Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The last page of summer

The System of the World by Neal StephensonA few days ago my summer reluctantly concluded on page 887 of "the big honkin' novel", also known as The System of the World: Volume Three of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. After roughly 2,600 pages and several months of immersion in his intricate and lavishly wrought world, drifting up to present day North America took a while. I am both sated and longing for more. I suppose I have a mild case of literary withdrawal!

In one word, the vehicle by which the third volume melds love, power, philosophy, and related justifications is coinage; the gold, English kind in particular. It's a fascinating subject, as is the period vocabulary that sent me to the OED more than a few times, such as viz., phizz, and phant'size. Frankly, the author is a big tease. For example, Jack invades the Tower of London and opens a box. It's highly entertaining, but where are all those men coming from? Why is he doing it? What's the big deal? Answers only come later and gradually. Near misses, hidden flaws, and the fickle finger of Fate definitely add interest and realism to the mix. (For a more lucid description, read the publisher's synopsis.)

I wouldn't say the surviving characters live happily ever after, but they do seem to achieve an equilibrium of sorts, at least long enough for a final peek into their lives. I imagine I could feel the accumulation of memory and time around each of them. In the last pages you can hear a distant growl from the approaching Industrial Revolution. Just think what Neal Stephenson could do with that era! Considering that we last saw the Shaftoe boys from the rear as they ran for the hills, we might some day be able to do more than wonder.

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