Thursday, August 25, 2011
181. ALL the KING'S MEN
It has been 4 months since I've rated a book 5/5. This book deserves it for so many reasons. The plot is multi-layered and very absorbing. The prose is deceptively simple but so profound and enthralling. Supposedly based on the real life story of politician Huey Long of Louisiana, the novel traces the life of Willie Stark as he rose from an unknown to a powerful governor as chronicled by his political aide Jack Burden, the novel's narrator. But as much as this classic is about Willie Stark's politics and the power (and corruption) it brings, it is more about the story of Jack Burden and his complicated relationships with his mother, and his childhood friends Adam and Anne. Great literature at its best!
To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up.'(opening lines)
'We would go down the Row -- the line of houses facing the bay -- and that was the place where all my pals had been. Anne who was an old maid, or damned near it. Adam, who was a famous surgeon... And Judge Irwin, who lived in that last house, and who had been a friend of my family and who used to take me hunting with him and taught me to shoot and taught me to ride and read history to me from the leather-bound books in the big study in his house.'(40)
"Dirt's a funny thing," the Boss said. "come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt. That right?"(45)
'Or is it possible that fellows like Willie Stark are born outside of luck, good or bad, and luck, which is what about makes you and me what we are, doesn't have anything to do with them, for they are what they are from the time they first kick in the womb until the end. And if that is the case, then their life history is a process of discovering what they really are, and not, as for you and me, sons of luck, a process of becoming what luck makes us. And if that is the case, then Lucy wasn't Willie's luck. Or his unluck either. She was part of the climate in which the process of discovering the real Willie was taking place.'(63)
'There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under your foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal gut like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn't really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be when you get to the other place.'(128-129)
"No," the Boss corrected, "I'm not a lawyer. I know some law. ... But I'm not a lawyer. That's why I can see what the law is like. It's like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain't ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone's to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time that law gets on the books you would have done something different.'(136)
'But is any relationship a relationship in time and only in time? I eat a persimmon and the teeth of a tinker in Tibet are put on edge. The flower-in-the-crannied-wall theory. We have to accept it because so often our teeth are on edge from persimmons we didn't eat.'(221)
'The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face which does not exist any more, speaks a name -- Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave -- which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which by some inane and doddering confusion of the universe is for the moment attached to a not too happily met and boring stranger. But he humors the drooling doddering confusion of the universe and continues to address politely that dull stranger by the name which properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a campfire at night or in the middle of a crowded street said, "Gee, listen to this -- 'On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves --'" the Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you anymore.'(234-235)
'... for when you get in love you are made all over again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it had been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you-chunk of clay out of the mass. So there are two you's, the one you yourself create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you. The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be a perfect focus...'(282)
'If you believe the dream you dream when you go there.'(311)
"Jack", he said, "politics is always a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price."(343)
'... by the time we understand the pattern we are in, the definition we are making for ourselves, it is too late to break out of the box. We can only live in terms of the definition, like the prisoner in the cage in which we cannot lie or stand or sit, hung up in justice to be viewed by the populace. Yet the definition we have made of ourselves is ourselves. To break out of it, we must make a new self. But how can the self make a new self when the selfness which it is, is the only substance from which the new self can be made?'(351)
'A time comes when you think you cannot bear another thing, but it happens to you, and you can bear it.'(424)
Second Harvest Book edition 1996
Book borrowed from the library
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Book idea from Shelley @ Book Clutter. Thank you so much. Her awesome review is HERE.
BTW, I have found my favorite passage to date: passage in red from p.282.