Sunday, June 2, 2013

Honey in the Horn by H. L. Davis

Honey in the Horn
by H. L. Davis
1936 Pulitzer Prize
2 stars - great writing, but kind of a chore to finish

H. L. Davis passed away in 1960, yet I still felt obliged to him to finish his Pulitzer novel. Why? Because his writing is so beautiful, his gift so great, that not to finish seemed disrespectful. 

But where did he go wrong with this novel?

The book takes place during the homesteading days of 1906-1908 in Oregon (something I discovered via Wikepedia since the actual time of the action is never revealed in the novel). The author uses the travels of the central character, Clay Calvert, to introduce the variety of people making due (or not) in Oregon as well as the lush variety of landscape offered by that region of the country.

"The timekeeping department of the thing was badly used up. The second hand was gone, the minute hand was bent so it pointed out accusingly into the room instead of at the figures as it should, and one of the weights was missing. Simmons had taken it to kill a skunk, and it had got lost before the smell wore off so it could be brought back. So the clock didn't run. But is was handy to hang things from and lean things against, and old Sommons couldn't have kept house without it. His father had freighted it all the way across the plains in the early days, and any clock that had been that much trouble to import was too good to throw away. It did give a comfortable feeling to the homestead cabin, the light from the stove shining against it in the half-dark that represented warmth because the dawn in the snow outside was so eye-hurtingly dazzling and white."

Come on, am I right? A broken clock as poetry. The descriptions of the land, the weather, and the incidental characters kept drawing me back in, even when I felt ready to give up. What killed the story for me was the main character, Clay Calvert. It seemed like every time there was "action" the prose, curiously, became stilted and painful. With all the delightful people he meets along the way, I wish that some of them had stayed in the book longer. But at the end of the day, it was about Clay, a tiresome youngster. 

Oh and forget about the female lead, Luce. Ugh. 

Honesty compels me to give this book two stars, but I still kind of recommend it. Read it for all the stuff that happens in between. Read it to meet (however briefly) people living in isolation who will talk the ear off of anybody who happens by. Read it for the descriptions of the rain forest and the plains. Read it with my assurance that you can skip over the stuff about Clay and focus on the "good" parts.

"But for really high hopes and a genuinely finished contempt for probabilities, the river canyon wasn't a circumstance alongside of Dead Dog. It was on a high, handsomely situated plateau, as windy as a ploiticians' alley in hell..."

Note that the very end does have a bit of a "surprise" to it. Plus this book comes pretty darn close to discussing s-e-x at one point. 

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