Whitehead's Writing is a River...

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... it goes on (seemingly) forever, without end.

I don't know how I feel about this book yet.  I like to reserve judgment until after I've finished something, because there can always be some sort of turning moment in the end that really wins me over.  As of right now, I'm sort of apathetic towards it.  

Whitehead's use of description is impressive, especially the metaphors he utilizes throughout the book (well, I assume it will be throughout the book).  

"Dave Brown's byline is a roach ... The organism traveled to new publishing empires by stowing away in the cargo holds of spectacle, a survival instinct that served it well ... This moist, expanding media proved an excetionally favorable environment for the byline and its appearances grew at an exponential rate.  It has been observed crawling above a prison interview with Sirhan Sirhan in Playboy and lazily breeding in the New York Times during the heyday of singer-songwriters" (27).
                    Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days

The level of description in this passage makes everything seem more real to me.  Not only does this metaphor suggest that Brown's work is often published in well-to-do newspapers, unlike J.'s articles, it also implies the fact that J. dislikes Brown, which we learn later is true when J. reflects on Brown's comparison of him with Bobby Figgis.  Because he didn't just say "Brown gets a lot of jobs and I don't like him," and related the man to a disgusting insect, I was able to feel his disdain so much more.

However, I sometimes feel like his descriptions get a little out of hand.

"This little boy in bright green robot gear, merchandise from whatever kids' show is big now, contemplates the stray receipt just as intently as J. from across the walkway in the opposing camp of Gate 21, flight 702 to Houston.  He reckons the boy is waiting for one of the travelers to step on it, to relish that dinosaur foot carnage, and when this image occurs to J. - the receipt mangled by designer sneaker tread or so smudged that it would be useless to him - he immediately evacuates the plastic bucket seat, strides confidently out into the walkway with nary a guilty twitch, and after one quick glance back to make sure that no one is stealing his stuff, he bends down and grips the lonesome shaving between his thumb and index finger as gingerly as an entomologist stooping for a rare moth.  No one raises a ruckus.  The little boy sneers at him and performs a baroque martial arts move" (10).

It's not so much the descriptions that are the problem, but the fact that Whitehead holds on to them for so long.  The bolded lines are just one sentence.  I suppose they added to the characterization of J., so I'm not complaining since it showed more insight into J.'s character.  However, in sections like this, I sort of lost what was happening.  This isn't a complaint in Whitehead's writing style, just more of an observation of my own reading preferences.

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6 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Mm, I agree. The extended metaphor tends to lose me if it goes on... not only too long, but if there's one extended metaphor after another. It makes it really hard to remember what's actually happening. And, you're right, it's not really commentary on Whitehead's writing style as much as our reading preferences.

Kayla Lesko said:

At this point, I think this book better than Quick and the Dead. But I'm not really sure whether or not I like it.

Yeah, I think Whitehead over did it a little bit.

Carissa Altizer said:

In the first few chapters I was a little lost, mostly, I think, because of the extended metaphors. After I continued reading I started to pick up on them and pay more attention. I did a little bit of rereading and I think I'm starting to get into the flow of Whitehead's writing. (What an unfortunate last name.)

Quick question, do you have any idea why it was so important for J to get the lost receipt? Will he get reimbursed for it if he adds it to his travel expenses? Also, if J is on "The List," I'm assuming it means he's a pretty successful free-lancer. Why then, is he refusing to buy himself lunch? I know that free-lancers usually don't make a lot of money,but it seems like he has done pretty well for himself. I'm confused about his financial situation.

Josie Rush said:

I think being a successful freelancer and getting paid like a successful worker are two very different things. I guess since freelancing is such an unreliable source of income, even if J's established himself at this point, he probably still wants to skimp because he never knows when he'll have money and when he won't. The first chapter lost me, honestly, until I read further on and realized what he was doing. At first I truly didn't know who J was or what he did, but now it's making more sense. I think the freelancers just show their receipts to whatever company is asking them to write the story and get reinbursed for their expenses. So J is hoping to get an extra four dollars he didn't actually spend. And, yes, Whitehead is a very unfortunate last name.

Exactly, Josie. There's no doubt in my mind that Whitehead is a good writer; it's just his style that's not exactly my skillet of pierogies. And as we discussed before class today, it would be easier to like his writing if we had more time to enjoy it and be patient with it.

Kayla: I liked The Quick and the Dead more, to be honest. However, this book has its benefits.

Carissa and Josie: Yeah, at first, I thought J. was a homeless man and I had no idea why he would need someone else's receipt unless it was some weird obsession because he was losing his sanity. It makes sense now, especially after Dr. Jerz explained what a junketeer is. They are the lowest ranking employees in journalism. Well, maybe not the lowest in rank, but the lowest in reputation, so he needs to save money as much as he can.

Carissa Altizer said:

After we talked about it in class it made more sense to me. Karyssa, I thought he was a crazy homeless man at first too! It would have helped us out a bit if we would have just read the back cover of the book. It says that J is a journalist. Oops.

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