A delightful and gentle little novel about one of my most favorite poets and authors--Thomas Hardy. This short novel imagines a short span of time inA delightful and gentle little novel about one of my most favorite poets and authors--Thomas Hardy. This short novel imagines a short span of time in Hardy's twilight years shortly after the First World War--he is 84 at this time--and he's written a stage version of his famous novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891). The young woman that he has chosen to play the role of 'Tess' is Gertrude Bugler. Apparently Hardy based the character of 'Tess' on Gertrude's mother, and now he does have just a bit of an infatuation with young Gertie, much to the concern of Hardy's second wife, Florence. This is the story of a not quite romantic triangle that pivots from the point-of-view of Hardy, Florence and Gertrude.
Hardy, in 1889, wrote "Love lives on propinquity, but dies on contact," and I think Nicholson's short novel infers that he likely believed that until the day he died. Even for an old Thomas Hardy there was always a young and vivacious Tess, Eustacia Vye, or Sue Bridehead out there in the world to look at tenderly and longingly.
If you are a fan of Hardy's novels and poetry, I highly recommend this novel. Christopher Nicholson's Winter gets a solid 4 of 5 stars from me....more
Vintage O'Hara novel. There's just something about O'Hara's writing, his characters, his reliance on dialog, and his overall storytelling qualities thVintage O'Hara novel. There's just something about O'Hara's writing, his characters, his reliance on dialog, and his overall storytelling qualities that simply enchants me. I know that many don't consider him a truly 'great' author, but I really like his work. I think his work paints a pretty accurate picture of the peoples, customs, and social mores of the mid-Atlantic region in the late-19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. This isn't one of his best novels, but if you're a completist, it is essential reading....more
The Lockwood Concern, I believe, is John O'Hara's homage to John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, and while O'Hara has done a very credible job with hisThe Lockwood Concern, I believe, is John O'Hara's homage to John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, and while O'Hara has done a very credible job with his multi-generational tale about the Lockwoods of Swedish Haven, Pennsylvania, it just did not rise to the exalted heights of The Forsyte Saga. This is the story of the people of eastern Pennsylvania from the early 1800s up to about the time of the stock market crash in the late-1920s.
One thing I simply love about John O'Hara's novels is how he reuses the characters, both major and minor, from his other novels. There are always unexpected cameo appearances of people like Joe Chapin (Ten North Frederick Street) and Julian and Carolyn English (Appointment in Samarra) and so forth, and they're a treat to encounter.
While this is probably best considered one of O'Hara's minor efforts, if you're a completist it is certainly worth seeking out and reading. I enjoyed it from the first to the last page, and would give it 3.5 stars of five....more
A short novella, John O'Hara's The Farmers Hotel, first published in 1951, reads like a three-act play that takes place over several hours in rural wiA short novella, John O'Hara's The Farmers Hotel, first published in 1951, reads like a three-act play that takes place over several hours in rural wintry eastern Pennsylvania. The story revolves around a group of people all brought together by a blizzard to a newly renovated and reopened hotel. It is a dialog-driven plot involving some truly interesting characters. I have really come to admire O'Hara's ability to put his readers into a relatively ordinary scene, and then through the ensuing conversations we come to better know and understand each of the characters, warts and all. While the novella's denouement may have been somewhat predictable, it didn't detract at all from this being an enjoyable and engaging read. The Farmers Hotel gets a solid 3.5 stars of 5 from me....more
This is an excellent collection of short stories by John O'Hara. I found a hardcover edition of this collection in a small used bookstore in PlacervilThis is an excellent collection of short stories by John O'Hara. I found a hardcover edition of this collection in a small used bookstore in Placerville, California, over the Christmas holidays and snapped it up. It contains some 'old friends' that I had read previously, but also quite a number of stories that were new to me. John O'Hara is a master at telling the stories of ordinary people in very ordinary places, and his deft touch with dialog makes the reader feel as though they are right there with the story's protagonists. Most of O'Hara's stories feature the people and times of mid-Atlantic America in the first half of the 20th century. I highly recommend this collection of 49 Stories by John O'Hara. This collection gets 4.5 stars of 5 from me....more
This is an excellent collection of short stories by one of the masters of the genre, John O'Hara. O'Hara's And Other Stories includes three of my favoThis is an excellent collection of short stories by one of the masters of the genre, John O'Hara. O'Hara's And Other Stories includes three of my favorite stories, including "A Few Trips and Some Poetry" (novella length), "The Strong Man," and "Gunboat Jenkins and Marge." Each of these stories features the men and women of eastern Pennsylvania in the early to mid-20th century and are a fascinating peek into the small-town America of my parents and grandparents generations.
Perhaps what intrigues me the most though is that the characters and relationships that O'Hara has described in each of these dialog-driven tales feel real, and feel like people I've known or heard about. These tales are full of boozy, cigarette-smoking, somewhat risque people; and while social mores and the sexual interactions between men and women are certainly different today than the eras that John O'Hara tended to write about, the intricate dance between the sexes hasn't really changed all that much. So, if you're looking for some really fine short stories about flawed, but interesting, people in the early 20th century, you simply can't go wrong with John O'Hara's And Other Stories. This collection gets 4 of 5 stars from me....more
I imbibed in this Goodis collection of noir crime fiction in small doses, and only at night. These novels are dark and none of them end very well, butI imbibed in this Goodis collection of noir crime fiction in small doses, and only at night. These novels are dark and none of them end very well, but that's really not the point as they are really well written and excellent examples of this genre. Goodis was recommended to me by a friend and I'm so glad to have read him and to experience another American author that I had known absolutely nothing about prior to reading his work. My favorites of the bunch was probably Dark Passage and The Burglar. These two novellas had me going from the get-go. Goodis is good stuff, folks!
Serenade, first published in 1937, is hands down one of the best novels I've read this year, and I never wanted it to end. Great plot, great characterSerenade, first published in 1937, is hands down one of the best novels I've read this year, and I never wanted it to end. Great plot, great characters, and superb writing all combine to create a truly memorable book that I unhesitatingly recommend. Also, I am mystified that nobody has endeavored to make a film adaptation of this novel, as I think it would do really well on the big screen. I also have to wonder if Cormac McCarthy didn't get some of his inspiration for his "Border" trilogy from James M. Cain and particularly from his wonderful novel, Serenade.
As an aside, I find it interesting that the readers on this site are fairly evenly split on this novel with about half of the readers really liking the book, while the other half generally didn't care for it all. This novel deals with some tough issues, to be sure, which were written about from Cain's late-1930s perspective and context. Issues of race, gender and sexuality are certainly viewed through a different colored prism today.
Serenade get a solid 4.5 stars of 5 from me....more
A somewhat strange, odd little novel from the 2014 Nobel winner, Patrick Modiano. I honestly don't quite know what to make of this. Nor do I quite knoA somewhat strange, odd little novel from the 2014 Nobel winner, Patrick Modiano. I honestly don't quite know what to make of this. Nor do I quite know what the author fully intended to accomplish with the plot? Was it a murder mystery? Maybe...
Fortunately, it is a short little thing and a fast read. I also thought that the novel was well written, although I guess that is really a function of the translator's craft. Having said all of this though, I think I probably need to read it again sometime and see if I can figure out precisely what tale Modiano is trying to tell here.
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood gets 3 of 5 stars from me at this point in time. Also, I'd be interested in what others who've read this novel think....more
Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel, Eileen, is a pretty darn good first effort. This a grim and dark novel about a young woman--Eileen--and a few cold dayOttessa Moshfegh's debut novel, Eileen, is a pretty darn good first effort. This a grim and dark novel about a young woman--Eileen--and a few cold days right before Christmas in a small New England town in the early 1960s. This is not a Charles Dickens Christmas story that one reads aloud in the living room in front of the fireplace with the family. Nope, upon finishing this book you realize that you kinda feel grubby and in need of a hot shower with plenty of soap.
Moshfegh is a good writer, and the novel really develops and explores the character of Eileen, her extremely dysfunctional family and the gloomy black-hole that is her life. It almost defied imagination that this young woman could be so screwed up, but there it is, Eileen is a hot mess.
With the arrival of her new coworker, Rebecca, the novel kicks into overdrive and the reader is relentlessly carried to the novel's conclusion which while it may have been a bit unsatisfying for me, it worked in the context of the whole story. I have always liked (perhaps guiltily) the novels and stories of Stephen King, and Moshfegh's novel squarely slots in with his work, and I mean that as a compliment.
Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen receives a solid 3.5 of 5 stars from me....more
First, let me say that this collection of three of James M. Cain's novels is crazy good! I read these three books on my Kindle over the course of a coFirst, let me say that this collection of three of James M. Cain's novels is crazy good! I read these three books on my Kindle over the course of a couple of days while on business travel and sitting on airplanes or in airports and simply couldn't put them down.
The first book in the collection, Serenade, is hands down one of the best novels I've read this year, and I never wanted it to end. Great plot, great characters, and superb writing all combine to create a truly memorable book that I unhesitatingly recommend. Also, I am mystified that nobody has endeavored to make a film adaptation of this novel, as I think it would do really well on the big screen. I have to wonder if Cormac McCarthy didn't get some of his inspiration for his "Border" trilogy from Cain and particularly from Serenade.
The other two books, Love's Lovely Counterfeit and The Butterfly are both very good too. I think I overall preferred The Butterfly as it has an interesting twist and that it is set in the coal-country of Appalachia shortly after Prohibition has ended.
I have come to realize that the works of James M. Cain are excellent examples of the best of American crime-noir fiction. I also think Cain is a completely underrated author, and that is simply inexplicable to me.
Serenade gets 4.5 of 5 stars from me; while the other two novels receive 3.5 of 5 stars. This a wonderful collection to have on your shelf or Kindle!...more
A bit unusual for me, but I watched the ten-episode Amazon streaming series before I read the novel. Normally, that is not a particularly satisfying eA bit unusual for me, but I watched the ten-episode Amazon streaming series before I read the novel. Normally, that is not a particularly satisfying experience, but in this case the two mediums were both highly enjoyable although quite different.
First, let me make a genuine plug for the Amazon series. It is really well done and entertaining. It is dramatic and a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. I watched all ten episodes over the course of the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and was almost sad when I had no more episodes to download and watch.
Of course, after watching the Amazon series I instantly purchased Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few PKD novels that I had not read over the years. Also, unlike much of his oeuvre, it really doesn't pigeon-hole with the science fiction genre that he tended to write in. On its surface the novel is an alternate history, but at the same time it is also a deeply philosophical novel that very much transcends the time and age it was written (i.e., the 1960s) and that the plot was set in.
This is a novel about America in the early 1960s, some 15 years after the Allies have lost the Second World War to the Nazis and Japanese. In fact, the United States has been divided into the Nazi-controlled region of the eastern seaboard and midwest; and the Japanese-controlled region of the Pacific Coast states. The Rocky Mountain region is largely a no-man's land or neutral zone. There is also an active armed resistance to the Germans and Japanese. Of course, the Nazis and Japanese overlords bring the horrors of totalitarianism that they had historically inflicted upon Europe and Asia to the citizens of the United States.
While I don't want to delve too deeply into the intricacies of the plot of the novel, I do want to say that this is an "alternate history" within an "alternate history," and it is an incredibly thought-provoking plot device.
The 'take-home-message' for me, with both the Amazon series and the novel, was the following--
Even though in "our" history the Allies won World War II and eradicated fascism in Germany and Japan, did things really change for humanity? PKD wrote his novel just as the Cold War was kicking off in earnest; McCarthyism was rampant in the United States, as was the continuing horror of racism and segregation. Furthermore, I look out in late-2015 across the landscape of the World and humanity today and I see the ugliness of the fascism of religious-based terrorism, and even political candidates in this country talking of incarcerating Muslim-Americans until their security status can be verified; or the rejection of sanctuary for Syrian refugees. I see an increase in government surveillance programs in many of the democratic countries around the world with wiretaps, CCTV, internet monitoring, and so forth. And, sadly, segregation, racism and sexism are still major problems that confront all civilized peoples. I think what PKD was trying to say--as was the Amazon series--is that the "wolf in sheep's clothing" is not so easy to root out and eradicate, and that the capability of Man's inhumanity to his fellow man is a fundamental Truth, regardless of the uniform worn or nationality performing it.
In summary, both the novel and the Amazon series of The Man in the High Castle are incredibly thought-provoking; and both were so very well done. I do know that the book is like an onion and I am going to have to read it again and again to peel back the layers and see what else I can discover and learn.
Both the novel and the Amazon series get 4.5 stars of 5 stars from me....more
This is a terrific collection of some of the very best of James M. Cain's fiction. I really enjoyed rereading The Postman Always Rings Twice and DoublThis is a terrific collection of some of the very best of James M. Cain's fiction. I really enjoyed rereading The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, but it was my first-time reading of Mildred Pierce that really made an impression on me. Mildred Pierce is a novel of high quality and an extraordinary character study of a woman trying to make something of herself in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Mildred felt like a real person to me, I rooted for her and wanted her to succeed, but it was her dangerously dysfunctional relationship with her eldest daughter, Veda, that was the heart and soul of the novel and was fascinating to watch it unfold over the years. At times reading this book kind of felt like what it must be to stand by watching two cars in a high-speed head-on collision. This was novel that I know I will read again and again. It really is that good!
I would give the entire collection 4.5 stars of 5, but Mildred Pierce gets a solid 5 stars!...more
This may be nearly one of the last Edith Wharton novels that I had not yet read. This was, all in all, a fascinating novel too. It is much more of a 'This may be nearly one of the last Edith Wharton novels that I had not yet read. This was, all in all, a fascinating novel too. It is much more of a 'social conditions' novel than many that Wharton has written; as it describes the working conditions in the clothing mills in New England in the late-19th century. Wharton also spends much of the novel dealing with the issue of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. I need to go back to Hermione Lee's great biography and see if I can ferret out the backstory, or impetus, for this novel.
I love anything that Ms. Wharton has written and this was no exception. Was it as good as The Reef, or The House of Mirth, or The Age of Innocence? No, but it was well worth reading, and quite thought-provoking particularly in light of the social discussions that we are having about issues associated with the quality of end-of-life. My mother died several years ago from ALS (i.e., 'Lou Gehrig's Disease) and it was a miserable, miserable experience for all of us--this novel meant a lot to me personally.
The Fruit of the Tree is a solid 4 of 5 stars for me. ...more