Saturday, September 28, 2013
Pulitzer Project: Journey in the Dark
It is a little odd that I found it unreadable. Martin Flavin was a competent wordsmith -- the book is well-written -- but Journey in the Dark just felt flat, very one dimensional. It was easy reading, but I just couldn't get into it. I made it through about the first third of the book, and that was that.
The book follows the life of Sam Braden from his impoverished childhood through adulthood. It's a classic rags-to-riches story. Braden's family is desperately poor. His mother came from a good family, but she married a man who was good at charming people but not at all interested in work. It's pretty clear the guy was a self-centered narcissist who really didn't care much for his wife or his kids. Sam's mother is the classic literary saint: she keeps food on the table by working as a seamstress and then dies tragically, slowly wasting away for years and then finally dying when Sam is 15.
Like most children, Sam was blissfully unaware just how desperately poor his family was until he was in elementary school. He then has a couple eye-opening experiences and makes the leap fairly quickly from baffled naivete (Why didn't he get the nice sled he wanted for Christmas?) to seething resentment. He becomes fixated on the richest girl in town while sneaking off to bang a mulatto girl who's been his friend since early childhood. Predictably, the colored girl gets pregnant -- although that fact is never made explicit in the book -- and disappears from the story line for awhile, having been quietly shipped off to visit her ailing grandmother for a few months. Sam is so fixated on the unattainable object of his desire that he barely notices that the girl who actually liked him is gone.
And right about there I gave up. I'd figured out I didn't much care what happened with the main character of the book and all the others were drawn so shallowly that I didn't much care about them either. Maybe I'm a shallow reader, but one of my criteria for what I like to read is that I have to care a little about what happens to the characters. I have to be engaged -- and Journey in the Dark failed to engage me. I don't have to like a character -- I can be quietly rooting for someone to get hit by a bus; I don't require a happy ending -- but I do have to care a little one way or the other.
I'm not sure what I'd say if someone asked me if this book is worth reading. It's gotten good reviews on Good Reads so obviously some readers liked it. I just happen to not be one of them.