Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Big Bang by David Bowman

Sort of amazing monumental book.  What he's done is take a cast of historical characters from 1950 to 1963 (but with generous casts in time before and after, to establish some history and to layer more irony by reporting on the future), all of which characterizing is eventually pointing at November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

These charcters include JFK and Jackie Kennedy, Aristole Onasis and Jackie's sister, Richard Nixon, the Vietnamese political and military leadership, Howard Hunt, the erstwhile CIA misadventur who eventually bumbled into Watergate, authors like William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller and his wife Marilyn Monroe, noted baby doctor and author Benjamin Spock and his wife, TV personality Ed Sullivan.  And literally dozens more.

He builds richly detailed personal lives for all these historical characters.  Some of it sounds like it's actually historically true, but this seems to become less and less important the more richly detailed the interior lives become.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Intriguing true-crime ish novel, abounding with details about the Kamatchka peninsula in the Russian Far East.

two girls go missing in the first chapter, and we don't see or hear from them until the final chapter.  in between, over the course of the year, we do submerge deeply into lives of a dozen or so residents whose lives have been touched by the girls' disappearance in small and larger ways. the isolation, the hopelessness, the hope, the national and ethnic frustrations of these people are bracingly delivered by Julia Phillips piercing, empathetic prose.

Recommended.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

another good one. it's not enough for the novel to cover a menage a trois between two humans and a robot, a buried crime involving rape, murder and a non-rape.  It also contains an intellectual and ethical history of the development of robotics and computers, an alternate history of the 20th century that includes the survival of Alan Turing, JFK and the defeat of Reagan in 1980, as well as an alternate conclusion to Britain's Falkland Islands gambit.

hard to put down. some of the plot machinations seems a bit facile and quickly-established, and I could do without McEwan's constant interlude marker ("and then we made love") but hard to argue with a novel that does so much in so little space.