The Five Most Formative Novels I Have Read -Brent SmithPosted: January 16, 2013
A quick look at my list could tell you a number of things about my tastes, and even tells me things I didn’t even realize until I stacked them up. What most of these novels seem to have in common are morally ambiguous protagonists. Many of them are pragmatists, but solve problems and deal with situations on the fly instead of deliberately. In Hornby’s A Long Way Down, many of the characters are fatalistic as they all meet on the roof of an infamous London flat to kill themselves. Upon spending time with each other, they find love, self worth, and bittersweet resolve understanding that the world isn’t perfect and no one would care if they died as much as no one cares that they live. All the characters in all my selected novels have similar epiphanies, and despite a jaded view of the world, become better people.
They also all have fantastical elements, but are told through a realistic lens. In House of Leaves, Danielewski paints an alternate 1996 where a Los Angeles tattoo artist is deeply affected by a document he found in an old man’s apartment that portrays a photojournalists struggle with a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. The tattoo artist becomes obsessed with the work, trying to hunt down anyone who has worked on it to no avail. The document ruins his life, but not before making him a more motivated, patient person who even grows into a comfortable sexuality by the end of the novel. He learns to sever ties with his mentally ill mother despite his ability to slip into moods where he believes himself and his issues to be an extension of her. The novel itself is littered with postmodern touches such as footnotes and hastily scrawled notes as the tattoo artist tries to make sense of it all. This postmodern approach is also similar to Pynchon’s work with Crying of Lot 49 as many of the characters and events are named after real life events or conditions that mirror the characters actions. Paranoia is a common theme amongst both of them. In a somewhat disturbing revelation, one could posit that I like broken, ambiguous heroes with paranoid qualities. Another novel that realistically portrays the fantastical is Snow Crash. It follows a hacker named Hiro in a near-future America split up into city states. The nation is on the edge of an “infocalypse” where privatized corporations can directly control the population. What is perhaps most haunting is that, while written in 1993, many of the events in Snow Crash (such as privacy becoming a commodity) have and are currently occurring.
Each of these novels offers an intense view on personal internal conflicts. Many of these characters are mentally ill, but in a way that society accepts because it boils just below the surface. When following these characters for the short amount of time the reader has, it is discovered they spend a great deal of time hiding their internal flaws and dark secrets.