The Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel
Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They hThe Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel
Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They have shared the same room since they were boys. Phil is the man the cow hands admire. George is the quiet one, a bit of a bore. But a cruel streak runs through Phil. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage creates an unnerving tension in the opening chapters of the novel.
On the surface, Phil Burbank is a successful rancher. He is a man's man. In the ranch crew's bunk house all the younger hands seek to impress him and aspire to emulate him. Phil excels in all things required of a trail boss in the harsh and unforgiving world that comprises the Burbank empire .
Phil is the brilliant brother. The tough one. In the ranch house, the young cow hands seek his favor, his attention. They aspire to emulate him. Phil Burbank possesses all the toughness required to run a cattleman's empire. Weakness is a quality he will not tolerate in anyone. Not slower, more cautious brother George. Not even his own parents, "The Old Gent" and his mother the "Lady."
Why the elder Burbanks came West from the Bramin world of Boston is something of a mystery. They have never fit in with the surrounding ranching community. Mr. and Mrs. Burbank left the ranch in the charge of their two sons in 1900, taking residence in a Salt Lake City hotel.
George failed at college, while Phil excelled there. George is Phil's frequent target for barbed sarcasm, and thinly veiled insults of what Phil considers George's inferiority, inappropriate for any Burbank. Yet, George complements Phil's presence at the ranch by handling the business end of ranch management.
Thomas Savage's tone grows increasingly dark through the careful plotting of this story. Though not overtly chilling in a relentless sense, there are moments so meticululously crafted that Savage is able to raise the short hairs on the back of the reader's neck. In viewing the story of these two brothers one cannot help but think of Cain and Abel. Yet Phil emerges even more calculated in his callous view of life.
The innocent foils to Phil Burbank's acid tongue is the Gordon family in nearby Herndon. John and Rose Gordon are decent people. Gordon is the town Doctor. He and Rose have a rather effeminate son, Peter. Phil Burbank sneers at the Gordon's, all of whom he considers weaklings. His berating Gordon and Peter, whom he labels a sissy lead to Dr. Gordon's taking his own life.
Rose, the Widow Gordon, is left to run a small hotel and eatery, The Red Mill. Peter is her right hand, an excellent cook, and co-host with his Mother. Ironically, it is George, in all ways decent, who comes to court Rose. She accepts him, not knowing that George's brother Phil led her husband to commit suicide.
It is Rose's marriage to George that propels the plot of The Power of the Dog. Phil sets out to destroy the marriage. George, oblivious to Phil's tactics, is unaware that Phil secretly torments Rose to the point of keeping her in a constant state of terror.
Young Peter becomes a pivotal character in Savage's enthralling novel of psychological insight. Peter can see what George cannot and will become his Mother's protector. At the same time, Phil becomes more impressed with the young man's willingness to learn the rigors of life on the range leading to an unlikely bond between the older man and the younger.
Savage keeps the reader on the edge of his seat throughout this taut character driven novel. Originally viewed as a western novel upon its publication in 1967, clearly this is a much deeper and complex story than one of sibling rivalry. Rather this is a masterful story of repressed sexuality. And it is Phil Burbank's homophobic behavior that is his own cloak of self denial that leads to the stunning conclusion of this novel.
For those drawn to novels of great characterization and nerve wracking plotting, The Power of the Dog will be an irresistible read. Track this one down. Prepare to be mesmerized....more
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too dauntiMiddlemarch: A Study in what Matters
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too daunting because of its sheer length, it is time to cast the fear aside and take your copy down from the shelf and begin to read. Find yourself immersed in a world of saints and sinners in rural England of the 1830s. George Eliot's novel breathes of life on every page. Joy in it. Revel in it. Do not think of it as a book from which the dust of a distant past must be blown, that means nothing today. It will bring much to you if you simply open it and begin to read....more
“But that’s what kismet is. It makes us careen off in odd directions from which we learn not only what life is about but what it is for. This journey may be nothing less than your chance to discover these things.”-The Captain, Homer's wise employer
On the surface of things, this is the tale of a great American road trip from Coalwood, West Virginia, all the way to Key West, Florida, in 1935, in the midst of the great depression. The travelers are Homer and Elsie Hickam, the author's parents. The purpose of the trip is to carry Albert home. Albert the alligator, a wedding gift from Buddy Ebsen, whom Elsie had known in Orlando, Florida, before Ebsen decided to journey to New York City in search of stardom as a dancer.
Albert represents something decidedly different to Homer and Elsie. Elsie viewed Albert as a gift solely to her from a handsome young man who became a star, the possibility of a love that might yet be fulfilled. She hates the West Virginia town of Coalwood. She wonders whether she should be married to coal miner Homer Hickam.
For Homer Hickam, Albert represents a competitor for his wife's affections. Buddy Ebsen is a phantom he cannot fight. Homer knows he is a coal miner, that he will never be a star, that he cannot even dance. When Albert clamps his toothy grin on Homer's pants leg, Homer issues an ultimatum. Either Albert goes, or he goes. To his dismay, Elsie thinks about it a week before she agrees to give up Albert, but only if Homer carries Albert home to Florida. With Elsie, of course, who never wants to return to Coalwood again.
What follows is a series of adventures and misadventures of epic proportion through great depression America. With $100.00 borrowed from the coal company and a 1925 Buick Touring Car, Homer doggedly drives south towards Florida. Albert rides in the back seat in a wash tub, showing his approval by his happy sounds of "Yeah, yeah, yeah." A mysterious rooster flies through the window to either perch on Albert's head or Homer's shoulder. Neither Albert nor Elsie ever understand why the rooster is there. Perhaps, it's pointed out by more than one person they encounter on the journey, he's a guardian angel, or spirit.
And perhaps there's more to this journey than the simple purpose of carrying Albert home. Both Homer and Elsie have a lot to learn about themselves and each other. Sometimes the point of a journey lies not in the destination but journey itself. Isn't that the perfect allegory for what we call life?
So, it should come as no surprise that Homer's attitude toward Albert should begin to change. How many alligators can stop a bank robbery? Nor should it come as a surprise that Elsie increasingly notices Homer's dependability in doing what is necessary to take Albert home.
“So, you met Steinbeck,” mused Hemingway over his port after the women had left. “It is a fateful peculiarity that you might meet him and me at virtually the same time. To what do you attribute that, Homer?” “I don’t know, sir,” Homer answered. “Just the way it worked out, I guess.” “Don’t you believe it. There are no coincidences in life. Although the big God of the Hebrews might be the greatest of them, I believe there are small gods who watch out and sometimes determine our fate. I believe they also like to have a little fun with us from time to time. Kismet. You heard of it?”
This is tall tale telling at its best. Hickam weaves his story in the loom of family legend. Each of us have similar stories passed down within our own families. These tales are the ones we cherish and serve as the glue that blesses the familial ties that bind. As the little man Michaleen Oge Flynn said in John Ford's The Quiet Man "Homeric! Impetuous!"
A story that's almost true? I believe every word of it.
Ebsen showed up in NYC in 1928 with $26.75 and his sister, Vilma. Ebsen took a job in a soda fountain. Both he and his sister were dancers and began their professional career in Broadway chorus lines. He broke into films in 1935. Ebsen signed with MGM at $1500 a week. Not bad for the great depression. He was set to star as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz." The aluminum makeup made him seriously ill. Throughout his life he referred to Oz as "that damned movie." Ebsen pulled out of the cast.
Ebsen is best remembered as Jed Clampett. But he was also Doc Golightly, Holly's much older husband in "Breakfast at Tiffanys." After the run of Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen put in eight seasons, nearly 180 episodes of "Barnaby Jones," from 1973 to 1980.
Ebsen was married three times. He died in 2013. His exact net worth is unknown, but he died a multimillionaire.
Rich? Depends on how you define wealth. I put my money on Homer, Sr. and Elsie.
Buddy Ebsen, Promotional Photo, Circa 1928
Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane is the strongest and most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States and the Atlantic Basin in recorded history. The second tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, the Labor Day Hurricane was the first of three Category 5 hurricanes at landfall that the United States endured during the 20th Century (the other two being 1969's Hurricane Camille and 1992's Hurricane Andrew). After forming as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas on August 29, it slowly proceeded westward and became a hurricane on September 1. Northeast storm warnings were ordered displayed Fort Pierce to Fort Myers in the September 1, 9:30 AM Weather Bureau advisory. Upon receipt of this advisory the U. S. Coast Guard Station, Miami, FL, sent a plane along the coast to advise boaters and campers of the impending danger by dropping message blocks. A second flight was made Sunday afternoon. All planes were placed in the hangar and its door closed at 10:00 AM Monday morning.
The 3:30 AM advisory, September 2 (Labor Day), predicted the disturbance "will probably pass through the Florida Straits Monday" and cautioned "against high tides and gales Florida Keys and ships in path." The 1:30 PM advisory ordered hurricane warnings for the Key West district which extended north to Key Largo. At around 2:00 PM, Fred Ghent, Assistant Administrator, Florida Emergency Relief Administration, requested a special train to evacuate the veterans work camps located in the upper keys. It departed Miami at 4:25 PM; delayed by a draw bridge opening, obstructions across the track, poor visibility and the necessity to back the locomotive below Homestead (so it could head out on the return trip) the train finally arrived at the Islamorada station on Upper Matecumbe Key at about 8:20 PM. This coincided with an abrupt wind shift from northeast (Florida Bay) to southeast (Atlantic Ocean) and the arrival on the coast of the storm tide. Eleven cars were swept from the tracks, leaving upright only the locomotive and tender. Remarkably, everyone on the train survived. The eye of the storm passed a few miles to the southwest creating a calm of about 40 minutes duration over Lower Matecumbe and 55 minutes (9:20 - 10:15 PM) over Long Key. At Camp #3 on Lower Matecumbe the surge arrived near the end of the calm with the wind close behind. On Long Key it struck about midway through the calm. The waters quickly receded after carving new channels connecting the bay with the ocean. But gale force winds and high seas persisted into Tuesday, preventing rescue efforts. The storm continued northwest along the Florida west coast, weakening before its second landfall near Cedar Key, Florida on September 4.
The compact and intense hurricane caused extreme damage in the upper Florida Keys, as a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet (5.5–6 meters) swept over the low-lying islands. The hurricane's strong winds and the surge destroyed nearly all the structures between Tavernier and Marathon. The town of Islamorada was obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway were severely damaged or destroyed.
Soon after the clouds had cleared, leaving a crystal blue horizon, the dead were counted. Between 400 and 600 people perished. What made this storm all the more tragic was that among the dead were 265 World War I veterans. At the height of the Great Depression these veterans had been sent to build a road on the low lying islands of the Florida Keys as a part of the Public Works for Veterans programs. While working, they were housed in inadequate tent-like structures provided by the Roosevelt administration. When the National Weather Bureau issued warnings for a hurricane they were not evacuated.
Shortly after the natural disaster had occurred, writer Ernest Hemingway was contacted by the editors of New Masses to write an account of the storm from an insider's perspective. Hemingway's response was the article, "Who Murdered the Vets?: A First-Hand Report on the Florida Hurricane," published September 17, 1935, just weeks after the event. Although billed as a personal account, in reality it was an outraged demand for accountability for the needless death of the veterans.
A hostile tone was established within the first few lines. "Whom did they annoy and to whom was their possible presences a political danger?" Hemingway asked. "Who sent them down to the Florida Keys and left them there in hurricane months?"
Hemingway presented the veterans not merely as murdered but almost as though they had been assassinated for someone's personal political gain or simply that they were disposed of as an unnecessary burden to the public after courageously serving their country.
Hemingway continued by pointing out that the men in charge certainly knew the possible consequences of being in Florida during hurricane season, let alone in insufficient shelter.
The writer of this article lives a long way from Washington and would not know the answers to those questions. But he does know that wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and Presidents Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months.... There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings; unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives. They are doing coolie labor for a top wage of $45 a month and they have been put down on the Florida Keys where they can't make trouble. It is hurricane months, sure, but if anything comes up, you can always evacuate them, can't you? By making these statements Hemingway was not only making an argument that the government was ineffectual; he was also stating that class distinctions had played a major role in the disaster. Not only had the government failed to save its veterans, officials had felt the veterans were disposable. Hemingway went on to illustrate the experience common to most Floridians preparing for a coming hurricane in a pre NOAA, pre Weather Channel era. His account reinforced to non-coastal readers the reality of hurricanes with which coastal residents were familiar.
Hemingway's anger at what happened was palpable on every page:
It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months? After making the argument that the veterans had no business being sent to build a road on a narrow low-lying island during hurricane season, Hemingway turned to the aftermath of the storm.
The railroad embankment was gone and the men who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tanks cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away. Hemingway's ability to ask questions while simultaneously and subtly pointing fingers throughout the article stimulated public discussion. Though Hemingway later refused to admit that he had purposely written the article to instigate political change, his account helped stimulate vigorous debate. The article in particular drew attention to the issue of class, raising awareness of inequities between the upper and lower classes.
Hemingway ended "Who Murdered the Vets?" with the final questions, "Who left you there? And what's the punishment for manslaughter now?" The first question was officially answered privately behind the closed doors of politicians. The second went unanswered. No person was ever formally charged with the neglect of the veterans. But one result of the tragedy was that the public began to demand that in the future government leaders had to be careful not to be careless with other peoples' lives.
Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty was chosen by members of On the Southern Literary Trail as its group read for November, 2015. Special thanks to Co-Moderator Diane "Miss Scarlett" for nominating this work
The time is coming soon to say goodbye A time of sadness it will be But, honey, listen to my parting sigh And linger on awhile with me
The stars above you, yet linger awhile They whisper I love you,oh linger awhile And when you have gone away Every hour seems like a day I've something to tell you Oh linger awhile
The stars above you, yet linger awhile They whisper I love you, oh linger awhile And when you have gone away Every hour seems like a day
Vincent Hall, Music; Harry Owens, Lyrics (1923)
Eudora Welty, Portrait, A Portrait Reader, July, 2015
>blockquote>Delta Wedding, F. ed., Harcourt, New York, New York 1946
**spoiler alert** A Man Called Ove: This Thing Called Love
Fredrik Backman, only thirty-three years old. You'll be surprised at his wisdom.
Love. I b**spoiler alert** A Man Called Ove: This Thing Called Love
Fredrik Backman, only thirty-three years old. You'll be surprised at his wisdom.
Love. I believe in it. In all it's forms. Pure, impure, fleeting, found, lost, unrequited. I am a master of love unrequited.
But I am absolutely stunned by A Man Called Ove written by Fredrik Backman. Only thirty-three years old. A former forklift driver. Read it. Perhaps you will love it (as in the impersonal sense, see below) as I did.)
Love. We yearn for it. Crave it. Give much for it. Think we have found it. Are often wrong that we have. It is one of life's great mysteries. Subject of the great works of literature, art, film.
Romeo & Juliet, Dicksee
Subject of very poor literature, art, film.
WHAT? You've NEVER had to say you were SORRY????
Just what is it, after all?
An Exercise in Cynicism
Flipping through the dictionary. AH! Yes! Very simple...See?
love ləv/Submit noun 1. an intense feeling of deep affection. "babies fill parents with intense feelings of love" synonyms: deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment; More antonyms: hatred a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone. "it was love at first sight" synonyms: become infatuated with, give/lose one's heart to; More a personified figure of love, often represented as Cupid. noun: Love a great interest and pleasure in something. "his love for football" synonyms: liking of/for, enjoyment of, appreciation of/for, taste for, delight for/in, relish of, passion for, zeal for, appetite for, zest for, enthusiasm for, keenness for, fondness for, soft spot for, weakness for, bent for, proclivity for, inclination for, disposition for, partiality for, predilection for, penchant for "her love for fashion" affectionate greetings conveyed to someone on one's behalf. synonyms: best wishes, regards, good wishes, greetings, kind/kindest regards "my mother sends her love" a formula for ending an affectionate letter. "take care, lots of love, Judy" 2. a person or thing that one loves. "she was the love of his life" synonyms: beloved, loved one, love of one's life, dear, dearest, dear one, darling, sweetheart, sweet, angel, honey
BRITISH informal a friendly form of address. "it's all right, love" BRITISH informal used to express affectionate approval for someone. noun: a love "don't fret, there's a love" 3. (in tennis, squash, and some other sports) a score of zero; nil. "love fifteen" verb verb: love; 3rd person present: loves; past tense: loved; past participle: loved; gerund or present participle: loving 1. feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone). "do you love me?" synonyms: care very much for, feel deep affection for, hold very dear, adore, think the world of, be devoted to, dote on, idolize, worship
Well. Quite simple. I've experienced love in all those forms...but it all seems rather...unsatisfactory.
Let's take a more scientific approach! Clearly, a more thorough answer to be found. Much to choose from...biology, chemistry, neurology....
The inimitable Dr. Fisher, also known as the "Love Doc." *ahem*
There, now. I have your attention, I think? Good. It's quite simple. Love is a very mammalian instinct, a veritable hunger, a thirst. Basically three stages. Lust! The interplay of testosterone and estrogen.
Also known as the "Big Bang," "The Earth Moved," "La Petite Morte," INDEED.
Which leads to Attraction! Oh, the increased production of dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, which makes the heart beat faster, leads to loss of appetite,sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. It's almost like the effect of amphetamine on the body!
Which leads to more...
Birds do it, bees do it, even Albert Einstein did it...
Hmmm...meth addicts have told me that meth gave them the best sex they ever had in their lives. Of course, that is why they continued to use it, in the elusive attempt to achieve that same experience. But back to the illuminating work of Dr. Fisher.
Unfortunately, the attraction phase only lasts for one to three years. Bummer. Which may account for the phrase, "The honeymoon is over." Or, "The bloom is off the rose." Or, "The new has worn off."
So we come to phase THREE...Attachment! *ahem* Here's the kicker. Now you're dependent on the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin. Uhm...believed to be important in pair bonding, maternal behavior, and some initial research indicating that oxytocin may be helpful in producing orgasm in women. Men are still reliant on pills, etc.,etc.,etc. In other words, either you go the long road through parenting or mutual interests. Good luck.
Thus spake, not Zarathustra, but Robert Browning
An Exercise of the Heart, Cynics May Exit Now.
Ove, pronounced "Oveeh" is a most unlikely object of love. To the outside world he is a curmudgeonly man, unlikable, grumpy to the core, a stickler for rules and regulations which he will call anyone on at any opportunity. A stingy man who will argue over the cost of every item down to the bottom Kronor. He will park his Saab at a distance to save on the cost of parking. His home is a cold place, the radiators knobs turned down tight, again, a matter of thrift. He once had a good friend, Rune. However, they fell out. He really can't remember the source of it all now. But, he sees Rune responsible for the coup de'tat that removed him as president of the Home Owner's Association of their neighborhood, with Rune taking his place. He has not seen his old friend for years. Ove has no friends. He has no job. He has been forced into early retirement.
Ove sees little point in living. Once he had loved. He had been married. Sonja. Sonja to whom he was married for forty years. She died. No one sees Ove when he walks to the cemetery to speak to her, caressing the stone that marks her grave.
These two were really nothing alike. He was not a reader. She was. She loved Shakespeare. All books. She was a teacher. When they met he was only a night cleaner on the rail line. However he wanted to build houses. She told him he could be anything he wanted. He got his engineer's certificate. He became a builder of houses. He did not become a reader. But he built her beautiful bookshelves.
"People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had."
My God. To love that way.
And, as Ove would survey his empty house, still filled with all Sonja's things, he would think.
"You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned over in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her."
The love Ove had for Sonja was not a one directional thing. It flowed equally from her. Her girl friends did not understand it. No one who knew her understood it. Everyone told her she could do better for herself. This is what Sonja thought.
"But to Sonja, Ove was never dour and awkward and sharp-edged... He believed so strongly in things: justice, fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right...Not many men of his kind were made anymore...So she was holding on to this one."
Love transforms us. It is a wondrous thing. Love makes all things possible. The loss of it can make life meaningless. So it was for Ove. Is it any surprise that Ove would take his life to be reunited with Sonja? Not for me.
Of course, Ove must make all things right. Leave no mess. All things in order. Proper instructions regarding all the property. A hole drilled precisely in the center of the living room ceiling. The proper hook to hold the rope. The proper noose. Kick the stool over. It's done. But the damned rope breaks. Ove lives in a world of incompetents. Idiots. You can't even depend on someone to make a decent rope anymore!
And slowly something begins to happen. Pushy neighbors insist on violating his privacy. Borrowing tools. Good God. They have children. The woman is a foreigner. And pregnant as a goose! Her husband cannot even back a trailer! Her name is Parvaneh. From Iran? And her husband this IT consultant. He doesn't get up till 9, 10? What is the world coming to?
Each day there is some reason that Ove cannot kill himself. He must save some idiot from himself. It is not a good day to die. Sonja. I am sorry. I know I am late.
And on Ove's story goes. An insistent cat. A boy alienated from his father. A child who wants to be read a story. An old friend whom social services wants to take from his home and put into a "facility." A beautiful story of love that exceeds the personal to a much deeper level the Greeks would have called Agape. Outside one's self.
This is a remarkable odyssey of one man's life and his experience of love. Do not be surprised if you shed a few tears, or more than a few. It is not surprising this novel has sold a half million copies in Sweden. Nor that it is selling so well in America. And the good news? Backman's second novel will be published this year. Watch for it. Get it. Read it. There is nothing wrong with a writer insisting that life is beautiful when he does so as eloquently as Backman.
A child may ask, 'What is the world's story about?' And a grown man or woman may wonder, 'What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we're at it, what's the story about?'
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too -- in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite changes we might impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well -- or ill?
John Steinbeck, Chapter 34, East of Eden, 1952
I originally posted an abbreviated review of this novel on January 14, 2014. Fourteen of my friends liked it. And I appreciate that. However, I got to thinking about it, this novel and the man who wrote it. I initially rated One Foot in Eden Three Stars. Why? Because I had read Rash's novel Serena before this one. Bottom line, I penalized Mr. Rash because he had become a better writer since he had written this book. Then that quote from Steinbeck kind of rolled over me, as it has many times. Mr. Rash, you did well. Those three stars are now four. And my good friend, Diane, is sighing, thinking, "This is going to be a long one." Well, not too long.
When I was a child I asked that question, "What is the world's story about?" We all do. Haven't you? Through the years I have lived I have come to believe Steinbeck was right. "A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well -- or ill?" That's hard truth.
It comes down to making a lot of choices, right or wrong, well or ill. Then there are those times when you just don't have a choice. Nothing's in your control. Like who you are, what you look like, where you were born. Your mother and your father made you, put you here. Somebody raises you. Maybe your mother and your father, maybe not. You do what you do with what you've got, where you are.
I think Rash read East of Eden. More than once. Because this is a novel about people caught in a web of good and evil. It's about the choices they make, the things that haunt them, and the questions a child grows to ask.
It is August, 1952. Oconee County, South Carolina. Oconee comes from the Cherokee word "Ae-quo-nee" meaning "land beside the water." Soon the land around Jocassee will be under water, flooded by South Carolina Power to generate hydroelectric energy. Every mother's son and daughter will be driven off the land their families have held since the 1700s. Even their dead will be dug up and moved above the flood plane. It will become a place lost forever. The people who live there have no choice.
Botanist Andre Michaux discovers the very rare Oconee Bell Flowers in 1788 at Jocassee at the head of the Keowee River. Today, it's at the head of Jocassee Gorge at Devil's Inn State Park, SC.
Holland Winchester will not live to see his home flooded. He will be murdered. Or, is it murder? Is it a maelstrom of uncontrollable emotions that explode into violence leaving a child to be born who will someday grow to ask "Where is my father?"
Or, is it sometimes better to let the dead bury the dead? Jocassee after the waters rose.
Is there the possibility of forgiveness? Ron Rash will have you thinking about it. For a long time.
Here's what I had previously said. I don't always get it right the first time.
January 14, 2015
Review to Follow: Very, very briefly: I actually picked up my reading at page fifty of One Foot in Eden a few minutes after midnight this morning. The pages whipped by in a swirl of carefully constructed multiple narrators. This is the first novel by Ron Rash. In a rare situation for me, I had read later works by Rash. Generally, I read an author from their initial novel and watch their writing develop. Had I begun my reading of Rash's novels with this intriguing read, I would have been incredibly impressed. However, having read Serena, a novel produced by Rash at the peak of his power as a writer with even more promise to come with yet a forthcoming novel, One Foot in Eden emerges as a bit rough around the edges. Rash fills out this compelling read with the elements of a crime novel, what has come to be known as Grit Lit, and the eerie nature of supernatural presence, a classic Southern Gothic ingredient. As Salieri blithely dismissed Mozart's music being comprised of "too many notes," Rash may have combined too many ingredients in a compelling read that is uneven in spots, trying to fit into all possible subgenres of contemporary Southern fiction. That three stars surprises me. To be fair, let's kick it up a notch to 3.5.
A more detailed review should follow. For Rash admirers, this is a must read. The sense of place is incredibly done. Rash knows the hills of South Carolina, its people, and strikes to the heart of the destruction of community and environment by the creation of damned reservoirs, covering once living residences of whole communities and leaving areas filled with tradition and heritage lost forever. This is one that lingers in the mind. And will leave the reader haunted on multiple levels.
January 16, 2015
There, now. I'm sorry, Mr. Rash. Some of those hastily scripted notes ring a little hollow to me now. Thank you Mr. Steinbeck....more
"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any more shallower and the corpse was liab
Mudbound: Hillary Jordan's Debut Novel
Hillary Jordan, 2011
"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any more shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood. Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony--the old man getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thoughts and memories."
Henry and Jamie McAllan are brothers digging the grave for their father, Pappy. In the words of Shakespeare, "Nothing became him in life like the leaving it."
To cut to the chase, Hillary Jordanwrote a fine debut novel. The setting is the Mississippi Delta in 1946. Big brother Henry, a veteran of World War One, and a hard working member of the Corp of Army Engineers, marries city bred Laura of Memphis, Tennessee. Laura is thirty-one, an English teacher, whose mother had feared she would die an old maid.
Following their marriage, Laura is shocked to learn that Henry always wanted to be a farmer. He has bought two hundred acres of rich Delta dirt and packs Laura and their two daughters off to a wonderful home which he had rented for them to live in while he worked the farm. However, Henry, ever trustful, has been duped. When they arrive at the home, Henry and family learn that the previous owner has sold the home. With all the soldiers returning from World War Two, there are no other houses to rent.
Mississippi Delta Cotton Field
Not only does Henry need a home for his wife and daughters, he needs one for his Pappy. Pappy is a curmudgeonly old man who tyrannizes Laura and terrifies his granddaughters.
It's off to Henry's farm which he wants to name "Fair Fields." Laura who quickly learns the farm floods every time the river rises dubs it "Mud Bound." Not only does the land flood, but their home is cut off from the nearest town.
Jordan deftly weaves the lives of the McAllan and Jackson families into a riveting story. Hap and Florence Jackson are tenant farmers on Henry's land. Florence is the community's mid-wife and purveyor of folk remedies. Florence also comes to work for Laura in the McAllan home.
What Jordan does to create such a compelling read is the use of multiple voices. Mudbound is told initially by Jamie, Laura, Henry, Hap, and Florence. To Jordan's credit, each voice is unique, and each member of this chorus adds their own perfect thoughts and observations to propel the novel from start to finish.
Jordan really hits her stride when she adds Ronsel Jackson, the eldest son of Hap and Florence. Ronsel has served in the European theater of war as a member of the Black Panthers, famous for their furious assaults against the German Army. This was one of George Patton's favored units.
The 761st Black Panthers whose motto was "Come out Fighting"
Both Jamie and Ronsel carry the emotional scars of their combat. Both are decorated heroes. Jamie won the Distinguished Flying Cross flying B-24 Liberators. Ronsel rose to the rank of Tank Commander and has a chest full of medals. The experiences that haunt them bind them together as friends. But they are also bound by alcoholism to forget the nightmares of war.
B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber
But we must remember this is Mississippi in the 1940s. Both men must deal with forbidden love. Jamie must handle his feelings for his brother's wife, Laura. Ronsel learns he has fathered a child by a German widow. Both Jamie and Ronsel must deal with the Ku Klux Klan. The final third of Jordan's novel speeds to a tumultuous conclusion. It is impossible to put this novel down until the final page is reached. There is a fine denoument awaiting the reader
Jordan was born in Dallas, Texas, living there and in Muscogee, Oklahoma, until she attended Wellesley College. Her route to writing was a circuitous one. Jordan entered the world of advertising, and created a number of commercials featuring the Everready Bunny. Imagine that.
Fortunately for readers of this novel, Jordan entered the MFA program in creative writing at Columbia University. Prior to its publication Mudbound won the prestigious Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction in 2008. The Prize was established by Barbara Kingsolver.
Jordan is currently working on a sequel to Mudbound which picks up the action several years after the action in this work during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. I can't wait.
Blindsighted: Karin Slaughter's first Sara Linton novel
And the publishers announce:
First there was Patricia Cornwell!
THEN there was Kathy Reichs!
NOWBlindsighted: Karin Slaughter's first Sara Linton novel
And the publishers announce:
First there was Patricia Cornwell!
THEN there was Kathy Reichs!
NOW GET READY FOR KARIN SLAUGHTER!
Welcome to Grant County, Georgia. Don't look for it on a Georgia map. It isn't there. And in this fictional County, there's a fictional town. It's a small town called Heartsdale, somewhere around Madison, but before you hit Augusta.
Eddie Linton and Daughters is a plumbing company in town. But it should be Linton and Daughter. Tessa works with her father. Sara grew up and went to medical school and became a pediatrician.
After medical school Sara returns home and takes over the town medical clinic. The nearest hospital is in Augusta. She married Jeff Tolliver, the County Sheriff, but divorced him after he cheated on her with the town sign painter.
Life's complicated when your Ex is the Sheriff and you're not only the town's pediatrician, but also the County Coroner. You bump into your Ex a lot more than you might like. Actually, Jeff wouldn't mind patching things up. After all, he only had that affair because he wanted Sara to need him as much as he needed her. Uh-huh. What? Could this be a new genre? "Crimance?"
Sara definitely doesn't want Jeff back in her life. She's dated the town pharmacist, Jeb, off and on. It hasn't been anything serious. Sara really doesn't have the time.
Things turn nasty when Sara has lunch with her sister Tessa down at Pete's Diner. She steps into the bathroom to wash her hands and finds herself in the middle of a crime scene. Sybil Adams is sitting on the john. Someone has carved a cross into her. Sybil dies in convulsions in Sara's arms as she bleeds out on the bathroom floor.
From whence does the title come? Why, from Belladonna from the Italian meaning "beautiful woman." Traditionally the plant was used to cause dilation of the pupils to make a woman appear more seductive. Use too much of the stuff, you become so sensitive to light you can see nothing, and it's a powerful hallucinogenic, causing paralysis, loss of memory, and convulsions.
Sybil was blind. Hmmm...in Roman mythology Sybil was a "Seeress." Well, maybe it was just a coincidental choice and not an attempt at irony. She was a professor at the small college. She was also a lesbian. Was it a hate crime? More conflict rises because her sister Lena is one of Sheriff Tolliver's Detectives. She's out to find her own justice for her sister's death.
Sara's autopsy reveals that Sybil was also raped and sodomized. A second victim is found draped across Sarah's car. She had been crucified in x form, and repeatedly raped and sodomized. She was also stabbed. Sara prevents her death by cracking her chest and massaging her heart. When this young woman begins to tell of her experience, Jeff realizes he's got an escalating serial rapist/killer on his hands.
Slaughter relentlessly turns up the pace when Jeff's detective Lena, Sibyl's sister is the next woman to disappear. Slaughter has the ability to keep you flipping the pages to see what happens next.
Could Sara be the next victim, Jeff worries. Can he find his missing detective?
BUT: I wish I could have liked this book more. The herrings herein are very, very, red. There's the homophobic doper. And a ridiculous stab at an incident of token racism, when some townsmen assume that an aged black man musta dun it. OH, PLEASE! C'MON!
I anticipated the identity of the perp long before the end. While on the surface of things, Sara appears proficient in her forensic skills, she is a pediatrician, not a pathologist. If Sara ever makes it to court, it wouldn't be pretty. Oh. Dang. Spoiler alert: If the perp never survives, you don't have to worry about witness qualification.
And, by the way, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has a death investigation division with either four to five regional laboratories staffed with pathologists. Georgia uses a Medical Examiner System. The Coroner calls for an autopsy, but bodies are transported to the labs for the autopsies. Now, I do understand that six Georgia counties are not covered by GBI, so considering Grant County is fictional anyway, well, heck this is a work of fiction. Interestingly, Slaughter also refers to Sara as a medical examiner in one paragraph in which she also calls her a coroner.
I'm jaded. Twenty-eight years in a District Attorney's Office will do that to you. If you think I'm too hard in my assessment of Karin Slaughter, don't get me started on John Grisham. D.A. does NOT stand for dumb ass, Mr. Grisham.
One thing I must acknowledge. Karin Slaughter has the dynamics of rape and men who rape down with great accuracy. For the dialogue, pacing, and that knowledge, I give this 3.5 our of five stars.
Having said all that, of course I already have the second book in the series. I admit I like it when the good guys win.
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
This novel has been nominated as a group read for the monthThe Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
This novel has been nominated as a group read for the month of September, 2016, for On the Southern Literary Trail. A special thanks to "Trail Member" Jeffrey of Nashville, Tennessee, who has read all thirteen of the novels of Donald Harington for nominating this book. If you haven't visited "On the Southern Literary Trail, please do. We'd be pleased to have you join us. The reads are outstanding. Like this one. The polls for our September, 2016, Group Reads are up. Drop by. See if anything catches your fancy. I hope to see you on "The Trail."
THE STAY MORON'S OATH
Do you solemnly swear that country life is not only more peaceful than city life but more likely to last into contented old age?
That strictly speaking, a “moron” is simply a person preferring to keep to the age span between seven and twelve years?
That it is possible to remain this age for all of one’s long life?
That this is a good age for the hearing or reading of stories?
That a good story is the sweetest way to escape from the ordinary life?
That nothing is to be gained by leaving, that the greatest of all decisions is staying?
That “more” means until you’re good and ready to leave, at least not before supper and ideally not before breakfast.
Then I, with the authority vested in me by The Grand Architect of the Universe, do hereby pronounce you citizens of Stay More, with all the rights and privileges and pleasures pertaining thereto.
As administered by Donald Harington
Donald Harington, Born: December 22, 1935, Little Rock, Died: November 7, 2009, Springdale
What? You're not prepared to take this oath? You're not prepared to part with your iPhone 5? You've never wanted to get away from it all?
Big Creek Valley, Newton County, Arkansas
You're sitting there scratching your head, asking yourself, "What the Hell is this, anyway?" Well, I'll tell you. You knew I would, didn't you?
You must understand that Harington did not write the novels in chronological sequence. We were first introduced to the town of Stay More in Lightning Bug, published in 1970, which was followed by Some Other Place. the Right Place.
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks is Harington's complete history of Stay More beginning with its earliest white inhabitants and carries us to the present. Here is the genealogy of Stay More beginning with two brothers, Noah and Jacob Ingledew who have left Tennessee because a man couldn't say "Darn" without being sermonized by some meddlesome preacher.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator, an unnamed architectural historian, who structures his tale through individual chapters devoted to the various structures erected throughout the history of the town. Now, how this historian knows the intimate details of the people who occupied each of these structures is not explained.
One might almost believe that this historian was there from the beginning, an observer so to speak. I leave it to the reader's own interpretation. I will only say that one of the consistent techniques that Harinton uses is a reference to the future in the concluding chapter of his novels. For Harington knows the disappointment of loving a book to the degree one doesn't want to see it end.
"A dissertation could easily be written on the parallels between the two books. But at the time I wrote TAOTAO I didn't know what "Magic Realism" was. For that matter, I'm not sure I yet understand it. I admired what Garcia Marquez had done and wanted to emulate it, but I took pains to make sure that everything which happened in TAOTAO was possibly conceivable, believable. There are no flying carpets in TAOTAO nor any blood running endlessly down the street. So the "magic" of Garcia Marquez might be missing.
Of course, Appalachia and the Ozarks are naturally akin to the Latin Third World in the strange things that happen, and the only way to depict them is a touch of surrealism. The tall tale, the ghost story, the folk ballad, and other forms of narrative in Appalachia and in the Ozarks have common unnatural events, weird people, a magical atmosphere that transcends 'reality.'"
Harington's novel of Stay More is a tour de force of folklore, myth, and legend that mingles with that of the United States. Brother Noah is visited by Johnny Appleseed who helps him plant an apple orchard. In the years that follow, Noah, the perennial bachelor, becomes the favorite of Stay More's children whom he treats with candy apples when they visit him to listen to his stories.
And wouldn't you know it? Jacob Ingledew invents baseball at the very moment Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing the game at Cooperstown, New York.
Yet, while the history of Stay More may parallel that of America, Stay Morons are content to live by the old ways. They are firmly against "PROG RESS," as they call it. As Harington tells us,
“'Stay More' is synonymous with 'Status Quo' in fact, there are people who believe, or who like to believe, that the name of the town was intended as an entreaty, beseeching the past to remain present.”
Yet, change is inevitable, appearing in the form of Connecticut peddler Eli Willard. Willard sells the Ingledew brothers the first clock in Stay More. Over the years he brings whale oil, leading to a decade of light. He brings scissors for the women, pocket knives for the men, resulting in the fine art of whittling.
But there is also sinister change on the horizon, when Willard shows up with all manner of firearms. While Stay More has been a type of Eden, the American Civil War is looming. Jacob Ingledew is sent to the State Capital to determine the issue of secession. Of course, Ingledew is the only delegate to vote against secession, knowing that war will destroy the harmony of Stay More.
Arkansas is divided. However, Jacob returns to Stay More and does not relay the fact that war is coming, successfully keeping his town at peace for two years.
The Confederacy has a unique way of recruiting troops, however. Virdie Boatwright travels the countryside "raising" troops, by rewarding free sexual favors to any men who enlist with the Confederate Arkansawyers. She is quite successful. Even Jacob, who is recruited twice by Virdie, is tempted to join the Rebels.
Harington swings from comedy to tragedy as Arkansas is drawn into the war of brother against brother, with Jacob remaining a Union Man. Noah joins the Confederacy. As we are told at various times, the tale of Stay More is not always a happy one.
We travel through the generations of the residents of Stay More, the Ingledews, Dinsmores, Stains, Chisms. They are all here, including characters from the previous novels. Harington captures all the foibles, joys, and sadness of life. Oh, yes. If this hasn't piqued your interest, just know that the men and women of Stay More are a hard loving, libidinous bunch.
"In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"--John 14:2, NRSV
"About a month ago I was talking with a newspaper man--a man who's covered executions all over the South. Not just here in Louisiana--Texas, Mississippi, Georgia--all over. He's seen fifty, sixty of them. Most of them, black men. Said he never heard one called daddy's name at that last hour. Hear mama called, heard gran'mon, nanane--Jesus, God. Not one time he heard daddy called." Reverend Phillip Martin
First Edition, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1978. I had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Gaines at the Louisiana Festival of the Book in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in November, 2014. Professor Gaines kindly signed first editions of several of my copies of his works, including this one.
Where Ernest J. Gainesportrayed the long struggle for freedom in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman displaying the strength and courage of African-Americans in Louisiana, concluding with the active emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, Gaines turns to the personal tragedy of one man, Reverend Phillip Martin, the revered advocate for civil rights in the small town of St. Adrienne, following the death of Martin Luther King. Phillip continues to carry the flame.
With King's death, many blacks and whites have come to feel that the movement is over. However, Reverend Martin refuses to accept that as long as any injustice remains in his town. That injustice is in the person of Albert Chenal, a Cajun store owner who refuses to pay his black workers a fair wage.
Chenal Friday is approaching. Reverend Martin, the President of the St. Adrienne Civil Rights Committee will lead his people in a demonstration to either make Chenal treat his workers fairly or shut him down. Among the leadership of the committee is Mills, a deacon of the church, who once worked for Chenal's father. Mills knew that the older Chenal raped any black woman he found presentable. However, he never spoke out, out of what he shamefully admits was his own cowardice. Each of the committee identify with his cowardice with the exception of Reverend Martin and his young assistant Jonathan, the associate pastor, who has only been a member of the movement for eight years. As Martin is, he is fearless. But he lacks the wisdom of knowing what he is up against.
But Chenal Friday will not occur. For Reverend Martin is a man who has led two separate lives. For the past fifteen years, he has been a leader among his people. He has brought about positive change in racial relations in St. Adrienne. He is married, with two children. He is a paragon of strength, character, and courage.
However, Martin is haunted by a past in which he has made mistakes. Before he found God and his voice as an advocate for his people, Martin had fathered three children by a woman, Johanna, on the old Reno Plantation. Denying responsibility for his family because of his immaturity and his perceived lack of opportunity, Martin sent his children and their mother away. The last time he saw them was when his running buddy Chippo Simon took them away from the plantation in a wagon. Although he well remembers Johanna's name, he cannot even remember the names of his children. And he has eased his conscience over the mistakes of his past by the sacrifices he has made for his community.
Gaines, in a deeply introspective novel, examines the effects of the past on present. He asks whether there is ever a point when one's public actions counterbalance one's private sins.
The pivotal event occurs in the first chapter when a thin young black man shows up on the steps of a boarding house claiming to be Robert X, "one of them," a Black Muslim. The landlady, Virginia, is suspicious of the young man. Yet her conscience will not allow her to turn him away. Where will he go, if she does, she asks herself. Virginia recognizes that something is wrong with the young man, but he is resolute in maintaining silence in response to her questions.
Over the coming days, Robert X is frequently seen walking the streets of St. Adrienne. At times he is sitting on the back of Reverend Martin's church. At others he is seen standing across the street, watching the Reverend's house. When asked why he is St. Adrienne, his only answer is that he is there for a conference, that he is to meet a man.
Robert X attends a party a Phillip Martin's home with two young teachers who have been recruited in the upcoming demonstration against Chenal. Martin catches the young man staring at him and intuitively knows he is his son. As he crosses the room to acknowledge him, he falls. Immediately surrounded by concerned members of the committee, he allows a pharmacist to explain that the Reverend has exhausted himself. Martin does not refute the reason for his collapse.
Over the next few days, Martin will fail to reveal the reason for his collapse, not knowing how to disclose his past. Essentially he denies his son three times as Peter denied Christ.
Only when he receives word that his son has been picked up by the Parrish Sheriff, Nolan, does he take action. Going to see the Sheriff, Martin offers to pay bail for the release of his son. Nolan is surprised that the good Reverend has had a family out of wedlock. Nolan knows of Friday's plan to demonstrate against Chenal. He refuses to take money for bail. He will release Martin's son only on the condition that Martin put a stop to the Chenal demonstration. In a moment of personal weakness, Martin makes the deal.
On obtaining his son's release, they can share no conversation. Ultimately Robert tells Martin that he has come there for revenge for what Martin had allowed to happen to his family by abandoning them.
"Revenge? Phillip asked him. "Revenge for what?"
"For destroying me. For making me the eunuch I am. For destroying my family: my mama, my brother, my sister."
"How did I destroy you, destroy the family?" Phillip grabbed his arm. The boy looked down at the hand a moment, then pried it loose and slammed it back.
"You my Son," Phillip said. "I have my rights. I can touch you if I want."
"I'm a moment of your lust," the boy said.
By evening word has spread through members of the Civil Rights Committee that Martin has betrayed his people's cause for reasons of personal interest. A quorum of the Committee votes Martin out as President of the Committee.
Speaking with his wife, Alma, Martin says:
"What brought my boy back here, or what sent him back here I'll find out in Baton Rouge. That's important to me. I want to reach my boy. What I did this morning it seems like it's wrong to a lot of people, but if he was in that jail right now, and that was all I had to offer, I'd do it all over again. I've paid some dues in this town, some heave dues. Your life's been threatened, my children's lives been threatened, mine been threatened. All because I kept pushing for the people out there. Crosses burnt on my lawn, my house been shot in, my church been shot up--all because I kept pushing for the people out there. Well, this morning I pushed a little bit for myself, and I don't care what the people think."
Martin sets out on a search for his old friend Chippo Simon. Only Chippo might have been in a position to have seen his family. Martin must know what happened to his family in order to repair some form of bond with his own son whose name he cannot even remember.
Martin finds Chippo who reluctantly tells Martin the story of what happened to his family after he had sent them away. It is Chippo who tells him the name of his children and that Robert is actually Etienne. The things endured by Johanna and her children are almost to painful to tell. And it is a story that brings Martin's past crashing around his years.
I have deliberately excluded the details of what happened to Martin's first family. I will only say that the consequences of his past actions are not yet complete, and that Martin must question his reputation, his present life, his current family through the eyes of a man fully cognizant of what he has done throughout his life. Gaines drives home the point that a man's integrity in the treatment of family, no matter when sired, is a factor figured in to the action of public leadership and one's own self esteem.
Ah, Phillip, if only you had told Etienne, when he needed to hear it, you had many rooms in your home--for him.
This is the fourth novel by Gaines I have read. With each work, I am drawn to his novels more strongly than before. As with each of his books I have read, I recommend In My Father's House without reservation.
Ernest Gaines loves music. He has a collection of over five hundred albums, yes, albums, before vinyl became cool again. He enjoys classical, jazz, big band; but his music as he describes it is the Blues. Here's a selection from some of his favorite blues singers.
Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston's Novel of an Independent Woman
"Dat's all right, Pheoby, tell 'em. Dey gointuh make 'miration 'causeTheir Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston's Novel of an Independent Woman
"Dat's all right, Pheoby, tell 'em. Dey gointuh make 'miration 'cause mah love didn't work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell 'em dat love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore."
"Lawd!" Phoeby breathed out heavily, "Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus' listenin' tuh you, Janie. Ah ain't satisfied wid mahself no mo...Nobody better not criticize yuh in mah hearin'."
I express my gratitude to Members of the goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail" for having made Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston novel one of our reads for December, 2012. A number of readers have indicated they read this novel at least once a year. It is highly probable that I will join their ranks. For it has already joined my list of favorite books.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Zora Neale Hurstonpublished Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Consider it a marvel for its time. For it is clearly the first feminist literature by a black author about a woman in search of herself, her voice, and love on her own terms.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, First Ed., J.B. Lippincott, 1937
Janie Crawford is Hurston's protagonist. Her road to independence is a difficult one. At the age of thirteen, she recognizes the attraction of the opposite sex for the first time. However, her grandmother warns her that sex is a trap for a black woman and only a temporary pleasure. Love, Nanny says, is "de very prong all us black women gits hung on. Dis love! Dat's just whut's got us uh pulln' and uh haulin' and sweatin' and doin' from can't see in de mornin' till can't see at night."
To Janie's horror, Nanny has arranged a marriage to for Janie to Logan Killick, a farmer with a home and sixty acres of land. To Nanny, who had been a slave, Killick represents security for her granddaughter, who was a child of rape. Nanny's daughter had been raped by her school teacher, lost herself in a bottle and disappeared. To Nanny, Killick is Janie's ticket to rocking on the porch while Killick provides for her.
Janie assents to her Nanny's wishes. Killick, at first, does cater to his young bride. She is a beauty, with thick hair that hangs down her back. Her breasts, buttocks, and legs would attract any man's attention. However, Killick prefers a helpmate rather than a bedmate. He tells Janie he is going to leave home for a day to buy a mule. He intends to put Janie behind a plow to help him plow his land.
Enter Jody Stark, a dapperly dressed man, big, handsome, and carrying the promise of sexual romance. He would never put Janie behind a plow. She is a woman to be waited upon. Stark lures her to leave Killick and marry him, also tempting her with travel to Eatonville, Florida, a town built by and for black people. Janie did not consider Stark her ideal, thinking ""he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance."
Eatonville, Orange Co. Florida, was the first town founded by blacks following the Emancipation in 1863. It was incorporated in 1887. Zora Neale Hurston grew up there.
Only after Janie has married Stark does she consider the eroticism of their relationship in the bedroom, believing "from now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom".
Stark becomes a store owner, buys additional acreage for the town and is ultimately elected mayor. He depends on Janie to operate the store while he politics around town. But he does not expect her to have a share of the political podium. Worse, he becomes jealous of Janie after he sees a constituent reach out to softly touch the braid of hair hanging down her back, of which Janie is not even aware. Thereafter, Jody orders Janie that she must conceal her hair under a head rag in public. Nor is she to speak publicly on the issues he deals with as mayor.
There is no more flower dust or springtime sprinkled over everything. There is no bee for her bloom. She is only freed by Jody's death from kidney failure, a problem he sought to treat through an herb doctor although Janie had sought a medical doctor for him. Janie is left a wealthy widow.
Janie finds that flower dust and springtime over everything with Tea Cake, a man twelve years younger than her. However, time has been kind to Janie Crawford Killick Stark. Tea Cake Woods tells her that her age makes no difference to him, that she is the only woman for him and for her he will give her the keys to the kingdom. Tea Cake is the charmer, the joker, the musician, the blues singer, and the wandering gambler. He is Janie's route to adventure. She is his willing companion every step. When he proposes they head south to the Glades to grow vegetables, Janie wants nothing more.
Lake Okechobee and the Glades
But even Tea Cake is subject to jealousy when it comes to Janie's beauty. The Turners' have a restaurant in the Glades. Mrs. Turner, a light skinned black, is drawn to Janie for her light complexion. She scorns Tea Cake for being too black and offers to introduce her brother to Janie. Janie's not interested. But when Tea Cake gets word that Mrs. Turner is up to introducing someone to take his Janie away from him, he beats her, where the marks show. He frankly admits she had done nothing, but it was necessary that others, especially the Turner's knew he had control of the situation.
Hurston's novel builds to a tempestuous climax as a hurricane approaches the Glades. The bean crop is coming in. The pay is $8.00 a day. Tea Cake says they would be fools to leave. They ignore the lines of Seminole Indians walking to the east away from Lake Okechobee. I will only say that Hurston takes her title from the fact that those who remained in the face of the hurricane, listening to the winds swirling around their farmers' shacks were watching to see if their walls and roofs would withstand the force of God. No spoilers here. This is a book that you have to read.
Ironically, Hurston's magnificent novel was rejected by literary critics, particularly those male members of the Harlem Renaissance. The most stinging criticism came from Richard Wright who claimed Hurston had created a work which portrayed blacks in a manner to allow whites to laugh at them, particularly using realistic black idiomatic dialog. Neither Wright or his contemporary male authors recognized Hurston's accomplishment of portraying one woman's journey to independence. Perhaps that aim was no more important to them than it was and remains for many men.
Zorah Hurston fell into obscurity by 1950. At the time her last short story was published, she was working as a maid. She worked at menial jobs, and as a substitute teacher. Ultimately she was drawing welfare benefits when she suffered a stroke and was placed in the St. Lucie County Welfare Home. She died January 28, 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest.
Alice Walker began teaching "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in her classes in 1971. In 1973, with the help of a colleague, Walker discovered Zorah Hurston's grave and had a monument erected.
Zorah Neale Hurston's final resting place
"“Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves.”
Summer Crossing appears to be Capote's true first novel which he abandoned. In fact, the manuscript wSummer Crossing: Truman Capote's True First Novel
Summer Crossing appears to be Capote's true first novel which he abandoned. In fact, the manuscript was among papers left in an apartment in the care of a house sitter. Capote instructed the house sitter to put all papers on the street to be picked up as garbage. The anonymous house sitter recognized the value of what Capote considered trash, holding on to the caches of papers, including this novel for more than fifty years until his death.
A relative of the house sitter who also recognized the value of the lost Truman papers swiftly carted them off to Sotheby's. Through Capote's Literary Trust and some negotiation with Sotheby's, the Trust successfully protected the publication rights to all papers.
The sale would be limited to physical possession of the documents, but the purchaser could do nothing by way of publication of any of the documents. Ironically, not one person bid on the Truman papers, thanks to the legal maneuvering of the Truman Literary Trust. Today the papers are in their proper place with other known Capote papers at the New York Public Library. "Summer Crossing" was published in 2004 by Random House.
The big question is why didn't Capote want "Summer Crossing" published. Robert Linscott, Capote's editor at Random House told him it was too conventional, that it was good, but it did not reach the level of excellence Capote had achieved with his short fiction. In fact, Linscott told Capote that any writer could have written it.
Perhaps the deciding factor was Capote's lover's opinion. Jack Dunphy told him that the novel was "thin," a word that sends a chill up the spine of any writer. Capote told Linscott he had torn the novel up. The further I read in Clarke's biography, Capote, the more I become convinced that truth was a very relative word to Capote. At times, Capote seems to have invented his life story as he went along.
"Summer Crossing" refers to two distinct crossings during a long hot summer in New York. Lucy and Lamont McNeil are making an Atlantic crossing to see what the Germans have left of their European holdings.
Crossing on the Queen Mary
Oh, yes. They're quite wealthy. They have a penthouse apartment on 5th Avenue. While away, Lucy intends on the finest fashion designers to make their daughter Grady's Debutante dress.
The second crossing is Grady's from adolescent to woman. She is seventeen. Going to Paris is of no interest to her whatsoever. Mrs. McNeil thinks that young Peter Bell is the reason for Grady's reluctance to leave the city for the Summer. However, Grady only considers Peter her best friend.
Why, oh why, couldn't Grady be more like her older sister Apple, married, with child, nice house, go getter husband? Apple, which happened to be the only thing Lucy could eat during her pregnancy, leaves her supposedly older and wiser daughter to look after Grady. So it goes.
The Second World War is over. New York is an exciting place to be.
A girl has lots of opportunities.
Being the rebellious sort, Grady falls for Clyde Manzer, a parking lot attendant where she keeps her baby blue convertible Buick, a veteran who bulges with every muscle he built during the war, a full head of wavy black hair, and a way of showing his appreciation for a good looking girl. Taking a girl to the Central Park Zoo will do it every time.
Clyde invites Grady to meet his family to attend his nephew's bar mitzvah. Oh? I didn't tell you he was Jewish? And you were wondering where the conflict was coming in. Let's call it cultural.
Clyde's family can't figure out why he's bringing a shiksa blonde home with him. Conflict ensues when Clyde's sister Ida invites Clyde's nice Jewish fiancee, Rebecca, over to join the party. There, that should liven things up. Yes, it sure does.
Clyde moves into Grady's parents penthouse apartment. Hormones and pheromones are erupting left and right. Bodily fluids are exchanged on a regular basis. In that maddening state of love, what's a star-crossed couple to do but go over to Jersey and get married at 2a.m.?
Then, what should Grady discover but she is PREGNANT! Mother and Father are due back in less than a month!
Apple suggests they call a doctor to fix things. However, Grady reminds her of a friend they lost who bled to death on a public toilet.
What to do, what to do?
Ladies Home Journal, January, 1946
Yes! Never underestimate the power of a woman! But can this marriage be saved? I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to read it yourself.
Just know that Grady has many rivers to cross.
The Queensborough Bridge
You may consider my review a bit flippant. I suppose it is. Grady's naivete can be grating. But this book is worth the read. Hmmm, this might be considered the first Truman Capote Summer Beach Read!
Here are the halting beginnings of a master observer of human behavior. Capote was only nineteen when he submitted the draft to Random House. I understand Capote keeping it under wraps. He knew he could do better. But, I daresay, if not for the booze and the drugs, Capote would have returned to this one, one day. It would have been a helluva book, too. Yet, even in her naivete, I can see the character of Holly Golightly taking shape that would explode from the pages of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
In approximately 150 pages we sweep through the life of Tony Webster from preparatory school to age sixty. Barnes presents us with an understated mystery as to my the Mother of Veronica would leave Tony 500 Pounds and the diary of his childhood friend Adrian who committed suicide. Not only is it a mystery to the reader, but it is a mystery to Tony as well, because along the way, Tony's become a man who took life as it came and played it safe.
Most of us have a bit of Tony in us. We each have those humiliating moments in our lives that we successfully forget during the day. After they return to us in our dreams we put our own spin on those moments offering plausible explanations that assuage our humiliation. Is Tony Webster an unreliable narrator? Oh, yes, but no more than any one of us on any given day, if we have the honesty to admit it.
And a bit more of Tony that lies within each of us--those things we thoughtlessly said or wrote that we couldn't take back. I've salved my conscience more than once with the platitude, "Well, it really wasn't all that bad." Of course, the damage of our words is far greater than we oft care to admit.
Adrian is new to Tony's clique of friends. However, Adrian is accepted. It's soon obvious that Adrian is brighter, more thoughtful, and has a more realistic view of the world than Tony and his companions. When their history instructor asks for a definition of history, London teenager Tony Webster answers, “History is the lies of the victors.” Their instructor acknowledges he expected Tony's response, reminding him that history consists also with the delusions of the defeated. Tony’s brilliant friend, Adrian Finn, “a tall, shy boy,” answers the same question with “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
What just transpired is a message to the reader that what we remember is not always what actually happened. And this is a cue to keep us as readers on our toes throughout the reading of this brilliant little novel.
Adrian is always one step ahead of Tony. In College, Adrian will take a First. Tony will take a Second, no dishonor, of course, but exceptional? No. Within three years of finishing college, Tony is married to a woman with "clear edges" who subsequently runs off with a restaurant man. Daughter Susie see it all Tony's fault, though he's the one who remained at home and took no other lover.
The central events of Tony's reminiscences surround his youthful relationship with Veronica. She, too, it brighter and more perceptive to the realities of life than Tony. Prior to her visit to his room, he hides his favorite albums to avoid the embarrassment of her discovery of them.
Soundtrack from "A Man and a Woman
He also knows from previous conversations that Tchaikovsky is also less than sophisticated to Veronica's taste. Those albums must also be stashed away. However, what meets Veronica's eye pleases her. And what follows is most satisfactory, bouts of infra-sex that excite but do not lead to orgasm, which to Tony's surprise does not leave him unsatisfied.
The trouble begins when Veronica wants to meet Tony's friends and her eyes land on Adrian. He's clearly a step up from Tony. Their relationship dies. It is only after Veronica breaks off the relationship she approaches Tony to sleep with him which he does rather lackadaisically, to prove to her that his loss of her to Adrian is no great loss.
Tony cheerily sends off a postcard to Adrian wishing him and Veronica the best, Old Bean. But what he doesn't remember nearly forty years later is the cruel and heartless letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, preceding Adrian's suicide.
When notified that he is the heir to Adrian's diary, Tony discovers that it is in Veronica's possession. It is Veronica who sends Tony's heartlessly cruel letter which sends Tony spiralling into remorse which is too late, which will earn no forgiveness.
Barnes speeds to a denouement that will cause the reader to question what they have just read, which is just fine. For this is one novel that will easily lead to a second or even third read. This is one not to be missed. There's always time for the remaining four finalists. I'm sure they're quite good. But I wouldn't have missed A Sense of an Ending for the reward of reading any of the others. Highest Recommendation.
“It's surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time”-- Barbara Kingsolver
One of the benefits of having your favorite professor of psychology as your next door neighbor is learning that he is a very widely read man. We are an odd pair, I suppose. He is 76. I am 59. But through the years we have known one another we have become best friends. We frequently exchange books the other has not read.
It is safe to say that Howard is fond of literature that some might find "quirky." That's fine with me. That which is quirky can be quite fascinating. Howard can also be subject to a touch of hyperbole. So when he handed me his copy of The Hotel New Hampshire, declaring it the finest book written in the English language, I graciously accepted it, not revealing the grain of salt I reserved for his high accolade.
While I would not proclaim "The Hotel New Hampshire" the finest book written in the English language, it is a book I came to love with the passage of each page. Quirky? Oh, there's no question about it.
Iowa Bob Berry is the football coach of Dairy Prep School in Dairy, New Hampshire. The school doesn't quite make the top tier of preparatory schools in New England, but it serves its purpose for the wealthy whose children don't fall into the top tier of students that attend the top tier schools. It comes, then, rather a surprise that Iowa Bob's son, Win,is Harvard material. The problem is, that although he has been accepted to attend it's going to take hard work to earn the money to afford the tuition.
Now,Dairy Prep is an all boys' school. It comes as no surprise that Win's girl of his dreams is unknown to him although they live in the same town. However, after graduation, the two nineteen year olds spend their summer working at Arbuthnot by the Sea, a resort in Maine. Nor does it come as a surprise that the two fall in love over that wondrous summer.
There is definitely a fairy tale quality to the courtship of Win Berry and Mary Bates, the daughter of a very scholarly family. Another employee at Arbuthnot is Freud, not Sigmund, of course, but Freud a mechanic, who entertains the guests with the antics of pet bear, "State O' Maine" who rides a 1937 Indian Motorcycle. At the end of summer, 1939, Freud announces he's returning to his home in Vienna, not a wise thing to do. He sells the motorcycle and the bear to Win for $200.00 for Win's promises he marry Mary, attend Harvard, and one day will apologize to Mary for an event Freud does not reveal.
Win makes good on the first promise quickly. Win and Mary begin to be fruitful between the entertainment seasons during which Win is earning his tuition at various resorts with the use of the Indian and the Bear. World War II puts a hitch in Win's enrollment at Harvard. However, he returns safely, graduates from Harvard and takes a teaching position at Dairy, now a coed facility.
The Berry children are Frank, Franny, John Harvard, Lilly, and the youngest,known as Egg. John, the middle child, narrates the novel in first person.
Win quickly becomes dissatisfied with his teaching position. He buys the now vacant female seminary to convert it to a hotel as there is no other in Dairy.
I've mentioned that Irving's novel has a fairy tale quality to it. It's necessary to remember that there are the lighter tales of Hans Christian Anderson and there is the darker side of the genre by the Brothers Grimm. As the story of the Berry clan proceeds, it is evident that Irving has chosen to follow the Grimm route.
Frank is gay. He is targeted for humiliation by the backfield of the Dairy football team, quarterbacked by Chip Dove. The same backfield rapes Franny. She refuses to report that she has been raped, but minimizes the attack by saying she had been beaten up. Lilly has a rare disorder which prevents her from growing. Egg is practically deaf following a series of ear infections.
Win receives an offer to sell the Hotel. And who should appear to offer the Berry family a change of scenery but Freud, now the owner of a hotel in Vienna, Austria. Win is his pick to help improve his gasthaus to the level of a fine hotel.
Freud could use the help. It's an odd establishment. One floor is occupied by prostitutes, who may ply their trade legally in Vienna. Another floor is occupied by a group of radicals, despising the old order and anything smacking of tradition. Win has his work cut out for him.
Freud has obtained a smarter bear, Susie. She's considerably smarter than State O' Maine. She happens to be a young woman who does a divine impression of a bear, not only serving as an entertainer, but a body guard for the ladies of the evening upstairs. And, oh, yes, Susie was the victim of sexual assault as well. She considers herself ugly, and is content to hide behind the bear suit.
"The Hotel New Hampshire" was written and directed by Tony Richardson for the screen in 1984.
The radicals upstairs are a dangerous group. They plan to set off an automobile bomb which will cause a sympathetic bomb under the stage of the Vienna Opera House on the premiere night of the fall season. I leave it to the reader to discern whether the attempt is successful,or not, and who lives and who dies.
The Vienna Opera House
The Berry family return to the United States. Lilly has written a best seller "Trying to Grow." This deus ex machina allows the Berrys to live a comfortable life, though all of life's normal travails continue to follow them through out their lives.
As Irving tells us, sorrow, love, and doom float through each of our lives. It's how we each handle those unavoidable currents that determine the satisfaction of our lives.
Iowa Bob, training John Harvard to be a weight lifter, put him on a strict regimen of exercise. "You have to be obsessed. Obsessed. Keep passing those open windows." Having lived approaching sixty years, I'd have to say you can't live just standing still. Some dreams become wishes which are fulfilled. Some are not. Just persevere.
I have read a number of reviews of "The Hotel New Hampshire." You will certainly find its detractors here. Those unfavorable reviews note the dysfunctional nature of the Berry family. Similar reviews find Irving's emphasis on sexual assault unnerving. While I've noted Irving's fairy tale nature of storytelling in this novel, life isn't a fairy tale. The events described in Irving's novel happen all too frequently. As a bit of a post script, I have to say Irving did his research on the dynamics of sexual assault and its effects on survivors. Yes, sorrow also floats.
Extremely Loud and Incredbily Close: Jonathan Foer's novel of love, loss, and memory
There are events that leave an indelible stamp on us for a great pExtremely Loud and Incredbily Close: Jonathan Foer's novel of love, loss, and memory
There are events that leave an indelible stamp on us for a great portion of our lives. This happens from generation to generation.
Ask those living at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor where they were and what they were doing, they will be able to tell you the answer. Similarly, ask me where I was when I heard John F. Kennedy was shot, I can tell you.
Ask what I was doing when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, I can tell you. I had arrived at work at the District Attorney's Office. My chief side kick with whom I was working prep for a trial, ran into the grand jury room and said turn on the television. I did. What I saw was something I could not accept.
Jonathan Foer goes far past the point of remembrance. Foer drops you into the shoes of 8 year old Oskar Schell. For him, 9/11 is not simply an event which he will remember for its historical significance. It is an event he lives daily because he lost his father that day. And the event is brought home to him, for he has a cell phone with his father's messages sent from the twin towers that day. This is a secret he keeps from his mother, for he wants to protect her from the pain of those messages. It is an incredible burden for a child to bear.
Oskar is left with a gamut of guilt and fears, resulting in a state of vicarious traumatic response to his father's death. His grief is all the more palpable because he is extremely gifted and incredibly cursed with an intelligence far more gifted than children his age.
Oskar shared a bond with his father, who fostered that intelligence, by devoting great attention on his son, gently lulling him to sleep at nights by reading him the New York Times and circling the errors they found in red ink. His father challenged Oskar's intelligence by setting up questions for Oskar to solve, leaving clues amounting to a trail of breadcrumbs leading him to a solution of the problems he designed for him.
Or did he? Did his father actually do this? Or is this something which Oskar has perceived in his mind alone?
The action of this novel occurs a year after the fall of the Towers. Oskar is still dealing with the traumatization of his father's loss. In an effort to keep the memory of his father close, Oskar frequently hides in his father's closet where the scent of his father's shaving still lingers in his mind, if only in his mind.
A bundle of memories and his fears cripple Oskar in his dealings with others, especially his schoolmates, whom are not affected by the fall of the Towers as Oskar is. Nor does Oskar perceive his mother to be as deeply affected by the loss of his father. She has a new friend, Ron, who becomes a frequent visitor to the apartment. Oskar hears their laughter in the living room, as he hides in his father's closet. At one point, typical of a child, he tells his mother he wishes it had been her who died that day. It is something a child would say, intentionally hurting the remaining parent, then immediately struck with the hurt he inflicted on his mother whom he loved without question.
There are strong clues that while Oskar is undoubtedly a prodigy of intelligence far beyond his years, that Oskar just might suffer from more than childhood fears. Is it that Oskar is afflicted by Asperger's Syndrome? A look into the Diagnostic Services Manual--I believe we're in the fifth edition of that psychological cookbook, now, reveals that this is a distinct possibility.
Oskar is enveloped in a net of pattern and design, a characteristic shared by children with this diagnosis. He is awkward in his social interactions. Nor does he seem to grasp the results of his actions in social settings. Play on words which Oskar finds hilarious are lost and misunderstood by those around him. Oskar's behavior in filling daybooks with events that have happened to him, including other tragic events occurring before and after 9/11 take on a ritualistic quality, echoing some of the characteristics shared by those diagnosed with Asperger's, which is considered a sub diagnosis of autism. It is a matter of degree, not an exclusion from that diagnosis.
That Oskar is unaware of the consequences of his behavior on his teacher and his fellow students is clear. In graphic detail, he explains the results of the bombing of Hiroshima, sharing a video interview with a survivor of the first use of an atomic bomb against a civilian population.
That Osckar's last name is Schell is a clever device used to great benefit by Foer. For Oskar is a veritable Chambered Nautilus consisting of impenetrable chambers of secrets revealed only by gently bisecting the shell of a nautilus.
Oskar's mother carries her son to be counseled by Doctor Fein, who is anything but fine in his ability to reach Oskar and release him from all the fears held within him, brought about from his father's death.
It is only through Oskar's discovery of one last mystery he believes was left him by his father to solve, that Oskar begins to live outside himself and become engaged with people outside his immediate family that just might allow him to move forward from the prison of the loss of his father.
Quite by accident, Oskar spies a blue vase on the top shelf of his father's closet. Stacking his works of Shakespeare in his father's closet, Oskar stretches to reach the vase, only to tip it off the shelf, shattering it on the floor of the closet. It contains a key, with an envelope. Written on the envelope is the word "Black" written in red ink.
Oskar determines that the answer to his father's last mystery is the key and someone named Black. Although the number of locks in New York City is mind shattering, Oskar, a child of the internet, decides to track down all the Blacks in New York City in an effort to find the secret of what the key opens.
It is this journey, if anything, that will allow Oskar to move beyond the death of his father and live his own life.
Foer, in a display of brilliance, introduces us to Oskar's grandmother and the grandfather, Oskar never knew. Thomas Schell, for whom Oskar's father was named, also is trapped within the memories of another terrible incident in Human history, the firebombing of Dresden. The elder Thomas, although once capable of speech, can no longer speak a word, but communicates by writing in blank day books. He disappeared before the birth of Oskar's father.
We learn of the elder Thomas's history through his letters to his unborn child and through his life with Oskar's grandmother, who lives in an apartment building across the street from Oskar. Oskar and his grandmother communicate by walkie talkies at all times of the day and night.
It is through the writings of the elder Thomas Schell that we experience first hand the horror of living through one of the great acts of inhumanity against man--the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II by the Royal Airforce and the United States 8th Airforce from February 13-15th, 1945. Those events leave Thomas Schell a man forever changed.
The beauty of Foer's novel is the answer he provides in the resolution of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. We recover from the tragedies of our lives through the bonds we share with others. This is the ultimate beauty of life.
While some critics, and some readers, find Foer's novel, manipulative and cloyingly sweet, I find it an affirmation of life. To paraphrase Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech, it is through reaching out to others that not only are we able to endure, it is the way we prevail.
This is a solid 6 Stars literary masterpiece. If it makes you cry, take joy for the fact Foer reminds us we are human, not only capable of acts of inhumanity, but also capable of acts of great love and forgiveness....more
It is 1974 in Butler, Pennsylvania. Arthur is fourteen. His older sister, Astrid is in military service, flying high over Russia, photographing bits and pieces of a very cold country in a very cold war. But the real war is back in Butler, on the home front.
Arthur's mother and father are splitting up. His mother explains to him that she loved another man and his father could not forgive her. She adds that she was not the villainess, Arty's father had his own women on the side.
At the same time, Annie Marchand, the perfect babysitter who had watched Arthur and Astrid while their parents lived out the motions of happiness in a marriage, has problems of her own. Life hasn't turned out well for the pretty babysitter, now grown, married, and the mother of a beautiful little girl, Tara.
Annie's problem is her husband Glenn. He's not a bad sort. In fact, he's so damned nice. He's the excited puppy, bouncing from job to job that he can never keep. No matter how good his intentions, Glenn finds reasons to be late for work. Too much booze. Too little interest. Another job hunt. Annie soldiers on as the family breadwinner, a waitress at the club, overlooking the golf course.
It is a cold winter afternoon. Mr. Chervinick has the band practicing out on the soccer field, preparing for the last half-time show of the football season. Arthur, in the trombone line, a highschool freshman, numbly marches through the drill routine, obliques and a whirlwind maneuver that Chervinick calls the tornado, a movement the band never can perform to their director's satisfaction.
As Jimmy Buffet sings, "There ain't to reason to hurricane season." A tornado is something that can't be controlled, nor can a high school band replicate its movements on a practice field.
During their attempt to swirl and twirl across the practice field, gunshots ring out. This is where our story begins.
From that point on, O'Nan deftly weaves the stories of Arthur and Annie's families. There is a terrible beauty in the symmetry of the death of two marriages. After stormy screaming matches between his mother and father, Arthur's family dissolves in a whimper. Annie's ends in those gunshots that reverberate over the practice field.
Moving between the voices of Arthur, Annie, her bad boy lover, Brock, and husband Glenn, slowly spiralling into madness, Snow Angels sings with the power of a Greek chorus in building to an unavoidably tragic conclusion.
While O'Nan weaves all the strands of a spider's intricate web of emotion, interspersed are moments of dark humor as Arthur suffers the consequences of his parents' divorce. No longer able to sustain two homes equivalent to their former household, Arthur finds himself living in the most efficient of efficiency apartments, a former retreat for ministers, now converted into family apartments. The chapel has been demolished, but its foundation stands as a reminder of its former role. It is a place Arthur and his bus mates laughed at on their way to school. It is the home of twin sisters Lily and Lila, also the butt of Arthur and his friends crude humor. Now Arthur waits for the bus with Lily and Lila, slowly finding himself attracted to Lila. He wonders what she would look like without her glasses and what her body might be like underneath the home sewn clothes she wears.
We follow Arthur through obtaining his learner's permit, his father's sporadic and awkward weekend visits. Arthur's father teaches him to drive in a battered car belonging to his paternal aunt. His mother, also a waitress, as is Annie, has kept the family Country Squire, the quintessential automotive image of the perfect family's perfect automobile, a reminder of family vacations during happier days. These days cannot be recreated. They can only be remembered.
Astrid appears as a distant voice on telephone calls from Germany. She is removed from the cold war at home. Although she asks Arthur if he would like her to take leave and come home as he doesn't seem to be taking care of their mother, clearly she has no intention of doing so. Arthur takes satisfaction in knowing where her secret stash of weed is, the pipes, the bongs, the papers. That will show her.
We watch as Arthur sets out on his trek to adulthood, desperately trying to arrive there in the arms of Lila. She's very nice without her glasses on. And, oh God, the bra is off. Oh, God, what is beneath that awful binding garment is beyond Arthur's wildest dreams. And the wheels on the bus go round and round. What a reminiscence--the opening of the old television show, "Ben Casey." Perhaps you remember it. "Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity." http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=... That's O'Nan's marvelous novel in a nutshell.
Snow angels. I've made them as a child. I've watched my children make them. Giddy moments of the exhilaration of being a child and alive. In this novel, snow angels are not symbols of happiness but the bleak harbingers of unhappiness and a tornado of death and violence that will forever haunt the reader.
Yes, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This novel almost makes you wonder if there is such a thing as reincarnation.
Born in 1961, Stewart O'Nan took his MFA from Cornell in 1992. His short story collection, In the Walled City, was awarded the Druse Heinz in 1993. His manuscript of Snow Angels captured the first Pirate's Alley Faulkner Prize for the Novel, awarded by the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society of New Orleans in 1993. The novel was published in January, 1994.
O'Nan's latest novel is The Odds, out January, 2012. I'll have Mr. O'Nan sign that at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Alabama on January 23, this week, when I'll also respectfully ask him to sign my copy of this novel and his award winning collection of short fiction, In the Walled City.
Stewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A PrStewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan. Rarely have I read a novel that I am compelled to review immediately upon completing it. But this is one.
Much has gone on in my personal life since a killer tornado passed through our town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on April 27th. Shortly afterward, my mother developed a serious case of pneumonia. Although the pneumonia was cured, she was immediately diagnosed with emphysema. A spot on the lung in an x-ray, which might have been a mere shadow was cancer. Next she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. The diagnoses were numbing. However the prognosis was good. She was released from the hospital on a relatively small amount of oxygen, small enough to allow her to travel about with one of those portable units that you've perhaps seen people walking around with, nothing more than what you might see in a stylish shoulder bag.
In August, my mother had her second bout of pneumonia. She came home with an oxygen concentrator delivering nine liters of oxygen per minute. Our traveling days were over. I promised her that she would remain in her home as long as possible. My wife and I moved into my Mother's home. From August till now, I put my law practice on hold. I am an only child. The duty of being the primary caregiver was mine and mine alone.
The oncologist said that it appeared the radiation treatment had done its job. When she returned the end of this month, she expected to find nothing but a small amount of scar tissue. We were all optimistic.
Last week, something was obviously wrong. The shortest walk, even tethered to nine liters of oxygen wasn't enough to keep her from being physically exhausted. I got one of those small flyweight wheelchairs to get her from den to bath and bedroom.
On last Thursday evening, my mother began to choke. She was gasping for breath. Although she had stubbornly insisted that she would ride out this long journey at home, she told me to call 911. The front of the house was reflected in reds and blues from the emergency vehicles that parked alongside the front of the house and filled the driveway.
It was a trip by ambulance to our hospital. It was a long night in the emergency room. About 3:30 am. she was admitted to the acute stroke unit. It was not that she had a stroke, it was the only monitored bed available in the entire hospital.
On Saturday, she was moved to a regular respiratory floor monitored bed. I was glad. So was she. Visiting hours were limited to only thirty minutes every four hours on the stroke unit. On the floor, my wife and I, my aunt and two of her grandchildren were able to keep her company.
But, I couldn't help but notice that what had been 9 liters of oxygen was now 15, an incredibly significant increase. Yesterday, about 8:25 am, mother was admitted to intensive care. The fifteen liters were not holding her.
The irony of the situation is that I had begun reading O'Nan's "A Prayer for the Dying" that very morning. I carried it with me to the hospital during the long visiting hours.
I read sporadically through the day. A day of hospital visiting is not conducive to uninterrupted reading. Most of the day passed in conversation with my mother as her breathing allowed. But when I came home that night, I was immersed in O'Nan's novel about a small Wisconsin Township called Friendship.
It begins on a beautiful summer day. It is 1866. The American Civil War is still fresh on the minds of the citizens of Friendship. Jacob Hansen, himself, a veteran, who fought extensively in the Kentucky campaigns, has returned to Friendship where, seen as a natural leader, he is the town constable, undertaker and deacon of his church, where he frequently fills in as preacher.
Jacob carries out his duties with great satisfaction over a job well done. He has a happy home life, married to the beautiful Marta, and the proud father of their young daughter Amelia, who has just gotten her first tooth.
1866 is a year when it is still not unusual to see veterans of the war looking for their next meal, or next place to sleep. When Jacob is summoned to a nearby farm of a bee keeper, his attention is first diverted to the drone of the bees and the keepers industry in gathering honey from the hives, raking the sweet from the combs rich with the golden treat. It is a beautiful day, blue skies, bright sunshine, with dots of clouds scudding across the sky in the hot summer breeze.
The bee keeper calmly tells Jacob that there is a deadman behind the hives down in the woods. One of his sons will carry him to the body's location. Jacob immediately recognizes him as one of the many wandering veterans homeless,bivouacking wherever he can find a spot. Jacob notes that his pockets have been turned inside out. One of his few belongings, a tin cup, frequently issued to troops is readily recognized by Jacob.
The farmer and his children all deny having touched anything. But Jacob suspects that the bee keeper who has lost his wife recently would not be above picking the pockets of a dead soldier to search for anythng of value. Jacob notes the odd coloration of the dead soldier's skin and the presence of blood about his nose and lips. Doc Cox must take a look at the dead man. There's not a mark on his body.
Jacob enlists one of the bee keeper's sons to carry the body into the Doctor's Office. Jacob drops the soldier's tin cup. The youngest child "Bitsy" politely hands Jacob the cup. On the ride into town, Jacob spies the body of a woman in a pasture. Upon checking on her, she is alive, but mad. She is obviously a resident of the Colony outside of Friendship, run by the Reverend Grace. Rumors abound around Friendship concerning the possibility of lewd behavior of the women residents there, with the Reverend Grace as their satanic leader in all possible improprities.
Upon arriving in town, the dead man and the mad woman are placed into the care of the local Doctor. The Doc rapidly diagnoses the soldier's deat as being caused by diptheria. At that time, diptheria was a dreaded disease, highly contagious, that spread like wild fire. The Colony resident also shows signs of infection as well. The Doctor cautions Jacob not to drain the body for preservation, but to bury it, not exposing himself to any possibility of infection. Yet, Jacob, out of his respect for the dead, properly drains the soldier's body, filling him with formaldehyde to properly prepare the body for burial.
Jacob continues to enjoy his idyllic life with Marta and daughter Amelia. However, it is evident that Diptheria is spreading rapidly throughout Friendship, its source unknown. Marta begs Jacob to allow her to take Amelia and seek safety with relatives in a nearby town. But Jacob reassures her that all will be well and cautions her that it would serve as a poor example to the Township were he to allow his wife and child to seek safety elsewhere.
Soon, Jacob is dealing with a full blown epidemic of Diptheria, resulting in the quarantine of the town--no one leaves and no one comes in.
What begins as an idyllic summer day turns Friendship into Hell itself. Although Jacob's personal life may disintegrate around him, he will continue to perform his duties as constable, deacon and undertaker.
Interestingly, each of Jacob's honorable judgments lead to more dire circumstances for the people of Friendship. Jacob's effort to do the honorable thing lead him from being beloved of the town, to despised, as he enforces the quarantine. Tension mounts as a wild fire burns out of control towards Friendship. Jacob must save those untouched by the sickness and leave those infected to the flames. It is a decision that will tear him apart.
This afternoon, I presented my mother's living will to the nurse's station directing a do not resuscitate order on her chart. My mother's primary physician met with us to tell us that all that could be done had been done. Mother reiterated no ventilator, that she did not wish to prolong her illness. I shared a special friendship with my mother. She always rode shotgun on my rambling day trips no matter how boring it may have been for her. Those trips ended in May of 2011. I will miss them greatly.
Any work of an author is a living thing. It serves as an interaction between author and reader. O'Nan will never have any idea of how he spoke to me of bravery, duty, responsibility, love and sacrifice. Nor will he ever know how I have come to appreciate the growing loneliness of Jacob Hansen. I am thankful for the comfort of the company of my wife. But I owe Stewart O'Nan a debt of gratitude. It is in this interaction between reader and author that books continue to live long after they have gone into print. It is this connection between reader and writer that gives life to books and causes them to breathe.
For my Mother, Ann M. Sullivan, August 27, 1935 till time stops. Prl...more
A Month of Sundays, John Updike's Unreliable Gospel According to Thomas Marshfield
Meet Thomas Marshfield, a Christian Minister tending to a flock someA Month of Sundays, John Updike's Unreliable Gospel According to Thomas Marshfield
Meet Thomas Marshfield, a Christian Minister tending to a flock somewhere back East, above and beyond the pale of Ministry, especially where his female congregants are concerned. Here is a contemporary Doubting Thomas, on a Sabbatical of sorts. He is, short of being de-frocked, sent to a desolate motel, located in the desert, a program for ministers who have, shall we say problems regarding human frailty.
Thomas contemplates his indiscretions for a month of Sundays, along with his fellow inhabitants of a suitably Omegan shaped motel. Somewhat a Hotel California, it comes with a bar, a restaurant, golf and poker. But the literature available is of limited nature--the library is limited to harmless mysteries, English cozies, and the locked room puzzles of John Dickson Carr.
Ironically, the unnamed Administratrix is named, Ms. Prynne. Prynne? We don't know her first name, but in typical sly Updkie humor, one wonders if her first name is Hester.
Updike reveals Thomas' Alpha to Omega through a stream of journal entries, written to "the Reader." It is a mea culpa toting up his sins of commission and omission.
Thomas is the son of a minister. His father was a student of Tillichian theology. Thomas wishing to be more formidable in his religiosity opts for the less forgiving position of Karl Barth. The doctrine of Election wryly applies to Thomas in ways Karl Barth never intended. Thomas is not among the Elect in the sense of being among the saved. Thomas has selected to be among the damned.
Perhaps there is something of the Oedipal complex at play here. Thomas's quest takes on the search for his long dead mother. His aging father is lost in dementia, a resident of a nursing home. Although he most often doesn't recognize Thomas as his son, there are moments where he obviously does. The implication is that Thomas's mother was not the saint she believed he was. Neither was his father, who mistakes Thomas for his twin brother Erasmus or a former comrade in arms during WWI. Prior to entering the ministry, Daddy Marshfield recounts with ribald glee his escapades in France, waxing profane on his preference for a small woman with a small ass and breasts. Now that's the filly who provides the greatest joie de vivre! Right, Mooney? Raucous laughter of memories stored away long ago, echo through the nursing home.
The Alpha of Thomas is not extraordinary. He attends seminary. Marries a professor's daughter. In typical fashion, through the years, they have come to resemble one another physically. The bloom is off the rose. Thomas has two sons, Stephen and Martin, completely unalike. He cannot relate to him. The brothers, in Cain and Abel fashion, do not get along. Martin looks for the finer things in life, attending an exclusive private school that taxes the Marshfield coffers to the limit. Martin is studious, perhaps a bit of a dilettante, unmindful of the cost to his family. Stephen out of apparent love for the Father, or his father, elects to go to public school out of sacrifice to the family. He excels in sports, while Martin is the sensitive scholar of the two.
Back in the desert, it is journal writing between breakfast at noon. The journal is a self examination of the penitent's past and an acknowledgement of the indiscretions that brought each of them to their placement there. Along with Thomas there are fallen priests, ministers, preachers each with their own predilection leading to their cause of fall from grace, if grace exists at all. The Bible is not in existence at Thomas's Omega shaped retreat. Nor is it meant to be.
After journaling it's a daily round of Golf. The bar is always open. Poker at night. Although the penitents are not to discuss their peccadilloes that landed them in their spiritual wilderness, gradually they each learn of the others' most untheological downfalls. Unlike Christ's temptations avoided during his forty days in the wilderness, Thomas regales the reader with his most human and therefore faulty behavior, though he rationalizes the Dickens out of it.
It began with Alicia. One can almost hear Updike chuckling when he named Thomas's church organist. The very way in which Thomas describes her has the ring of Humbert Humbert's "Lo-Li-ta." Each time Thomas writes the name, it is with an air of "Ahhhh, A-liiic-i-aaaa!"
Alicia is a woman of many talents, adroitly handling two children as the divorced single mother. She fills the church with the soaring sounds of Bach to Buxtahude. The liturgy is shortened as Alicia turns Thomas' sermons into brief platitudes as she lengthen the muscial elements of worship bringing in brass instruments, percussionists, and, Good God, guitarists!
Worst of all, Alicia has determined that Thomas is her salvation from being single, adroitly persuading Thomas to leave Janet and his sons for a life with her. She has the sexual abilities of a lusty Lillith with a preference for the superior position, enthusiastically riding Thomas as easily as managing a stallion. And stallion, Thomas discovers, he is.
In a humorous series of episodes, Thomas attempts to foist his Assistant Pastor, Ned Bork on Janet, cajoling his wife, "Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to be with another man? He constantly invites Ned for dinner, finding some reason to leave to perform some ministerial duty in the hopes that Ned and Janet will find themselves in delightful in flagrante delicto, but neither party is buying it.
Alicia, a practical woman, turns her affections to Ned Bork, who readily accepts them, to the chagrin of Thomas who begins to see her car parked at Ned's garage apartment next to the parsonage. He is obsessed by the knowledge that his ultra-liberal Assistant is having his anatomical flute played by his former mistress.
Poor Thomas enters into a string of liaisons with his female congregants. The teenaged bride who married too quickly, too early, and realized she had made a life changing mistake. The emaciated divorcee, whose most prominent feature is an outstanding pudenda, always jutting out from her emaciated frame. Then, the fatal alliance with the head Deacon's sainted wife, Frankie Harlow. Ah, Harlow, ash blonde, gracefully aging, who detests the sight of her husband.
Harlow is Thomas's ideal of love. Faithful to the core. Image of Mother Mary. Perhaps, image of Thomas's own lost mother. Svelte, curved appropriately, with a luminescent body bathed in a lambent glow of chiaroscuro whatever the lighting. There's one problem. Thomas cannot service poor Frankie, no matter her skills with lips, tongue or hands. Damn.
Frankie is Thomas' Jocasta. And he is blinded by his inability to consummate his most desired seduction.
Urged on by Frankie that that woman who plays the organ has turned Sunday morning worship into a concert rather than devotion to the Word, Thomas decides to fire Alicia, no longer his, Ah, A-liii-c-i-a! Alicia, scorned as a lover, deprived of her job, tells all to the Deacons.
And thereupon hangs the tale of Thomas's Month of Sundays in the wilderness without any outlet for all the temptations of the memory of his many conquests, of all the congregants who have knelt in supplication to him, so to speak.
Here we have the Gospel of Doubting Thomas. This is Updike at his most outrageous. This is the dry, the wry, the sly John Updike, who as Robert Graves would have cried, warns Thomas "Down, Wanton!" And, Updike revels in the ribald, down and dirty life of Thomas Marshfield, allowing him to create his own Gospel according to Thomas. Did you know that adultery was actually a sacrament sanctioned by Jesus? Why, of course it was! Think! Jesus saved the adulteress from stoning. Think! Ah, Mary Magdalene!
Oh, Domine, Oh Devil, what have you done to my rod and staff? They no longer comfort me. You laugh at me, I'll laugh at you. Repent? Repent, Hell.
If you read Updike, sex with a capital S is everywhere, and absolutely abundant. After all, wasn't Man told to go forth, be fruitful and multiply? So, Doubting Thomas would preach the Word. In Times Magazine review of Couples, appearing in the issue April 26, 1968, A View From the Catacombs,, the author wrote:
His contemporaries invade the ground with wild Dionysian yelps, mocking both the taboos that would make it forbidden and the lust that drives men to it. Updike can be honest about it, and his descriptions of the sight, taste and texture of women's bodies can be perfect little madrigals.
With A Month of Sundays , Updike offers up a raucous rondeau of sex and religion that rocks the rafters of any sanctuary or temple. With the exception of the fallen, the angels are blushing, but feverishly flipping the pages to find the good parts.
The Sportswriter: Richard Ford's Bleak View of the American Dream
The Sportswriter, 1st Edition, Vintage, 1986
"My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a spo
The Sportswriter: Richard Ford's Bleak View of the American Dream
The Sportswriter, 1st Edition, Vintage, 1986
"My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children--two of whom were not even born yet--up for a good life.
Just exactly what that good life was--the one I expected--I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn't say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children."
So it is that Richard Ford begins to tell us in beautifully written style the story of Frank Bascombe, The Sportswriter. And, although Ford writes beautifully, and paints characters in crystal clarity, Frank Bascombe is not a protagonist that is easy to like, much less love. Critics have described Bascombe as heroic and a decent man. Either I read a different book, or my dictionary has become outdated.
The first hint of Bascombe's revelations to come is calling his former wife "X." One wonders whether he has changed her name in Dragnet fashion to protect the innocent, or that over the period of their marriage he has become so distant from her he can no longer bear to call her by name.
One could trace the disintegration of the Bascombe marriage back to the death of their first born son, Ralph, who died of Reyes syndrome. How many marriages have evaporated following the death of a child? Yet, no blame is cast between the two of them. There is no question as to which parent gave Ralph aspirin while running a fever. It simply occurred. They remained together long enough to create two other children, wonderful, as Frank describes them.
But as Frank tells us, much has happened in between. He had intended to follow up his collection of well received short stories with a novel. The novel remains half written, abandoned, tucked away in Frank's desk drawer.
While the unfinished novel gathers dust, Frank is offered a job by a glossy sports magazine "you all have heard of." Ironically, Frank really doesn't like sports, not most of them. Now, baseball. That's different. However, Frank's angle as a sports writer is his innate ability to read people, to get them talking about themselves. He's a pro at ingratiating himself to those he interviews. He is a mixture of wide smiles, grins, platitudes, and the qualities of a "good guy" people don't mind talking to. That Frank has no real connection with his assignments is never evident to them, nor does it seemingly bother him. And, if a lie is called for, he has no difficulty in telling it.
Richard Ford formerly wrote for Inside Sports Magazine
Frank's job constantly takes him on travel junkets, to sporting events, to athlete interviews. Time with X and his two wonderful children is limited. During one of his out of town assignments the seat on the plane next to him occupied by a woman who has left her husband to write. They engage in pleasant conversation, more on her part than Frank's. It is no surprise they end up in the same hotel and that there's a knock on Frank's door that night. Frank discovers he can read women as well as he can the athletes he interviews. He turns her offer of lovemaking down, but holds her through the night, the courtly gentleman. What follows is a series of letters implying an intimacy that doesn't exist.
Ironically, following a vacation trip, Frank and X return to their Tudor home to find it burglarized. It's the typical burglary where the intruders have left out for inspection those things most of us would rather stay tucked away in the privacy of boxes and drawers. X finds Frank's correspondence which he had kept in his desk drawer. Frank is surprised to find X setting her hope chest containing all the special mementos of their marriage ablaze in the fireplace. The marriage is over.
Surprisingly, the marriage is over for an offense that Frank did not commit. He casually informs the reader that perhaps X had turned a blind eye to the eighteen women he in fact had slept with. The details of the Bascombe divorce are never revealed. Again, a surprise, Frank ends up with the Tudor house while X and the two children establish a new home in "The Presidents," a hot new suburban development. It turns out that X has always been the true athlete of the couple, a golfer, who becomes a pro at a local club, and offers golfing lessons.
Frank's and X's relationship remains relatively amicable. X keeps their two children Peter and Claire readily accessible to him. At times, Frank sleeps over on the couch.
Frank and X also continue to observe Ralph's birthday, meeting at the cemetery each year. Frank's practice is to select a poem each year to read over the grave. This particular year he has chosen A.E. Houseman's "On an Athlete's Dying Young." X laconically tells Frank she never liked Houseman, nor was Ralph ever an athlete.
At their meeting at the cemetery, Frank does not tell X he's taking a female companion along with him on an assignment to Detroit, though she brings up the matter of whether either of them ever think of marrying again. Frank has met Vicki, a nurse in the ER, who has recently fled an abusive marriage in Texas. Vicki's father, a former petroleum engineer in Texas, now a toll taker at one of the New Jersey turnpikes has bought and furnished a house for her.
To Frank, Vicki is a weekend gift from Heaven. The curves are in all the right place. She's indicated her sexual interest, calling herself a real firecracker in that department. Frank paints her as a Southern stereotype, complete with Texas twang, and wide eyed wonder at the prospect of going to Detroit and seeing the Big Tire which she's always wanted to do.
One of Nurse Vicki's Wonders of the World
Frank bears a hostility towards Southerners, which he especially exhibits towards his physician Fincher who shows up at the airport, decked out in awful trendy golfing clothes, his clubs thrown over his shoulder. Frank thinks of the Southern college boy decked out in khakis and campaign belt, baggy oxford shirt, with hands tucked confidently in their pockets, displaying a nonchalant insouciance. Only later does Bascombe himself reveal that he, too, is a Southern expatriate, and happy to be one, although he had attempted to use that image to gain entrance at the University of Michigan in his undergrad days.
The Detroit trip is a disaster. A freakish blizzard makes sightseeing a lost cause. Bascombe's assignment is off his meds, crazy as a betsy bug, and won't produce a successful story. While Vicki is a firecracker in bed, Frank makes a crucial error after telling her he loves her. He sneaks through her purse, looking through the photographs in her wallet. Vicki wakes up. The party's over, in spite of Frank's proposal of marriage.
Throw into the mix that Frank's formula for wooing involves a quick declaration of love. His preference is for divorced women. Single mother's are even more preferable for they are more vulnerable to being told they are loved. His ideal relationship consists of making eye contact over a drink, the suggestion dinner, and being entwined in bed within four hours, hopefully while on assignment in a location not to be visited again. Hero? Decent? Or heel?
Frank's relationships with other men are just as tangential, lacking any commitment. Shortly after his divorce from X, Frank was dragged into the Divorced Men's Club, a group of five men, who meet for dinner, drinks, taking in a sports game, an occasional fishing charter. As places become available through death or remarriage, some lucky guy becomes available to fill the empty slot. Frank approaches the club much as he does the athletes he interviews, with smiles, grins, and the occasional joke.
Things grow complicated when a new place opens in the club and it is filled by Walter Luckett. Walter's only luck is bad. His wife ran off to Bimini with her ski instructor. He's a true sad sack. Because of Frank's seeming bonhomie, Walter mistakes him for a friend and confidant.
Following a fishing charter Walter confides in Frank that he met a nice fellow and ended up in a motel room with him. Walter feels that Frank, while he might have an opinion, will listen to him, and not express how he might feel about what happened. Frank in fact does listen. But tells Walter he does have an opinion which he would prefer not to express.
(view spoiler)[Walter's loneliness, the humiliation of being left by his wife, and his guilt over his homosexual experience lead him to commit suicide. Walter leaves a suicide note for Frank calling his best friend. Responding police find the note. Unable to locate Frank, they call X who locates Frank on his cell. X volunteers to go to the police department with Frank. After being questioned whether he and Walter were romantically linked, Frank indignantly denies it, invites the interviewing officer to join the Divorced Men's Club, and sets out to explore Walter's apartment since Walter had left him a key. X drives him to the apartment and goes inside with him.
Frank has no idea why he is inside Walter's apartment. Nor does he know why Walter considered him his best friend.
As he meanders through the dead man's apartment, X tells Frank she still loves him. Frank impulsively asks X to go into Walter's bedroom make love. Wrong move. "I was going to ask you to spend the night. I left the kids with the Armenis." Instead X leaves Frank stranded at Walter's apartment to get home the best way he can. (hide spoiler)]
Frank epitomizes contemporary America where neighborhoods are merely groups of homes. These are the streets where people live but are not neighbors, nor know the names of those around whom they live. Frank represents the modern human being who lives committed to a dream belonging only to him without commitment to others. And so it goes.
"The Sportswriter" is the first of three Frank Bascombe novels. Independence Day won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for 1996. Ford concluded the Bascombe Trilogy with The Lay of the Land in 2006. It was a National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee in 2006.
I have to thank "The Oxford American," a journal devoted to southern literature and culture, for introducing me to Donald Harington. The fine folks atI have to thank "The Oxford American," a journal devoted to southern literature and culture, for introducing me to Donald Harington. The fine folks at that magazine let me know about him way back in 2006, when they handed out their first Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to Southern Literature to this guy from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Donald who? It pains me to say it, but I'd never heard of the man.
You'd think I would have run right out and bought every Harington in sight, but this is one time I just got it wrong. It happens to all of us from time to time, I guess. You just can't read every book out there. And, if you'll bear with me here, because you've probably figured out, this won't be the typical book review, I have to admit, being from Alabama, you take your pleasures where you can find them at times.
Other than college football and a few other sports, my beloved home ranks about last in every positive category of American life. Now, note I said beloved, because I do love this state, even with all its faults. It's only human nature that when you're low down there on the totem pole, it's always nice to know there's a couple of notches occupied beneath your lowly position.
It used to be said, if you were an Alabama resident, "Well, thank God for Mississippi." Then those Mississippians unbuckled their bible belt and legalized gambling. And all of a sudden, Mississippi's got better roads, some really nice schools, new welcome centers,new train stations, and other amenities all brought about by what most Alabamans still consider a mortal sin, with the exception of those folks who regularly cross state lines to legally gamble and buy lottery tickets in Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. It's amazing what a little sin can do for a place, you know?
And THEN, Oxford, Mississippi was named one of the top 10 places to retire to in the whole "Newnited States of America." That just about did it.
So about all an Alabama boy could say was, "Well, thank God there's still Arkansas," not that we ever really considered them part of the SOUTH. Darned if it doesn't hurt to say out of literary pride--yeah, we got a few authors from around here--I figured I could just skip Donald Harington. After all, we've got Nelle Harper Lee. No, I don't believe Truman Capote wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," before you ask. However, I do think Ms. Lee had considerable to do with "In Cold Blood." We take partial claim to Truman because of his Monroeville, Alabama relations. We have William March, Winston Groom, Mary Ward Brown, T.S. Stribling, Carl Carmer, Hudson Strode, Mark Childress, and Jimmy Buffet. Yes, I am an aging pirate way past forty parrot head. I didn't think I needed Donald Harington.
Then, back in November, 2009, I saw Donald Harington died. I read the obituaries. Donald Harington, born in Little Rock Arkansas, December 22, 1935, died November 7, 2009. The accolades astounded me. The man's life flat floored me.
Harington lost his hearing at age twelve after a bout of meningitis. Yet, in those few years he caught the dialogue, the lingo, the argot of the Ozarks. In 2010, I ran across that old copy of the Oxford American. I re-read the bio and the award, swallowed my pride, and ordered a copy of "Lightning Bug." It came in from Amazon. I shelved it, forgot it, and then darned if Amazon doesn't go and buy the entire Toby Press catalog which happened to contain the complete works of Donald Harington. I could read it for free. I was between books and through the miracle of FREE whispernet service (Does that make you wonder if Amazon is going to get around to charging for downloading an e-book?) whoosh, I had my own free copy of "Lightning Bug."
For those of y'all wondering if this Alabama confessional is going to turn into a book review, well, here it is.
I flat love Donald Harington. It made me glad I voted for Clinton. Twice. It's enough to make a man want to go on pilgrimage to the Ozarks. First, Harington made me laugh. He could make me cry from laughing and he could make cry from the mere tragedy of what it sometimes means to simply be human. "Lightning Bug" is filled with references to old Ozark folkways and superstitions. To some, and you'll find Harington's detractors right here on goodreads, Harington's dialogue is so thick with what they refer to as hillbilly ignorance, they can't abide the man. Having relations in the northwest part of this state, I can hear some of the same phrasing, terms, and superstitions I recall growing up in Alabama and visiting those family members. It's true. It rings true. And for Arkansas natives who have crucified Harington for portraying their kinfolk as ignorant, well, it's just about as well they no longer call Arkansas home.
A number of years back, a good friend gave me a copy of "Pissing In the Snow." It's an anthology of Arkansas folklore. She was a raven haired beauty and I was more than half way in love with her, but the timing was never right for either one of us. She could give me that book and laugh about it, because she was from, guess where--Fayetteville, Arkansas. Much of what I read in "Pissing in the Snow" could have come straight out of Harington. The catch is, what was in the pages of that book of folklore shine through on the pages of Harington's writing.
While reading the book, I posted a few comments along. Having completed the book, I'll stick with my original impression. Reading Harington is about like reading Faulkner who had just about enough nitrous oxide to make him slap happy. Harington's story is quirky. The people are quirky. Some you'd like to call neighbors. Other's will make you run in the opposite direction--and you'd be smart if you did, because some of them would as soon kill you as look at you, especially if you're a revenooer threatening one of the best stills in the hills.
It is a sheer delight to tell you fellow readers that Harington created an entire, surreal and quirky world around the small township of Stay More, Arkansas. I have the intense pleasure of announcing I have eleven more Stay More novels to go. As Harington tells you, you won't find it on any Arkansas map, but by the towns he names that do appear on any decent Arkansas atlas, you can figure out pretty much where Harington knew it was. And, at least in Harington's mind it might as well have been a real place. Perhaps it was. He just changed the name to protect the innocent and the guilty.
There should be no surprise that there's a lot of innocent and guilty to protect in Harington's world. Over there in Stay More, Latha Bourne is the postmistress and she runs the most popular general store in the community. She's got a head for business. When that candy drummer comes around in the summertime, Latha won't buy too many Hershey bars because any damned fool knows they're going to melt in that Arkansas heat. But she's smart enough to see that the postal delivery service also crates in enough block ice to keep the soda pops cold. Her competition refuses to consider the extravagant price of carting in block ice, but can't figure out why all the men folk hang out over at Latha's.
Well, I can tell you why they do. There's not a man in Stay More, Arkansas, that's not a little in love, or at least lust with Latha. Her allure defies description, although her sharp wit and keen intellect cause a man to pay more attention to her than just because of her curves. Even Donny (pronounced "Dawny")Harington who works his way into the story as a five to six year old boy, expects to grow up and marry Latha. He loves her unquestionably, because of the attention she sheds on him, the ghost stories with which she entertains him, and the fact that she provides him shelter from some very, very rigid and unloving relatives with whom he lives.
"Lightning Bug" is largely the story of the romance of Every Dill and Latha Bourne. They were lovers. He was twelve and she was eleven. However, after their adolescence, the powerful Ingledew clan of brothers who consider Stay More their own personal town, and in some ways are, as they own the bank that carries the mortgages on almost every resident of Stay More, decide that Latha should be betrothed to Randall Ingledew. We don't know Latha's rationale for deciding to accept this betrothal, but she puts Every Dill out of her life.
Even World War One cannot break the hold of the Ingledew family over Randall's betrothal to Latha. Although Every Dill returns from the war to report that Randall died, tied to a tree by the Germans as a decoy to lure American doughboys into the path of a machine gun nest. Every, still in love with Latha had promised that he would take care of Randall while overseas. He failed in that mission, though the scars of machine gun bullet holes piercing both legs indicate he made every attempt to save his rival for Latha's affection. That was the kind of love he had held for her since early adolescence. However,the Ingledew's threaten Every with his very life if he approaches Latha. Until Uncle Sam says Randall is dead, he's not--at least not officially. They remind him there's seven of them and one of him. If they have to, eight may take a walk in the woods, but only seven will come out. The meaning is clear.
"Lighting Bug" spans the time from pre-World War One to some time after 1939. During those years, many changes come to Stay More, most for the worst. Stay More is a dying town, especially after someone who might be Every Dill robs the Ingledew Bank.
Dill does leave Stay More. He has one more encounter with Latha, professing his love for her. What transpires some would call rape. Whether it was, or wasn't is subject to interpretation.
The following years are a blank in the life of Every Dill. His absence is not explained.
Latha spends a good deal of time with her sister Mandy and churlish husband in Little Rock. Latha spends almost three years in an insane asylum there. The only facts this reviewer will reveal regarding those circumstances are that her committal was involuntary, and while she clearly needed emotional help it could easily have been supplied by loving family members had they chosen to do so. In 1925, Latha escapes from the Little Rock Asylum. We next find her running the general store and being the efficient Post Mistress of Stay More.
With the exception of "Dawny's" sleep overs, her only company is her sister's daughter, Sonora, living with Latha in Stay More temporarily. Of course, she has her customers and visitors during the day.
Occasionally, Latha takes off the day, spending the time fishing in a fine spot, Banty Creek. There, Latha meets Dolph, also taking the day off from work on his farm in a town up the road. Latha is a woman of strong sexuality. Her exercise of it occurs rarely. But when it happens, the term "la petite morte" was never more applicable than to Latha, who literally faints and remains unconscious for a period of time, waking up with a tremendous sense of well being.
Dolph complicates matters by making it his sole purpose in life to marry Latha Bourne, a task she doesn't make easy for him, as she gave him a false name and her residence in a town other than Stay More. Latha doesn't see the need to complicate her life by marriage.
Of course, Dolph does track her down, eventually. She tells him she's married to a fellow that works over in the canning factory in town. That's not true either.
It's at this point that Every Dill reappears in Stay More. His occupation? He's become a preacher. He's returned to post fliers around Stay More announcing his intention to preach a revival. Dill's transformation from soldier to bank robber to preacher dumbfounds the residents of Stay More.
Every buys tacks from Latha to post his fliers. He returns to borrow a hammer to put them up. Clearly, Every is of the mind that Latha is his intended and their love was something meant to be from the time they were barely out of childhood.
Latha's niece, Sonora, flat out confronts Latha with her belief that Every is her father and that Latha is not her aunt, but her mother. She can see their features in her face and this is a fact that she recognizes intuitively.
Within a short time, Latha succumbs to Every's continued proposals of marriage on the condition that she make love to him before the marriage. Every's commitment to the Lord prohibits him from committing the sin of fornication but insists on putting a ring on Latha's finger.
In a recent discussion of whether authors intentionally interject symbolism into their works, I can't speculate on Harington's position on this subject. However, I will say that Every's last name is Dill. Of course, his nickname he was stuck with was "Pickle." Not only is Every a stand in for every man, within the context of this novel, Every's Pickle stands in and up for male sexuality with a priapic vengeance. And Latha's not interested in just an every man's pickle, but the one that belonged to her first love.
What follows is an impasse that can only be resolved by Every's conversation with God and Latha's own conversation with Christ. To say the episodes are dreamlike and surreal is an understatement of the greatest magnitude. I will say that Latha's conversations with Christ and his references to what his Dad would think provide some of those moments of tears resulting from laughter. I'll limit the summary to the fact that Christ's and Latha's conversations occur over each of them sharing peaches in an orchard and a different twist on the incarnation of mortals by whichever aspect of the Trinity the reader so desires.
"Lightning Bug" is a tangle of flashbacks and narrators. It is one of Harington's masterstrokes on what makes this novel work so well. I've seen one reviewer who questioned the significance of "Dawny" and his fate, and the identity of the other narrators in this tale.
In this reviewer's opinion, Harrington combines techniques of omniscient narrator, a very subjective narration speaking as to another person through the use of you. That second mentioned narrator is "Dawny" as a grown man, reminiscing of his coming of age in Staymore. The object of his narration is none other than Latha Bourne, addressing her as "Bug," for Latha is the ultimate human form of lightning bug that mysteriously appears on those warm summer nights and makes each of them the magic we carry with us from childhood till death. And it is Harington's use of himself as narrator through which we are able to unravel the mystery of Latha's past which the omniscient narrator does not, will not, or perhaps cannot provide us. For Latha Bourne is one of those unique and magical individual which, once she becomes a part of our lives, we are forever incapable of forgetting the impact she has had on our lives.
I'll leave this review by saying the reader will find complete satisfaction with Harington's resolution of this novel. Love never dies. I'd say that's a good thing.
For more on the works of Donald Harington, I found these references particularly fascinating. I sincerely hope you'll come by the PO down at Stay More and join me there. I think the place and the people that live there have a whole lot to tell us about what it means to live.
I couldn't tell you why I have resisted reading "A Town Like Alice" for so many years. But I did. Perhaps it is for the best whatever time it is we chI couldn't tell you why I have resisted reading "A Town Like Alice" for so many years. But I did. Perhaps it is for the best whatever time it is we chose to land a particular book in our hands.
When I began to read Shute's book, I quickly fell into it. Noel Strachan is perhaps one of the most charming narrators I've encountered. Shute's use of the aging British Solicitor to unveil the story of Jean Paget drew me into the tale.
It was a simple enough matter. Strachan was hired to write the will and administer the estate of Mr. McFadden. It is the type of case that routinely crosses a lawyer's desk. The will was quite straight forward, and quite traditional. Upon McFadden's death, his estate was to go to his sister as a life estate. Upon her demise the estate was to devolve to her son. Should he predecease McFadden, the estate would go to our protagonist Jean Paget.
McFadden was easily what we would term a chauvinist today. Should Jean Paget be his heir, his estate was to be held in trust for her until the age of thirty-five. McFadden didn't believe young women had a head for handling money.
However, war has a way of causing the least favored bequests in wills to often be made. In this case World War Two left McFadden's estate to his least favored heir. It was up to Strachan to sort things out and carry out his client's last wishes.
Of course, Jean Paget was never the woman McFadden believed his niece to be. She survived a death march of non-combatant women and children following the Japanese invasion of Malaya. Her brother did not survive imprisonment in a prisoner of war camp.
Shute's portrayal of Jean and her fellow English women and their children is a tribute to the courage and endurance of those individuals who have come to be called the collateral damage of war. The Japanese have no use for these women and children. Nor do they want to waste precious resources on keeping them alive when there is the Imperial Army to feed.
Into this mix, Shute throws in a plucky Australian, Joe, conscripted by the Japanese to drive trucks of material for them. Of course, Joe and Jean meet. He admires this young woman whom he believes to be married. On more than one occasion Joe manages to smuggle food, medicines, and soaps to the wandering band of women and children. However, war rarely leaves possible lovers in a situation that allows a relationship to blossom. Joe and Jean are separated under circumstances which this reviewer will not reveal.
As a bit of an aside, I found Shute's depiction of Japanese troops and their behavior toward the British women and children one of the most sensitive and humane portrayals in literature and history. Interestingly, it is the line soldier who exhibits the greatest humanity to their charges. It is the Imperial Officer who turns a blind eye to the plight of non-combatants.
It would be tempting to say that "A Town Like Alice" is a sentimental romance and leave it at that. However, it goes beyond those limits in a depiction of courage and survival, while acting selflessly, and a life lived happily ever after. I'm told that happens some times. I wouldn't attempt to deny that degree of happiness to those that find it, nor would I sneer at it because I hadn't necessarily found it.
I will admit at this juncture that I am unabashedly a romantic. Nevil Shute wrote a story which enchanted me with its charm, courage, and passion that was truly unbridled only after a wedding ring was slipped onto a finger, and a marriage meant to last a lifetime. Old fashioned, you say? "Too right. It's a right crook affair." By all means, be welcome to those sentiments if you have succumbed to the cynicism of our supposedly modern world.
There is nothing in this book to dislike unless you simply refuse to believe in the possibility of happy endings. They do happen, you know.
Oh, there's a bit of Neal Strachan in me. I am an aging lawyer as he was. Jean Paget is one of those women capable of enchanting many a man with her mind, her intellect, her toughness, and her capacity to love, not only a man, but life and all it encompasses.
RANEY, Clyde Edgerton's first novel on why it's not a sin to marry a Whiskeypalian even when you are a Free-Will Baptist
First of all, the illustratioRANEY, Clyde Edgerton's first novel on why it's not a sin to marry a Whiskeypalian even when you are a Free-Will Baptist
First of all, the illustration of Raney by Clyde Edgerton is not that of the first edition, first printing. Seeing as how I'm a goodreads librarian I should fix that.
First Edition, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1985
Yep. Fixed. That's now the correct image for the First Edition, First Printing of Raney
I know. I have one. It's signed. The REAL first printing is green with a guitar on it. The title, Raney is printed in a block background of hot pink.
I'm gloating. I'm gloating because it was a very, very short first printing. I'm gloating because Clyde Edgerton signed it for me and then serenaded me and my wife, picking his banjo, while singing "Safety Patrol."
It's not Safety Patrol, but it gives you a good idea of how this man comes across at a book signing.
It's a good thing I finally met Clyde Edgerton. I had literally stalked him for several years. My brother-in-law, Bill, as in Bill from Dallas, as opposed to Cousin Bill from Shreveport, got tired of Connecticut winters and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Clyde Edgerton lives in Wilmington, teaches at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and likes to write while having breakfast at The Salt Mine, one of two restaurants of the same name.
Among other things, Edgerton teaches creative writing at UNCW
I confess. I stalked him. In a polite way. I ate breakfast at the Salt Mine five mornings in a row. I didn't have my cholesterol checked for six months thereafter because I would have had to fess up to my lady doctor, who is beautiful, that I had spiked my LDL and lowered my HDL, while stalking an author who has written five New York Times Notable Books of the Year, was a Guggenheim Fellow, was admitted to membership of the Southern Writers Association, and washes his own pickup truck in the front yard of his house--HIMSELF.
I never caught him there. But I highly recommend the homemade corned beef hash, eggs over easy, with wheat toast. Oh, and on the lunch special, I recommend the chicken fried steak. That's on Saturdays. He washes his truck on Saturdays.
I told you. I stalked him. When I confessed to Clyde that I had stalked him, he kind of grinned. When I described his house, his pickup truck and his dog, he was a little rattled. Not to worry. My favorite independent bookseller told him I was harmless--for the most part. And you will notice that no photograph of Clyde washing his truck appears below. Even a literary stalker must have some degree of ethics. *ahem*
Edgerton was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1944. He was raised just outside Durham in a little place called Bethesda. He came from a long, long line of cotton and tobacco farmers. Fortunately, his parents were the first of their family to leave the farm. Otherwise, well--Clydge Edgerton would not have become an author I would have ended up stalking.
He doesn't look like it, but Edgerton was a fighter pilot for five years from 1966 to 1971. You can read about Edgerton's love of flight and his combat flights over Vietnam in Solo: My Adventures in the Air.
Edgerton flew combat reconnaissance over the Ho Chi Minh trail for over a year. Sticking with a downed pilot until his comrade was pulled out earned him the Distinguished flying cross.
Flip through any biographical article about the man and you'll find out most folks figured he would end up being a baseball player or a rock musician. His parents and his twenty three aunts and uncles never took him to have a literary bent. But it was listening to all those storytellers in his family that turned him into the writer with an extraordinary ear for dialog and an eye for the natural humor of human foibles.
Characters flow out of Clyde Edgerton as easily as water falls off the sides of mountains in Western North Carolina. By the time you've become familiar with Edgerton's books, you realize this is a man who knows and loves people, warts and all.
Now, Raney was not the first Edgerton I read. The first was Walking Across Egypt which came out in January, 1987. I was so enthusiastic over that one I was ecstatic to find a paperback of Raney.
I have read Raney three times. The last time was when I read it aloud to my wife. I figured she would enjoy it, especially since Clyde had sung "Safety Patrol" to her. And she did enjoy it. Immensely. She giggled, hooted, belly laughed, cried, guffawed and snorted a few times. Me, I'm impervious to such things and just kept right on reading, in character, of course. I am a professional. Do not try this at home. The Carol Burnett gang would not have cracked me up. When you are in character, you are in character.
Generally, you'll find a book blurb that says read it, read it aloud, read it to someone else (I did) and give it away (I won't.) Buy your own copy. Stalk Edgerton yourself. It's good for you. The breakfast at The Salt Mine is not good for you. But it is good. Stalking authors is fun. It builds character. Maybe he'll sing to you, too.
Anyway, Raney Bell is a very proper young Lister, NC, lady, who sings like a nightingale--bluegrass ballads--that'll have you tearing your heart out and stomping it flat, or fluttering around like a blue bird because it's one of the happy toe tapping ones. She is a Free Will Baptist. God's in his Heaven and all's right with the world, and her mother, daddy, and all her aunt's and uncles, too.
Then up pops this new librarian down at the library in downtown Lister. His name is Charles. And he is not from Lister. He is all the way from ATLANTA, Georgia. You know what those people are like in Atlanta. They have funny ideas. They are LIBERAL. And Charles is not Free Will Baptist. He is EPISCOPALIAN! You KNOW what THEY are like.
But Charles loves bluegrass music as much as Raney. He can sing and play the guitar, too. You would NEVER know he was from Atlanta if he would only sing songs. But he has to come to dinner and you can't sing all the time. And when you can't sing you have to talk politely. But Charles goes telling Uncle Nate about there being no difference between black people and white people. You could have heard a pin drop.
Now, all this happens back in 1975. And it does happen in NC. And sometimes, people like Uncle Nate who was never the same after the WWII, uses the N WORD.
What you all (I have translated that for Y'ALL) have to understand is that people like Uncle Nate and Raney and all her kin don't have a mean bone in their body. Their politically incorrect thinking comes from ignorance, not malice.
You ALL will see this when it turns out that Charles' best man is B-L-A-C-K! It turns out he's no stranger than Charles' own mother who is a VEGETARIAN!!! Now, feeding her at the reception is gonna be hard.
So in this short little book you all will be sad to see it over, we see Raney get married to an Episcopalian from Atlanta, GA. An' we get to see how two people as different as day and night live and love together for a year and grow alike as two peas in a pod and go together just like peas and carrots--just like Forrest and Jenny, except Raney was never flighty like that Jenny.
After Edgerton did his Air Force duty, he went back to the University of North Carolina where he got his Masters in English. He taught at his own former high school where he was one of the favorite teachers there. He obtained his PhD in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Edgerton took a teaching position at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, a Baptist School.
Campbell University, the Baptist School without a sense of humor
After watching Eudora Welty read one of her short stories Edgerton decided to become a writer as well as a teacher. After the publication of Raney Mr. Edgerton and Campbell University parted ways. Some Baptists just have NO sense of humor.
So, if you are not a Baptist, or you are a Baptist with a sense of humor or any other thing you want to be because that's all right with Clyde and me, read this book. Read it aloud. Read it to someone you love. Give a copy to a friend. Make it your copy. You're not getting mine.
Two Sisters Bookery, 318 Nutt Street, Wilmington, NC
Why is this review being circulated again? Well, I'm trying to set up a meeting with Professor Edgerton at UNCW to get a submission to "On the Southern Literary Trail," and get that copy of "Solo" signed....more
"The Help" was a runaway bestseller on the NYTimes for over one hundred weeks. Now, the movie is a top grosser. I can't deny I liked it. I gave it fiv"The Help" was a runaway bestseller on the NYTimes for over one hundred weeks. Now, the movie is a top grosser. I can't deny I liked it. I gave it five stars. There's nothing not to like. It was a sleeper hit. It was a short run first print and a first print of "The Help" will cost you a sweet price. But it didn't win a Pulitzer or the National Book Award. It is not a great American Novel. It will not endure as "The Color Purple" will.
Sure, the maids in Jackson, Mississippi, have it bad. It takes an upstart insider of a white girl to come to the rescue to show the up and coming wives of Jackson, Mississippi, you just don't treat people that way.
In Walker's "The Color Purple," no one is going to come to Celie's rescue, least of all, a white woman. Raped by the man she calls father, Celie has two children. They vanished. They were there and they were gone. Her younger sister, Nettie, is coming on and Pop has his eye on fresher flesh.
When Mr._________ comes courting, Mr._____, who needs a wife for his children, wants Nettie, but Pop won't let Nettie go. She's too young. You take Celie. He does. Mr.__________ not only has a compliant bed mate, he also has a cook, a nanny, and a laundress all rolled into one. As in almost every domestic violence relationship, Celie can't win Mr. ___________'s game.
Celie's world is a bleak one. It is dreary. Nothing breaks the monotony of the days. Who knows where Nettie is, or whether she's safe. There is no one to talk to but God. She writes him letters and it is through those letters that all of the characters emerge, first through Celie's eyes, then miraculously through Nettie's letters. But Nettie is not nearby, she has become a missionary for a black couple, Samuel and Corrine.
Celie finds love in a singer in Juke Joints, Shug Avery. She is the color in Celie's world. Loud, brash, indomitable and independent, Shug is an old flame of Mr. __________. Celie is fascinated by her. Mr._________ has a passion for Shug. And it would be Shug who gives the novel its title. "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it." The thing about color is that you do have to notice it. It is the beauty of life that is lost in muddling through an endless string of hopeless days.
Just as Celie writes to God, Nettie is writing to Celie, waiting for a response. But none comes. The fate of the letters will not be revealed here. Just know they exist and will appear at the appropriate time.
Celie is surrounded by strong women. Mr._______ oldest son, Harpo, marries Sofia. When it nags at Harpo that Sofia won't mind him, Celie's solution is, "Beat her." That works with Celie, not Sofia. Harpo's next appearance shows him battered and bruised with an excuse he got too close to a kicking mule. A well wielded piece of stove wood is the true source of Harpo's marked face.
Shug stays around for a good while, singing the blues at Harpo's joint after Sofia moves out and Harpo turns their house into a business. Shug lives with Mr.___________ and Celie, secretly bringing Celie the pleasure she has never received from a man. Celie will take love where she finds it.
In Africa, Nettie writes how the native tribe, the Olinka, view the missionary group. They are merely black white people who have lost the ways of living as an African. The Olinka is also a male dominated society. Boys may go to school. Girls are not allowed to be educated in any matter other than what will transform her into a good wife. It seems it's tough to be a woman no matter where you live, whether it is a civilized location or not, if any place is ever truly civilized.
This is a work of love, loss, and misery, tempered only by hope. This is a story about the layers of discrimination and prejudice that surround us, white against black, black against black, man against woman. Ultimately this is a triumphant work of self-realization and independence of a woman who learns she can speak out in the world as opposed to writing to an unknown mystery who never writes back.
Some find "The Help" patronizing--that the maids of Jackson must be rescued by a white woman. I never thought so, until I read "The Color Purple." By all means, enjoy "The Help." Treasure "The Color Purple," especially the next time you pass a field with purple in it. Notice it and show it to anyone you can. ...more
Faulkner tells the story of the rise of the Snopes family through three novels,"The Hamlet"; "The Town"; and "The Mansion." It is a stunning cycle ofFaulkner tells the story of the rise of the Snopes family through three novels,"The Hamlet"; "The Town"; and "The Mansion." It is a stunning cycle of stories depicting the decay of the south as it is overtaken by new social values at odds with the past.
At times the story is told by an apparent omniscient narrator. At others it is solely told from the perspective of specific voices, especially the attorney Gavin Stevens, his nephew Chick Mallison, and V.K. Ratkliff, a travelling salesman, vending sewing machines on the installment plan.
The Snopes clan arrives in Yoknapatawpha County in force in the late 1890s, although Faulkner gives us glimpses of the family in "The Unvanquished" and "Sanctuary." However, Faulkner's ultimate symbol of the changing south appears in the form of Flem Snopes in "The Hamlet," published in 1940.
Consider Flem Snopes synonymous with amoral greed, the darkest side of capitalism. Flem will rise from sharecropper to banker over the span of forty years. In an effort to portray himself as a respectable member of Jefferson, i.e. Oxford, Mississippi, society, he will rid the town of his own family members, using them for his own purposes until he discards them when they are no longer useful.
In addition to Flem, Faulkner creates more memorable Snopes: Mink, Wallstreet Panic, Montgomery Ward, and Clarence Eggleston Snopes. Then there is Eck Snopes,so innocent, so decent, that V.K. Ratkliff insists he could not have been a Snopes at all, surmising that Eck's mother had improved the family gene pool by trysting with someone outside the Snopes family.
On simple terms, the Snopes trilogy indicates that you can have love or money, but you can't have both. Flem's greatest opportunity comes from his marriage to Eula Varner after she is becomes pregnant by a young man from one of the old aristocratic families. He will provide a name to a bastard child. However, he will never be Eula's lover. She will find that comfort from another source. Flem will accept playing the cuckold as long as it serves his purposes.
Gavin Stevens, his nephew Chick, and Ratliff will make it their mission to protect Jefferson from the Snopes clan. This trio represents the decency of democratic progress in the face of southern decay. These men are the moral foils to the amoral greed of Flem Snopes.
The Snopes novels have waxed and waned in their value in the Faulkner Canon through years of critical analysis. For this reader, these novels establish Faulkner's true place in post modern literature. While maintaining the major aspects of southern literature in the use of legend, myth, time and place, Faulkner's County is a microcosm for a larger universe of human values.
These three novels provide enough material for a review much more in depth, and deserving of much critical study. For the purpose of this review, however, it is enough to say that these novels show Faulkner's storytelling ability at its finest, covering humor, farce, pathos, and tragedy. Perhaps it is because I have waited to attaining the age of 59 to read these novels, that I find them as accessible as they are. My earliest encounters with Faulkner were more than forty years ago when I lacked the maturity and experience to understand the complexities of his earlier works.
Through my life I have returned to Faulkner's earlier works and understood many things I did not as a young high school student, just as Chick fails to understand the significance of the social change in his town when he tagged along at the heels of his Uncle Gavin. By the time of Faulkner's publication of "The Mansion" in 1959, Chick is equally capable of interpreting the significance of Flem Snopes and his influence on Jefferson society. Perhaps so it must be for all of us. And it is an illustration of why we must return time and again to the works of literature to reexamine their significance in light of our own growing experience as human beings. So it is with Faulkner's trilogy of Snopes novels.
As has been my custom, this review may appear to be quite generic. However, it is always my purpose to avoid spoilers so I do not deprive the reader of the joys of the discovery of Faulkner's twists and turns of plot and structure. There are countless joys to be found in these three novels. By all means, mine these books to find the treasure they contain. ...more