Monday, October 25, 2010

The road to hell

Current book: All the King's Men
Pages read: 268 - 373

Hey, things are exciting in this bit because there is actually a glimmer of hope that not everyone in the entire world is completely beyond redemption! It's very, very faint, but it's there. I'll let you know where in the synopsis it comes in, because it might be hard to tell.

So, back to Cass Mastern. After killing his friend in order to secure said friend's wife, he and the woman have an argument about a slave that she sold. The slave had been in Mastern's family for some time, and the only reason his new mistress sold her was because she felt threatened by her beauty. Mastern heads off to go retrieve her, and in so doing, loses his mistress forever. He doesn't end up finding the slave, but does get in a fight, become ill, and then come dragging home feeling guilty for the whole thing. Afterward, he's a broken man, and ends up fighting in the Civil War and dying of a bullet wound. And the moral of all this, as Warren points out through Burden's narration, is that the world screws everyone over and makes him miserable. (Awesome. This is not, in case you were wondering, the glimmer of light part.)

After the Mastern bit, we get back to Burden's activities in Stark's employ, and follow him as he digs up dirt on the judge Stark was threatening way back at the beginning. He succeeds in finding out that the judge, Judge Irwin, once took dirty money when he was attorney general. As a result of the deal, a lawyer for the state lost his job because he tried to bring a suit against the company that was doing the lawbreaking. After appealing to the governor at the time (not Stark) and being told he'd better quiet down or risk even greater consequences, said lawyer killed himself. Burden hasn't yet reported this information to Stark, but will soon, and then, we assume, ruin Irwin's reputation with it.

In the meantime, Stark has been making plans to build a huge, free hospital in the state, and, lo and behold, he actually wants it to be politically clean. He wants to build it in order to do good, rather than just to make money and connections. (See the glimmer? An actual good intention!) Burden is given the task of convincing his old childhood friend, Adam Stanton, now a famous surgeon, to take on leadership of the place. Adam has, for now, refused, but the discussion is certainly not over.

As I said, it's kind of nice that Warren complicates Stark's character here with the sense that he actually wants to do some good, and isn't just completely, permanently corrupt. That said, it seems like Burden's going to strong-arm Adam into taking on a position he doesn't want, so it's not an entirely virtuous situation. But still, it's a helluva lot closer than we've gotten in this book so far.

I don't know, maybe I'm just naive as hell, or maybe it's that this book is too much a product of its time, but I guess I don't believe that everyone who's ever even come close to touching any aspect of politics has become part of a corrupt machine. That seems to be Warren's thesis, and I honestly think it errs pretty heinously on the side of cynicism. To be fair, some of that is a product of the narrative voice; Jack is supposed to be completely cynical himself, after all. But I think there's room for nuance that I've only just now seen evidence of, and I'm not entirely convinced is going to be pursued as much as I think it should be.

In other news, Warren used a word I didn't know: marmoreal. It means "like marble or suggestive of marble, especially as it relates to a sense of coldness or aloofness." From context, before looking it up, I'd decided the meaning ran something along the lines of "dignified and severe," so I was pretty close. (Although, honestly, part of me really wanted it to mean "like a marmot.") It's not often I have to look up a word, so I liked it, but I didn't like that he used it three times in as many pages. Have the wit to vary the tune, Warren.

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