Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

A brilliant book about war.  I was slow to warm up to Kevin Power's prose, as it is knotty and cerebral, we follow the narrator's complicated thoughts of guilt, complicity,choice and mortality, as he struggles to find meaning in memory of his Iraq tour, the death of his friend Murph, the strength and ferocity of their leader, Sergeant Sterling.  But the last fifty pages or so really tightened for me and I was left astonished, saddened and uplifted at the same time.

The rest is history, they say.  Bullshit, I say.  It's imagination or it's nothing, and must be, because what is created in this world, or made, can be undone, unmade; the threads of a rope can be unwoven.  And if that rope is needed as a guideline for a ferry to a farther shore, then one must invent a way to weave it back, or there will be drownings in the streams that cross our paths.  I accept now, though in truth it took some time, that must must be its own permission.

This sort of consciousness, a voice searching for moral reason and ethical sense and metaphysical reassurance, is dense on every single page of the novel.  And at the same time, constantly present in his prose, beautiful, vivid, haunting concrete physical description of two worlds -- Iraq, and rural southern Virginia -- that never ever meet and yet somehow, in Power's vision, are fused, confused, refused, and unresolved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Her stories seems shorter and more obscure to me suddenly.

This is How You Lose Her: Stories by Junot Diaz

Not very moved by this collection of stories.  Following Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies might just be too much a task for a human.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

The staggering achievement of Hilary Mantel's most recent novels about Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII of England can not be exaggerated.

The emotional sweep of Cromwell's inner life, the historical intricacy of the cultural and economic moment of the time period, and how that moment defines and limits hundreds of major and minor characters from the era:  all are utterly unique.  Certainly, Mantel cites sources and has talked about the importance of several texts -- the same core history that Shakespeare essentially mines for his history places -- in creating the narratives, but what she has done in imagining the time from Cromwell's point of view is a triumph of poetry and wit and dramatic tension.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Toibin is a beautiful devious prose writer:  his sentences begin simply and keep going, becoming more like whole paragraphs or even pages, multi-layered narration and impression and character organically blending.

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

The Passage meets Clockwork Orange meets Ulysses meets Road Warrior meets The Gangs of New York.  Stunning book.  Poetry via fiction.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


Big Ray by Michael Kimball

Flat, unaffected, declarative sentences and paragraphs, no chapters, structure partitioned by an asterisk centered alone a line. First person narration, son recalling his father's death and troubled relationships, starting from hearing about the father's death, working back in the past to his father's earliest days, and moving forward a bit to narrator and sister arranging for memorial service.

The narrative was interesting at most -- Big Ray, the father, grows into a 500-pound, abusive, damaged and damaging father.  His marriage crumbles, secrets of his physical, emotioned sexual abuse of his children and wife slowly leak out.

I was curiously unmoved.  Found the unaffected delivery wearying and deadening over time.