While I don’t normally include more than the book cover, I felt this video apropos and ask you to humor me and enjoy. I’ll not give away its presence in the book, but will say that its lyrics figure prominently.
Another triple header has put me a tad behind schedule, but I just gotta say that this one was out, and I mean way out, of the park. I must humbly acknowledge that I had never heard of James T. Farrell and what continually burst from my lips while reading this magnificent saga was “genius”. Farrell’s work is quite extensive and I will certainly be meeting up with him again after I complete this 100 book journey.
The Studs Lonigan trilogy is comprised of Young Lonigan (1932), The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934) and Judgment Day (1935). The trilogy not only covers major events in US history, but also a range of social topics; syphilis and TB, class struggles and racism, prohibition and alcoholism, homosexuality and sexual repression.
In the first novel, Farrell takes us to Chicago’s south side at the end of WWII where we meet the 15-year-old Studs Lonigan as he grapples with young manhood. The second novel follows up with Studs falling in with a group of hooligans who call a poolroom their second home and consume alcohol beyond excess. The trilogy concludes with Studs nearing 30, reflecting back on his life’s decisions, contemplating marriage and facing serious health issues while the Great Depression rears its ugly head.
Studs Lonigan is a punk, the kind of kid most people would say should be kicked in the pants. He drinks, he curses, he bullies friends and foes and considers women either angels or whores, not allowing for anything in between. So how can such a character warrant the readers compassion? Simply said, he is everyman; he struggles with finding the right words in various relationships, he gloats when he perceives himself admirable, he envies others glory and questions every decision he makes, and then beats himself up for being such a mope. Studs is the man you’d love to slap, but realize an embrace would be his deliverance.
The hardworking father of Studs, Patrick Lonigan, aka Paddy, is an easily liked character. Even as he utters one racial slur after another, you realize he is repeating words in a rote manner and is what he likely heard expressed by his own father. He believes if he works hard, supports his family and goes to church, all will be well even as the Depression closes in on him. He has buried his head in the sand and is in denial about the country’s state of affairs as well as the receding life of his eldest son.
Weary Riley is the punk of punks and makes Studs look like a boy scout in comparison. He is boiling up with anger and wants to take on the world with his fists and is not ashamed to use them on men or women. As young boys, Studs and Weary go at it, with Studs the victor, but Studs believes Weary will get his comeuppance and he surely does, in a shameless way with resulting ruin.
He puffed. It was nice sitting there. He would like to sit there, and watch it slowly get dark, because when it was just getting dark things were quiet and soft-like, and a fellow liked to sit in all the quiet and well, just sit, and let any old thoughts go through his mind; just sit and dream, and realize that life was a funny thing, but that he’d fought his way up to a station where there weren’t no real serious problems like poverty, and he sits there, and is comfortable and content and patient, because he knows that he has put this shoulder to the wheel, and he has been a good Catholic, and a good American, a good father, and a good husband.
A bird cooed above them. He usually thought it was sissified to listen or pay attention to such things as birds singing; it was crazy, like being a guy who studied music, or read too many books, or wrote poems and painted pictures. But now he listened; it was nice; he told himself how nice it was.
He had been sold out, and made the goat. Most of the other waiters had crawled back on heir knees, begging for their jobs at any salary, under any condition. Yellow scabs! They had betrayed him, betrayed the cause of the American working man. They had betrayed themselves. The rankling of defeat and disappointment grew upon him until her cursed, using the filthiest words he knew.
He could see the lagoon, steely, dark, glittering here and there with the moon and stars. The World, the night, the park, spring that was going to come, it was all new. He felt as if he were discovering them for the first time in his life, as if the sense of budding things, of leaves coming out on the branches, the gradual warming and laziness in the air, the grass bursting green through the cold, hard, wintry earth, as if all these were inside of him.
The car clattered over a small stone bridge, affording him momentary sight of a thing stream of steely-colored water. The engine emitted a piercing and desolate whistle that seemed to puncture the countryside with echoing loneliness, and he was reminded of how, as a young kid, he head heard train whistles at night, even ducking his head under the covers because of them.
*In gathering up quotes I had marked while reading, I realized that on their own, they may not seem quite so profound, however, the voices that emitted their words delivered them in such a way that cannot be easily conveyed as mere quotes. Given that, I decided to note them here anyway.
Since you can probably imagine my drooling over Mr. Farrell, it must then be understood that I’d be more than thrilled to meet him. For some reason, I don’t imagine he’d be thrilled talking with a dame, so I’d disguise myself as a man, maybe do some sparring and then get a little tight before we sat down to business, and I believe it would be a lengthy and fascinating discussion. Farrell had a keen talent for portraying the darkness found in all of us; pettiness, jealousy, doubt and fear. Its an ability that would sure be swell to have.
My rating for The Studs Lonigan Triology is a 10 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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