Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Then my father is truly dead.

Current book: All the King's Men
Pages read: 460 - 550

I grudgingly admit that Warren actually managed to surprise me with a plot twist. I'm still annoyed with him for being constantly and consistently depressing, but at least I got a moment of shock out of this book.

It turns out that Jack and Lois's marriage ended because Jack left Lois with no warning or explanation. (Jack's narration actually manages to kind of blame her for it, which is pretty spectacularly unfair, but he also sort of half acknowledges that he's in the wrong.) Anyway, shortly after that part, we find out that Anne Stanton never married, and always seemed vaguely disappointed in Jack. He resolves his conscience about his bad relationships by painting Anne and Lois with the same brush - namely, that of all women, whom he dismisses as needy and bound by social convention. (Whatever, Jack. What. Ever.)

Back in the present, Willie Stark's son, Tom, gets himself into trouble with a girl. In the usual way, she gets pregnant and then accuses him of being the father, and he denies it and says she sleeps around. This results in Stark trying to buy her off with pressure from her senator, namely the guy that Judge Irwin endorsed way back at the beginning of the book. So, of course, that means that Stark wants to pressure Irwin into withdrawing his endorsement unless the senator erases the scandal with Tom, and to do that, he wants Jack to blackmail the judge with the scandal he unearthed. Stark still doesn't know what it is, but he trusts Jack to deal with it. So, Jack, who, remember, used to admire Irwin, goes to blackmail him. Irwin refuses the deal, of course, and, after Jack leaves, shoots himself.

When Jack's mother finds out that Irwin shot himself after Jack visited him, she breaks down and tells Jack that Irwin is really his father. (Music sting! Honestly, it was really quite a shock, but it made sense in the context of Jack's mother's many husbands, so it didn't seem underhanded of Warren or anything.) Jack is remorseful, but not nearly enough, frankly, and still goes back to work for Stark. He refuses to do any more blackmailing, however. Stark's hand is forced by circumstance now that Irwin is dead, and he ends up having to give the contract to build his hospital to a crooked contractor in exchange for the erasure of Tom's pregnancy scandal. Stark is incredibly upset about it, what with the hospital being the one thing he was actually going to do right.

Jack is just so awful that I'm having a hard time mustering any emotional connection with the events of the book. Every time we learn something about his past, I feel like I'm supposed to be sympathetic to him, sorry for his loss of innocence or something, but it feels to me like he never had any innocence to lose. Maybe that's the point - that he's supposed to represent the inevitability of corruption and its inherent place in the human soul - but it's not working for me. The fall from grace is just so much more powerful. Warren took a stab at that with Willie, but he didn't give us enough evidence for Stark's initial goodness, either.

I'm just not cut out to read books where the message is that people suck and everything's awful. I fight it the whole way through, because I think it's untrue and even, sometimes, damaging. Also, it's not very nice first thing in the morning.

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