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Thursday, 13 February 2014

The messy acid nonfiction novel

Reading "The electric kool-aid acid test" by Tom Wolfe.
If we define the nonfiction novel as a novel about real people and real events, written by somebody who stands outside all the happenings, like "In cold blood" (Truman Capote), i.e don't include the memoir, the autobiography, the semi-autobiography and the biography, then this is the 1st nonfictional novel I've read.
And I don't like it.
I have been reading this book for what seems like a very long time, and still have much left. Reading and counting pages at the same time, I would have thrown it away if not for class.
Not that I find it badly written. It's the genre that is an issue. 1st, except for writers like Tolstoy, authors usually create enough characters in order to control them, give them identities and personalities, and keep track of them. Characters don't exist outside literary works. If the author gives a character a name, describes him/ her in detail, draws our attention to him/ her, then chances are, that character has some significance and will soon come back or at least will mean something to the plot or the main characters. That isn't the case with the nonfictional novel, the people in it exist outside the book and have a life of their own. So they come and go, appear suddenly and stay briefly, not without letting the readers hear their names, adding more confusion and complexity to the book, which already has so many people, so many names, then they leave and perhaps never appear again. Everything gets mixed up, all the people and their names and their nicknames and their lives and their jobs and their clothes, etc.
2nd, because these people do exist outside the book, outside the author's control, they are already individuals with their personalities and peculiarities, I reckon Tom Wolfe doesn't find the need to go into more details, to make them lively, vivid, individual. And, in order to be truthful and objective, he doesn't write much of their thoughts, either. Usually, the difference between literature and cinema is that, when watching a film, you don't often know what goes on in the characters' mind unless there's voice-over, you are a witness standing outside everything, and watching everything; whereas, reading a book, you have the privilege of entering their minds, seeing things from their perspectives, being in their shoes, comparing the various points of view and understanding why these characters act the way they act, therefore you get to a deeper and more personal level and have more insight. In this case, the readers don't have that privilege, however. All the characters are there, all the events are there, one can see who they are and what they do and what they say, but not why, and not what they think, how they feel. And the characters in the book are not vivid, the focus seems to be Ken Kesey only, the book rather deals with the 1960s, the Furthur bus, the Merry Pranksters as a whole, with their LSDs, their pranks, activities, experiments, etc. All of them, as a group, as an experiment, as a lifestyle, as a religion.
Then I suppose there are other reasons. Literature should not be read too quickly, but it shouldn't be read over a very long time either. Ken Kesey with his psychedelic movement and Merry Pranksters, I guess, simply isn't interesting any more after some chapters. 
And I still haven't picked a topic for my essay at university.

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