What a poignantly beautiful little novel. This is the story of a young woman, Laurel, who lives in a small valley (the "cove") in the Appalachian MounWhat a poignantly beautiful little novel. This is the story of a young woman, Laurel, who lives in a small valley (the "cove") in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Laurel is basically shunned by all of the folks that live around her because of her port-wine stain birthmark that they believe marks her as a witch. This novel takes place several months after America's entry in the First World War.
During the course of the novel we meet Laurel's older brother, who has returned from France after having lost a hand in combat. The brother and sister find a mute young man, Walter, one day who has been badly stung by yellow-jackets and they nurse him back to health. Walter ends up helping Hank and Laurel as they fix up the family farm in the cove.
There's an almost Thomas Hardy-like quality to the telling of this pastoral tale, and the reader can't help but fall in love with Laurel, appreciate the stolid Hank, and wonder about the mystery of young Walter. But, like a Hardy novel, the reality of life always has a way of interjecting itself into the scene. While I don't want to give anything away, suffice it to say that the ending is dramatic and not altogether unexpected.
I have visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park and much of the region of western North Carolina and this novel really connected with me. I can't express how delighted I am to have recently discovered the fiction and poetry of Ron Rash, an author that truly seems to have his finger on the pulse of Appalachia--the environment and the people....more
A short-story collection that will kick your butt! It is so unfair, and so cliche, to compare Ron Rash's fiction to Cormac McCarthy's; and while I canA short-story collection that will kick your butt! It is so unfair, and so cliche, to compare Ron Rash's fiction to Cormac McCarthy's; and while I can understand people doing that, it is wrong on so many levels. Rash has his own voice and has his own muse. This particular collection is amazing and the stories span the 19th through the 21st centuries. There are thirty-four stories here and thirteen of them were absolute showstoppers for me.
When I wore a younger man's clothes I 'pooh-poohed' short-story collections. Don't ask me why, I really haven't a clue. Now I realize that it is the sign of a master of the craft of writing to be able to cobble together a short story in a few thousand words or less--and some of Rash's stories are very short. But they pack a wallop.
Here's an example of Rash's brilliant and lyrical prose from his story, Shiloh--a brutal Civil War battle fought in Tennessee in April 1862--
"They knew from the massing of troops this was to be a battle, not a skirmish. That last morning their regiment had passed a Dunker church, beyond it a plowed field tended only by scarecrows. The braggarts and raw cobs spoke little now as the battle's racket encircled them like a noose. Officers rode back and forth on skittish horses. Those who'd gone before them littered the ground, so many Benjamin wondered if a single man yet survived. Soon they smelled gunpowder, watched its smoke drift toward them. More bodies appeared. Dobbins picked up a dirt clod, squeezed it. Habit, Benjamin thought, as Dobbins let the grains sift through his fingers. Good soil, Wray had asked. Not the best, Dobbins had answered, but I reckon it to cover our bodies enough."
This is the Appalachia of our country, these stories express the heart and soul of our American brothers and sisters. You'll find your family and friends in each and every one of these stories. Ron Rash chronicles what it is to be you, to be me, to be an American; and he does it with poetic lyricism. This is good stuff, folks!...more
Whoo-Whee! This is a novel that grabs you and does not let go. Maybe a little sappy, but we all want to experience a love affair like Harry and CatherWhoo-Whee! This is a novel that grabs you and does not let go. Maybe a little sappy, but we all want to experience a love affair like Harry and Catherine. Let me repeat--we all want to experience a love affair like that of Harry and Catherine. Having said that the rest of the novel is a love affair with the city of New York, and every bloody word is beautiful!
What can I say, this is such a terrific tale and one that deserves to be read by all. I have discovered a new author, and his name is Mark Helprin. This is literature, and literature at its very best. A good story that that just takes the reader deeper and deeper, just as intended. I'll be reading this one again!...more
A lyrical, enchanting and sweeping tale that was simply impossible to put down once I started reading. This is the story of a human life, the life ofA lyrical, enchanting and sweeping tale that was simply impossible to put down once I started reading. This is the story of a human life, the life of a young Italian, Alessandro, at the very beginning of the 20th century, learning to live and love with his family in Rome, mountain climbing in the Italian Alps, and then becoming a man on the battlefields of World War I. I don't quite know how to describe it, but there is something almost Tolstoyan in Helprin's wordcraft and the breadth and scope of this beautiful novel. It is elegant, nuanced and sophisticated, rich and inviting, and expresses the full gamut of human emotions and cannot help but evoke empathy in the reader. For those of you who are veterans, or have veterans in your family, this is book to read and savor, a novel to share. This is a classic, a novel that will be read by many one-hundred years, even two-hundred years from now. I know that this is a novel that I will be revisiting every few years for the rest of my life. Yes, it is just that good!...more
Phantasmagorical! Magical! Fabulous! This is a novel about the human (and, dare I say, the horse) spirit that tugs at the heart-strings on so many levPhantasmagorical! Magical! Fabulous! This is a novel about the human (and, dare I say, the horse) spirit that tugs at the heart-strings on so many levels. There is so much packed into this novel that should give every reader great pause and make each and every one of us stop and think about what family, friends, loyalty, love, and commitment mean to each of us. God, the magic in this book is simply uplifting and makes the spirit soar. If you are looking for a book that hits the "sweet-spot" and really can make you feel good, this is the novel for you. I think I'll read this book every winter for the rest of my life....more
I won't rate this novel...yet. I simply couldn't get into it. I tried and tried and tried. The husband and wife characters just didn't get under my skI won't rate this novel...yet. I simply couldn't get into it. I tried and tried and tried. The husband and wife characters just didn't get under my skin in a positive fashion, and ultimately I simply didn't care enough to find out what happened to them. Have I abandoned this book to the Goodwill or my local public library branch? Not yet. So, there is still a small (very small) part of me that says that I am likely to give Ms. Lepucki's novel one more chance. I just don't know when that will be....more
This is my seventh different translation of The Iliad that I have read over the past four or five years, and this one is a good one. It reads well andThis is my seventh different translation of The Iliad that I have read over the past four or five years, and this one is a good one. It reads well and feels like something you would really like to hear recited with a gathering of your friends around a large bonfire on a crisply cool fall night. The theme of the "rage of Achilles" is palpable at times, and the character of an aggressive Hector is perhaps more robust and muscular in this translation than some I've read.
Something that I think Powell's rendition does very well is footnote everything, saving the reader from flipping to the back of the poem. Additionally, he has included a great number of photographs of ancient Greek illustrated pottery that highlight events from The Iliad. Excellent maps and a superb glossary round out this edition and make it a keeper. I'm guessing that it has been formatted to be a college text, and I am guessing it will do well in that role. All in all is this a no-nonsense, quality translation of a timeless story that every human should read at least once in their lifetime....more
I started this little novel this morning on the train to work and then finished it about five minutes before I arrived home tonight. At little more thI started this little novel this morning on the train to work and then finished it about five minutes before I arrived home tonight. At little more than 300 pages, this novel packs a punch. While 'sparely' written--it has been described as 'prose Haiku'--every word has its place and significant meaning. No question, this is a meaningful novel and that is a very rare and beautiful thing in this day and age.
This is the story of 'Hig', his dog Jasper, and Bangley, a curmudgeonly survivalist. The thing is that the world that these three live in is not a world that we know. Some pandemic strain of flu virus has wiped out over 99.99% of the world's population of humans, and climate change has radically altered the environment of the central Rockies where Hig and Bangley have hunkered down. Also, there are some very mean, scary folks out there and Hig and Bangley have to continually maintain a diligent watch just to protect their own little world of 'normalcy'.
Hig is also a pilot and he has an old Cessna 182 that he lovingly cares for and flies around, protecting their area, and gathering up useful flotsam and jetsam that he and Bangley can use or eat. Jasper, his dog, is his co-pilot.
Really though, this is the story of a man on a journey from grief and despair to hope and something that may become a new start in a completely new world. Can Hig bury the ghosts from his past, and can he make peace with what it takes to survive in this new world and even make it better? Is Hig willing to risk all that he has created with Bangley to see if there is something else out there?
As I said, this is spare novel, incredibly well-crafted, and it simply begs to be scripted and filmed. And while there is the 'scent' of Cormac McCarthy in this novel, Peter Heller is clearly his own man with his own unique muse. It is certainly dystopian, but it is also not one jot formulaic. In fact, this novel almost feels elegiac with its short lines of dactylic hexameter and dactylic pentameter. Like Aeschylus and his brilliant triptych, The Oresteia, I think Heller is also telling us a future story of humanity; a story rich in pathos--and it is the experience of the character of Hig that we identify and bond with. Hig is you, Hig is me.
This is a popular novel now, but I firmly believe The Dog Stars will be read 100, even 200 years from now. I know that I will be reading this book again, off and on, for the rest of my life. I think there is much that this novel offers, and I'd like to continue to experience and appreciate this most amazing work that Peter Heller has gifted us with....more
My first exposure to Vollmann is his recent collection of short stories, Last Stories and Other Stories (2014) which I still feel is nothing short ofMy first exposure to Vollmann is his recent collection of short stories, Last Stories and Other Stories (2014) which I still feel is nothing short of brilliant. I eagerly hunted up a copy of Europe Central and dove in. It is constructed like in that it is a loosely woven warp of vignettes that tie together Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR from the early-1930s through the end of World War II. For me, Vollmann is a writer that I have to take in small doses. His is a heady brew. I find that I read a vignette and then have to mull it over for a day or two, and then slowly move on. Being a student of World War II history and that of the Eastern Front particularly, this novel does pretty accurately get into what it meant to be Russian and German during that horrific period.
I think you need to be pretty well up on your World War II to fully appreciate this big sprawling canvas of horror that Vollmann has painted. Having an understanding of modern Russian composers, and even the poetry of Anna Akhmatova sure wouldn't hurt either. I can certainly see why this novel was a National Book Award winner too, as Vollmann makes us engage with all of the reasons why the legacies of both the Second World War and the Cold War continue to shape Europe and the United States and probably will for generations to come. Grim and gritty, but well worth the read....more
I have read James Ellroy's novels pretty much ever since he began writing them, and they are all very, very good. And some are stunningly good reads,I have read James Ellroy's novels pretty much ever since he began writing them, and they are all very, very good. And some are stunningly good reads, and Perfidia is just such a novel. In all fairness, I think just a bit of my bias for this determination is associated with the fact that I have encountered most of the characters in this novel in his previous novels. Having said that though, this novel 'carries its own freight,' and is a stand-alone plot in its own right. It does provide a ton of back-story though on many of the characters encountered in Ellroy's first "LA Quartet," The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz.
Perfidia is a big, thick dark and twisted book that races along at break-neck speed from the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 through the end of December in Los Angeles, California. The entire novel largely pivots around the murder of a Japanese family and the efforts of the LAPD to solve the crime.
It is also the story of rampant racism across many cultures in Los Angeles, and after Pearl Harbor much of that vitriolic racism is focused on the Asian community. Additionally, Ellroy has this ability to seamlessly weave historical characters in with his fictional and make it seem completely believable. There are encounters with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph P. Kennedy, and even the future President, Jack Kennedy.
Sure, Perfidia is a mystery, a crime drama, but it is also a hell of a lot more than that. This is the story of city that is well on its way to becoming one of the most important cities in the country, a city full of flawed individuals, some worse than others. A city that is trying to figure out what it means to be part of an America entering World War II, a city that is trying to figure out how it relates to its own multicultural ethnicities. Finally, in an Ellroy novel the boundaries between right and wrong are blurred, if not nonexistent.
Perfidia, in Ellroy's words, is the start of his second "LA Quartet," and if this novel is any indication it will be even better than the first. This is an amazingly good novel that grabs you from the get-go and relentlessly holds your attention until the final page is turned. I can't wait to see where Mr. Ellroy takes us from here. Safe to say though that I know it'll continue to explore the dark-side of humanity in the City of Angels, in the Los Angeles that I love and live in....more
You simply must read this collection of short stories by William T. Vollmann, as this stuff is 'off-the-hook'! These are ghost stories, but not your sYou simply must read this collection of short stories by William T. Vollmann, as this stuff is 'off-the-hook'! These are ghost stories, but not your standard fare. Oh no, these gems delve into the relationship that we humans have with the notion of Death. And while some of the tales are macabre or even a little over the top, they cause the reader to stop and consider our own unique perspectives on what it means to be alive and what it may mean to be dead.
One of the fascinating things that Vollmann has done with this collection is give us a 'busman's tour', if you will, of how Life and Death are viewed in different regions and cultures around the world. We have stories about the living and the dead in Italy, in the Balkans, in Mexico, in Scandanavia, in Japan, and even in the U.S.
Most of the stories, for me at the age of nearly fifty-nine, became deeply personal and emotional. I have lost family and friends to Death, and there are threads in each of these stories that strummed a very personal heart-string...sometimes quite profoundly. Some of the stories have a historical basis that I was aware of like the modern-day retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" in Vollmann's Escape; or in his story, The Trench Ghost that addresses the horrors of World War I. A true stand-out story--The Faithful Wife--revolves around the deep love, fidelity and commitment that exists within a marriage, and what happens when one spouse is taken by Death. This theme is continued in a Norwegian-based story, The Narrow Passage that is both riveting and breathtakingly horrifying.
My favorite tale of the entire collection has to be When We Were Seventeen. In this tale Vollmann taps what is inside each and every one of us. What happens if you are dying, and maybe only have a few months left to live. What would you do if you could visit with someone important to you that has already died. You are already in a place where you are re-running the film reel that has been your life; you are re-reading the letters that you have received and saved over much of your adult life; you're thinking back to those halcyon days of your youth, the vibrancy of your life, your own sexuality, your own intellectualism, and so on and so forth. First, if you could, would you reach out and summon a dead soul to talk with; and if you could, who would it be; and then what would you talk about? The title of this story--When We Were Seventeen says it all. This story is a masterpiece. In fact, this whole collection of stories is a masterpiece.
I have to say that I came to this book via a review I found on National Public Radio by Julia Keller on July 17, 2014. In this review Ms. Keller went on to say that "...except for two of the stories these tales are pretentious and flabby and self indulgent...the language is ordinary and cliche-infested." Ms. Keller, you could not be more wrong. I can't speak to what didn't 'click' for you, but for this man, nearing his sixth decade of life, this collection of short stories 'ticked a lot of boxes' and I now feel as though I have a much firmer grasp of what it means to experience my own Life and at some point in time, my own Death.
I don't know, but it almost seems that the Shade of Edgar Allen Poe must have leaned over the shoulder of William T. Vollmann as he put pen to paper and crafted this wonderful and somehow important collection of ghost stories. Read them, think about them, feel them...they mean something, something important to each of us. This I do know though, they are not "ordinary", nor are they "pretentious". They are though quite "self-indulgent". But then they are meant to be, I think. These stories--each and every one--speak to the Self in each and every one of us....more
A simply terrific collection of short stories by Henry James. What I love about this two volume collection of James's shorts is that they are all presA simply terrific collection of short stories by Henry James. What I love about this two volume collection of James's shorts is that they are all presented chronologically in the order in which they were written. This really lends itself to seeing how James--the author--matured over the years. This has turned into a summer of the short story collections; as I am now reading two volumes of Edith Wharton's shorts and still have the second volume of James's short stories waiting for me. Fun stuff!...more
The second volume in the Library of America's collection of Edith Wharton's short stories. This is a terrific set of her short stories written betweenThe second volume in the Library of America's collection of Edith Wharton's short stories. This is a terrific set of her short stories written between 1911 and 1937, and at something over 800 pages it becomes very easy to simply become immersed in her storytelling craft and find that you've just passed three or four hours reading two or three truly excellent stories. In all honesty I can say that I really didn't encounter a bad one in the lot, and most of them are sparkling gems. As I've said, time and again, as much as I like Edith Wharton's novels, I really do love her short stories. They are, in many respects, timeless, insightful, some even a bit spooky, but all are ever so entertaining....more
I recently finished reading Hermione Lee's excellent biography of Edith Wharton, and decided to go back and read most of Edith Wharton's short storiesI recently finished reading Hermione Lee's excellent biography of Edith Wharton, and decided to go back and read most of Edith Wharton's short stories again. It had been several years since I'd sat down and carefully read her stories, and the two-volume Library of America collections are simply superb. They contain most of the her stories and are arranged chronologically in the order in which she wrote them.
Edith Wharton may be the very best author of short stories that I've yet encountered, and I think that most readers will enjoy each and every one of them. Some are down-right creepy, some are satirical, others are sad, but all touch on the human experience. Favorites in this first volume include "The Touchstone", "Souls Belated", "Sanctuary", and many others. Frankly, there really isn't a bad story in the whole lot. Wharton is such an intelligent writer and was able to turn her sharp eye on the society around her and somehow seamlessly translate that vision to the printed page to the delight of her readers past, present, and future....more