Steppenwolf - Basil Creighton, Hermann Hesse Steppenwolf came to me by way of a friend's dramatic drunken recommendation during a night at my very favorite bar. Passionately he insisted I read it and then, when perhaps I didn't seem interested enough, he proceeded to tell me all about it in the way that drunk folks do, by which I mean incoherently. Not exactly what I fancied discussing over my bloody Mary, but I went out the next day and tracked down a copy, anyway.

I'm glad I did, for I liked it. I didn't love it, this was in no way a life-changing read, but it certainly affirmed certain aspects of duality and personality in ways I could only dream of writing. Thought-provoking and at times intense, Hesse's story of the Steppenwolf is an earnest and eerily prescient read. (His descriptions of interwar Germany and the impending storm--one that hadn't yet hit at the time of the book's writing--is unnerving. When he used the word holocaust in reference to the oncoming disaster, I actually shuddered.)

As a tale of identity, self-examination, and humanizing influences, Steppenwolf is effective and moving. Or, to put it another way: this is the story of a man who never quite left the teenage angst behind. The entire book is heavy on the "Oh, I'm a special snowflake and my life is so difficult, so much more than everyone else's, and the world just doesn't understand!" There's a narrative reason for this and thus it didn't irritate me like normally it would, especially since its dead on. They didn't call it emo back in the days of Hesse, but still...emo. I offer this line to support my statement:

"...self-hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run breeds the same cruel isolation and despair."

Furthermore, and this is not a complaint, the only true, well-developed character is the Steppenwolf. Hermine, Pablo, Maria...they're all cardboard cutouts used only as contrasts to the Steppenwolf's views and as drivers of the plot and main character's final revelations. For a man so invested in his own brilliance and self-perceived difference from others, these one-dimensional presentations are appropriate and completely effective. He seems to view others only as he wishes to see them and interact with them only as he wishes to utilize them. Often they are devices to him, not necessarily living beings with depth and brilliance of their own.

Steppenwolf is like many of the most intelligent, deeply philosophical people I've had the pleasure of meeting: he's so busy having ideas and then having more ideas about those original ideas that, at some point, he's forgotten to actually live. Being inside your own head is fine, examining the world around you and searching for answers is a sign of an active mind, but eventually you have to get off your ass, go out in the world, and actually live, or none of those ideas and thoughts mean a damn thing. Brilliantly done on Hesse's part.

However...

Oh my word, this is a tad bit pretentious, isn't it? And when I say "a tad bit" I of course mean: holy hell, this is bloody fucking pretentious. The more smug college population and hipsters the world over must explode with joy upon discovering this one, no doubt carrying around a conspicuously placed copy to prove how "deep" they are. God help me, there were parts that nearly made me gag.

I understand this is a presentation of Hesse's philosophy. However, there are ways to expound upon philosophy without using huge chunks of the narrative to lecture the reader under the guise of guidance. If you want me to buy what you're selling, you probably shouldn't make my eyes glaze over in that "Oh my God, why are you still talking about this?" way. Seriously: I got it. Let's move on.

Overall a good read. Excellent questions are posed about human nature and if the answers even matter. Excruciatingly pretentious, which hurt its rating with me (would've been a four if he would've stopped repeating himself every five pages). If you're hardy and want to expand your horizons, I recommend reading Steppenwolf. If you read for fun and couldn't give a fuck less about the philosophical rantings of a dead man, then skip it. No one will blame you.