Thomas Wolfe was a genius beyond his control, as extraordinary and fascinating as he was infuriating. Anyone who has had the opportunity to see the film The Editor will understand it immediately; It tells the relationship between Wolfe and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. I emphasize the word editor to differentiate it from publisher, which is what in Spain we call editor, director of a publishing house. Perkins was in charge of working with the materials, often not well assembled or measured, that the authors delivered to the publisher. It is an American tradition, people with an enviable sense of narration putting in check types of strong creative incontinence, as was also the case with Faulkner. Perkins, or the great storyteller William Marshall, were legendary editors, as exceptional as they were patient, but Wolfe’s incontinence exceeded all measure.
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) became known with a striking novel, The Angel Who Watches Us. His great novel is Of Time and the River and since then he has never stopped short of 700 pages per volume. The last two were posthumous, The Net and the Rock and this one that concerns us now, both assembled by their editor with the materials that he left unpublished following the author’s intentions, which he knew very well.
You Can’t Go Home Again is a novel divided into seven parts. Maxwell Perkins ordered it according to the author’s intentions, although it is evident that he was forced to handle radioactive material in the absence of the plant’s chief engineer. But ahead of the coherence of the result, what is evident is the author’s strength: his incontestable narrative power. Only the first two parts show formidable expressiveness and that characteristic of trying to tell everything. Take as an example the scene at the Pennsylvania train station where he describes one by one the passengers on the train he is going to take back to his hometown. Wolfe does not simplify, but rather accumulates, and yet in his prose there is precision and suggestion where others seek to achieve it with economy of means. On the train back to his place of origin, on pages 60-61 and 49-51, he spares no detail because his is a passion for totality that must encompass life and people as a whole. And he uses the twisted personality of the blind judge Bland referring to his neighbors and also his attitude towards George Webber, the writer’s apprentice who has come to replace Eugene Gant from his previous novel as the central character (“Do you think you can come home again? ”, he tells him cruelly) to portray an entire community, but also the fate of Webber himself.
His last two novels, ‘The Red and the Rock’ and this one in question, were assembled with the materials that he left unpublished.
The description of the origin of the disaster of the 29th begins with The Company, the hollow financial entity that takes the greedy soul of its hometown by storm, and continues in the second part with the vision of Mr. and Mrs. Jack, in their home. of potentates, a week before the crash that gives rise to the Great Depression. Rarely has it been narrated with such ambition for totality, and this simple detail of the relationship between lady and maid shows: “Next, the girl pushed aside the brass screen and knelt in front of the dancing flames. When she struck the logs with a long iron poker and a pair of tongs, there was a fiery shower of sparks, and the fire flared and crackled, rekindled. For a brief moment she remained kneeling in a sweet and virginal gesture. The fire bathed her face in a radiant glow and Mrs. Jack looked at her tenderly, thinking how beautiful and delicate and kind she was. Then the maid got up and put the screen back in her place.
George Webber loves America. He loves her and hates her and, being him, he equally hates American individualism. His youthful and enthusiastic eagerness turns him into a kind of enthusiastic homo whitmannianus, but affected by harsh reality, a contradiction that belongs to the realm of optimistic pessimism. His method is similar: “The hundreds and thousands of different and disconnected notes that he had written had finally drawn a pattern in his mind. He just needed to string them together and fill in the gaps and he would have a book.” And then he decides to retire to compose it; first, settling in Brooklyn for four years, far from the hustle and bustle of New York; then traveling, to Paris and London, which amazed him, and then to a Germany where an incipient Nazism was brewing in which he sensed the barbarism that was coming.
Some parts—especially IV, with the figure of Foxhall (Perkins?), its editor—are a pretext to pursue reflection as another form of action. With this we also delve into his substantial attitude: integrity as a supreme value and as a measure of his vocation, and therefore his meeting in England with Lloyd McHarg, a symbol of the established writer (apparently inspired by Sinclair Lewis) in a chapter of prodigious narrative intelligence.
This must have been the “great American novel.” She deserved it more than any other for her ambition and her approach, but death cut her short. It was a passionate song, dedicated to what America had, truth and lie, an irrepressible impetus of faith in life. Maxwell Perkins did a great job of organizing the novel with the available materials. Wolfe’s formidable writing is a posthumous literary triumph, but Wolfe was no longer there to finish off his work. “The best American writer is Thomas Wolfe,” William Faulkner once confessed, “after me and then no one.”
you can’t come home
Zapa skin, 2023
668 pages. 26 euros
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