A Moment in the Sun is John Sayles new, monstorous epic that captures the American moment of imperialist expansion. Running from 1897-1902, it focuses on the the coup in Wlmington NC, the Yukon gold rush, and staged U.S. wars in the Philippines and Cuba. It runs 935 pages and alternates between gripping, confusing and blah.
There are few women characters in it and none that are developed- Sayles tells only of a man's man's world then and the presence of women solely from the sidelines seems a real loss. I think the character of Hod and his story has proven the most compelling so far- his story of entering the gold rush fields in the Yukon starts the book and has the feel of both an old rip-roaring yarn and a modern, psychological short story. I'm less interested in /able to follow clearly the war in the Philippines (This may not bode well for apparently the war in the Phillippines is also the topic of Sayles's next film, Amigo. On the other hand, I can also imagine that this section would work much better on film. It's confusing because it's hard to track- who is who and where everyone is is important but not easy for me to picture.)
What I love about the novel is the language- each section does has a unique feel and sound (although there is also a monotony at times to all the war speak) and most of the language is rich, exotic, and beautiful. I think too few authors try for big anymore and I appreciate that Sayles has. It's a joy to lose yourself in a novel for an hour and know that you still have hours of story to unfold before you. We mostly get that kind of temporal displacement from TV series now, which may partially explain the popularity of shows like The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men. There's a great joy from getting outside yourself and living in another place, time, and mind. Perhaps it's Sayles work as a filmmaker and writer that allows for him to imagine this grand a stage. A Moment in the Sun is one of the few new books that, like Ulysses, allows for temporal and psychological displacement in such an extended manner.
What I would like to steal from this book is its bigness and grandiosity. Too few writers go big anymore and I want to bring back the big topic, big line, big book, big ambition. What I admire most is what feels like the accuracy of the language. I know how hard that is in a poem- to tackle it in almost 1000 pages of prose seems amazing. I'm neither a huge fan or hater of Sayles's film work, although The Secret of Roan Inish is one of my favorite films to watch. But I like the way his interest in a variety of mediums talks to each other here. A Moment in the Sun argues for the importance of reading, watching, and listening widely.