Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller



Read September/October 2014.

I have no idea. I almost want that to be the only thing I say about this book, because really, I just . . . don’t even know.

It’s so dirty—I don’t mean the constant references to sex, though of course there are plenty of those, in the sense that I am pretty sure I will go through the next fifty years of my life without seeing the word “cunt” as many times as I did while reading this book—I mean that it’s completely obsessed with everything being festering or fetid or rancid or fermented or seething or feverish, “saturated with perspiration and foul breaths,” “the putrid sinks of the world, the charnel house to which the stinking wombs confide their bloody packages of flesh and bone.” Everything is lice, maggots, cockroaches, vermin, vomit, blood, drool, farts, urine.

Very occasionally there were places where I admired the writing, particularly the last page, which was surprisingly beautiful given how raunchy the rest of it was. And there was this sentence somewhere in the middle, which was so high-school-English-class I couldn’t even believe it:

“Black ocean bleeding and the brooding stars breeding chunks of fresh-swollen flesh while overhead the birds wheeled and out of the hallucinated sky fell the balance with mortar and pestle and the bandaged eyes of justice.”

I felt most of the time like the words were slippery, and I forgot them as soon as I read them. There’s story, and then all of a sudden it devolves into long, rambling philosophical passages and I won’t lie, I had no idea what was going on half the time. I read it to have read it, and I’m glad I have now. I picked it in the first place because my co-workers posted this Which Banned Book Are You? quiz, and almost no matter what answers I chose, this was the result I got. I still don’t know what to think about that.

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