My go-to book is Jack London’s Call of the Wild, even though most people would call it either a short story or a novella. I disagree. It’s a man’s novel, and since men are economic with their words and choose them carefully, the book packs more punch than much longer works.
It’s not popular to enjoy the works of dead white men who wrote about men being men in unforgiving conditions where the protagonist either becomes stronger or dies. The decline in popularity, and the frequent downright derision of authors like London, Hemingway, Spillane, etc. from multiple fronts, has contributed to the overall feminization of men. Or as my wife puts it, “pussification.” I seem to remember hearing the term before, so I won’t take credit for creating it, even though it sounds fantastic when she says it. Maybe I’m biased.
There are more lessons on being a man in a single chapter of Call of the Wild than all the action movies ever filmed, with the exception of John Wayne, who is London’s film equivalent. I read the book about every five years, and each time, I take away something new I missed in the previous readings. I suspect that is the mark of great literature, even though it is often classified as what we call Young Adult today. I argue Call of the Wild is an instruction guide on being a man, with the follow-on of The Sea Wolf as the boy gets older.
Vampires, werewolves, Hunger Games, discovering your gay, not blaming yourself for the divorce/alcoholism/suicide/sexual abuse, and the assorted “Why doesn’t anybody like me” books just come up short for me. Yes, they are relatable. Yes, they offer coping skills. And yes, they offer a path to living in quiet acceptance of your circumstances. What they lack is the next step. Putting your crappy home-life behind you, kissing your mom goodbye, and going out to make the world your bitch. Then again, what do I know. I’m a neanderthal.
My brother disagrees with me. He postulates Call of the Wild takes me back to when our lives were simpler and our family happier. I agree, but that does not invalidate any of what I just said. I also know really smart people who should be able to look past the typically cartoonish cover art that invariably is put on and understand the depth of life lessons to be found in its pages. My only conclusion is those who fail to find these lessons are simply not open to them.
Jack London followed the writer’s advice of “write what you know.” He knew freezing, starving, and nearly dying in the Klondike. He knew working like a slave on a ship and on an assembly line. He knew drinking, brawling, and having life kick the tar out of him. And he buried the essence of these things in his writing.
Along with a few other select titles, I have forced all my boys to read Call of the Wild and quizzed them extensively on the contents just to make sure they weren’t putting me on. The Sea Wolf will be on the reading menu over Easter break. I will make men of them despite the best efforts of many who prefer a completely feminine world where boys are quiet, sit still, and don’t make a mess.
The final draft of L’homme Theroux is nearly complete, and I know my writing has been influenced by the likes of London, Spillane, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. It always has been. I make an effort not to copy or emulate their style because I strive for having my own voice, but pray I am able to capture the essence of life’s truths as well as they did.