Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Review: The Hobgoblin of the Good, Bad and Ugly: Jack London's John Barleycorn

Jack London's John Barleycorn: or Alcoholic Memoirs (R.Bentley: Cambridge, MA, 1978).

The Bay Area's iconic working-class scribe, Jack London, proved all too human in his autobiographical John Barleycorn. London was a life-long slave to alcoholism, an afflication whose roots go back to his early years as a "Oyster Pirate" in the San Francisco Bay, where his trips to saloon after saloon and close affiliation with any number of free-drinking immigrants sold the young writer on the "fruit of the vine." The significance of the saloon for London is paramount; cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and a temple whose altar London was more than ready to kneel at. Although it's seldom that he ever comes close to calling it a problem, London's ruminations are enough for us to understand the subtle concern he carries for his well-being. In this regard, the reader gains a unique window into London's troubled, traveled soul.

It bears mention that London, on more than one occassion, and under the spell of booze, seriously considered suicide; perhaps the most notable was his swim in the Carquinez Strait when a final decision to live only came after drifting by Crocket. How different American Literature would have been had London opted to do himself in. Overall, the complexity and paradox of the Socialist-Spendthrift, Racist-Humanist is revealed in a lucid prose that only the short-lived London could deliver...

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