Monday, December 02, 2019

Thirteen by Steve Cavanaugh


The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

If she seems sometimes to write the same novel again and again, it's never without something new and different -- and this one I find as affecting as any or her previous work.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Water Dance by Ta-Nehisi Coates

very slow beginning but gave it the benefit of my the doubt, because I enjoyed Coates non-fiction books so much.

But ultimately, closed the books after getting not even halfway through. He writes beautifully and grandly, but core elements of fiction -- distinctive characters, a compelling plot line -- are missing.

Coates seems to assume we are familiar with all of the usual stuff of slave narratives, and that he doesn't have to re-hash that. But the mystery at the core of the book -- what magical powers the narrator possess -- had still not been clear to me by page 150, and I have up trying to care.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Success by Martin Amis

One of my favorites of his, along with MONEY and EXPERIENCE. A little less excited after re-reading, though. His style remains breathless and brilliant and over the top. Much to love. But the incest and sex stuff is borderline icky.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Milkman by Anna Burns


Got through 150 pages, and thought it rather brilliant, if taxing. She reminds me of Beckett, but that, in the end, was what did me in.  Too hard.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck





Finally reading this, at age 58. My brother is incredulous that I did not read it in high school, as he thought everyone did. An incredible book. How can a 16 year old be expected to get anything out of it though?

Literally couldn't put it down, and it went fast.  Some of the "interlude" chapters are not as compelling, but the whole narrative has an intense pacing and compression, covering as it does a matter of weeks or perhaps a couple months. Deaths, desertions, still births.

Tom stood looking in. Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern was only a little lighter gray than the back- ground, The dress came down to her ankles, and her strong. broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin, steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong, freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her or it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone. (chapter 8)

They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know-and know the willow tree's not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there-that dreadful pain-that’s you. (chapter 9)

The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this. Only the tractor sheds of corrugated iron, silver and gleaming, were alive; and they were alive with metal and gasoline and oil, the disks of the plows shining. The tractors had lights shining, for there is no day and night for a tractorand the disks turn the earth in the darkness and they glitter in the daylight. And when a horse stops work and goes into the bam there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay* and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation. For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates; and the length of fiber in the cotton Is not the land. Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. The man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself. When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land. (chapter 11)

Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses; for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean— a week here? That rattle— that’s tappets. Don’t hurt a 1 bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along— can’t hear that— just kind of feel it. Maybe oil isn’t getting someplace. Maybe a bearing’s startin’ to go. Jesus, if it’s a bearing, what’ll we do? Money’s goin’ fast. (chapter 12)

And always, if he had a little money, a man could get drunk. The hard edges gone, and the warmth. Then there was no loneliness, for a man could people his brain with friends, and he could find his enemies and destroy them. Sitting in a ditch, the earth grew soft under him. Failures dulled and the future was no threat. And hunger did not skulk about, but the world was soft and easy, and a man could reach the place he started for. The stars came down wonderfully close and the sky was soft. Death was a friend, and sleep was death’s brother. The old times came back— a girl with pretty feet, who danced one time at home— a horse— a long time ago. A horse and a saddle. And the leather was carved. When was that? Oughta to find a girl to talk to. That’s nice. Might lay with her, too. But warm here. And the stars down so close, and sadness and pleasure so close together, really the same thing. Like to stay drunk all the time. Who says it’s bad? Who dares to say it’s bad? Preachers— but they got their own kinda drunkenness. Thin, barren women, but they’re too miserable to know. Reformers— but they don’t bite deep enough into living to know. No— the stars are close and dear and I have joined the brotherhood of the worlds. And everything’s holy— everything, even me.
(chapter 23)

the final haunting image, of Rose of Sharon who'd just lost her stillborn baby, breast-feeding the dying man in the blackened barn, with a smile on her face (chapter 30)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Chances Are... by Richard Russo

I'm a big fan of Russo, but this one was unsatisfying. For a thick book, it's awful thin.  Russo's characteristic irony and humor lack power. The plots twists in the second half are unsatisfying. The 1960s and early 1970s American culture is not really fleshed out. The three main males characters-- Teddy, Micky and Lincoln -- are thinly done, particularly Teddy. Jacy, their common love interest, isn't vivid to me. The real estate plot line-- part Howards End and part Richard Ford-- is also thin.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

underwhelming at first, but slowly gathers steam.  felt a little more researched (obviously) than The Underground Railroad.  In the end, though, it satisfies, through a neat and appropriate narrative trick of point of view.