Damn me and my inability to put books aside! I have finally, after almost a month, finished Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I didn’t like it. But, I find it crazy difficult to stop reading a book and so I finished it. Plus I couldn’t continue over the next few paragraphs to bitch and moan about it on Cannonball if I didn’t really finish it. That would be cheating.
Invisible Man was recently banned by a school district in my home state (NC) and for that reason it made it onto my book club’s list. We like biting our thumbs at conservative authority figures. Now that I’ve read it, I want to speak to the teens in the school district and say “Shhh, be thankful you have overprotective nutjobs in charge sometimes; this book is TOUGH.” I’m mostly kidding. The ‘plot’ (if you can dare to assert this novel has one) is this: a young African-American comes of age in the racially segregated South of the Civil Rights era and breaks free into the bustling city of New York to make his way in a lively, vibrant African-American neighborhood in Harlem.
Where this book failed to live up to expectations for me:
- Too many tangents and asides. While I wouldn’t let myself give up on this book I found myself skimming through quite a bit of the narrator’s mental tangents. I also hated Philosophy in college. Go figure.
- Repetitive, unbelievable and contrived circumstances. I think there was an instance where I could name 3-4 times in as little as 50 pages where two folks misunderstood each other, sometimes to a dangerous extent, for no clear reason. The narrator, for example, walks into a locker room to grab his lunch at work and the union workers therein proceed to make a 3-page speech about how he’s a terrible scab and do not let him get in a word edgewise. After said speech, he clarifies that he just wants his sandwich and we all move on. This is wholly unrealistic and happens throughout the novel.
- It’s too damn long. My version clocked in at 582 pages. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Ellison’s writing style is Faulkner-like. One sentence took up 2/3 of a page. Yuck.
- I felt myself mentally regressing back to 17. While I usually enjoyed my reading assignments for English classes growing up, there was always at least one per year I could barely make it through and wondered what all the fuss was. This one is it (but for book club instead), and it never didn’t feel like a reading assignment.
- The opening scene in which the narrator and some other young African-Americans must box each other for a scholarship, and are made to scramble all over each other on an ELECTRIFIED floor for payment (some of which isn’t even real) was disgusting and hard to take. However, history is ugly so I suppose why not include that in this novel as well?
This book did have some successes. Or I assume it does:
- While I really didn’t enjoy reading this book, I can recognize why others would feel it has merit. Especially considering the time in which it was released, Ellison wrote a daring and honest (well I assume, I am white and didn’t grow up in that time period) portrayal of what it was like as a young African-American man in the US. People should read things that challenge them. I think that’s why I finished this really.
- The central story is not a bad one; without all the long, stream-of-conscious-like asides I might have actually liked this book. Most of us can relate in some way to our unnamed narrator. We’ve all felt misunderstood, maligned, ignored, etc.
That’s all I can really say positive about this book. I know I’m supposed to like it, but I just didn’t. I don’t hate on those who do, it is just not for me.