Friday, October 09, 2009

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore


I’ve just finished Birds of America and Who Will Run, and would like to stand amended on my initial hesitation at Lorrie Moore's writing style.

The voice she uses everywhere in BoA is just extraordinary – I guess I’ve evolved from “who talks that way?” to “she talks that way and just sit back and wathc it work.” She’s outrageously funny to at almost all times – even her throwaway lines are burnished. “She didn’t mind Chicago. She thought of it as a cross between London and Queens, with a dash of Cleveland.” That’s from “Willing,” about the over-the-hill movie actress who moves back to Chicago from LA and starts dating an auto mechanic named Walt. “Which is More Than I Can Say about Some People” chronicles a trip to Ireland by a mother and daughter. The daughter’s marriage is failing, and she spends the vacation watching her elderly mother open up and try new things and show great signs of life.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin


This much-ballyhooed new novel from Colm Toibin is another purely perfectly-pitched narrative, but it did not hit me nearly as hard as his earlier novels, particularly The Master, Toibin's channeling of Henry James in a ficitional omniscient memoir.

The good things are great: Toibin feels more and more to me like a more sensitive Hemingway, his sentences are transparently clean and there is not a trace of authorial voice intrusion. Everything in the books sounds exactly like something thought or said by one of the characters. He writes small, perfect sentences, and they build up incredible incremental pressure within characters, eventually delivering powerful change.

America via New York via Brooklyn is lovingly rendered, as a real place, already grown in many ways and still growing. The novel's protganist, a young woman named Eilisa, emigrates to America at the urging of her beautiful, vivacious older sister Rose and their widowed mother, who are both anxious to do for Eilis what they can't do for themselves: fundamentally change their lives. And Eilis, passive, quiet and aching to please, accepts the mission, sufffering a perilous crossing and a lonely first year in a rooming house in Brooklyn, working as a "floor worker" at a large department store.

Byron in Love by Edna O'Brien


A beautiful, succinct, witty, knowing condensation of a jam-packed (if brief) love-life and life of letters. O'Brien sounds like she knew Byron personally, she is so skilled at linking and narrating the history of his affections. It drove me to read a full-length biography of Byron, Fiona MacCarthy's Byron: Life and Legend, which is also tremendous. Byron's bisexuality, his affair with his half-sister, his courting and finagling of royalty and near-royalty, all burst from this lovely book.

So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Stick by Elmore Leonard


Continue to love every Elmore Leonard title I've ever read. (Full disclosure: not true. Have had Pagan Babies on the bench for ages, started it at least twice, can't get traction. Exception proving rule?) Stick is the latest, an earlier title, published in 1983. Leonard's prose is less dialogue-laden than the later novels, there is more scene description, more narration of the interior state of mind of the protagonist, Earnest "Stick" Stickley. The setting is familiar Florida: Miami, South Beach, Fort Lauderdale. Stickley is familiar too: just sprung from jail, a bank-robber (of course!), this time determined to work a different beat, a different grift.