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You Can't Go Home Again Paperback – Jul 23 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 23 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060930055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060930059
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #720,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

“Wolfe wrote as one inspired.  No one in his generation had his command of language, his passion, his energy.”  --Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker


You Can’t Go Home Again will stand apart from everthing else that [Wolfe] wrote because this is the book of a man who had come to terms with himself, who was on his wa to mastery of his art, who had something profoundly important to say.” –New York Times Book Review
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Thomas Wolfe was born on October 3, 1900, among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina, a childhood which he immortalized through the creation of Eugene Gant, the hero of Look Homeward, Angel (1929). Wolfe enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the age of fifteen, determined to become a playwright, but despite the success of his college productions, and later, the plays he wrote during his studies at Harvard University's renowned 47 Workshop, he was unable to interest professional New York producers in his work.

Fearing penury and professional failure, Wolfe was encouraged to turn to the writing of fiction full-time by Aline Bernstein, a set designer for the New York Theatre Guild, with whom Wolfe carried on a five-year affair (and who appears in Wolfe's fiction as the Esther Jack character in The Web and the Rock (1939) and Of Time and the River .) Scribner's legendary Maxwell Perkins was the only editor to appreciate Wolfe's freshman effort, Look Homeward, Angel, and after extensive revisions and collaborative editing sessions, the novel was published in 1929. The largely autobiographical book was received with unequivocal enthusiasm. The residents of Asheville, however, the real-life denizens of this "drab circumstance," rebelled against Wolfe's often scathing portrayal of his hometown. The public outcry was so great that Wolfe did not return to his hometown for seven years.

Rewarded with commercial success and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wolfe wrote a second autobiographical saga about the life of Eugene Gant, Of Time and the River , in which Eugene, an aspiring novelist, details his travels to Europe. This time, the critics were torn. Wolfe's apparent formlessness was both a constant source of delight and frustration to critics, many of whom felt that Wolfe was pioneering new literary ground, while others insisted that the overweening passion inherent in Wolfe's rambling narratives betrayed the author's immaturity and solipsism.

Furthermore, Wolfe's intimate collaboration with his editor, Perkins, were often derided by contemporaries, who insisted that Wolfe's inability to master novelistic form without significant editorial assistance rendered him artistically deficient. The rancorous extent of the criticism led to Wolfe's eventual break with Perkins, and in 1927, Wolfe signed with Edward C. Aswell at Harper. Yet Aswell had no less significant a role in reshaping and trimming Wolfe's future works than Perkins did previously.

The early part of 1938 found Wolfe in Brooklyn, this time writing with a new social agenda. Agreeing with some of his critics that his earlier work was indeed too egocentric, Wolfe rechristened Eugene Gant as George "Monk" Webber, and embarked on writing a new novel dedicated to exploring worldwide social and political ills. This mammoth undertaking, after gargantuan editorial efforts on the part of Aswell, would be published posthumously, and as two novels, The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940), as well as The Hills Beyond (1941), a collection which contained short fiction, a play, and a novella. Wolfe's development as a novelist was truncated by his sudden death at the age of thirty-eight, yet the progression of his novels showcases Wolfe's ever-evolving capacities as a writer. Navigating his way from self-obsessed chronicler of his own adolescence to sophisticated assessor of the adolescence of America itself, Wolfe was a writer who grew up in step with the country that both made him and maddened him. He died in 1938..


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was the hour of twilight on a soft spring day toward the end of April in the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden on Sept. 27 2003
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Wolfe's book "You Can't Go Home Again" is undeniably an immortal American classic. What is truly impressive and unique about Wolfe's writing is not only the intuitive incisiveness with which he articulates human thought and emotion; but just as astonishing, is his ability to articulate these things with utter and precise clarity.
There is not one sentence in his book that does not make total sense upon first reading. If it seems not to, it is only because the reader has skipped a line. With a vocabulary that is vast, but which he uses with unique precision, Wolfe tells the story of George Webber, a writer, who is in essence, Thomas Wolfe, the writer. Wolfe ultimately sees himself as an artist that is an observer of human thought and action. But in addition, one that has an obligation to do what one can, to stamp out ugliness, violence, injustice, inhumanity, and so many other wrongs that rear their heads in society from time to time.
Yet, even with this extraordinary brilliance, clarity, and understanding of the human condition, like all great writers and great artists, he leaves the reader with a question. If clearly, it is his understanding of his personal duty, his personal philosophy to work to do what one can do, to end injustice, then why, is he, personally, always running away? As the book is a picture of one always on the move, always observing people, always changing venue, but wisely with great proficiency and efficacy, storing these experiences away as he seeks his understanding of the human condition; he is constantly yet on the move. And so, how does one work to stamp out injustice, if one is always running from the place he is at, and believes "He can't go home again?" This then becomes the challenge to the reader as well.
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Format: Paperback
There's little doubt that Thomas Wolfe was a good writer, but he wasn't a good storyteller, a fact made abundantly clear through the long, winding, often pointless tangents he embarks upon in You Can't Go Home Again. There are times when Wolfe covers years in a couple of pages and others where he spends six chapters describing one evening in New York, which gives the whole story the jarring motion of riding in a car with someone who's never driven before. Some of the tangents, like detailing the lives of Esther Jack's servants or describing the mythical C. Green who jumps off a building, have little meaning to the story and could have been left out entirely without damaging the piece.
This is what I mean by Wolfe is a good writer, but not a good storyteller. There's no technical fault with his writing, but it lacks the focus, the cohesion of a good story; it attempts to tackle everything instead of focusing on one or two key issues. I suppose part of this problem was that by the time the book was published, Wolfe was dead from TB--the book was assembled by his editor from tons of notebooks--and the editor did the best he could to create a unifying thread by trying to make it about George Webber's journey to enlightenment. Although the problem is that the story ends up being a gigantic "come to realize story" because it isn't clear what, if anything, Webber is going to do now that he's unlocked the secrets of the universe.
The learning and changing occurs within Wolfe's own mind, spewed out in the last 5 chapters as a letter to his former editor. As I said, though, what action he plans to take is unclear.
There were parts of this book that were interesting, flashes of brilliance.
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Format: Paperback
"You Can't Go Home, Again" is really not so much a work of fiction as an autobiography in which the names of characters have been changed. Wolfe seemed unapologetic about the baldly autobiographical nature of his work. However, some may perceive his autobiography as evidence of a certain lack of creative reach and an aversion to creative risk-taking on his part. Wolfe's life was so deeply and richly lived in a relatively short period and so lyrically written that his autobiography reads as vibrantly as fiction. There are moments when Wolfe is brilliant and dazzling in describing moments of almost biblical epiphany. I suppose it's a good thing for Wolfe that he dove so deeply into his own life as it was tragically brief but intensely experienced and elegantly articulated: he managed to cram a great deal into his short lifespan. Wolfe reads quite a bit like Proust and in this novel the sentences in some places are nearly as long as the syntax of Proust. Wolfe could well be considered the Proust of the American South. Writers will especially value this work and it pays to read to the end as Wolfe's last novel is particularly revealing in its power and optimism and lyricism at its close: "What befalls man is a tragic lot. There is no denying this in the final end. But we must deny it all along the way. Mankind was fashioned for eternity." In the end Wolfe finds a comfortable home upon a promontory point in America's literary landscape. To understand the life of the writer in America at the outset of the 20th century during a Golden Age for the novel I recommend this worthy and enduring gem of that era.
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