Point Break

by John J. Miller on July 30, 2010 · 4 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

The best book I read on summer vacation probably was The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of José Robles, by Stephen Koch. I generally prefer less edifying fare for trips to Michigan, but I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and we weren’t too far from Hemingway country. So it seemed appropriate and I dove in.

Koch describes a great literary friendship and its rupture over the politics of the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos, who would go on to become a contributor to National Review, comes off as a good and principled man. Hemingway was something else–a great character to write about, an even greater artist, but also a guy you wouldn’t leave alone in a room with your wife. Koch’s treatment is excellent. He is a perceptive critic and a good storyteller. I zipped through The Breaking Point as if it was the Michael Crichton book I nearly picked up in its place.

It turns out that Koch and I share an agent–a pleasing discovery I made in the acknowledgments to The Breaking Point. We’ve gone on to exchange a few emails. He hadn’t seen NR‘s list of great conservative novels, which includes one by Dos Passos.

I’m giving some thought to reading a lot of Dos Passos–i.e., to make a deliberate study of him. We’ll see about that. Koch’s book brought me a step closer to my own breaking point.

Here’s an image of Dos (on the far left) and Hem (on the far right).

  • Jim

    Dos Passos USA Trilogy is remarkable and it really captured my imagination in high school. Reading it as an adult, post- English & Law degrees, it struck me that he may have invented or even perfected a pastiche form of novel, interspersing song, poetry and current events in a novel that hops around between characters, settings and timeframes. Some of the Beats (like Kerouac) used similar techniques but not as well, and of course Tom Wolfe uses the technique masterfully. I’ve long viewed Dos Passos as the master artist of that generation and have wondered why Hemingway and lesser lights are so well remembered. Politics?

  • Lee Arten

    I read Dos Passos a long time ago.
    Didn’t connect with his writing as well as with Hemingway’s (or Kerouac’s for that matter.)
    Can’t really figure out why.
    I have re-read Hemingway’s short stories, with pleasure, many times but would not re-read Dos Passos unless I was paid to do so.
    Lee Arten

  • Kenneth

    I read Dos Passos in my early 20’s, after reading a paen to him by William F. Buckley. His USA Trilogy is masterful – an admixture of fiction, history and the politics of his era. At his peak, he was considered the greatest novelist of his day, but his turn away from radical Leftist politics to conservatism led to him being expunged by the literary Left.

  • martha mcdonough

    Thanks for the terrific suggestion! It’s certainly the best non-fiction of my summer reading! (Best fiction by far is Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn).

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