10. Look Homeward, Angel – Thomas Wolfe.
History: Published in 1929. The character of Eugene Gant is generally believed to be a depiction of Wolfe himself. It is believed that a stone statue of an angel, found in a Hendersonville, North Carolina, cemetery, looking to the east was part of the inspiration for this work. Descriptions novel are so closely based on Asheville, North Carolina, and the descriptions of people and family are so thinly veiled, that the subsequent publishing and success of the novel led to an estrangement of sorts between Wolfe and many in his hometown of Asheville
Plot: A semi autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in Asheville, NC. The first of the book deals with an early biography of Gant's parents, very closely based on the actual history of Wolfe's own mother and father. It begins with his father, Oliver's decision to become a stone cutter after seeing a statue of a stone angel. He is an alcoholic and is drunk when Eugene Gant is born. But the father forms a special bond with his son from very early on. He begins to gets his drinking under control except for occasional binges, though his marriage begins to come under increasing strain as his wife’s patience with him grows thinner. She bought a big house and took in boarders, who were often either sick or diseased in some way, or whose behavior was unsavory. Since they represented an income, her boarders were more important to her than her own children, with whom she was stingy to the point of cruelty. Eugene Gant does well in school, and both his parents try to take credit for it. He read constantly, forgot to eat, prowled about, and kept irregular hours. He tried hard, meanwhile, to fit in, and threw himself into typical boyhood pursuits.
Review: I loved it. I would like to reread it and then visit his homeplace, which is still there, and open to the public for tours. Look Homeward, Angel contains some of the most passionate and poignant writing one is likely to encounter. It is poetic, rhythmic, colorful, and urgent. There are many unusual word combinations and descriptions that are highly effective. It is as if Wolfe was able to see things in far greater detail than their common names allowed, and recognized their acute interdependence.
Opening Line: “A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.”
Closing Line: “Yet, as he stood for the last time by the angels of his father’s porch, it seemed as if the Square already were far and lost; or, I should say, he was like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left yet does not say “The town is near,” but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges.”
Quotes: “He did not mind the physical assault so much as he did the poisonous hatred of her tongue, insanely clever in fashioning the most wounding barbs.”
“The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”