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Book Review: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

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Tropic of Cancer details Henry's Miller's take on la vie boheme of artists between Paris and New York, mostly, in the 1930s.  It describes how an artist survives taking advantage of dimwitted, sometimes well-meaning, quasi-patrons and their money.

One of the main themes is how the main character and whoever he's running with at the time chase and usually catch women.  A good deal of the success of the chase seems to be founded in a broke artist's ability to pay as little as possible to women who can be caught for the right price.  I'm not even sure what to make of the manner with which Mr. Miller refers to women.

Most of the time he drops the c-bomb when referring to women.  In particular, he drops the carpet c-bombs early in the book.  I read on the back of the book that Tropic of Cancer was banned as obscene for 27 years after its publication in 1934 in Paris.  I wouldn't be surprised if the rapid fire usage of the c word was a big reason why.

I have a five-year-old daughter and I'll admit that I cringed when I first read it because I felt it was degrading to women.  Now that I think about it, given that so many of them were hookers, perhaps the women had beat Mr. Miller to it by degrading themselves.  In either case, my judgment is in full swing if I conclude either way.

So I kept reading through the early parts, in many ways because I thought it was "controversial".  I proved to myself again that controversial doesn't always mean interesting.  I didn't find any of the characters particularly interesting.  I can't even quite tell you exactly what the book was about.

The best parts for me were nestled in between really long (and long-winded) paragraphs wherein Mr. Miller described people, events and places that didn't engage me into the story.  A few of the better parts/quotes I read:

  • In describing an artist he wrote:  "An artist is always alone – if he is an artist.  No, what an artist needs is loneliness."  I like the idea, but candidly, the italicized is feels arrogant and if it's not meant to be ironic, it isn't nor is it funny.

  • By far the best part of the book was when he described going to a ritzy symphony which he described:  "Even before the music begins there is that bored look on people's faces, a polite form of self-imposed torture, the concert.  For a moment, when the conductor raps with his little wand, there is a tense spasm of concentration followed almost immediately by a general slump, a quiet vegetable sort of repose induced by the steady, uninterrupted drizzle for m the orchestra."
  • That's about as good and as accurate as it gets when describing how many "cultured" folks survive their evenings.  They go to appreciate the finer things, because that's what they are supposed to, of course they don't appreciate (or even like) them.

Outside of flashes of relatively interesting observations such as these two, the book was boring.  It was frustrating because just when I would be ready to stop reading the book, one of these types of quotes appeared. 

It's a bit like I used to be with golf.  I would go out for six hours of self-judgment and expletives that would make most priests I knew growing up proud (judgment) and Quentin Tarantino blush (language).  In spite of that, I would hit one, maybe two shots close to perfect each round and for quite a while, it kept me coming back.

For me, I wish that I could take a mulligan on my time forever lost reading Tropic of Cancer.

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  • Mohjho

    “For me, I wish that I could take a mulligan on my time forever lost reading Tropic of Cancer.”

    Know what you mean, kind of like reading your review.

  • http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-30846-5 Henry Rychlicki

    We all Like and Love Hery Miller, Todays The New Living Henry Is Henry Joseph Rychlicki

    Author Of Fragments Of My Life A Sex Fiction

  • http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-30846-5 Henry Rychlicki

    We all Like and Love Henry Miller, Todays The New Living Henry Is Henry Joseph Rychlicki

    Author Of Fragments Of My Life A Sex Fiction

  • http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-30846-5 Henry Joseph Rychlicki

    Henry Valentin Miller Quote

    What holds the world together, as I have learned from bitter experience, is sexual intercourse.
    Henry Miller

    Henry Joseph Rychlicki Quote
    If a woman wants you she will have you
    Henry Joseph Rychlicki

  • Janine

    Tim Taylor you have an orthographical mistake, its bohème. I disagree with you maybe it is your age showing but I am young and female and I really enjoyed reading Tropic of Cancer. Henry Miller changed the way I thought about things. He has passion and there is a way he sculpts reality with his interpretations of people. Your review should be removed!

  • bliffle

    Miller was a comic writer and nothing is more comic than human sexuality. He was unique.

  • David

    Henry Miller is overrated—-does not come close to Fitzgerald, Fante, Bukowski, Hemingway, Woolf, Selby Jr, Easton ellis, or McInerney—it times he’s ok–at others—boring.

  • David

    Henry Miller is overrated—-does not come close to Fitzgerald, Fante, Bukowski, Hemingway, Woolf, Selby Jr, Easton ellis, or McInerney—at times he’s ok–at others—boring.

  • Sarah Bryan

    Miller is not comparable to Woolf, or Fitzgerald. While any of the authors perviously cited are “previous” or “classics”, that is their only similarity. The writings, and the life philosophies contained in the previously cited author’s works are distinctly separate if not juxtaposing and should under no condition be read with similar criticism. Tropic of Cancer was not a book designed to be read with “love, understanding, and compassion.” Such frivolous nonsense belongs perhaps should be left to victorian era works.

  • stevemister

    he is good, when he’s good