"Tropic of Cancer" opens on a grungy note as the narrator discusses the lice infestation of his friend's armpits. Early on the narrator promises that this will not be a polite book: "This is libel, slander, defamation of character [...] a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art." Miller largely succeeds to deliver on this promise. The book is full of profanity, and there are frank discussions of sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and other such topics.
The book has a crude charm and energy throughout, even though at times the prose seems wildly self-indulgent. Miller depicts Paris as a magical place, a pilgrimage site for artists and wanderers. The narrator often reflects on writing and literature in general, and on his own artistic goals and theories in particular. There is also reflection on America and American identity. Miller's prose sometimes attains a Whitmanesque revelatory quality.
To me the main question about this book is thus: Is it merely an important historic artifact, or does it still sing as a work of living literature? My own reply to this question: the book does still sing, delivering (to quote the book itself) "bloated pages of ecstasy slimed with excrement." If you like it, also check out the writing of Charles Bukowski.
"With bubble words: adorabubble, irresistibubble, delectabubble. Bus signs that said transportabubble. Shop signs that said availabubble. Trade ads that said profitabubble. I invented it because the guy I was working with had a stammer. We were sitting in a room trying to think of an idea and said, 'It's fucking impossibubble.' It was my one genuine lightbulb moment." The Gaurdian, October 2002.
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