After three nights of sleeping on my grandparents' couch and twelve hours spent in airplanes and terminals, I finished Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men. It is a revelation, and I feel oddly disinclined to wonder why; I'm reminded of Rorty's words in The Inspirational Value of Great Literature (an essay that I have repeatedly critiqued in my own writing, and a piece that merits your reading and its own post).
"If it is to have inspirational value, a work must be allowed to recontexualize much of what you previously thought you knew; it cannot, at least at first, be itself recontextualized by what you already believe. just as you cannot be swept off your feet by another human being at the same time that you recognize him or her as a good specimen of a certain type, so you cannot simultaneously be inspired by a work and be knowing about it. Later on-when first love has been replaced by marriage-you may acquire the ability to be both at once. But the really good marriages, the inspired marriages, are those which began in wild, unreflective infatuation."
So I will limit my analysis to a hefty admission of inspiration and a small dose of reflection. Reading a novel like this is like wending through a museum when you only have an hour: You race to see the masterpieces, but you're paralyzed by the things you pass along the way. You're awestruck by works you've only seen imitated before, astonished by feats you've never imagined.