Book Review: “Look Homeward, Angel”

Look Homeward, Angel– by Thomas Wolfe

  • DougInNC book Review

Look Homeward, Angel is considered a great work of American literature. Yet, paraphrasing the author to describe this novel and the days I spent in it:

  • “A book, not brief, a bore. … Time lost, O’ Lost!”

I usually enjoy descriptive prose and creative turn of phrase, but a novel ought to have a sufficient story to which those elements are attached. I did not find that story in this introspective on the author’s youth.

Wolfe writes to satisfy his admirable need to use words. The descriptions of his narrow world are made with details that harken a science documentary and the novel has, despite its eloquence, repetition reminiscent of a child’s beginning reader. (Write, Thomas, write. See Thomas write.)

One sole chapter developed a captivating storyline, when Eugene Gant left home for the war-time challenges of Norfolk. It seemed the author might finally take the reader on a journey as I began the last quarter of the book. But he dropped that effort and returned to his hometown, finding yet more ways to describe his life and family against the backdrop of Altamont, a pseudonym for Asheville, NC.

Tolstoy described families well (and briefly!) in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thomas Wolfe detailed a myriad of ways in which his family was unhappy. He listed them, described them, reordered them, renounced them, and repeated them endlessly.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of readers and scholars who extoll the virtues of rambling text in Look Homeward, Angel. We all have different tastes. Some like pies, I enjoy cake. While this work is cake, it is not to my liking. Layers and layers and layers of the same flavor are piled atop one other, but there is no mountain of frosting coming from the hills of Altamont sufficient to make this a sweet experience.

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