BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
Subscribe

Book Review – Philadelphia Fire

September 22, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

Philadelphia FirePhiladelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book so much. It was ostensibly about a hideous and important piece of history that too few people know about, which is why I wanted to read it. And it has beautiful, poetic (if sometimes unnecessarily pretentious) writing. If I had read certain bits of it as separate short stories or poems, I would have loved those bits. But all together it just doesn’t work. It was all over the place.

There is very little about the actual Move bombing or group in the book. So if you are looking for that you will be disappointed. It is more about the history and social problems in Philadelphia. Which might have been fine. Except that it is written in a very stream of consciousness style, which I despise. The characters are impossible to give a shit about; most of them are barely fleshed out anyway. And the one you spend most time with is an asshole. He is, like the book, incredibly self-absorbed.

Except for a few moments when I was able to get lost in the prose, I spent most of the book thinking that I wish he would get to the point. A point. Any point. Are you throwing up your personal anguish just to do it? Or are you using your personal anguish to understand deeper things about yourself, the people around you, society? Too often it felt like throwing up thought. Like a first draft with potential. Like he said, “Screw it. I’ll let the reader edit.”

And how do you write a book about government murdering people and the society that allows that, but spend more time on the main character’s creepy voyeurism than on the actual people killed?

I get the symbolism. I get that it is up to individuals to do something and that those individuals need to somehow find a way out of their traps and issues. I get that this giant mess of a web was pulling in important bits in unique ways. Sometimes it even kind of worked a little. But isn’t there something more important?

One of the lines in the book is “Better to light one little candle than to sit on one’s ass and write clever, irresponsible, fanciful accounts of what never happened, never will. Lend a hand. Set down your bucket.” And that line comes in a fanciful book that was ruined by cleverness.

View all my reviews


Leave a Reply

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.