Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt


Revisiting this after 27 years. Still pretty great. The first-person voice now seems a little tedious. I remember well how shocking and powerful I found it in 1996.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry


Amazing Barry streak continues. This is in America, mid 19th century. Two gay soldiers raise a Native American girl they orphaned.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane


The 1974 busing crisis in Boston is the backdrop for racial tensions in Southie. Familiar Lehane territory - and satisfying as usual. The working-class mother on mission of vengeance against the Irish mob and everything she grew up in is marvelous.

Friday, May 05, 2023

A Girl's Story bu Annie Ernaux

This one is ringing more finely than the previous Ernaux books I have read. Don't know why: have I matured in my reading of her, or is this a better book? Familiar pattern of female obsession with the lover. But in this case it's a 17 year old camp counselor losing her viriginity to a callous older guy (21? 24?).

But what is the point of writing if not to unearth things, or even just one thing that cannot be reduced to any kind of psychological or sociological explanation and is not the result of a preconceived idea or demonstration but a narrative: something that emerges from the creases when a story is unfolded, and can help us understand--endure--events that occur and the things that we do? [98]

I am not a culture hound, the only thing that matters to me is to seize life and time, understand, and take pleasure. [149]

It is the absence of meaning in what one lives, at the moment one lives it, which multiplies the possibility of wring...
Explore the gulf between the stupefying reality of things that happen, at the moment they happen, and, years later, the strange unreality in which the things that happened are enveloped. [final page]

Monday, May 01, 2023

Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry

Strange, disorienting, but still beautiful. A Dublin detective in his late 60s retires to a seaside castle flat to dwell on his past, as his mind goes but his will for redemption grows stronger.

Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux


Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry


Another powerhouse. Madness, murder, mayhem in the Irish 20th century. The tragic life of Roseanne Clear McNulty, daughter of a Presbyterian graveskeeper in Sligo, and her awful manhandling by Catholics, and others. Told from her viewpoint in the present time, turning 100 years old, in her flashbacks over the century, and in the voice of a concerned doctor in the present time who uncovers at least two versions of her sad story.

There are pits of grief obviously that only the grieving know. It is a voyage to the center of the earth, a huge heavy machine boring down into the crust of the earth. And a little man growing wild at the controls. Terrified, terrified, and no turning back. [165]

Morality has its own civil wars, with its own victims in their own time and place.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett


Thursday, April 20, 2023

No One Left to Come Looking for You by Sam Lipsyte


Nice to read Lipsyte again. And I liked this novel, by the end. Was a little underwhelmed in first half though: prose about punk music almost always leaves me a little underwhelmed. Although Lipsyte is as surprising and wizardly as ever with his sentences. Echoes of Lester Bangs on meth.

I liked his cross-hatching of real-life music references with fictional music references, when they worked - but sometimes I didn't understand at all what style he was pointing toward.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power - Volume 1


On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry


Sebastian Barry was completely unknown to me before I read the recent New Yorker profile about him.

This is a gorgeous book. The prose reads like poetry in long stretches, almost impossible to quote. And the plot coils very, very quietly, waiting to strike.

Her sense of the delicious is maybe part of that effort, not to dwell on terrible things.

'Telling his beads, o'er and o'er. [130]

How is it that the human body is designed sometimes to melt into a white lineny bed, in the city of New York, and couples on linen beds in all the cities of the world, trying to climb into each other's skins? That's one queer, wonderful creature. [138]

'The past is a crying child, that's for sure,' said Joe, 'but it will all be made up to him in the coming times. Yes, sir.' [141]

But for those moments he had brought me back to the pact we make with life. That we will see through and live it according to the length of time bestowed on us. The gift of life, oftentimes so difficult to accept, the horse whose teeth we are so often inclined to inspect. [171]

'I want you to tell Bill that his father loves him dearly, will you do that?'
'Of course I will.'
I was thinking, it's hard for a child to understand a love like that. He would rather go fishing with his father than hear such a declaration. But I knew Ed existed in a parsimonious place. He had only the farthings and pence of love to give. [229]

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Foster by Claire Keegan


A stunning story. Haven't seen the film but plan. Just amazing, the compression of the story and characters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin


Interesting, compelling read. About video/computer games which is not my wheelhouse. But the central drama about the two childhood friends who become influential game designers together, and apart, is interestingly done.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

The Water Cure by Percival Everett


Strange and difficult reading. A man apparently seeks revenge on his young daughter's killer by kidnapping an torturing. First, though, Everett tortures us with linguistic grammaritications and philosophical blowing.

Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett


Hope: A Tragedy


Put it down halfway through. Didn't care. Endless offense delivered humorously.

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa


Astonishing novel about the Dominican Republic by Peruvian Llosa. Nothing less than a thirty year chronicle of the Trujillo dictatorship, it employs three points of view: in the present time, the return of daughter of Trujillo's minister after 30 years in the U.S, as she revisits the trauma of her 14th and final year in DR; the four assasins waiting in a car to murder Trujillo in May of 1961l; and a roaming point of view that encompasses Trujillo and many of his most prominent ministers.

The flashback technique is incredible. Great book. All news to me.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Anyone Who Had a Heart by Burt Bacharach with Robert Greenfield


Assumption by Percival Everett

 Liked it but got lost at the end. Sort of Jim Thompson crossed with Thomas McGuane. Down on his luck deputy sheriff in New Mexico grows increasingly despondent and bitter while investigating seemingly unrelated murders.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Continental Drift by Russell Banks


Mesmerizingly beautiful. How the fates of a New Hampshire oil furnace repairman and a distressed Haitian new mother intertwine over the course of years. Tectonically growing closer to each other. I'm in awe of Banks. Reminds me of Updike a little, but with more heart.

The Haitian religious ceremonies rendered are completely unhinged and terrifying. Mostly in the Haitian Creole patois, they involved demonic possession, animal sacrifice, rhythmic music and dance, but Banks provides them with an unnerving logic and character relevance.

He doesn't know if he has been a good man or merely a stupid or scared man. Most people, like Bob, unchurched since childhood, now and then reach that point of not knowing... [60]

... the three children and mother become one unit, and he became a solitary, outriding, secondary unit, like a comet accidentally passing through their solar system and moving on into deep space alone. [273]

So Much Blue by Percival Everett


My obsession continues. Another good, took awhile to get going for me, but in the end, I really liked how three different time settings/plots came together. A painter takes a much younger lover in Paris, remembers a long-ago trauma in El Salvador, and somehow heals his marriage.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Telephone by Percival Everett

My Percival Everett journey continues. Another twist in the road: TELEPHONE is an unflinching story of a man losing his 10 year old daughter to a deadly medical condition that slowly over a couple of months destroys her mind.

Not for the faint of heart.

At the same time, the father receives mysterious messages of distress in shirts he orders online, and takes off to New Mexico to attempt a rescue.


Very different in feel from THE TREES and DR. NO, but Everett's intelligence and obsession with, well, everything, shine through.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander

Very funny, very black, very disturbing satiric novel about the race of "Cannibal-Americans," or "Can-Ams," the death of a Can-Am matriarch, and the struggles of her thirteen children to properly dispose of her remains.
See title.

Sending up the immigrant experience in America, tribal religions, and the family, it's hilarious and upsetting.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Foregone by Russell Banks

 Terrific, moving, mysterious. An American film-maker consents to a documentary ostensibly about his career in Canada making films after dodging the Vietnam War draft and escaping north. Instead, he spends several hours relating, sometimes out loud, and sometimes internally, the mixed up pieces of his past and his emotional reckoning of how and why he had lived.

But it was her memoir, not theirs, her memories, not theirs. And if all her memories were self-serving rationalizations of behavior that, seen in another's light, 
would seem stupid, narcissistic or superficial, in her own view her memories were redemptive. They revealed the reasons for her life of pain and suffering and confusion. They made sense of an otherwise incomprehensible, meaningless life and, in her own eyes, redeemed it.

Is that why Fife is trying to do? Tell his autobiography as he remembers it? Yes, he says, that is what he's trying to do today and tomorrow and for however long he is trying to tell it. [136]

Korsakoff syndrome: confabulation is a symptom, fairly common with advanced alcoholism. [238]

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Dr. No by Percival Everett


Odd but addictive, in Percival Everett fashion. A little AUSTIN POWERS, a smackerel of THE THIRD POLICEMAN. The mathematics of nothing combined with a billionaire who wants to become an evil James Bondish villiain. The book is more farcical than compelling, but I couldn't put it down. Like THE TREES, it reads quickly, in a couple of hours.

Never trust a laugh you can spell. Or something like that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks


Delightful, mysterious, swerving coming-of-age novel. The second half and the immersion into reggae and Jamaican mysticism caught me completely by suprise.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Matilda by Roald Dahl


Liked it. Liked Tim Minchin's 2023 musical better.

Getting Lost by Annie Ernaux

 Annie Ernaux in New Yorker profile talks about old age (she will be 82), and how "I will never remember my old age."

I found it compelling reading and tore through this, but must admit it was the sex I was interested in and not incessant longing and sadness. She limits the scope of her diary entries very much to the story of her affair with the Russian man, S., who is 35 years old to her 48. And S. does not come off well -- boorish and anti-intellectual, a Stalin fan. We hear almost nothing of her two children, though they're often in the apartment with her. She refers to her other great passions mostly by the year in which they happen. I'm interested in reading the other memoir to see what depth they lend to this story, in my memory.

It's not much of a story, just a layer of egocentric suffering. Yet I know that it is through this layer of suffering that I communicate with the rest of humanity. [169, 7 Stories Press Edition]

Yesterday, it came to me with a certainty that I write my love stories and live my books, in a perpetual round dance. [171]

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Ted Kennedy: A Life by John A. Farrell


The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz


Liked this a great deal. Very different from THE PLOT until the middle of the book where, indeed, there is a rather large plot swerve. The concept of triplets as never before recorded -- including how many persons that actually implies.  The high-art, wealthy milieu gets a bit wearying, but Korelitz' prose is glittering, at least.

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Trees by Percival Everett


Never read a book like this before! Racial injustice and a history of lynching in the U.S. - and dozens of small-town characters, each quickly and indelibly sketched. 

It reads so quickly you almost forget the heaviness of the theme.

The structure - very short chapter 1-3 pages - lend an extraordinary quickening to the plot, and it is a breathless style, following a classic detective/police procedural model.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Kill 'Em and Leave by James McBride


Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver


Loving this, DAVID COPPERFIELD cast in Appalachia, voice of a young foster child/orphan, opioid addiction and coal country poverty. High school football world skillfully sketched by Kingsolver. Pre-sad that it's almost over (300+ pages in).

Really wonderful, enjoyable reading. Hard to remember a long (500+ pages) novel that I relished as much. Wise and sweeping and loving, a mutli-dimensional panorama of southern Virginia, TN and KY that I've certainly never seen before.

Getting clean is like taking care of a sick person, versus being the sick person. They get all the points for bravery, but they're locked in. You have to get up every morning and decide again, in the cold lonely light of day, am I brave enough to stick this out? [p. 509]

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