Books Bought and Life in the Tropics

Books Bought:

  • The Best American Essays 2005, edited by Susan Orlean
  • Ailce’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Book read:

  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

This is a reread. I first read Miller in graduate school and was swept up by his exuberant language and the (pardon the pun) fuck-everything eroticism. At the same time I was enthralled by Henry & June, the film of Miller’s affair with Anais Nin and his writing of Tropic.

The film still enthralls me. When I first saw it, I wasn’t aware it was drawn from Nin’s journals. Reading Tropic the first time, I tried to find parallels between it and the novel. After reading Tropic, I then read Erica Jong’s biocritical The Devil at Large, which celebrates Miller’s attacks against American "sexophobia." (That bio has one of the best chapter titles ever "Crazy Cock in the Land of Fuck".)

Jong’s basic thesis is that Miller could lead us back to a pagan sense of eros, and I swallowed that thesis. Until my recent reading of Tropic.

I wasn’t enthralled by this reading. To me the novel now has the feel of a period piece. It captures the underworld, Left Bank world of Paris in the Thirties, just as the Lost Generation was fading into the Great Depression.

When I first read Miller and Jong and saw the film, I was less jaded by relationships and sexual relationships. I’m a bit more jaded now, and have read novels, such as James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, that are clearly influenced by Miller, and explicit sex scenes in novels as well as film are no longer censored or uncommon.

Tropic of Cancer does have value; its influence extends to writers beyond eros. Miller writes extensively in the American apocalyptic vein. Throughout Miller, the world is closing in on blowing itself up. Most of his images come from World War I — poison gas, Big Bertha, etc. — but it’s still apocalypse.

Oddly, I find the apocalyptic strain appealing. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the latent Baptist in me, watching Armageddon being played out in the Middle East.


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