I am writing this review with shame, shame as I did not manage to finish the book. The confession of this unworthiness is magnified by the lens and circumstance that this is one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, the consecration of the torrential Thomas Wolfe on the altar of the much torrential American novel of the twentieth century.
It got the best of me, it really did, and I wonder why. It cannot be about its length, nor its complexity: after all, I have gone through some pieces I have immensely enjoyed and they all met those two conditions: Ulysses (James Joyce), Let us now praise famous men (James Agee), Death of Virgil (Hermann Broch) and 2666 (Roberto Bolaño) are among the illuminations that I have had and will ever have. No, that cannot be it. Nor that it is very American (it is indeed, and southern): in American novels there is some kind of spirituality on material things, a vitalism even in the atrocious, which attracts me.
Trying to explore with trembling fingers one hypothesis rather than affirming in my reader’s petulance, who felt capable of disdaining a consecrated work, perhaps I lacked interest in its plot. And I say this with the surprise (and again, shame) of realising that the same reproach could be made to the other grandiose novels mentioned above. I hence refine the comment: perhaps it is that at some point, radiant and complex as Wolfe’s writing is, I sensed that in the end I would not end up feeling enlightened. Challenged. I don’t know, maybe.