Six Degrees of Separation: From The Road to On Being Different

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation (see Kate’s introductory post) starts with Cormac McCarthy’s bleak dystopian novel The Road (2006).

I’ve read several of McCarthy’s novels, including this one. Believe it or not, this is not the darkest – that would be Blood Meridian.

#1 Sticking with the road trip theme, I’ll start by highlighting one of my favorite novels from 2018, Southernmost by Silas House. Tennessee preacher Asher Sharp’s family life falls apart when he welcomes a homosexual couple into his church. After being voted out of his post, he kidnaps his son and drives to Key West, Florida, where his estranged gay brother lives.

#2 A minister is also the main character in Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout (2006). I finished this one, my fourth novel from Strout, a couple of weeks ago. She tenderly probes the dark places of a mid-twentieth century Maine community and its pastor’s doubts, but finds the light shining through. From first line to last word, this was gorgeous.

#3 “Abide with Me,” Reverend Tyler Caskey’s favorite hymn, gives the novel its title. Also named after a song is Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987/2000). I have a copy on the shelf and tried the first 20 pages a couple of months ago, but it was so normal – compared to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, anyway – that I felt disoriented and set it aside.

#4 Returning to bleakness … the Norwegian reference takes me one of the first books from Norway I remember reading: Hunger by Knut Hamsun (1890). It’s a spare story of a starving writer who wanders the streets of Oslo looking for opportunities for food and publication, tramping about simply to keep warm at the onset of a bitter Scandinavian winter.

#5 Same title; rather different contents: Hunger by Roxane Gay (2017) is a collection of short autobiographical essays that riff on weight, diet, exercise and body image. The writing style is matter-of-fact and never self-pitying. This is still the only thing I’ve read by her, but I mean to read more, starting with her novel An Untamed State.

[#5.5 Her surname takes me to the title of my cheaty half-step, A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller (1962), a semi-autobiographical novel about a man from Iowa who helps free the concentration camps and then has a career as a theatrical producer. It was Nancy Pearl’s first Book Lust Rediscoveries reprint book and is on my TBR.]

#6 While it’s not implied by that title, Miller was, er, gay, which leads to another of his books, On Being Different. I have Pearl to thank for leading me to this 1971 essay, which was republished in book form in 2013. It’s an insider’s view of what it is like to be a homosexual. A period piece now, it feels like a precursor to the revolution in gay rights. It’s one of the books (along with Straight by Hanne Blank and Conundrum by Jan Morris) that have most boosted my tolerance and compassionate understanding.

(This loops nicely back to #1 and the story of a preacher accepting homosexuality in his family as well as in his church congregation.)

 

Join us for #6Degrees of Separation if you haven’t already!

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

22 responses

  1. Very smartly done. I knew you’d be good at this. I like the sound of Southernmost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I loved Southernmost. Though the author was new to me, I think this was his sixth book. Never published outside the States as far as I know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did wonder…Ah, well.

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    2. Margaret corrects me — Southernmost is coming out here imminently!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently Southernmost is being released in the UK on the 10th May. But in hardback of course. Now when those libraries re-open, and assuming they have any budget at all once they do …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, good for you for checking! I just assumed he hadn’t made it over here. That’s great to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had exactly the same reaction to Norwegian Wood! One day I’ll get to Elizabeth Strout…

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    1. Oh, she’s so wonderful! My first (Lucy Barton) left me unconvinced, but I’ve read three more since then and they have all been top stuff.

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  4. Bonus marks for creating a loop! Love your link between Abide With Me and Norwegian Wood 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I have such fun with this every month. I don’t know why it took me years to join in.

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      1. It’s a nice way to reflect on past (and future) reading.

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    2. I agree. I try to slip in a few lesser-known favourites and some recent reading.

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  5. I’m another great fan of Abide With Me. Strout’s earlier novels deserve to be better known.

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    1. My library has The Burgess Boys and Anything Is Possible, but I’ll have to buy Amy & Isabelle secondhand.

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  6. Fun! Another Strout to read. And The Road’s my favorite by McCarthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mine is No Country for Old Men (though I’ve only read 3).

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      1. Need to try that one–thanks! Not being a big horse person, I didn’t get into the horsey ones (All the Pretty, etc.) as much as other readers.

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    2. I DNFed All the Pretty Horses. That was my most recent experience with him.

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  7. I’m still haunted by Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. Less so by The Road, though it was powerful stuff. Elizabeth Strout is another fine writer; Olive K is memorable

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hunger is bleaker than The Road, I reckon. Olive, Again is my favourite by Strout so far (better than the original!).

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  8. Literary Feline | Reply

    Southernmost is one I have really been looking forward to reading, as well as Roxanne Gay’s Hunger. I love the way you put these together. Very well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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