Saturday, February 11, 2012

CASTAWAY by James Gould Cozzens

I tracked this down and read it based on recommendations from author and editor Marvin Kaye, who praised it for its "heart-stopping suspense." While it certainly is unusual, and perhaps worth reading in some aspects, it's not something I really had any fun with.

Mr. Lecky enters a vast, empty department store, and proceeds to make arrangements to survive and defend himself. It's more than obvious that some sort of catastrophe has occurred, but no reference is actually made to it or do we ever know exactly what happened or how Lecky survived. We're just presented with his efforts to arm himself and survive. Eventually someone termed an "idiot" makes his way into the store, and Lecky ends up shooting and killing him. Lecky continues to make a little fort and survive, but finally...(SPOILER: goes back to the body and realizes it's himself. The end.)

It's brief, but it took me several days to read it because I found the writing stilted and outdated, and the actual story to be fairly uninteresting. It seems to be meant to be allegorical, perhaps of man's aloneness in the universe, or just a sort of modern Robinson Crusoe. However, the ambiguous ending gives it a supernatural air; perhaps a way of saying that man's struggle to survive will ultimately destroy him?

It's a sort of book that one reads as a challenge and struggles with, rather than enjoys. It's one of those rare works that crosses Literary Significance with genre content. Still, I have to say I didn't like it much. It often was rather dull and drawn-out for my tastes, even for such a brief work (in hardcover, just over 100 pages). It would certainly be good for those writing in the current trend of apocalyptic fiction; Lecky's struggle to survive and make sense of things like firearms and cooking would be good grist for their mill. But for me, it just wasn't that suspenseful or interesting. Mr. Kaye's recommendation seems off...but then I found out he's a craniosacral therapist and reiki "healer", both practices that I find to be horrifying quackery, which makes me view Mr. Kaye in quite another light. I still find him a good anthologist, though.

James Gould Cozzens (1903-1973) was an author of some controversy; his novel Guard of Honor, a WWII story, won a Pulitzer, but later works like By Love Possessed raised ire for purportedly being racist and/or anti-Semitic, even though he probably was more of a general misanthrope with little hope for humanity as a whole. An attempt at young adult literature bombed and he vanished from the literary scene for the last ten years of his life. He was a harsh critic of modernism, and today some find his works off-putting in their use of archaic words and conservative or downbeat themes, and even sometimes lack of action in his stories. (Although, he still has some fans, of course.) By Love Possessed was made into a dreadful movie with Lana Turner that had the dubious distinction of being the first-ever in-flight movie.

Not especially recommended, unless you're interested in apocalyptic literature.

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