Book Review: October Light

October Light



Why I read this book

I finished this book a while ago so I thought I’d write about it.  To be honest, it took a while to write this review because months after finishing I still have this feeling of ‘What the hell did I just read?’ XD  If you look on you will find readers polarized into two camps, Gardner is a genius or a horrible writer.  I found him to be an innovative author with lovely prose, but I know why others found this book unbearable.

A friend of mine (a brilliant writer) recommended it to me years ago, and I finally got around to reading it.  That’s probably the best advice I could give to newbie writers.  Find another writer you love and ask them for book recommendations.


The basic premise of the story is that an old man, James, living off the land gets stuck living with his once-affluent and now destitute elderly sister, Sally.  They get into a fight about the TV because he thinks technology has destroyed everything that is good with America, so he shoots the TV with a gun and  ends up chasing her into a bedroom and threatening to kill her if she comes out.  Then the rest of the book is spent with friends and family trying to get her to come out.  Yep, three-hundred pages of that.  Although I guess one could say the TV series, “The Wonder Years,” was just about a boy growing up.  But they managed to make 100+ awesome episodes on that premise.

Then there is this side-plot about a man wanting to commit suicide, and he unknowingly gets rescued by drug dealers.  How does this fit in with the main story?  It’s a book Sally reads while locked up in her bedroom.  It takes up about about a quarter of October Light.  It’s also missing pages.  Yes, the book within a book is a tattered relic she finds while in her self-imposed prison, so both the reader and Sally can only read part of this story.  It’s hard to follow the book within a book, and some readers on Amazon just skipped it.  It supposedly mirrors the disconnect between Sally and her brother, but it was hard to make that connection.  Or maybe I’m completely off and failed to see the point of it XD

Would I recommend this book to others?  

It depends on what you are looking for in a book.  This book is not a page-turner, the characters are rather unlikable, and the plot relies too heavily on micro-tension.  However, the prose is gorgeous.  It’s less poetic and lyrical than McCarthy’s, but is beautiful in its own way.  I also enjoyed the insightful bits of philosophy scattered throughout the story.  The characters grew on me over time, but by the end of the book the only character I was rooting for was Jame’s daughter.

I like reading avant-garde books because it often inspires new ideas.  I wouldn’t say it was a fun read, but that’s not why I read it.  It was a good learning experience.  There’s a lot of meaning in this book I feel like I missed, so I will probably come back and read it at a later point in time.

Right now I’m reading Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, along with rereading McCarthy’s The Road and Faulkner’s Light in August.  I have trouble reading just one book XD

The Road aka The Greatest Book In Existence

The Road

I think anyone that knows me knows about my obsession with Cormac McCarthy XD  It started 5 years ago when a fanfic friend of mine (that is an amazing writer) recommended, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and October Light by John Gardner.  It’s hard to put into words the feeling that I got when I first read The Road.  It was one of the most magical and inspirational events of my adult life.  It completely changed the way I thought about writing.  If I was limited to one book for the rest of my life, I would pick this one.  I just finished my 4th read-through of it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I’ll preface this review by saying that McCarthy writes poetic prose, and if you aren’t into it, you might not like it.  I’ve read several of his books, and his style is characterized by long passages of poetic prose interspersed with very sparse prose.  The Road is different than the others because instead of going into these long passages of poetic prose, he interweaves it through the fabric of the novel.  I think that is part of what makes it more accessible than his other works.  I just looked on Amazon, and they actually posted the whole thing (with the exception of the final few pages) as an excerpt.  If you click on the picture to look inside you can read the whole thing for free.  I’m a firm believer in supporting artists, so if you like the book I would buy it anyway to support McCarthy.  This book was made into a movie, which was awesome, but the book is so much better.

Summary: Amidst the bleak and dreary setting of a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son are struggling to survive.  Starvation is rampant and rules the land while cannibals lurk around every corner.  At the forefront of this story is the love between a father and son as they struggle to survive, heading south on “the road,” in search of food and a better life.

Pros: The prose is lyrical and fitting of the barren landscape of the novel.  It’s a compelling story, and the first time I read it, I couldn’t get through it fast enough.  The love that the father has for his son is so much more powerful than the grief he faces on a daily basis.  Their devotion is endearing and will tug at your heartstrings.  The father is forced to make some difficult decisions, but he’s always trying to do what is best for his son.  They never succumb to the evil that has consumed humanity because they carry the fire, which is a theme mentioned several times in the book.   Despite everything that they go through, they never give up hope, a testament to the resilience of mankind.

Cons: For me there aren’t any cons.  But for some people I think they might be a bit turned off by McCarthy’s stylized dialogue.  He gets rid of all the “he said,” “she said,” and associated innuendo.  The dialogue is written like this. . .

I like ice cream

I like ice cream too

Why don’t we get some ice cream

Sure, I’m feeling really hungry

It can get confusing in long passages because you don’t know who’s saying what.  There are never more than two participants in the dialogue, but even still, it can be a bit difficult to read and understand.  But it fits the bleak atmosphere of the story, and it contributes to his writing style.  It’s also filled with angst.  My sister could not get past the first few pages because it was too depressing.  Also, this could be considered a pro or con depending on your tastes, but there are some very disturbing elements of horror in here.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to everyone because it’s such a beautiful yet haunting story.

I’ll review other books as I read them.  Probably one a month.  I read slowly so I can absorb the prose and reflect upon the story as I go.