Friday, December 6, 2013

Honey in the *&%@)#! Horn

I must express my deepest and most heartfelt congratulations to H. L. Davis for the accomplishment that is his 1936 Pulitzer-winning novel, Honey in the Horn. It is officially the worst book I've ever read. And I've read a lot of books, so that's really saying something. Congratulations, sir!

When I decided to start this project I was not expecting to read so many terrible books. The Magnificent Ambersons was bad, Arrowsmith was worse, but Honey in the Horn takes the cake. I cannot believe how many 4- and 5-star ratings it has on Goodreads. It took me three months to slog my way through these 390 pages. I almost quit on several occasions. But I'm stubborn and I knew that Gone With the Wind was waiting for me once I finished, so yesterday with 65 pages to go I made a pot of coffee and sat at my dining room table and told myself I wasn't stopping until I reached the end.

Set in the early 1900s in Oregon, Honey in the Horn is the story of a spineless kid of low integrity and lower intelligence named Clay Calvert. Clay's 'Uncle' Preston (who is actually his step-grandfather) convinces Clay to commit a sort-of crime against his son, Wade (who is actually Clay's stepfather), and things go predictably wrong. Clay decides to flee like a coward and for the next 350 pages or so he wanders all over Oregon and bumps into all kinds of people. He kind of falls in love and does several different jobs - the specifics of each are described in excruciating detail - and at one point he accidentally kills someone and then pins the incident on Wade who is then put to death for it, so really he kind of accidentally-on-purpose kills his own stepfather.

The wandering-and-bumping-into-people device reminded me a lot of many other books, Don Quixote and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn especially, except unlike Mark Twain, a good writer, Davis can't pull it off. Every character is one-dimensional and boring, all the situations in which they meet feel contrived and unnatural, he is utterly un-funny, and he fails to create a single compelling situation to engage the reader on behalf of his protagonist. I just didn't care about Clay or anyone he met or anything he did. Also, Davis is clearly racist and his stereotypical portrayals of the different groups of native people grew tiresome early on.

I found another Pulitzer blog and I'm sharing a link to the post about Honey in the Horn because it pretty much exactly mirrors my feelings for the novel. He is more eloquent in his critique and summary than I am, largely because my irritation at having wasted three months of my time reading this garbage is still too strong.

Over that three months that elapsed between the moment I first opened Honey in the Horn and the moment I finally closed it for good I had many opportunities to tell people what a terrible book it was and how annoyed I was at having to read it. Talking about why the book was awful caused me to spend some time thinking about the other side of the coin - what makes a book 'good' to begin with? The answer to that question probably varies a lot depending on the person; for my part I need complex characters, an interesting problem to tackle, and vivid, descriptive writing that makes me laugh out loud or scowl or cry. To that end, a tragic love story never hurts. So it's a good thing that Gone With the Wind is next. A book I read and loved when I was twelve. Hopefully I'll still love it twenty years later. Save me, Margaret Mitchell, save me!

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