Monday, July 06, 2009

Ford should give Emerson a rest

Well, ye socks, yours truly has finally finished reading Richard Ford's prize-winning novel Independence Day.

Kinda appropriate given the recent holiday, no?

Well, as alluded to in a previous post, it took a lot of effort on my part to get thru this one.

Ford's writing is often disjointed. The best dialogues . . . even monologues . . . are delivered over the phone or answering machines.

It's very hard to like any of these characters.

What's harder to like is Ford's fawning over Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). But, I suppose any apologist for the "great" Transcendentalist is doomed to pratfalls.

Ultimately, Ford suffers the same assessment as his hero, in that he was quite appealing in his youth. But, with age, he became a godless curmudgeon.

I remember thinking a lot of Emerson as a young conservative college student, for a couple of reasons. First, he had a personal connection to Florida, spending his winters in St. Augustine socializing with exiled members of the French imperial family. More importantly, his writings encouraged self-reliance, championed individualism, and dared to see opportunities in adverse situations. He inspired an entire generation of Americans, who deemed his 1837 speech "The American Scholar" to be an "Intellectual Declaration of Independence."

I suppose that's where Ford got the title for this tedious novel, moreso than its actual setting.

Ford was much less-contrived in the prequel The Sportswriter, which somehow managed to speak to me using the same protagonist but with less Transcendentalist clap-trap.

Self-reliance can indeed be a virtue, unless it is taken to extremes. Emerson was an extremist in that he saw no higher power than the individual, and ultimately rejected God. Henry Ware, Jr., pegged him (quite appropriately) for "taking away the father of the Universe" and leaving "but a company of children in an orphan asylum."

This older, bitter, godless Emerson is the figure Ford emulates and celebrates in Independence Day. If ye socks would believe the Pulitzer committee, he evidently succeeded in the former. But, the latter seems more than a bit contrary . . .

Bottom line: skip it.

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