# Saturday, August 10, 2019

TropicOfCancerI don't really know how to take Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.

The novel is written in the first person and the narrator has the same name as the author. So, am I to believe that Mr. Miller was a sex addict and all his friends were sex addicts and misogynists?

The story follows Miller and his friends - mostly bohemian American expatriates - as they navigate the squalid neighborhoods of Paris searching for sexual partners, artistic fulfillment, and survival. Miller tries to embrace the pleasures of life, sleeping with a variety of prostitutes and other women; but it is a challenge. He doesn't know where his next meal is coming from; but he is still focused on finding his next lay. His wife recently left for New York and he wonders why she has not communicated with him in the months since her departure. He expects her return, but it seems unlikely she will.

Still, it's difficult to feel sorry for Miller and his friends, as their descriptions are littered with misogyny. Virtually, every woman in the novel is referred to as a "c*nt" and most exist only as sexual outlets for Miller and his friends. In one scene, Miller steals his money back from a prostitute when she leaves the room after they have sex.

Many will dismiss this novel because of its strong sexual content. The writing is salacious and often shocking. Many men spend their youths focused on sex; and a few, like Miller, extend this obsession into middle age and this is his and their story.

Although very sexual, I cannot call this writing erotic. At no point did I find myself aroused by the exploits of Miller and his friends.

The novel has an important place in the history of literature. Its explicit sexuality pushed a lot of boundaries when it was first published in 1934. And it was banned as pornographic in the United States for 3 decades, until a 1961 obscenity trial that escalated to the Supreme Court. It is also significant culturally. One can hear Miller's strong influence on the beat writers of the 1950s and 1960s - from his stream-of-consciousness prose to his rejection of society's norms to his casual and frank discussion of alcohol and drug abuse. 

And this book is important for the prose that Miller brings to his writing. Here is how he describes his adopted city:

"Paris is like a whore. From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms. And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. You feel tricked."

Tropic of Cancer is worth reading for its influence on literature and for its celebration of the joys of living.

Saturday, August 10, 2019 9:42:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
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