Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review:: Brokeback Mountain

Even though I haven't seen the movie based on this story, I still knew what the book was about. It's hard to not know, since this story and the movie caused quite a stir for a while. The book has permeated pop culture so much that even if you just watch a couple of episodes of Family Guy, you can get the gist of the tale: two cowboys, Ennis and Jack, fall in love. And cowboys aren't supposed to do that sort of thing.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is a short story and it moves fast. One moment the men are discussing sheep and the next moment they are gettin' it on and you find yourself into the meat of the story already and you've only read 14 pages. Which I love. I hate short stories that seem to drag and then end abruptly and I'm left trying to figure out what I just read. This short story had a definite, albeit abbreviated, beginning, middle, and an end.

The book itself is very well written and the author seems to have a clear grasp of what cowboys are like. My main problem? I don't like cowboys and the whole culture that surrounds them. I don't like the tough guy who always maintains this macho exterior, especially if it serves to perpetuate a stereotype. I had very little sympathy for these two men who never talked about what went on between them other than to say things like, "I'm not no queer" or "Me neither. One shot thing. Nobody's business but ours."

I didn't find either of the main characters all that likable. Jack married just for money, and while Ennis seemed to have liked his wife Alma at one time, he doesn't show a lot of interest in providing for their children and he has no respect for Alma's feelings. He even insists on doing things in the bedroom that she has clearly stated she hates. There is a particularly haunting passage in the book when Alma asks Jack to wear a condom because she doesn't want another pregnancy. When Jack refuses, she thinks to herself, "anyway, what you like to do don't make too many babies." It was really painful to read how Jack's fear and hatred of himself caused him to hurt the ones he had committed to love and care for.

I'm not going to reveal the ending here but I will say that at first I felt it was rather predictable. But after some thought, I think that given the time and place that these two men lived, the love story could really have ended only one way.

Although I didn't really like the two main characters, I admit I wouldn't want to be in their shoes and be faced with dealing with certain emotions and feelings that are considered unacceptable in the cruel world they live in. I loved the story and I think it's sticking with me much more than I thought it would. It's incredibly layered and sad and ultimately much more complex than just two cowboys in love.


Dawn said...

I havent read the book but I did watch the movie (alone). I really thought the actors did a great job at portraying the characters. It was incredibly sad.

veronica said...

i haven't read the book, but i liked your review. I kind of giggled like a middle schooler when you said "meat."

Dawn said...

So add it to the queue!

Can you tell I'm avoiding housework.......?

Aleta said...

I didn't see the movie and I don't plan on reading the book. I appreciated your review though - Thanks! I just wouldn't want to read about the cruelty, of their own emotions and towards the women in their lives.

Daphne said...

I read this last year too -- I liked the story. My mom's side of the family is pure Oregon cowboy, so I'm completely familiar with the cowboy side of things (which is not to say that I love the redneck developments which tend to occur alongside cowboy culture). I read some of the other short stories that were in the book with Brokeback Mountain and didn't love them. However, the movie is beautiful and painful and worth watching. I cried and cried.

Nowheymama said...

Ditto what Dawn said. I'd be interested to read the story.

Hotch Potchery said...

I had no interest in reading it (and I haven't seen the movie) until your review. I think I will put it on my to read list.

Tammie said...

dawn: i may add it to the queue. although i dont know if jay would be all that interested in it.

avoiding housework? what else is new? ;)

veronica: its funny because when i first typed it out i didnt really catch that Freudian slip but as i was rereading it i wondered if i should change my wording. but now everytime i look it at i read it in a very beavus/butthead type voice.

daphne: i was hoping someone who had both read the book and seen the movie would comment....ive heard that in the movie their affair is more tender and loving and i didnt quite get that from the book, until maybe the very end. also, i read a couple of movie reviewers who said that the characters are clearly bisexual but i didnt see that either. from the book it seems as if neither of them are very interested in women, but feel they need to put up the appearance of being interested. in fact alma even complains how ennis comes to bed every night and just rolls over and faces the wall. anyway, your thoughts?

Daphne said...

I didn't get that they were bisexual-- but I think the whole sexual-orientation continuum is more flexible than people want it to be, anyway. I think they are both mostly drawn to men, but need to fulfill a more traditional role in society as cowboys, so they married because that's what you do. Probably they care about their wives but are not into them sexually, or maybe just a little bit of a spark that faded over time, as they remained mostly drawn to men (and each other). Perhaps they are not a total Kinsey 6 -- but again, I think lots of people are more flexible in their own sexuality than we like to think. But that's just my opinion.

The movie was beautifully filmed and you got more of an idea of how their relationship developed. Lots of things went unspoken, which is more easily conveyed in film than in a story. It was incredibly moving. It was definitely a love story.

Tammie said...

daphne: thats definitely how i saw it too. i thought that maybe jack was more obviously gay than ennis, because it's sort of hinted at that he had relationships with other men. but i also think that ennis got married young (at 19 or 20 i think) and that had he grown up in a different time or different place, he probably would never have married alma. ultimately though i felt like their love was just more for each other than it was for a specific gender.

speaking of Kinsey...have you ever the movie with Liam Neeson?

Penny said...

I typically don't like movies, but I saw that one and liked I want to read the book too!

Betts said...

I read the book before I saw the movie. Great review! You really captured the crux of the book.

Dani said...

I haven't read it or seen the movie.

And not because I'm homophobic.

There are only so many movies/books I can see about tortured love. I went with Twilight.

hester said...

This was a great review, Tammie. I reckon you could earn some money doing this and speed up your move out of Florida!

I loved the movie and the book except I didn't like the way Heath Ledger(whom I normally love) talked with his mouth closed. That seemed artificial to me, but then, I don't know any American cowboys (only Australian jackeroos). I thought the ending was heartbreaking. In the end, love is love, hey?

Layrayski said...

judging from your review then your comment to daphne is true. they were tender with each other. it made me cry so I try not to dwell on the movie too much. But I like the movie.

Karmen Vilkr said...

Hello Veronica,
I'm now doing some research for my final paper of a course. My prof asked us to pick a random novel and to elaborate my opinions on it. I picked up Brokeback Mountain.

This is my favourite novel. I've read it for more than five times and each time I see the struggle and break-up, depending on how I have been through something that time. I'm especially curious about why Ennis married Alma. What was he thinking about marriage, if he couldn't marry Jack, his companion? And also, what was Jack thinking?

Glad to know that so many people also love Brokeback Mountain :))

From Karmen, Taichung, Taiwan