The Tropic of Cancer is the first of Henry Miller’s banned books of the 1930s to make landfall legally in the US, where its notoriety propelled it to number 5 on the 1961 bestseller list.
The book is presented as a memoir of an unnamed American ex-patriot in Paris in the years between the wars. He’s does some writing, some proofreading, and some teaching, but mostly he panhandles, boozes, and whores.
Millers’ narrator says the book is a “prolonged insult” to traditional values, but it won’t insult readers today. The “dirty words” that got the novel canned are simply part of Miller’s reportage. Today you’d hear the same language used with more enthusiasm in a middle school cafeteria, though Miller uses the terms with more precision than preteens.
The Tropic of Cancer has about as much story line as a grocery list. It is equally short on characterization.
There’s no denying Miller can write. The problem is that he nothing to say to today’s readers. Little shocks readers today, and too many other writers have shown the decay in our society in more interesting stories.
Bypass the Tropic of Cancer for pleasanter climes.The Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
Grove Press, 1961
My grade: C
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni