Monday, January 24, 2011

Joe by Larry Brown

Okay, I thought I would blog more given sabbatical...but it turns out, no, I won't. And I waited so long to blog about this novel, which I liked a heck of a lot, that I forgot I had read it until I saw my blog entry draft just now. But according to my notes what I wanted to say was when beginning writers include alcohol and other drugs in their stories they almost always show the character at the height of his/her altered-mind-state. The point of the whole scene becomes to show what it's like to be in that state. But it is in fiction as it is in life, and the drunk person at a party is usually the least interesting one to listen to. So scenes of drunkenness can be a bit dull to read. Now in Brown's novel there are a number of alcoholics. The two primary ones are the most heroic character in the novel and the most villainous one in the novel. The villain, you know right away, is a drunk and a villain. The hero, it takes you some time to realize is also a drunk. Which alters your thinking on the villain a little (not much). But Brown is also savvy about how he uses drinking in the novel. He doesn't stay long in scenes of drunkenness and doesn't go into the minds of characters when they are drunk (their drunken points of view just wouldn't be that interesting), but rather he lingers in the consequences of their disease. And with the hero, when he finally acts out in a state of drunkenness, you realize this is not an escape from who he is and how he acts (the typical drunken teenager trying to be someone else via alchohol), instead you realize that this rage reflects his real despair that he has been fighting so hard to suppress. What Joe does when he's drunk suddenly shows the reader the difference between who Joe wants to be (and fights to be most of the novel) and who he instinctively is. And suddenly you realize that Joe's kind acts throughout have been this heroic fight against his natural inclinations, and so in his downfall, he becomes both more tragic and more heroic. The alcohol instead of being some deus ex machina that gets a character to do something dramatic he would normally otherwise never do becomes a way to reveal the character's deepest despair...when he's sober.

1 comment:

Terry said...

I still think this is Brown's best novel, with Father and Son coming in second, and Dirty Work third. I've been reading Brown since the Big Bad Love collection. I'm hoping that there is a Collected Stories of Larry Brown in the future, with some good short fiction of his that I haven't read.