This book is out of print. That's proof enough for me that God is either dead or has turned His back on mankind in disgust. Or that He's being held hoThis book is out of print. That's proof enough for me that God is either dead or has turned His back on mankind in disgust. Or that He's being held hostage somewhere, perhaps in a veritable cathedral of ice. Dear Lord-- blink twice if You need help.
Anyway: The Last Samurai. It's an imperfect, magnificent enigma. A page-turner with no plot, a structural experiment, hilarious, argumentative, digressive, satisfying without offering resolution. Do what you need to and get your hands on a copy.
Then find Helen de Witt's utterly bizarre second novel Lightning Rods before that one goes the way of the buffalo too.
It's unfair that a brilliant architect should also write this beautifully.
Take his Faulknerian description of Chandigarh, the planned city: "One arrivIt's unfair that a brilliant architect should also write this beautifully.
Take his Faulknerian description of Chandigarh, the planned city: "One arrives at Chandigarh. One travels through the town, past the houses spread out in the dust like endless rows of confidence tricks; and down the surrealistic roads—V.1s and V.2s—running between brick walls to infinity. Chandigarh, brave new Chandigarh, born in the harsh plains of the Punjab without an umbilical cord."
This book is full of such wonderfully observed scenes and details, along with insights about architecture, cities, and the humans who use them. He's conversant not just with the principles of design, but with the inextricable symbolism, history, and human needs of any building or city.
Unfortunately this book only came to my attention because of Mr. Correa's passing last month, but the spirit of the man comes through clearly in his writing - warm, funny, knowledgeable, with a mind that cuts through the confusion of urbanity to ask the underlying question: Why is there "no relation between the way our cities have been built and the way people want to use them"?...more
Also known as ENTITLEMENT: The Book, this is a novel sprung from, and one fears, representative of that paradoxically market-obsessed and out-of-touchAlso known as ENTITLEMENT: The Book, this is a novel sprung from, and one fears, representative of that paradoxically market-obsessed and out-of-touch Olympus, the Bay Area tech world.
We know we're in trouble within moments of meeting our protagonist, Clay Jannon, who bends over backwards to paint himself as a lovable loser. He likes nerdy things! He makes quirky observations! He's awkward with girls! But the girls still like him anyway, otherwise he'd just be a straightforward loser! Yeah, we're in deep shit already.
But a delicious premise will redeem us, right? Our hapless hero loses his job shilling bagels on Twitter and is hired to work in Mr. Penumbra's bookstore. But if you think this is an ordinary bookstore, think again, guileless reader. It's run by a kooky old man with an improbable name, and frequented at odd hours by people with ZERO wearable tech! You see, in the fevered mind of Robin Sloan, there could be--get this--a secret society based around BOOKS.
At this point we're one team of goofy, endearing friends (who luckily also have the exact skills required to complete the quest) away from this turning into a 2-part miniseries on ABC Family.
Enter Kat Potente, a Google employee/cultist who wants to upload everyone's consciousness to the cloud, along with Neel Shah (a millionaire whose endearing trait is that he runs a charity for women that would be patronizing if it wasn't a complete sham), and Mat Mittelbrand, a movie set designer who is "like a little djinn or something, except instead of air or water his element is imagination."
Now we're fucked.
The rest is a combination of limp, low-stakes mystery and Google/Amazon product placement. I wonder if Sloan got paid for that, or if he gave it away for free? I'm not sure which is worse. Weirdly, the protagonist also advocates online piracy of e-books, which seems at odds with Mr. Sloan's personal interests and those of his favorite corporations. Essentially, anything that limits already-privileged people's ability to do and take whatever they want, at any time, is a bad thing in this moral universe.
In the end, everyone in our ragtag band of warriors gets to live out their yuppy gentrifier daydream--launching a startup, opening a rock climbing gym in the Mission, finally turning that tax-shelter women's charity into the paternalistic juggernaut it was always meant to be.
It turns out, folks, that friendship is the real secret. And in the book's final paragraph Sloan disavows the entire thing, as if he knows deep down what a soulless piece of shit it is, saying that before long we probably won't remember it (he's right there), and that what really matters is finding the exact right book at the exact right time.
If the fantasy of the tough-guy private detective is that he can penetrate the city's secret webs of power through sheer, grim doggedness, the fantasyIf the fantasy of the tough-guy private detective is that he can penetrate the city's secret webs of power through sheer, grim doggedness, the fantasy of the stoner detective is that he can do the same by adhering to a strict drug regimen--to keep his mind limber, you see.
That's certainly the case for Doc Sportello, who smokes, drinks, and trips his way through a case so inscrutable, complex, and possibly nonsensical that only a madman could figure it out. And he does...at least, I think so. In my sober state, I really can't be sure.
What we do know is this: It's L.A., 1969, and Doc's ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, shows up on his doorstep with a story about a kidnapped developer. We're quickly plunged into a world full of standard potboiler characters--crooked cops, white supremacists, hookers, groupies, and burnouts. Others are not so standard, like The Boards, an evil, Manson-esque surf rock band, or Coy Harlingen, the saxophone-playing junkie trying to protect his family.
Protect them from what, exactly? Well, something called the Golden Fang, which is part international drug cartel, part Scientology. And here's where we enter true Pynchon territory. A thematic vein runs through nearly everything he's written, and goes something like this: The world around us is governed by vast, conspiratorial systems so byzantine that even those who created them no longer control or understand them. Whether it's V2 rockets, muted postal horns, or golden fangs, their symbols show up everywhere. Coincidences mount, and in the end it all points back to that throbbing power source at the center of the spiderweb. What do they want, these faceless villains? Nobody knows, and nobody ever will. You can't comprehend them, and you can't escape them, either.
I've never been able to follow Pynchon's convolutions, though I enjoy him as a stylist. Scene by scene, this book is a blast. The dialogue is tuned to a frequency only dogs and dedicated dope fiends can hear. Rhythmic passages capture a hazy, sunsoaked Los Angeles, from the indolent beach cities to the freeways to the sinister hippie excess of the canyons. At once a locus of the American Dream and strangely foreign, a haven for charlatans, fameseekers, and criminals, L.A. is the perfect place for Pynchon.
Doc is a genial, wise-cracking, surprisingly determined gumshoe, for a guy who mostly just wants to roll a joint and kick back in front of the tube. Nobody even formally hires him to look into all of this Golden Fang stuff, but he does it anyway, and at great personal peril, out of some twisted sense of stoner duty. He's not a bad guy to spend a novel with.
But I'd be lying if I said I understood it, as a whole. Who did what? Was Mickey Wolfmann kidnapped or not? What was loquacious LAPD detective Bigfoot Bjornsen's part in all this? Does it matter?
Maybe not. Maybe the point is that the more you learn about the case, the more unclear it becomes. And when it finally ends, it leaves you the way it leaves Doc--driving into a fog deeper and denser than any you have known....more
A calm, cool, quiet, eerie novel - which is surprising, considering that it's about war, submarines, top secret missions, and inflatable sex dolls.
ButA calm, cool, quiet, eerie novel - which is surprising, considering that it's about war, submarines, top secret missions, and inflatable sex dolls.
But that's life in the bizarre yet finely calibrated fictional worlds of Macdonald Harris; you get used to it after a while. Unlike my favorite works of his, The Balloonist and Carp Castle, which are written in effulgent prose and bursting with backstory and digressions, Yukiko is terse and lean, focusing very much on careful descriptions of people and landscapes and not venturing much into emotional terrain.
In a book full of enigmas, our protagonist is the most enigmatic of all - he narrates with an elemental, almost childlike simplicity, and rarely reflects on the events of the novel or his own feelings. This keeps us moving ever forward, but at a meticulous, measured pace, and never quite sure of where we're going.
The conclusion is satisfying, surprising, and in retrospect, obvious. Harris was a writer of great imagination and exacting skill, and I don't look forward to the day when I run out of his books.
The hardest of hard-boiled novels--made all the harder by its moments of restraint--a masterwork of grit, suspense, and narrative control, not to mentThe hardest of hard-boiled novels--made all the harder by its moments of restraint--a masterwork of grit, suspense, and narrative control, not to mention a wonderful evocation of Los Angeles and a near-definitive dictionary of racial slurs and terms for female anatomy. While it can be tough to swallow in places, that's also the art of it. George Pelecanos points out in the introduction that the reader is free to judge the characters if they want, but the author refuses to.
What makes this book so compulsively readable is not the murder mystery, though that's tantalizing enough: a young woman chopped up and left on a street corner, a la the Black Dahlia. The further we go in this story, the more we realize that the solution doesn't matter. This is a crime from which it is impossible to extract justice, a crime that by its nature can only divide and separate and bifurcate those who come in contact with it.
From the outset, True Confessions defeats our expectations. We're accustomed, these days, to detective stories in which the sad-sack, gruffly likeable investigator doggedly, obsessively pursues the killer. For our detective, Tom Spellacy, solving the case is the last thing on his mind most of the time. He's got other problems. Rather than casing suspicious locales or staying up all night digging through old files, or whatever it is a fictional detective should do, he's eating lunch at the Biltmore and going to the fights and doing little favors for his pals, like moving a priest's corpse out of a brothel. He works the murder during work hours, but mostly he's worried about his wife in the loony bin, his mistress, a mobster he's at odds with, and his brother, the monsignor. Not until the end does he really knuckle down. And Tom does crack it. But it turns out that solving the case solves nothing.
What matters is the relationship between two men, Tom Spellacy and his brother, Monsignor Des Spellacy. A couple of Irish toughs from Boyle Heights who know how to operate in the worlds they've chosen. Tom works all the angles when it comes to hookers, pimps, mobsters, and fight promoters. Des does the same with cardinals, pastors, laymen, and the many crooked businessmen glomming onto the Catholic church.
Almost without you noticing, Dunne layers these characters and crafts something moving out of their relationship. At times the book seems to be nothing more than an almost dreamlike series of conversations, at once philosophical and earthy, rendered with dazzling readability and style. But you've got to have the stomach for it, because these people don't talk nice. If you want a couple of stand-up guys to root for, you're out of luck with the Spellacy brothers. What you get here are complicated, witty, smart, often ugly people at war with their deep affection for and resentment of one another.
And that's the really hard stuff. Not hookers and murderers and corrupt cops. Those things are easy. Family, faith. Brothers. That's hard-boiled....more