9/9/12

LCN Mondays: The Power of One

This is the fourth of the Life Changing Novels Mondays, in which the writer fails to keep up with the weekly regiment of writing a Life Changing Novels Monday every Monday, and thus must write this... on a Sunday?

The New York Times beat around the bush when it said of Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One: "An appealing book... offers fine bursts of Mark Twainish wit." While this is true, I prefer the Cleveland Plain Dealer's view of the novel: "Unabashedly uplifting." This novel is uplifting, uplifting to a degree that is overwhelming. While some may put off Courtenay's work as "brash" or even "corny", the truth is that he simply has the full package: a story to tell, words to tell it with.

The characters that populate Courtenay's work are key to its upliftingness. Peekay is the perfect protagonist - that is, his personality is pretty much flawless. He's intelligent, resilient, and unbelievably lucky, in terms of genetics and circumstance. A testament to Courtenay's mastery is how he manages to pitch Peekay's story in a way that doesn't seem contrived at all; Peekay just happens to have all the right things happen to him at the right times. And Peekay is especially lucky in that everywhere he goes, an uber-wise adult mentor will immediately take a liking to him and change his life forever (Peekay seems like a magnet for epiphanies).

Hoppie Groenewald is the second of Peekay's mentors in the novel. His philosophy - First with the head, then with the heart - is pretty darn powerful, and it's repeated verbatim like a gazillion times in the book. However, I'm drawn more strongly to another one of Hoppie's sayings, one that Courtenay probably put in as pseudo-intelligent filler:
Sometimes in life, doing what we shouldn't do is the emergency.
And then Hoppie proceeds to take Peekay's "emergency" shilling and gamble it off in a wrestling match. But the words are nice. What Hoppie says is probably what we all want to believe, what we all think we want to believe. We want to picture ourselves as the type to do brash and irrational things for fulfillment, to live "on the edge". We see that type of person as being "cool". But real life has proven that we simply aren't like that.

And in a way, the entire book's message - that the individual is capable of amazing things - is what we all want to believe. The book is all about the possibility of living meaningfully and happily even when fate seems to dictate otherwise. It's a book about hope.

Is there any hope? Our society devours potboiler mysteries and paranormal teenage romance. It's pretty funny. So maybe the mere fact that there are still people out there like Courtenay and Kingsolver writing books about resilience and individualism - that should be a cause for hope. All is not lost. And as Professor Karl "Doc" von Vollensteen says in the last few chapters of the book:
Absoloodle! We have no time to die, Peekay, the hills are still green and waiting. It is not yet time for the crystal cave of Africa.
Previous LCN Mondays:
Barbara Kingsolver: Animal Dreams (6/18)
Sharon Creech: Walk Two Moons (6/25) 
John Green, David Levithan: Will Grayson, Will Grayson (7/9)

No comments: