This collection of stories is difficult to pin down effectively enough to give a rating to. I finally settled at four stars because the writing is soThis collection of stories is difficult to pin down effectively enough to give a rating to. I finally settled at four stars because the writing is so jaw-droppingly good overall. Although some of the characters and stories are deeply disturbing, they jump off the page and the writing never acquires the 'this is going to shock you' feel that you might anticipate. The stories do shock you, but Gaitskill allows the characters and their dingy, drug-filled, sexually unfulfilled, disenchanted lives and thoughts to do that rather than hitting you in the face with what could have been far more shocking details and language. 'A Romantic Weekend' had a creepy tone and level of tension that could have been killed off entirely without the author's deft touch.
I can pick holes in it - undoubtedly there are repeats of themes and character traits but for me that just added to the cohesion of the collection. In places there were surprising duplications, some of which may have been echoing themes but they felt like good ideas re-hashed. 'A Romantic Weekend' struck me as almost flawless in its execution as a short story despite its disturbing and uncomfortable feel. The nameless female character's brief fantasy before the stark reality of her meeting with the man she barely knows includes a wonderful line : "his gaze penetrated her so thoroughly, it was as though he had thrust his hand into her chest and begun feeling her ribs one by one" and I thought the writing and imagery were near perfect. Then in 'Secretary' Debby describes the lawyer with "it felt like he could have put his hand through my rib cage, grabbed my heart, squeezed it a little to see how it felt, then let go." Although 'Secretary' was to grab all the attention after the movie I felt this was one of the less effective stories and the more weakly written duplicate line only served to emphasize its position for me as a paler echo.
Gaitskill gets so far inside the characters' heads I don't think it's surprising they're such an unlikeable bunch - who would you like if you know that much of their every thought and emotion? I have read other books where I didn't care for the individual characters but I've never enjoyed the ride so much. It was a bizarre world but one I felt it difficult to drag myself away from.
Although I liked the final story - 'Heaven' - it jarred a little for me within the collection. I see that it is meant as almost a footnote and a flip of viewpoint but it didn't quite have the natural feel of the other stories despite its more conventional themes and location. Perhaps I'd just gone too far into 'Gaitskill World' by that point to take the change of pace.
A powerful and deeply disturbing book. Like Holocaust accounts, it unsettles because of the terrible light it shines on humanity. Some figures step foA powerful and deeply disturbing book. Like Holocaust accounts, it unsettles because of the terrible light it shines on humanity. Some figures step forward and do the right thing, others stand by and silently contribute to the horror by their lack of action and the ugly ones do what they have done throughout human history. From the first few pages, you can't help liking Solomon Northup. I am not sure why his account should have been so much more shocking to me. Perhaps because of his literacy and ability to convey so much of the slave's mental as well as physical turmoil. Also because of the even harsher injustice (if there can be one) that he was a free man kidnapped into slavery, something that had not even crossed my mind before I read the book but clearly not an uncommon circumstance. The terrible irony that Northup/Platt was one of the most valuable and valued slaves owned by Epps precisely because of his previous education yet the plantation slaves were likely to be beaten to death for demonstrating any ability to read or write. At times I became so angry I had to put the book down for a while and return later. It is of course a much more unsettling book for being a true account rather than fiction. Across the years I felt Northup's voice reaching back and I have to ask myself how many people across the world still live in circumstances like this. A life-changing book and if it's not, it should be....more
It must be more than 10 years since I read this book, originally bought for me by my mother but lent out somewhere on life's path. It was appropriateIt must be more than 10 years since I read this book, originally bought for me by my mother but lent out somewhere on life's path. It was appropriate though that on a wet day in March I happened across a battered old hardback edition in my local library and took it home for a happy re-read.
This book exudes the feel of the early sixties, and is surprisingly honest about taboo subjects at the time - single mothers, prostitution, abortion, racism, and homosexuality. Jane is in her late twenties and pregnant after an unhappy consummation of a previous romance during her acting career. She finds herself in the L-Shaped Room because it is cheap and dirty, far from everyone she knows and hopes to meet no-one, save some money and escape from the world. Instead, the inhabitants of the house find their way to her room, and often into her heart over the course of the pregnancy. During this time she struggles to come to terms with who she is and what she wants and also with what she wants from the relationship with her father, who demanded she leave home after she informs him of her condition. Throughout the book, Jane's life twists and turns, never seeming to take the path you expect, but it is a wonderful journey of self-discovery. The medical aspects of the pregnancy are as remote forty years on as the social alienation she experiences - there is never a question of her not smoking or drinking during the pregnancy, nor any medical advice to stop. Modern mothers will shake their heads in disbelief but that's how it was. The reality was also that the L-Shaped Room was probably one of the few places she could have gone to without being asked to leave as soon as her pregnancy showed. The other Jane in the house is a friendly prostitute who occupies the basement.
I would recommend it heartily but warn that it does show its age in parts. Whilst it addresses taboo subjects it does so in a way that might occasionally be uncomfortable or a little too frank for some readers. It is searingly honest in its portrayal of attitudes at the time. For me, it was a wonderful re-read of a wonderful book. ...more
I love TC Boyle's writing style but this is the first novel of his I've tried. I'm not sure what I'm more amazed by - the idea, the writing, the plot.I love TC Boyle's writing style but this is the first novel of his I've tried. I'm not sure what I'm more amazed by - the idea, the writing, the plot. Time and again the story would pull me up and make me think 'that couldn't happen' but then 'yes, it could' and finally - 'would I do that?' I read another review that described the coincidences within the storyline as Dickensian and would agree, but they make the story work. I could have lived without one or two of them but that would be picky and the book just doesn't merit it. It's a success for me from start to finish and on a scale with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' for the social issues it raises within a very readable novel. I was screaming for some relief towards the end for Cándido and América but that was the point. Minor criticism was that I felt the character of Delaney was not quite holding true in the final pages. It made the story work but it was the only part of the book where I felt a little cheated. Very small-scale but that's my criticism. I'm still giving it five stars - it's up there with the best for me. Wow....more
Once again Mr Bryson knocks it out of the park. On the surface of it I wasn't really that interested in the history of Summer 1927. Lindbergh? Give meOnce again Mr Bryson knocks it out of the park. On the surface of it I wasn't really that interested in the history of Summer 1927. Lindbergh? Give me a paragraph or two. Baseball? Meh. Boxing? Don't bother. Yet, as usual, he draws me in until I found myself waiting with baited breath to hear the outcome of the Dempsey/ Tunney boxing match and whether Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig would break the season home run record. Those expecting Bryson's trademark one liners may be disappointed. This is not an 'embarrass yourself while reading on the airplane book', but his wry comments on much of the social history are still very entertaining, just not laugh out loud funny. The book isn't an exact chronological run through of the period, day by day. Bryson winds back and forth, back and forth, sometimes rewinding a few years for back-story and also skipping forward to provide overviews. It could be confusing yet isn't. It reminds me of those comedians who start off telling a joke then wander all round the subject until you think they've forgotten the original joke, then just as you think it's over pull out a connection to the original joke and continue as if nothing has happened. I liked this approach. If the chapters had been split out religiously into flight, prohibition, baseball etc. I might have got a little jaded with some of the items but the constant movement kept me interested. I cannot believe how much I didn't know about this time period or the characters involved. I don't know how he does it, but I'm glad he does. ...more
Not difficult to see how this author inspired Stephen King. A few chapters in, it's hard to believe it's not Stephen King writing. The author has theNot difficult to see how this author inspired Stephen King. A few chapters in, it's hard to believe it's not Stephen King writing. The author has the same 'central character speaks to reader' ability. I've read many first person perspective novels where the central character just lies on the page like a dead duck. Lou jumps right off the page and into your head in the first few pages and it's difficult to get him out. I loved the book - truly kept me guessing even though the basic premise was in your face from fairly early on. As each chapter went by I was left wondering - so...., but if he....., so then ..... - in fact I'm not sure all of those questions were answered but I was happy with that. It fit the book perfectly. Lou Ford is sketched so well as a character I almost feel he was real - this was a surprisingly immersive book for 1950s noir and rarely shows its age. ...more
This book took quite a while to read but I gave it a deserved four star rating. On some level I feel I ought to read a book someone had the tenacity tThis book took quite a while to read but I gave it a deserved four star rating. On some level I feel I ought to read a book someone had the tenacity to write while in a South African prison, having been betrayed by the very people he was trying to help. Each item was handed over to the prison guards and it is clear in many of the pieces that they are being parodied or the story is aimed at them. That's all very well but if it hadn't been worth the read I wouldn't have got past the first few pages. The language is very rich, more in line with poetry than prose and the style takes a while to grow on you. It was rather like trying to read classics after reading modern literature - takes longer than you think to tune in.
I read the book in order because that's what I always do but I think I'll go back to some of the pieces randomly. The poetic style allows for that. Some of the most moving parts inevitably focused on prison life, execution or incarceration in general. I could probably read it fifty times and not get to grips with all the imagery. Some of the pieces are dream-like and you have to just let them flow over you. I think it's important sometimes to just read and not try to interpret too much as you go along. I feel it's a book that will benefit from re-reading and will keep it to do just that. ...more
Well, I finished it, but there were times when I thought it would never happen. I find it difficult to read books where the main character has (almostWell, I finished it, but there were times when I thought it would never happen. I find it difficult to read books where the main character has (almost) no redeeming features and Elmer Gantry certainly fits that description. There is a lot of repetition in the book - Elmer relives very similar situations and scenes in each stage of his life - at least those stages of his life covered in the book. It is certainly a fascinating depiction of the time period - I have always had a degree of fascination and horror for evangelist preachers like Elmer. Lewis overplays a little by making Gantry as shallow and unpleasant as he is and overall, even for a cynical old atheist like me, there is a little too much bad outweighing the good depicted. I have no doubts at all that there were and are people like Elmer but the balance seems a little skewed. The most interesting chapters for me were in the Sharon Falconer section. It is probably the only time Elmer's more human characteristics are depicted and, strange flower though it may be, there is something close to love between them. I'm not surprised the movie focused so heavily on this element as it is the most intense and also most readable section of the novel. As each stage of Elmer's life progressed, I found myself tiring of it in a similar manner to Elmer tiring of each love interest and current money-making scheme. I was glad I'd selected this on audiobook - I doubt I could have ploughed on through the written word in certain sections. ...more
As so often happens, I saw that someone else was reading this book and looked it up as I'd never heard of the series and thought 'why not?' I needed aAs so often happens, I saw that someone else was reading this book and looked it up as I'd never heard of the series and thought 'why not?' I needed a break after some of the heavy, depressing reads I seem to have picked up in recent months. I thought the storytelling was excellent and loved most of the characters. My only nitpicking would be that the New York FBI guy, Coffey, was perhaps a little too bad to be true but hey, it was a minor point. There were some of the standard 'why are they going that way?' and 'why is she going in there after dark?' moments but it didn't matter because overall it was just a great story and I bobbed happily along from start to finish. I really liked Pendergast as a character and can't wait to read more. A fun, four star read....more