Like the post-9/11 milieu that permeated Saturday, and Black Dogs's Cold War spell well before it, The Comfort of Strangers feels like a political nov...moreLike the post-9/11 milieu that permeated Saturday, and Black Dogs's Cold War spell well before it, The Comfort of Strangers feels like a political novel disguised as a social one. But whose politics? Is this McEwan exploding post-WW2 Europe? Is the lust here a parable, and if so, for what? What does the lovemaking between Colin and Mary say differently than that between Robert and Caroline if these were not characters but states? This is the rewarding frustration of Ian McEwan's work -- that it can seem more than it is because the lines of it are so clearly drawn. Never needlessly expositive or over-adorned with description, the world is so stark that it feels like parable even when its objective could be, as McEwan has explored many times before, examining love, or marriage, or sex, to lengths where this need for unity fails its human actors. So it seems not to matter if this novel of sex and power is also a novel of war, because in love, war is inherent: its demands are inhuman, devouring, inevitable. That is not so much history as it is human life. McEwan's genius is in painting one so well as to take on the shape of the other.(less)
Because its issues mix the deeply (at times awkwardly) personal into a broader generational view, All the Little Live Things is a novel that has revea...moreBecause its issues mix the deeply (at times awkwardly) personal into a broader generational view, All the Little Live Things is a novel that has revealed to this reader widely different messages at different times. In my twenties I enjoyed the anger toward the rootless hippy culture of the 1960's: Alston's rage against Peck, who stood as a symbol to his failed relationship with his own son, the dangerously untethered Curtis. In my thirties, I was drawn to Marian Catlin's thirst for feeling -- and the irony in her imbalance between life and death, a recurring theme for Wallace Stegner. Reading this now for the first time in my forties, it's Joe Alston's regret I find most compelling. His quickness to anger, and awareness of its origin as much as its futility. My seventh time with this novel, I found Alston pitiable, deeply flawed, and brilliant but often, to his own mind, emotionally afloat. For whatever reason, this book offers this reader unique rewards with every telling. The reasons are no doubt personal, but finding such a book -- one whose life within my readings is as definite and personal as another person would be -- seems the rare gift of literature, and a unique joy of the mind -- whose transience and impermanence its author knew all too well.(less)
In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starl...moreIn drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter parallel to the brilliant novel, An Adultery. Ancient Light is a an amazing book filled with the truth of experience as expressed through an expert hand.(less)
An entertaining thriller that adds to its noirish plot gritty realism about the behind-the-scenes workings of the adult entertainment industry. Angel...moreAn entertaining thriller that adds to its noirish plot gritty realism about the behind-the-scenes workings of the adult entertainment industry. Angel Dare is the enjoyable lead among a cast of memorable characters, and while Money Shot isn't genre busting, it is well-plotted, and worth the effort for fans of Jim Thompson and Andrew Vachss who are looking for a lighter read.(less)
With seductive lulls and the artificial logic of manipulated consent, Lamb creates trust where none should exist, illuminating the almost unconscious...moreWith seductive lulls and the artificial logic of manipulated consent, Lamb creates trust where none should exist, illuminating the almost unconscious -- and not insincere -- mechanisms that David Lamb, in his mid-life years, uses to convince 11-year-old Tommie to accompany him on a road trip from Chicago to Colorado. Most unsettling is how the reader himself begins to believe David's stories, and we, like young Tommie, are never quite sure where to stand. The constant tension, in ourselves and between the characters, is propelled by beautiful imagery, and with an approach that makes David believable as both a compelling, charming man and someone deeply out of touch with his surroundings. For his part, Lamb insists by force of personality that -- to Tommie, to his lover, to his coworkers, and to himself -- his actions have a kind of truth borne simply from their expression. The most wonderful trick of this novel is in its narrator's voice, never identified nor coyly implied, which reveals this story as if in flashback or remembrance or personal analysis. This is the best distance we could be given to view this tale, and while other books have more impact though violence or encouraged disgust, Lamb haunts with whispered promises and a genuine plea that some shape of compassion be communicated, despite whatever else is lost.(less)
Like most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is,...moreLike most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is, and to see something more of life than her teaching position in the rural South offers. The cure, then, is to dismiss, one after another, the stops on the fickle road to her contentment: her native Chicago, New York's Harlem, Copenhagen's exotic promises. Passed over too are opportunities for extended family, for marriage, and for genuine love. What is never made explicit is how much the background of 1920's American racial segregation contributes to Helga's discontent, and how much is of her own manufacture; a dilemma at the crux of the novel's experience, and the heart of many conversations about race: does the scene define the characters, or are actions here independent of context? The stark result of Helga's travels, however, are revealed by the title: the more you move around a country simultaneously obsessed with and ignorant of its problems with race relations, the deeper you sink into the worst of what it offers.
On a personal note, I'm disappointed I didn't hear about this book until age forty, when it is the perfect novel for late high school and early college students to explore the incongruous, complex relationships between whites and blacks in early 20th Century America, while simultaneously examining the idealistic wanderlust of any person's early twenties. This is -- or it should be -- a classic novel, familiar to any student of American literature. As it is, I only heard about it because NPR put it on a one-off book list published last week.(less)
In telling of Ebla, an 18-year-old runaway who seeks solace in the home of her Mogadishu cousin, Nuruddin Farah draws multiple comparisons to the live...moreIn telling of Ebla, an 18-year-old runaway who seeks solace in the home of her Mogadishu cousin, Nuruddin Farah draws multiple comparisons to the lives of animals. In one segment, the reader hears of monkeys who cake their female’s vagina with dirt in order to stave off – or reveal signs of – adultery. In another, Ebla reflects on the camels milked, calved, and sold for their value to humans – a relationship that parallels the bartering and sale of wives to men. Ebla sees herself, her friends, and particularly the men she meets, as no better than animals – acting as animals do for affection, sex, and prestige. The young woman’s confusion about her destiny makes this a difficult novel to mine as Ebla’s journey is incomplete and articulated realistically as that of an unexposed farm girl. But it may be that simplicity is the whole point; Ebla discovers her own path from girlishness to womanhood with no ambitions greater than gaining respect as a woman, making peace in her relations with men, and finding pleasure and comfort as she can. It is a base but pure reality that finds itself corrupted and overly complicated only when put into the ironically 'elevated' hands of men.(less)
Stephen Schwartz's pulp novel Beat mixes the surprising nature of its explicit sexual and violent content with an ending that somehow feels too choreo...moreStephen Schwartz's pulp novel Beat mixes the surprising nature of its explicit sexual and violent content with an ending that somehow feels too choreographed and too cinematically-minded for the rest of the book. Having creating Hayden Glass, a gritty, believable police detective with a predilection for drugs and a clinical diagnosis of sexual addiction, Schwartz sinks him headfirst into San Francisco's world of sex trafficking -- a business in which the detective has sometimes been a willing participant. All of this is excellent, gritty noir, and feels like an alternate, pulpier angle on Andrew Vachss's highly stylized Burke, series. But it's the conclusion that breaks the spell, creating an ending that while satisfying in parts could be replaced with the denouement of any half-baked Hollywood action film. As the Glass series goes forward, here's hoping Schwartz finds a better model to mimic for his original and engrossing cast of characters.(less)
A fable that is both tragic and filled with fantasy – a spirit tree towering outside the entrance to a tent; a entire village turned blind; spider pac...moreA fable that is both tragic and filled with fantasy – a spirit tree towering outside the entrance to a tent; a entire village turned blind; spider packs moving in glyphs to protect only the women -- Who Fears Death is thick with imagery in its otherworldly pilgrimage through an ever-present racism and sexism that plagues its near-barren East African setting. A bildungsroman submerged in damask-patterned sands, with complicated goals and characters full of purpose, the book is hard to describe, and pointless to pin, but brilliantly moves between our world and worlds less familiar to tell, or retell, a story of women from their flight as literally voiceless victims to embodying the channels of the oldest power. More fairy tale than futuristic, Who Fears Death is paced exceptionally well, and moves to its climax, its one version of a truth, with strength and the commitment bred of resignation and ideas of hope, future, change. (less)
Season of Migration to the North is a complicated, twisting novel about -- at the most basic level -- sex, sexism, power, manipulation, vanity, and lo...moreSeason of Migration to the North is a complicated, twisting novel about -- at the most basic level -- sex, sexism, power, manipulation, vanity, and love. It’s also about admiration, perhaps undeserved but unquestioningly given, and is too a novel of political vengeance against individuals who are never aware of the reason they’re made to stand for their nations. There is a great deal to enjoy in Salih's novel, not the least of which is the language. I think those that enjoyed the more sexually blatant novel The Piano Teacher will find Season of Migration cerebral and mysterious and, much like its driving character, Mustafa Sa'eed, worthy of multiple readings and interpretations. A rare find and an excellent novel. (less)
This novel from the 2004 Nobel Prize winner reminded me, in its first half, of the works of A.M. Homes and John Cheever. The second half of this work...moreThis novel from the 2004 Nobel Prize winner reminded me, in its first half, of the works of A.M. Homes and John Cheever. The second half of this work on sex, violence, power, maternity, and identity, was like nothing I’ve read. This novel could be “about” many things, but its approach in presenting a detached view of sex and power turns ultimately into the very physical combination of both of these things. There is more to be said about how identities fluxuate depending on who holds control, and how external standards maniupulate our desires as much as we are manipulated by our ideals. A very frightening novel that probably would never be published by a mainstream American press, or be written by an American author.
Seeking revenge for her love, young painter Keiko seduces novelist Toshio, the man who seduced Keiko's mentor thirty years before. As neither the nove...moreSeeking revenge for her love, young painter Keiko seduces novelist Toshio, the man who seduced Keiko's mentor thirty years before. As neither the novelist or the older artist Otoko have forgotten their affair, each is perversely lured by the opportunity to use the girl as a stand-in for the other. Toshio concedes that his fictionalization of the affair will remain all that he is remembered by (the characters have all read it, including Toshio's wife who typed the manuscript), but Keiko's confused motivations -- using the novel as a springboard for her jealousy -- illustrate the book as the bastard child that haunts them all.
All the Little Live Things is about Wallace Stegner's anger toward the Sixties, their chaotic disinterest in morality and unabashed self-interest. And...moreAll the Little Live Things is about Wallace Stegner's anger toward the Sixties, their chaotic disinterest in morality and unabashed self-interest. And the book seems also to be about youth: how the idealistic, immediate prejudices of the young can instill in the same man a love of innocence, a hatred of innocent self-righteousness, and a fundamental fear of failure at knowing his own lost child. As with most of Stegner's novels, this is a book about reasons to live; reasons cynical narrator Joe Allston would rather avoid were they not delivered with the promise of a fulfilling and singular friendship. Jun 19, 2007