Title: Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking
Author: Scott Navicky
Publisher: Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP)
February 17, 2014
I received a copy of this book from CCLaP in exchange for my honest review.
Find it on the CCLaP website.
I don’t even know how to begin describing this book on my own, so I’m going to borrow a part of its description from the CCLaP website:
Humboldt is a “horticulturally dyslexic” farmboy with an eighth-grade education and a penchant for perpetually misunderstanding, misreading, and misinterpreting the world. When his father’s farm is threatened with foreclosure, Humboldt is forced to save it by enrolling in college, leading him on an epic absurdist adventure through Washington politics, New York performance art, Boston blue-bloods, post-Katrina New Orleans, multiple murders, and holy resurrections.
Note the phrase “absurdist adventure.” Whatever you’re imagining, make it twice as absurd, at least. I couldn’t fathom what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book. I was reminded of Candide, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the naiveté of Don Quixote, and maybe even a bit of Monty Python. Sometimes I lost my bearings and wasn’t sure I knew or trusted my perception of what was happening in the book. I’d come out of a passage and think, What the heck just happened?! Did I accidentally ingest a psychotropic?! Wow. It’s pretty fierce when a book can take you away like that.
If you don’t already enjoy satire, there’s a possibility this might not be the book for you. I love satire, but my comfort level was stretched. Really far. And I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure I could hang. I’m glad I did though, because there is so much awesome in this book. There were times I found myself laughing, while simultaneously feeling utterly horrible for laughing and honestly thinking deeply about the points being made. Such an odd experience!
I ended up reading through Humboldt more slowly than I wanted to due to work-related responsibilities, and that ended up being a good thing. Humboldt’s interpretations of his world and experiences stayed with me longer than they otherwise would have (because I really just wanted to devour the novel), and there’s a lot to mull over in each chapter. I can definitely see myself reading this again, maybe even multiple times over, and discovering something new each time through.
Navicky’s writing style and the way he tinkers with the English language is playful and terribly clever. Combined with Humboldt’s wild, crazy adventure, this makes for a fun, off-the-wall read that challenges the intellect, amuses, yet never panders to the reader’s comfort zone.
. . . And just in case you tend to fret over the possibility of having missed a reference, CCLaP will be offering a free annotated edition on its website once the book is released. Enjoy!