What can I say? I'm a Flannery O'Connor devotee, so this book with its new tid-bits makes me very happy. Yes, it's minor work in some ways, but theseWhat can I say? I'm a Flannery O'Connor devotee, so this book with its new tid-bits makes me very happy. Yes, it's minor work in some ways, but these cartoons show O'Connor at her usual poignant and hilarious self. One of the things I have always admired about her is how herself she was. In my life, I am surrounded by writers and would-be writers, many of whom are obsessed with image and "being a writer." O'Connor, on the other hand, wrote out of a deep and sincere sense of her own and others' humanity. Popularity was not her major motivation. She pulled no punches. I will always love her for that, and these drawings show she developed that attitude early on....more
I was really disappointed in this book, partly, I think, because it has been so highly praised as literary crime fiction. It was easy enough to read,I was really disappointed in this book, partly, I think, because it has been so highly praised as literary crime fiction. It was easy enough to read, but there were several things that didn't work for me, even when they had a positive aspect:
* There's a lot of beautiful descriptive writing, and I am usually a fan of maximalist writing, but too much this was just flowery and in the way of the story. It felt like padding, as did many of the characters.
* The main character was a thirteen-year-old child, and so the entire story had a kind of YA, Nancy Drew feel about it. I'm a grown-up: I want grown-up understanding.
* The characters felt like very stereotypical depictions of southerners--the sweet little old ladies, the redneck crazies, the slimy Baptists, the long-suffering black housekeepers.
* I suppose that the book is considered literary partly because the crime is never solved, but the ending of the book didn't do a good job of substituting anything for the satisfaction of a crime solved. In fact, the main character has what is supposed to be a rather deep contemplation at the end, but it was disturbing, and not in a good way. She's contributed to the death of one man and near-death of another (after all, only crack-addicted rednecks, so who cares?) and two dogs (vicious, so who cares?), and has escaped near-death herself, but she's "glad she did it." And what she did was delusional, ridiculous, and irresponsible. Ugh.
I love murder mysteries in film and television. But the written ones never seem to do it for me. I continue the quest, but someday I may have to admit that there's something about the genre that just works better for me on screen than in print.
What a terrific book. Watson has been compared to a diverse array of southern writers, but I think the reason he's been compared to writers as differeWhat a terrific book. Watson has been compared to a diverse array of southern writers, but I think the reason he's been compared to writers as different as Faulkner and O'Connor is that, really, he's not like any of them. This book is also hard to describe in any way that makes sense or doesn't make it sound less than it is, and so I think people grasp at comparisons.
The Mercury of the title is a town, and several of the townspeople feature in the story, but the main gist involves two of them--Birdie and Finus--who "should" marry each other, but who marry other people. In a way, the entire focus is on how one decision can send a life in a direction that's "wrong." But Watson is too smart to make it that simple. Both Birdie and Finus have satisfactions in life, though they are a little short on what we might call joy. The book covers their lives from childhood through death (though not all in chronological order) and seems to me to be saying something along the lines of "This is the way life is. Deal with it. Take it for what it really is."
That said, there is great mystery and magic, and death and life are not completely distinguishable. I'm sure some might say, in fact, that it's a book obsessed with death--and aging--but I loved the way that Watson gave us elderly characters who still had their younger selves inside of them. There's a profound sense of the rich inner lives of older people--and other people that tend to get overlooked--that I found very moving.
The prose of the book sings off the page, too. Watson writes in some ways simply, with the language of plain folk, but he can take a passage here and there into startling specificity and subsequent beauty.
I find, all too often, that contemporary novels are gimmicky. Sometimes I like that and enjoy the cleverness, but usually I find it tiresomely like reality TV or my stressful drives through traffic-clogged streets--just too busy. The Heaven of Mercury feels old-fashioned, but in a very good and contemporary way. It resonates with all the primary concerns of contemporary life, but nary a cell phone rings or text message comes in to artificially change fate. It keeps its focus on people and the natural world, not the ever-changing technology around us, and that gives it a timeless air. I really enjoyed being for a time in a world where I could concentrate and revel....more
A new book by my friend Joann Rose Leonard, The Healer of Fox Hollow is a beautifully written story of a young girl whose tongue is mysteriously rippeA new book by my friend Joann Rose Leonard, The Healer of Fox Hollow is a beautifully written story of a young girl whose tongue is mysteriously ripped out when she is a child in Appalachia. The novel follows her years of growing up, coping with her disability, her love of nature, and her spiritual struggles. Raised in an atmosphere of fundamentalist belief, Layla is early on taken as having the "gift" of healing, and how she comes to think of that gift forms the key underpinning of the book. Layla and her father, Ed, are both terrifically rendered characters, who defy stereotypes of mountain folks. The novel also captures very well the tensions of rural areas during the Vietnam era--the way in which the war seemed so far away and yet so close all at once. As in her earlier book, The Soup Has Many Eyes, Joann writes with lyrical attention to the biological facts of life--hunger, pain, sensuality. She can catch a breeze on the page like no one else I know....more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book--a compendium of memoirs by southern writers about various ways in which they've made a living (or worked for free). II thoroughly enjoyed this book--a compendium of memoirs by southern writers about various ways in which they've made a living (or worked for free). I especially loved the pieces by Connie May Fowler ("Connie May Is Going to Win the Lottery This Week"), Tom Franklin ("Delivering"), and Silas House ("Why I Worked at the P.O"). There is some unevenness in the collection, but overall I found it hilarious and insightful into what it takes to be a writer. Leave it to southerners to be unashamed about their shit jobs. We all should be, and, as Silas House notes, "It was pure hell, but it was also the best thing I ever did for my writing."...more
This is not as polished a manuscript as most of McCullers's books, but it is important nonetheless to show her growing as a writer even near the end oThis is not as polished a manuscript as most of McCullers's books, but it is important nonetheless to show her growing as a writer even near the end of her life. Her turn toward memoir was both painful for her and unusual for the time. It was a brave move for her to examine her own often difficult life....more
This is an underappreciated gem. The structure of this short novel is so tight, and the issues it deals with so important for its time, and yet littleThis is an underappreciated gem. The structure of this short novel is so tight, and the issues it deals with so important for its time, and yet little of that is ever recognized in the commentary on this book, which is trivialized because of its young main character. It's a great book....more
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm not usually a great reader of collections of letters, but O'Connor comes to life so brilliantly in hThis is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm not usually a great reader of collections of letters, but O'Connor comes to life so brilliantly in her letters that I immediately loved this book. It's a big, thick book, but as I came to the end of it I wept. I knew that I was coming to the end of her life, and I so wanted her to live longer. She was a real character, in all the best senses of that word. And she had no patience with b.s....more
Poor Joan Givner got so much grief for her biography of Porter, but it's really a very good biography. Givner may have been brutally honest about PortPoor Joan Givner got so much grief for her biography of Porter, but it's really a very good biography. Givner may have been brutally honest about Porter's flaws, but she shows Porter to be all the more interesting for them. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Porter because of how Givner told the story of her life....more
Porter was a master of the short story and novella forms, and it's really too bad not many people read her anymore. She didn't have a large output inPorter was a master of the short story and novella forms, and it's really too bad not many people read her anymore. She didn't have a large output in her life, but her stories gleam like jewels--beautiful prose, stark contemplations, and quiet but interesting plots....more
I liked this book, I really did, but it went haywire for me in Richard's turn toward religion at the end. First, I didn't feel compelled to go with hiI liked this book, I really did, but it went haywire for me in Richard's turn toward religion at the end. First, I didn't feel compelled to go with him on this journey--perhaps because of his controversial decision to use second person instead of first to write about himself. I didn't mind this strategy up to that point, but then he has this sudden conversion, a "call" to religious life, and I just can't buy it without a little more reflection and insight into why this happened. I suppose he would say there's no reason but God, but I couldn't follow him into that part of the story and therefore it felt fake to me.
Richard is an interesting writer and seems to be an interesting person, and I was compelled by his stories about his disabilities. His prose has more "profluence" than just about anyone else's, and he tells a damn good tale about his troubled youth. If only the end......more
This story felt so familiar to me, not because I lived a life like the difficult one described here, but because the language is the language of my chThis story felt so familiar to me, not because I lived a life like the difficult one described here, but because the language is the language of my childhood. Fowler really captures the rhythms and colorful metaphoric nature of the way people talk and think in the South. I had constant little shocks of recognition as I read, and it made me a little sad because I realized that I don't live immersed in that kind of language any more.
This novel is also one that doesn't sacrifice stark realism to its uplifting nature. The main character, Avocet, aka Bird, has a survival instinct, but she never turns vicious. She's character I enjoyed spending time with. I found the ending a little easy, but otherwise found the story compelling and beautiful....more
Offut alternates between an account of the year that he moved back to a poverty- and ignorance-stricken area of Kentucky where he grew up and accountsOffut alternates between an account of the year that he moved back to a poverty- and ignorance-stricken area of Kentucky where he grew up and accounts of surviving the Holocaust by his Jewish in-laws. The two story lines don't always mesh, but he finds a few parallels and similar concerns with survival across time and far-removed places.
Offut's style is very straightforward and blunt. Although I'm more of a lover of complex sentences and rich description, this style worked for this book. Sometimes the scenes are very humorous, even alongside all the sadness and horrible things he recounts. There's a humble tone that the author takes that I really appreciated. He seemed like he was growing up and coming down off his high horse as he wrote the book. Both failing at "coming home" (his children are miserable and getting a terrible education, so he decides to leave again) and listening to what his in-laws went through that they seldom complain about force him to realize how egotistical he's been.