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
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
Like Trollope's terrific novel, Doctor Thorne, there's a lot of Jane Austen in The Small House at Allington. A quiet and pleasant and pastoral novel tLike Trollope's terrific novel, Doctor Thorne, there's a lot of Jane Austen in The Small House at Allington. A quiet and pleasant and pastoral novel that slowly enfolds you in its embrace. This is the story of the rhymes and reasons and the will and passions that guide a small group of young women and men as they endeavor to find love, and it is ever so entertaining. It can be frustrating at times too, as I found myself wanting to scream at Miss Lily Dale to get her pretty head out of her own *ss and realize that a very good life was well within her grasp. Oh well, it'd have not been much of plot if she'd done that early on. In short, this is a very satisfying novel and a Trollope that I am glad that I read and unhesitatingly recommend....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
I happened to be up in Ashland, Oregon, this weekend attending the Shakespeare Festival (saw a magnificent rendition of "The Tempest"), and stopped byI happened to be up in Ashland, Oregon, this weekend attending the Shakespeare Festival (saw a magnificent rendition of "The Tempest"), and stopped by a used bookstore, Shakespeare Books & Antiques, for a bit-o-browsing. To my utter delight I discovered a collection of four slim hard-cover editions of Edith Wharton's "Old New York" novellas. These are first editions, published in 1924, are illustrated, and in very good condition. Of course I snapped them up for $12 each! While waiting for plays to start, during intermission, or even while sitting in the park on a lovely afternoon, I read each one of them again simply marveling at the power of Edith Wharton's storytelling and use of language. Each novella is a stand-alone gem in its own right, but truly shine when read in the order she intended--"False Dawn", "The Old Maid", "The Spark", and "New Year's Day". Each novella is set in a different decade of the 19th century, i.e., the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
I am ever so glad to have these books on my Edith Wharton shelf now!...more
Rarely do I not finish a book that I have started. Unfortunately, this was the case with my experience with Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries". While iRarely do I not finish a book that I have started. Unfortunately, this was the case with my experience with Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries". While it did have a few intriguing moments and an interesting cast of characters (dare I say, 'Dickensian'), it was simply too disjointed and wandered about in no apparent direction for far too long for me. Also, I must confess that the overall historicity of the novel--the gold-rush days in New Zealand during the 1860s--just felt 'off' for me, not that I'm any expert of that period of time. In all honesty, I truly gave this novel the benefit of the doubt (it is a Booker winner, after all), and tried several times to forge ahead. I even set it down and read a different novel and then went back to "The Luminaries", but to no avail. Finally, two-thirds of the way through it, I gently closed it and carried it downstairs to place it in a pile of books I am donating to my local library. There are simply too many good books out there that I have yet to read to struggle any longer with this one. Obviously, as I've not read it, I'll not be rating it....more
This is a devastatingly powerful little novel. Over the past six months I have been slowly, but surely, winding my way through the macabre world thatThis is a devastatingly powerful little novel. Over the past six months I have been slowly, but surely, winding my way through the macabre world that is the fiction of Emile Zola. I have always kind of viewed Zola as the 'father' of Naturalism, and Therese Raquin is a prime example. It surely is not hard to make the leap from France and Therese Raquin to the 'Wessex' countryside of Thomas Hardy and Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
There's a dirty, seamy, grimy feel to this novel...actually, come to think of it, to all of the Zola novels I've read so far. There is a side of human life and human nature that Zola wants to thrust right in your face and under your nose, and the reader can't help but feel and smell everything. And no matter how squeamish or sensitive we are, we can't help but keep reading...it is human nature, we want to see the murder occur, the trains collide, the adulterous pair get caught out. Zola is the novelist for the voyeur in each of us. Seriously scary shit here, folks!...more