The Underdogs

AzuelaThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his dark and psychological poems and short stories that have had an influence not only American literature throughout the world not only in literature but television and film. Yet while a number of Poe’s work has stood the test of time and made a large impression, a lot more expose stereotypical tropes and themes that repeat so much that they lose impact to the reader.

Before I go through the problems I have with Poe, I’m going to spend a little time praising his better pieces. “The Raven” is obviously the best known of Poe’s poetry and arguably his best, even though you’ve might have read it or heard it read before just reading it again makes you appreciate it before. The three Auguste Dupin short stories, the precursors to the detective genre, are wonderful reads in which Poe’s deductive reason is used well in written form to create fascinating mysteries and solutions. Although I could go on, the last story I will mention is “The Cask of Amontillado” which is a fantastic revenge story in which the narrator has no qualms with it afterwards.

Unfortunately this unrepentant narrator in “Amontillado” is unfortunately the exception to Poe’s trope of the narrator going crazy with guilt and admitting his crime which is featured in many stories Poe wrote. Along with a young woman always dying and premature burials, Poe’s writing is fraught with these tropes that after a while exhaust the reader with the almost predictable way a trope takes over a particular story to end with the same way. While these trope takeovers are discouraging, the tendency of Poe to begin a short story with a philosophical discourse only for the narrator to suddenly go off on a tangent (usually on a murder he committed) that had nothing to do with the discourse at the beginning. Frankly these literary quirks, or crutches, that Poe used throughout numerous compositions get tiresome while reading the entirety of Poe’s work and make one question his supposed literary greatness.

If you a true Poe fan, this complete collection of his tales and poems are for you. However, if you are someone who wants the best of Poe then avoid this complete collection and find a smaller collection that gives his best.

Story Ratings
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIII
Part XIV
Part XV

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Edgar Allan Poe (Part XV)

PoeEureka: A Prose Poem
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

An essay on, well I’m not really sure to be honest and that was the first issue. Poe reused his “Mellonta Tauta” piece at the beginning of the essay and then went from there using or making up scientific information on a piece entitled “A Prose Poem” that had no poetry and might have been an attempt at humor that unfortunately was too serious for that.

 

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Poe’s only novel was a bit of this and a bit of that, namely an adventure on the sea and exploring unknown regions. Think of this book as a “dime novel” sorta feel with the American hero smuggled on his friend’s ship only for said ship to have a mutiny then a counter mutiny complicated by the ship being hit by storms then slowly drifting and sinking before Arthur and one fellow sailor are picked up by a passing ship then begin exploring the Southern Seas and finding habitable lands close to the South Pole. Obviously then story trends towards quasi-fantasy today, but as an very old school adventure tale is as passable, but ended abruptly when Pym (whom Poe was writing for) dies with the manuscript incomplete.

Edgar Allan Poe (Part XIV)

PoeThe Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mesmerism is once again the focus as well as the transition from life to death, the narrator is a practitioner of the mesmerism and the titular character is the dying man who is mesmerized on the edge of death and stays like that for seven months before being taken out and his body decays rapidly.

The Sphinx
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while Poe springs a surprise by thinking he’s going to do down the same path with the only difference being the scenery when he twists things just at the end to make you enjoy the story though wishing he hadn’t waited until the end. The narrator’s eyes play tricks on him and makes him believe he’s going insane until his friend sets him straight.

The Cask of Amontillado
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This revenge classic is one of the highlights of the book, hardly any meandering for the narrator, just a plain straightforward story of a man getting revenge and never regretting it.

The Domain of Arnheim
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a piece on a garden and the wonder of nature, even if it is created by man, but the beginning is bogged down by a biography of the narrator’s friend who shaped it. If it had been a straight piece and a fantastical garden I would have enjoyed it more.

Mellonta Tauta
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A journal written a 1000 years in the future describes the person’s view of their present and what they think of the past, overall a nice little piece.

Landor’s Cottage
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A “sequel” to The Domain of Arnheim, frankly it was over the top and made me glad to see the end.

Hop-Frog
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fat dwarf jester, the titular character, gets his revenge on a King and his council after he embarrasses the jester’s only friend, his countrywoman who is also a dwarf.

Von Kempelen and His Discovery
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The narrator spends over half the piece talking about other people instead of Von Kempelen, but once he does we learn that the discovery was the philosopher’s stone and that value of lead and silver have increased as gold’s has decreased.

“X-ing a Paragrab”
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A newspaper starts up in a town with the editor attack the editor the rival established paper, who then retorts back. The new editor then works to make an excellent comeback but somehow the letter O is missing from the press and X is inserted instead making the comeback unintelligible. The public reaction is anger and the new editor is gone. All I can say is this was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t.

Edgar Allan Poe (Part XIII)

PoeThe Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An “autobiographical” account by Mr. Bob about how he began his literary career, which is basically Poe satirizing the American literary landscape of his time.

The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

After her husband does away with his law about killing his wives, Scheherazade begins telling the further adventures of Sinbad by describing things around the (then) modern world but the sultan can’t believe what he’s hearing and decides to kill her.  Honestly when you start reading, you know how Poe is going to end the story but the Sinbad tale is pretty well crafted.

Some Words with a Mummy
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A narrator gets a message from his friend that he is going to unwrap a mummy; the narrator accounts their progress when they decide to use a battery on him only it wakes him up. The mummy then proceeds to have a Q&A about the past and the present with the four men who unwrapped him.

The Power of Words
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Another afterlife dialogue, this time about God and creation, the few words about this the better.

The Imp of the Perverse
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A long introduction about phrenology before the narrator details killing someone and how it didn’t bother him until it does and he screams out his confession on a crowded street.

Edgar Allan Poe (Part XII)

PoeThe System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man visits a famed private insane asylum to learn about its “soothing system” from the asylum’s founder and director, but it turns out a new system is in place because the inmates (including the founder who went insane) have taken over the asylum. Although it was pretty obvious as the story went along that the inmates had taken over, it was somewhat humorous.

 

Mesmeric Revelation
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A conversation between a doctor and his mesmerized patient in which “the big questions about life, the universe, and everything else” are asked and given philosophical answers; couldn’t tell if it was a satire of the claims of mesmerism or a support, either way wasn’t impressed.

“Thou Art the Man”
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wealthy citizen of Rattlesborough disappears and his neighbor leads the investigation into his death which leads to the conviction of the man’s nephew who was thought about to be disinherited by his missing uncle. But the narrator of the story figured out something was wrong and investigate on his own, find the deceased man’s body down the neighbor’s well and springs a trap on the murderous fraud.

The Balloon-Hoax
My rating: 2.5 out 5 stars

An account of a crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, although obviously a fake it was a nice little story with made up scientific facts and such.

The Angel of the Odd
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A well-read businessman comes across an article about a man dying a odd way making him upset about the ridiculousness of newspapermen, which upsets the titular being that causes odd things to happen to people. The man insults the entity and then has a series of odd and humiliating incidents before apologizing to the entity to find relief. If the Angel of the Odd hadn’t been written with a heavy German accent making for slow reading, this would have been rated higher.

Edgar Allan Poe (Part XI)

PoeThe Spectacles
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A humorous story of a young gentlemen who “marries” his own great-grandmother because he doesn’t want to wear spectacles because of how they look, which is great-grandmother and his friend use to their advantage to play this ruse on him. Overall the story was meh, but I might have enjoyed it more if the ending hadn’t been ruined by the anthology’s introduction but I might have figured things out at the story’s beginning anyhow.

The Oblong Box
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man traveling by ship to New York from Charleston and discovers his artist friend is taking the same ship with his new wife and with his many rooms believes his friend has a fabulous new piece of art he has purchases. After unexpected delay, the ship sets off but the man’s friend was acting strange and his new wife was really beneath his standing but the man is happy to figure out his friend has a new piece of art in the large titular object that he has put in his room. It is only when a storm damages the ship that it begins sinking that the man discovers that his friend is obsessed with this box and dies with it only to later learn that it contained his actual wife. Another young woman who suddenly and tragically dies…at least it focused on what happens after.

The Tale of the Ragged Mountains
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man with a certain condition goes on his daily walk and takes longer than he usually resulting in his personal doctor and servants to worry and collect the man’s friends to help search for him. But the man returns just as they are about to set out and gives everyone a most enchanting-turn-morbid tale that nearly all the listeners believe was a dream, except a doctor who relates the man’s dream is exactly how his friend died in India. Within a week, the doctor’s patient simply falls over dead.

The Premature Burial
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Before reading this anthology of Poe’s work, the only person I knew from all my reading of not wanting to be buried prematurely was George Washington. The narrator of his story gives several “well known” incidents of premature burials with “happy” and “horrible” endings then proceeds to relate how he has a disease that makes it almost seem as if he has died if anyone who doesn’t know about it were to see him during an attack then relates his fear of being buried alive and measures he’s taken to survive. Young women tragically dying and premature burials, there is a reason Poe is stereotyped.

The Purloined Letter
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third and unfortunately last Auguste Dupin detective story finds the Prefect of the Paris Police coming in search of Dupin’s aid. A letter has been taken by a Minister from a young royal woman that has given him significant political influence by just having it while not admitting he has it, the Prefect has been asked to recover it but after investigating the Minister’s home every night for a month hasn’t been able to find it. After Dupin tells him to investigate the entire home again, the Prefect returns shaking his head when Dupin gets the man to pay him his share of the reward money then gives the Prefect the letter. After the Prefect leaves without asking how Dupin got it, his unnamed friend (the narrator) asks how and Dupin gives his analysis of where the Minister would have hidden it then how he got it. While not as good as Rue Morgue, this story was significantly better than Marie Roget and sadly the last time we’ll see Dupin.