Thursday, December 1, 2011

Literary Bite: All the King's Men

I can't say that I loved All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, but I can see why it's considered an American political classic. The 1946 NYT review said, "Warren's "All the King's Men" is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks, a book so drenched with fierce emotion, narrative pace and poetic imagery that its stature as a "readin' book," as some of its characters would call it, dwarfs that of most current publications."  

I do agree with that part...the part I can't get on board with is the statement, "Here, my lords and ladies, is no book to curl up with in a hammock, but a book to read until 3 o'clock in the morning, a book to read on trains and subways, while waiting for street cars and appointments, while riding elevators or elephants."

My problem with this book is that I had a hard time getting into it. I found myself daydreaming while reading All The King's Men...part of this could be that I've been distracted with many things recently...but part could be that there are boring segments that are totally skimmable.But I kept reading to though the end for two reasons: 1) it's a book club assignment and as a matter of pride I finish all book club books, and 2) The parts that were good were really good. Especially towards the end.

All the King's Men is the story of the rise and fall Willie Stark, of a political titan in the Deep South during the 1930s. "The Boss" rises from poverty to become a corrupt politician and presents the classic questions, does power always corrupt? And do good intentions justify questionable means? The book is about Willie Stark, but really it's the story of Jack Burden, Willie's right-hand man. Jack uses his historian skills to dig up dirt on the boss's enemies, but in the course of doing so uncovers uncomfortable secrets about his own life. At its core, the novel is much more philosophical than political.

I'm glad I read All the King's Men - it ended well, and as I said, I got into the story by the end. So this isn't an un-recommendation, just not a shining endorsement. Proceed at your own risk.