Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

What to say about this exalted book?  Enormous, sweeping, gifted, culturally alluring, multi-dimensional, thickly embroidered, each page is chock-full of surprising language, unique turns of phrase, stunning metaphor.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say by Anthony Madrid

Astonishing debut poetry collection.  Riotously cross-cutting, astonishingly leaping.

Never in my life have I laughed so riotously at a Table of Contents alone.  A sampling: "In hell the units are the gallon and the fuck," "I used to manically slick my hair back," "No more epigrams against slaves," "Heaven help the right-handed man who has had his right hand cut off," "I too have been to Candyland," "Jam me in hot hell," "All my life I've been told you must take the baby from the crocodile," "Now that I know I am to be destroyed by a seventeen-year-old girl," "If I am a total washout as a love (and I am)," "Fuck Buddha I'm Buddha Nobody's Buddha quit talking about Buddha."


The unit of wine is the cup.  Of LOVE, the unit is the kiss.  That's here.
In hell, the units are the gallon and the fuck.  In Paradise, the drop and the glance.

Here's a twenty-year-old girl with a red collared blouse, tight jeans and the rest of it.
She is not the promised earth, for the EARTH is a fat woman wearing a jungle.

She made a little Baby Jesus and put it in an owl's nest; 
Now she wants to set it afloat, but we say no...

 "Anthony, what can this mean? This language amazes me."
It means I wish I could give you a daughter exactly like yourself.

I am reading Sara Teasdale, whose joys were only three:
Caress; create; and gape at mindless nature. 

Whoever reads more than a dozen ghazals at a time will be over-stimulated.
After a certain number of hits, one is simply wasting a precious drug.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Warn

A pretty amazing book.  Set 10 days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the novel is narrated by a teenage girl living with her impoverished family (three brothers and father) in low-lying predominantly black and poor Bois Sauvage, Mississippit.  Dramatically centered around her older brother Skeetah's pit bull China giving birth and the childrens' struggles to keep the puppies alive, the narrative soon deepens as fifteen year old  Esch realizes she is pregnant.  She is also obsessed with Greek mythology and reads and dwells upon the story of Medea and Jason, as the family struggles to prepare for the storm, her father is grievously injured, her youngest brother Junior grieves for their dead mother, and her oldest brother Randall attempts to free the family from some of their poverty in his high school basketball career.

Lots going on in this dense, quick book.  The heroine, Esch, is unique and forceful in her narration.  Her brothers are tough and yet enduringly kind to her and to each other.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

Five (apparently interlinked) stories across 150 years or so.  Liked each individually, but didn't feel like the connections.  He can write a story though.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Orphan Master's Son

a staggering look inside a demonic country.  I can only assume that most of it is true.   the very facelessness of the oppressed people is used masterfully by Johnson-- characters are doubled and find themselves vying against versions of themselves created by the state to thwart their spirit -- which I found narratively challenging.  but his landscape and emotional atmosphere is fantatically conjured-- he creates a North Korea so rich in human breath and foible, where for me before there was nothing but a cipher.  Incredible achievement of a novel.  Not even funny, how unusual a thing he has conjured not out of thin air, but out of strange, distant, inaccessible air.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Canada by Richard Ford

Richard Ford's weighty novel on a tragic American family, where the father (a former Air Force man and failed businessman) and mother (intelligent, cynical) decide to rob a bank in Montana.  Point of view is their son Dell, who is taken to a remote prairie town in Sasketchawan and raised by neer do wells.  Very moving, lengthy meditation on childhood, America, human fate and goodness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge, Poems by Paul Guest

Wonderful, strange, exciting young poet.

User's Guide to Physical Debilitation
by Paul Guest

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring d├ętente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.

Sweeth Tooth by Ian McEwan

Got halfway through and put it away.  Obscure, somewhat pulse-less.   First one of his I've ever not finished.  Concerns a young woman hired in the late 1960s by British intelligence, caught up in intrigues with lovers/former lovers/future lovers who may or may not be double agents.  Will not find out, in this life.  Of course, I had a University copy of the book, sans the sexy dust cover shown here.  That might have made all of the difference in the world.  But cannot recreate the experience of first picking up the plain black volume and reading half.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nearly True by Sean Enright

It's 1938, post-Depression, pre-WWII Catholic Queens, NY. Ten year old Kenneth Cadogan leads silent film star Clara Bow, a deranged WWI veteran who’s obsessed with the actress, and his gang of friends who pretend to be cowboy heroes, in a search for missing television stock certificates. Kenneth also tries to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance after swimming in plain view of his son and his wife. Poking around in his father’s haunts in their neighborhood, Kenneth uncovers mysteries about his father’s life and marriage and demons. The search spreads to lower Manhattan and the Hoovervilles of Hoboken and Jersey City, culminating in the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, a monumental technology showcase when television was first displayed to the mass public, and where surprises and missed chances compound the mystery.

"What do Clara Bow, the World’s Fair, a shell-shocked WW1 veteran, and a father who walks into the ocean at Astoria Point one hot summer night in 1938 have to do with each other? Maybe nothing. Unless of course, you’ve entered the mordant whimsy of a Sean Enright novel. Nearly True tells the story of one boy’s passage from the make-believe of childhood, to the half-glimpsed, half-understood mysteries of adulthood as he comes to terms with his father’s disappearance. Enright is a master at capturing the tipping point of innocence, when the particular, heartbreaking way a child sees and then, refashions his world shows us more about what we have lost than we could imagine." Sarah Blake, New York Times best-selling author of The Postmistress.

"In the summer of 1938, a man goes for a swim in Turtle Bay in Queens and vanishes. This is the riveting mystery that propels Nearly True, an expansive, compassionate novel that is also the portrait of a boy and a country on the cusp of transformation. In search of his missing father, Kenneth Cadogan eavesdrops on the adult world and encounters an historical moment rife with venom, celebrity, shattering loss, and miraculous invention, including Radio Priest Father Coughlin, Clara Bow, the Hoovervilles, and the 1939 World’s Fair where television was born. In Kenneth, Sean Enright has given us a character as poignant and yearning as the era he describes." Maud Casey, author of Genealogy, a New York Times Editor's Choice Book

"You won’t soon forget Kenneth Cadogan, the character at the center of Sean Enright’s terrific new novel Nearly True. Set against the backdrop of the 1939 World’s Fair, Enright’s tale is a rollicking, riveting drama of an Irish family’s struggles in late Depression-era Queens and one boy’s heart-breaking quest to solve the puzzle of his father’s disappearance. Reminiscent of the works of Alice McDermott and E.L. Doctorow, Nearly True limns the joys and sorrows of the American immigrant experience with exuberant irreverence and wit. The result is a masterly portrait of familial love and sacrifice." Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women and the National Book Award nominee Our Kind

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

True North by Jim Harrison

In many ways it lived up to my brother's description: "Frederick Exley in northern Michigan. Plus, lots of hot-sounding ladies." I really liked the way he wove together philosophical discursion and mundane life observations, the sense of humor the narrator had about his own serious, obsessive side, and the irony and humor with which he was treated by his closest friends and family.  
The landscape of the U.P. and northern Midwest forests were great, the fishing stuff too.

The flaw is that it meanders so much that I got lost often, as to where we were, and where he was on his campaign to expose the family's crimes and more particularly to punish his father.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ulysses by James Joyce

Where to begin?  I allegedly read this book around 1982.  There are some marks on the pages (p. 190: "Bosh! Stephen said rudely.  A man of genius makes no mistakes.  His errors are volitional and are the portals of discover.")

This time, though, I spent some real time on it, having also read Dubliners and Portrait and Ellmann's magnificent biography.


Stephen Daedalus is much less annoying and pious here than in Portrait.  Of course, he's drunk a great deal of the time here, too.

Found "The Oxen of the Sun" section deeply annoying.

Found the "Circle" playlet to be magnificent.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

Author's reputation: 10 (Booker Prize Winner)
Character depth: 9.
Plot anxiety-level: 3.
Believability of plot: 5.
Description of characters' financial situations:  Meh.
Cover title font: 1. (looks sloppy)
Sentence quality: 5.
Deployment of immigrant man's pidgin dialect: 2.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

An Edwardian birthday party overrun by ghosts.

Dubliners by James Joyce

This is a nearly perfect book of short stories.  From "The Sisters," about the wake for a newly-dead priest who went mad and was found laughing quietly by himself in confessional, to "The Dead," an epic story about a New Year's musical recital and the memory of a dead first love, Joyce writes minutely about ordinary Irish lives and summons a monumental tone of liveliness and regret.

Prized Possessions by L.R. Wright

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

James Joyce by Richard Ellmann

This is a tremendous literary biography.  It has compelled me to go back and read James Joyce again, and as I progress through Ellmann's book, it has become impossible for me to not to try to write about Joyce, as I'm thinking about him so much.

Three things stand out in my mind as I come to a new, larger understanding of the man and the author.

First, from age six to age twenty, he was almost without interruption educated by Jesuits and boarded at Jesuit educational institutions.  This led Joyce himself to say that though it wouldn't be accurate to describe himself as a Catholic, describing himself as a Jesuit did seem appropriate.

Second, and via the first fact, Joyce's most extraodinary mental ability seemed to be his tremendous Jesuit-led instruction in rhetoric, the ordering and advancement of argument in language.  Even his most brutish physical descriptions, piled on as they are, always appear to be grasped within a ligament of argument.

Finally, As J. M. Cohen suggests, Joyce seems to come to things through words, instead of to words through things.  This has more than a little to do with his vision problems:  born with weak eyes, he developed severe ocular disorders that progressed throughout his life.  So seeing things physically, while certainly important, was not his finally wrestling ground for language.  He put things in words before they made sense to him.

His sins became serious, and his sense of sin, 'that sense of separation and loss,' brought him to consciousness, from which vantage point he sloughed off all but the vestiges of Christian guilt.

On top of that Howth train alone crying to the rain:  naked women! What about that, eh? (Ulysses)

To become greater than our sins is worth more than all the purity you preach. (Sudermann's Magda)

Silent Years by John Francis Byrne, coded memoir, largerly about Joyce. "One of the most crotchety and interesting of the many books of Joyce's friends."

Women: "soft-skinned animals."

Shakespeare= "Literature in dialogue."

Lermontov's "Hero of Our Days."

Schnitz:  "The writer must write every evening the history of his day."

GB Shaw had a very complex reaction to ULYSSES, who had once been a young man in Dublin himself.
 “I was attracted to [Ulysses] by the fact that I was once a young man in Dublin, and also by Joyce’s literary power, which is of classic quality. I do not see why there should be any limit to frankness in sex revelation; but Joyce does not raise that question. The question he does raise is whether there should be any limit to the use in literature of blackguardly language. It depends on what people will stand. If Dickens or Thackeray had been told that a respectable author like myself would use the expletive “bloody” in a play, and that an exceptionally fastidious actress of the first rank, associated exclusively with fine parts, would utter it on the stage without turning a hair, he could not have believed it. Yet I am so old-fashioned and squeamish that I was horrified when I first heard a lady describe a man as a rotter. I could not write the words Mr Joyce uses: my prudish hand would refuse to form the letters; and I can find no interest in his infantile clinical incontinences, or in the flatulations which he thinks worth mentioning…

    Ulysses is a document, the outcome of a passion for documentation that is as fundamental as the artistic passion — more so, in fact; for the document is the root and stem of which the artistic fancy works are the flowers. Joyce is driven by his documentary demon to place on record the working of a young man’s imagination for a single day in the environment of Dublin. The question is, is the document authentic. I, having read some scraps of it, reply that I am afraid it is, then you may rise up and demand that Dublin be razed to the ground, and its foundations sown with salt. And I may say do so, by all means. But that does not invalidate the document.”

Shaw famously concludes:  “If a man holds up a mirror to your nature and shows you that it needs washing — not whitewashing — it is no use breaking the mirror. Go for soap and water.”

Joyce thought very highly of Yeats, that he was a true imaginative talent.  Later he (Joyce) said to Jacques Mercanton, “Why regret my talent?  I haven’t any.  I write so painfully, so slowly.  Chance furnishes me with what I need.  I’m like a man who stumbles: my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I’m in need of.’  On the other hand, he often agreed with Vico that ‘Imagination is nothing but the working over of what is remembered,’ and said to Frank Budger, ‘Imagination is memory.’”

Joyce's favorite song:  "The Brown and Yellow Ale."

His daughter Lucia struggled her entire life with mental illness, and was finally confined for schizophrenia.  Joyce took his daughter's illness extremely personally, and Ellmann notes that several scholars find the father and daughter very similar creatively.  One notes, though, that though they both spent their lives as if they were jumping out of a boat into the ocean, but that James Joyce was "diving" while his daughter was "jumping."

"I ask myself what then will happen when and if she [Lucia] withdraws her regard from the lightning-lit revery of her clairvoyance and turns it upon that battered cabman's face, the world."

Joyce's beautiful later poem, "Epilogue to Ibsen's Ghost," which begins:

Dear quick, whose conscience buried deep
The grim old grouser has been salving,
Permit one spectre more to peep.
I am the ghost of Captain Alving.

Silenced and smothered by my past
Like the lewd knight in dirty linen
I struggle forth to swell the cast
And air a long-suppressed opinion.

King Suckerman by George Pelecanos

Bicentennial week in Washington DC, 1976. Get some body bags!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Chill Rain in January by L. R. Right

LR Wright is a delicious small pleasure, like a sip of something strong that's over before you know it, and then it gives you a kick.

The canvas is small: a tiny town in Vancouver.  There's a clearly psychotic character, but the secret of her active madness is kept close until the very end, all we see are symptoms and leakages.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn executes some gorgeous prose, but she takes her time, and it ends up being too slow a place for me.  Setup and premise is dynamite (PopCultureNerd sums it up well here) but it just seemed to take forever. Still want to read Flynn's first novel Sharp Objects though.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Who gives a shit about this crap?  Do I sound passionately aggrieved?


"And," she said, "you must talk no more
about ecstasy.  It is a loneliness."
The woman wandered about picking up
her shoes and silks.  "You said you loved me,"
the man said.  "We tell lies," she said,
brushing her wonderful hair, naked except
for the jewelry.  "We try to believe."
"You were helpless with joy," he said,
"moaning and weeping.  "In the dream," she said,
"we pretend to ourselves that we are touching.
The heart lies to itself because it must."

It's not worth parodying, although I considered doing just that.  But how could I surpass the original, both as an original and as a parody?

Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Great detective novel. British female detective struggles with failing marriage, recent loss of child and competition on the beat. Crime is a puzzling kidnapping.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Iliad by Homer trans. by Stephen Mitchell

A Firing Offse by George Pelecanos

Another great one, the eighties bands that Pelecanos' name-checks for me were worth the price of admission alone. Scathing level of knowledge and detail on electronics retail sales industry. Loved it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

A sneaky book.  A group of British schoolboys grows up and falls out of touch.  One of the schoolboys, Tony, the narrator, shares a girlfriend, with one of the group, the brilliant, philosophically-advanced Adrian.  Time, memory, callousness, narrative undependability, all conspire, not exactly against the narrator or the other characters, but against the reader.  For 164 pages, this novel whallops one.

"Can I ask you something?"
"You always do," she replied.
"Did you leave me because of me?"
"No," she said.  "I left you because of us."

Remorse, eytmologically, is the act of biting again: that's what the feeling does to you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

Mad talented writer, Faulks.  Tore through this novel of contemporary London -- the interlinked lives of a financial derivatives trader, a poor barrister, a working class young women who drives a subway train, a disgruntled youth flirting with Muslim extremism, an ignored teen from incredible wealth experimenting with drugs.  Not at all like Birdsong, Faulks' incredible WWI novel.  Not at all, but still wonderful, vivid, complete writing.  Each life he touches is more interesting that the last.  I'm so thankful for such wonderful, beautiful, talented writers -- and so annoyed, at the end of the day.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks

Don't know quite where to begin with this novel. Powerful, sweeping, moving World War I narrative, that begins with an ordinary provincial love affair in France in 1910, then jumps to the outbreak of the war, then jumps to 1978-1979, then jumps back again. Faulks prose is effortlessly detailed. Each character is fully believable. Heroism is undercut by cowardism and selfishness, which is further cut again with heroism and love.

The futility, horror and grand scale of trench warfare is rendered in an utterly personal manner: each soldier thinks he is doing something important and worthwhile, and each soldier knows with almost complete certainty that he will soon be dead.

Stephen Wraysford is a young Englishman who joins the army in 1914 and commands of a miner brigade. They tunnel beneath the German lines and set explosions under them. The underground combat scenes are incredibly brutal and disturbing. Stephen, rootless and exiled from home after a love affair in France before the war, becomes almost addicted to the danger and impossibility of surviving combat.

It felt as though she were being penetrated by a knitting needle with large walnuts midway up its shaft.

The supressed frustrations and unexpressed violence of his life were turned into hatred of the Germans.

"He's shouting for his mother," said the orderly as they brought him into the tent.
"They always do," said the medical officer, peeling back the field dressing Byrne had applied almost thirty hours before.

Then, as the fever in his abandoned body reached its height and he moved toward the welcome of oblivion, he heard a voice, not human, but clear and urgent. It was the sound of his life leaving him. Its tone was mocking. It offered him, instead of the peace he longed for, the possibility of return. At this late stage he could go back to his body and to the brutal perversion of life that was lived in the turned soil and torn flesh of the war; he could, if he made the effort of courage and will, come back to the awkward, compromised, and unconquerable existence that made up human life on earth. The voice was calling him; it appealed to his sense of shame and of curiosity unfulfilled: but if he did not heed it he would surely die.

Within minutes the hillside was seething with movement of the wounded as they attempted to get themselves back to their line.
"Christ," said Weir. "I had no idea there were so many men out there."
It was like a resurrection in a cemetery twelve miles long.

He heard nothing at first. Then, as the last pieces of displaced earth settled in the tunnel, he heard a long thick sigh; it was a sound he had never heard before, but he knew that it was the noise of several men expiring simultaneously.

The hedgerows were deep and ragged where he walked, covered with the lace of cow parsley. The air had a feeling of purity as though it had never been breathed; it was just starting to be cool with the first breeze of the evening. From the tall elms he could see at the end of the field there was the sound of rooks, and a gentler calling of wood pigeons close at hand. He stopped, and leaned against a gate. The quietness of the world about him seemed to stand outside of time; there was no human voice to place it.

Above him he saw the white moon, early and low above the elms. Over and behind it were long jagged wisps of cloud that ran in ribbed lies back into the pale blue of the sky, then trailed away in gestures of vapourous white.

Stephen felt himself overtaken by a climactic surge of feeling. It frightened him because he thought it would have some physical issue in spasm or bleeding or death. Then he saw that what he felt was not an assault but a passionate affinity. It was for the rough field running down to the trees and for the pathgoing back into the village where he could see the tower of the church: these and the forgiving distance of the sky were not separate, but part of of creation, and he too, still by any sane judgement a young man, by the repeated tiny pulsing of his blood, was one with them. He looked up and saw the sky as it would be trailed with stars under darkness, the crawling nebulae and smudged lights of infinite distance; these were not different worlds it now seemed clear to him, but bound through the mind of creation to the shredded white clouds, the unbreathed air of May, to the soil that lay beneath the damp grass at his feet. He held tightly on to the gate and laid his head on his arms, in some residual fear that the force of binding love he felt would sweep him from the earth. He wanted to stretch out his arms and enfold in them the fields, the sky, the elms with their sounding birds; he wanted to hold them with the unending forgiveness of a father to his prodigal errant but beloved son . . . nothing was immoral or beyond redemption, all could be brought together, understood in the long perspective of forgiveness. As he clung to the wood, he wanted also to be forgiven for all that he had done; he longed for the unity of the world’s creation to melt his sin and anger, because his soul was joined to it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

A tale of two gunmen in the old American West told in a narrative voice that more resembles that of a Protestant religious reformer than your typical shoot-em-up cowboy. Odd, unusual transitions, and an undramatic style: started out reading it very coldly, ready to bail, but have grown to like it for its oddness.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pascali's Island by Barry Unsworth

Corruption, paranoia in a crumbling corner of the Ottoman Empire.

My room, scene of my labors over the years, scene of triumphs of a higher order than that of mere physical superbia, yet seemed cramped and mean to me, the hold at the end of my burrowing life. I looked at my miserable paraphernalia of pleasure, books, hookah, coffee cup and bowl; at my shabby clothes and unkempt person, still sour from sleep. A kind of rebellious misery rose in me. Why should I sit here, hatching other people's motives and purposes?

Friday, March 09, 2012

"How Annandale Went Out " by E. A. Robinson

"They called it Annandale--and I was there
To flourish, to find words, and to attend:
Liar, physician, hypocrite, and friend,
I watched him; and the sight was not so fair
As one or two that I have seen elsewhere:
An apparatus not for me to mend--
A wreck, with hell between him and the end,
Remained of Annandale; and I was there.

"I knew the ruin as I knew the man;
So put the two together, if you can,
Remembering the worst you know of me.
Now view yourself as I was, on the spot--
With a slight kind of engine. Do you see?
Like this. . . You wouldn't hang me? I thought not."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Cut by George Pelecanos

Home-town hero George Pelecanos adds another impeccable crime novel to his collection. More DC than just about anybody, Pelecanos writes about DC neighborhodd with granular, unmistakable precision, particularly N.E. and the Petworth/Georgia Avenue corridor. By rendering such a relatively limited scope to his novel's setting, he works a handful of well-drawn characters deeply into the landscape: they have always been there, and they always will remain, they were almost all born there, and die there (we see more than a couple do so in front of our eyes).

His hero, Lucas Spero, the adopted son of a Greek-American couple, has returned from active duty in Iraq and now works as a "finder" for a local attorney: he finds people, he finds money, he finds stuff. He also finds "the right way": guided by his beloved, deceased father's ghost, Spero struggles to keep promises, punish bad guys, and assist the less fortunate. Pelecanos' sense of moral ourage is a wonder to examine.

Maybe Speros goes down a little too easy with the ladies, maybe the lady characters exist to be attracted to him and flirt with him. But that's a small bother.

(His musical references are also stellar: Drive By Truckers, Black Uhuru, The Hold Steady, just to name a few.)

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