Brad’s Big Book Queue 2017 Book #1 of 25
Steppenwolf: A Novel by Hermann Hesse
I’ve watched the David Fincher film adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club often enough, read the actual novel often enough, dug into the philosophy of the story often enough that it’s probably no surprise for anyone familiar with either Fight Club or Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf that I got a tautological vibe across the seventy years separating these stories.
I read Steppenwolf over the last week, at times tripping over the page-long sentences describing the murky depths of the protagonist’s fractured mind, and at other times feeling an almost uncomfortable familiarity with his inner turmoil.
This is a novel about feeling disconnected with society. It is a story about a man who is an intellectual elitist, proud and arrogant but simultaneously incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin and by his self-acknowledged lack of empathy with the simpler joys of the frivolous world around him. He sees the world as “bourgeois” and detrimentally distracted by material pleasures that lack the scholarly weight he claims to prize so deeply. And yet, the story lures him down a path of surreal exploration of this society, the enigmatic manic pixie Hermine and the carefree saxophonist Pablo, pushing our anti-hero onto a path of ever-bolder extensions of himself into this world he neither likes nor understands.
There are no dimly lit, drunken fist fights, but the parallel to Fight Club is strong as the man-against-himself, man-against-society story degrades into a dreamlike & often-frantic plunge into the lowest depths of the protagonist’s psyche as he struggles to reconcile his life choices against the backdrop of a world that is misaligned with his core values.
The novel was written in German, in Germany, in the short decade after the First World War but just before the Nazi rise to power there, but the political backdrop that acts as a powerful motivator for the focus of the protagonist is driven by a frustration with the political climate he feels growing complacently chillier all around him, and is frighteningly prescient viewed nearly a century later in the context of any reader struggling with a similar balancing act, teetering the notion of living a more carefree & pragmatic existence in opposition to grasping onto more serious pursuits. It posits the notion of a life well lived in this context, questions the value of thought over experience, pushes upon the dimensionality of personality and ever present need to feed and manage the inner steppenwolf (analogous to the lonely, manic wildness of a coyote) that lurks in many of us. And in the end it suggests that the only thing all of this will cost you is your mind.
For my second novel I’m going to lighten the mood…. significantly… and read a bit of modern pulp fiction.
Don’t judge me too harshly, but on the way to Disneyland last month I watched the new Independence Day sequel (Independence Day: Resurgence) on the in-flight entertainment system (it wasn’t a work of jeenyus or anything, but it was brain candy) and followed that up with the 1996, Will Smith/Jeff Goldblum original on my way back. (Probably not) coincidentally, the “Official Prequel” novel showed up as a one dollar Cyber Monday Kindle book deal, and the spontaneous, nostalgia-driven nerd in me thought “what the hell…”
So, up next I’m reading Independence Day: Crucible (The Official Prequel) by Greg Keyes, author of many such movie and video game novelizations and seemingly avid contributor to the vast extended Star Wars universe. I’m sure it will be very “bourgeois.”