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,...moreI 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.(less)
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 s...moreYou 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.(less)
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 pres...moreA 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!(less)
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 between...moreThe 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.(less)
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 stories...moreI 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.(less)
I happened to be up in Ashland, Oregon, this weekend attending the Shakespeare Festival (saw a magnificent rendition of "The Tempest"), and stopped by...moreI 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!(less)
An excellent and very well-written little novel! I have read several of Alan Furst's fictional espionage/period pieces focusing on the run up to the S...moreAn excellent and very well-written little novel! I have read several of Alan Furst's fictional espionage/period pieces focusing on the run up to the Second World War in Europe. I think what I like about each of them is that they really tend to be about ordinary people that are put in the position of re-evaluating the moral fabric of the society around them as Europe begins edging closer and closer to war again. In hindsight it is always easy to say, "Well, I certainly would have stood up to the fascists in Spain and Italy, the Nazis in Germany, or the communists in the Soviet Union." A lot of people did, but many, many more did not and the World found itself at war for the next six years and many, many tens of millions of lives were lost as a result. Furst, in the "Night Soldiers" series has created a series of fictional vignettes about people who try to do the right thing and are continually tested by the moral ambiguity of their own decision-making. And maybe, just maybe, the message is a pertinent one still.(less)
Folks, this is top-shelf historical fiction, and a goodly amount of this book is genuine 'edge-of-your-seat' thriller type stuff. If you love suspense...moreFolks, this is top-shelf historical fiction, and a goodly amount of this book is genuine 'edge-of-your-seat' thriller type stuff. If you love suspenseful sea stories with wonderfully wrought characters and a serious dose of World War II espionage, then this is the novel for you. The writing and plotting of Dark Voyage is right up there with the best of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. I unhesitatingly recommend Alan Furst's novel, Dark Voyage.(less)
A simply terrific novel! This eleventh offering in Furst's 'Night Soldiers' series may well be one of the very best that I've read. This is the story...moreA simply terrific novel! This eleventh offering in Furst's 'Night Soldiers' series may well be one of the very best that I've read. This is the story of how the Second World War reached the Balkan countries in 1941. The primary protagonist, Costa Zannis, is a senior Greek police official in Salonika, Greece, just south of the border with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Zannis knows that eventually Hitler's eyes will move south to the Balkans and he and his compatriots begin to prepare for that day.
A fascinating secondary plot-thread is woven throughout the tale that tells the story of the "underground" that moves Jewish refugees out of Nazi Germany and to freedom and safety in neutral Turkey. Costa Zannis is a good man, and the reader can't help but root for him at every turn as endeavors to do the right thing and avoid being killed in the process. I really enjoyed this very well written story that had me on the edge of my seat more times than not.(less)