappointing when it doesn't work out.
—Diane Barnes

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