Friday, August 18, 2017

Adrift With The Bundrens

As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner, 1930
½ (out of five)
“Pa never does nothing, Sis will do anything for an abortion, my brothers are all deranged, and my mother is a fish.” Sounds like a Jerry Springer episode, right?

The fifth novel by William Faulkner, and the third set in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, As I Lay Dying is famous for its subjective-perspective, stream-of-consciousness narration. It might be just as notable for a unique set of low-life characters who dare you to like any of them once you manage to work out what is happening. I still flail futilely in both departments.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Immaculate, Maybe; Inflexible, Never

Mary Through The Centuries – Jaroslav Pelikan, 1996
 (out of five)
Jesus may be the basis of Christianity, Paul its founder, and Peter its rock, but if there is one enigma in the faith’s hierarchy, it is neither man nor God but rather a woman who stands alone not only for her proximity to divinity, but for her singular involvement in its creation.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Cruising For Danger With James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy, 1987
½ (out of five)
James Ellroy is the most dangerous man in fiction, sometimes even to himself.

In this, the novel that made him what he is, Ellroy beats himself up over the real-life death of his mother by recasting her as the mystery woman of the novel’s title and delving into both the gruesome facts of her torture-slaying and the dark obsession she triggers in our two main male characters, Ellroy stand-ins both. It was Ellroy’s seventh crime-fiction novel; this time it was personal:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"A Very Unnatural Way To Live"

Wings Of Morning – Thomas Childers, 1995
 (out of five)
Bomber duty in World War II left a particularly grim shadow. For those who served, life ground down into long stretches of tedium jabbed by bursts of tension and fear; and occasionally a hard, fiery death. The utter randomness of it all, dropping bombs on unseen targets and being potted at by flak guns, must have been cosmically unsettling. Its sense of absurdity would be encapsulated in a novel written by one bombardier veteran called Catch-22.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Ups And Downs Of Playing To Type

Rum Punch – Elmore Leonard, 1992
 (out of five)
There is a pernicious notion I want to stomp out every time I scan Elmore Leonard novel reviews on Amazon.com: that each book of his is like every other, an interchangeable collection of hard guys and clever women who say funny things while circling each other like sharks looking for an opening to a big score.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Printing The Legend

Cobb: A Biography – Al Stump, 1994
½ (out of five)
In a sport that attracts difficult personalities, Tyrus Raymond Cobb stands alone. He abused teammates, punched out umpires, spiked opponents, waded through a crowd to thrash a disabled fan, and showcased a hatred for black people so vicious it upset his fellow whites even in a more racist time.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Where's The Love For Mr. Pickwick?

The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens, 1836-37
 (out of five)
Few novelists burst out of the gate with such energy and creativity, or garner such immediate popular acclaim, as did Charles Dickens. Reading The Pickwick Papers makes the case for instant greatness. It remains a marvel in terms of distance traveled, people met, and milieus satirized.