Title: Opus 21 (1949) (386 pages)
Author: Phillip Wylie
Summary: The story of a man who must wait through a weekend to find out if the lump in his throat is inoperable cancer. That isn’t included in the recipe for an action packed narrative but this book’s lack of events does not equate to a lack of substance. As a journey rooted in reality most of the mileage is dedicated to the protagonist managing relationships which he figures are soon to expire, a circumstance that leads to more than a few in-depth discussions about subjects even lifelong friends can go lifetimes without mentioning to each other. While discussions of morality abound I found the most riveting sections to be those dedicated to psychological and sexual analysis. There is a heavy tie-in to Carl Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious, as the story is set at a time when the ideas of Freud’s successor were sweeping across America; previous knowledge of the study is unnecessary to enjoy Opus 21 –I didn’t have it through my first reading- as Wylie does not hesitate to jump headfirst into any subject he bothers to introduce.
His enthusiasm for explanation does occasionally overwhelm; Wylie’s writing is clever because of brute force rather than craftsmanship. He employs an equal amount of meaningless and worthwhile words to take readers to his message, a trait that I’m sure he viewed as a commitment to detail. And to be fair, the over indulgence that is in one aspect a weakness is a strength elsewhere – the characters in this book are some of the most honest and thorough representations of humanity that I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Though perhaps they are too in touch with their inner-selves to be have been ripped straight from reality, I believe they nonetheless exist as a quality standard for use of creative license. Real feelings, from people as real as this writer was able to make them, customized to enhance the impact of a narrative. Opus 21 is the sum of many well thought out parts.
What kept me reading: The push past taboos. Wylie was brazen enough to name the protagonist after himself and is unstoppable as he forays into the forbidden. By arranging the few significant narrative happenings in the sphere of the world’s oldest yet most despised profession -prostitution- he forces his characters into trauma and battles that we, as readers, get to walk away from unscathed but imprinted all the same.
Recommended for: Aspiring psychologists and sexual deviants
Fun Fact: The smugness that wafts from this book makes you smell like secondhand smoke. Be careful reading around others.