Davis's foray into new sources of material, chief among them dreams of her own or friends, doesn't work for me. There's too much of the personal and n...moreDavis's foray into new sources of material, chief among them dreams of her own or friends, doesn't work for me. There's too much of the personal and not enough of the universal here.
That said, "Idea for a Sign" is a lovely neurotic rant; "The Language of Things in the House" is downright whimsical; "The Magic of the Train" is also strong. Perhaps travel by rail is especially salubrious for Davis. "Local Obits," presumably reworked found material, is pitch-perfect.(less)
A useful, engaging collection of profiles of American women naturalists, from the well-known (Rachel Carson) to the obscure (Ynes Mexia). These pionee...moreA useful, engaging collection of profiles of American women naturalists, from the well-known (Rachel Carson) to the obscure (Ynes Mexia). These pioneering women show a range of personalities, pleasant and not so; but all of them who succeeded at field work show an acquired taste for beans. Bonta emphasizes the mutual support networks that arose among them, especially the Althea Sherman-Margaret Morse Nice-Amelia Laskey axis. For a number of reasons, many of these women do not leave a record of extensive publications (Florence Merriam Bailey and Carson being notable exceptions); rather, their legacy is often in assembling collections and organizing museums (Alice Eastwood, Ellen Quillin).
It seems unfair to downrate a book for something outside of the author's control. However, the paperback edition is marred by a production error for which the publisher, Texas A&M Press, should be abashed: on several pages there are illustrations that don't take up the entire page and the text continues under the illustration. Or at least (presumably) it does so in the original 1991 hardcover edition; in my paper edition, the text is just missing. Cutting two half-paragraphs out of Alice Eastwood's story, for instance, does her no good service.
Good pointers in the bibliography to more complete treatments of several of these groundbreakers—a good resource for some of my Wikipedia projects.(less)
To capture the immense span of Texas, Ferber wants to strip the commas from her prose, so that her arms may spread all the wider. It's a risky stylist...moreTo capture the immense span of Texas, Ferber wants to strip the commas from her prose, so that her arms may spread all the wider. It's a risky stylistic choice that I like:
Downstairs and upstairs, inside and out, on awnings carpets couches chairs desks rugs; towels linen; metal cloth wood china glass, the brand JR was stamped etched emroidered embossed woven painted inlaid. (ch. 4)
The structure of this big novel of social themes, gently satiric about lifestyles of the Texas rich and baldly indignant about racism toward Latinos, beginning as it does at the end in the 1950s and then flashing back to the 1920s, makes for some less-than-happy flashforwards—the "if she knew then what we know now" sort of thing. And Leslie Lynnton Benedict, of Ohio-Virginia gentility, poor in property but rich in heritage, is a silly girl, after all, but she is our lens on the Texas enormity, and she does her part well.
Ferber has an ear for the Lone Star lingo ("choused," "ganted"). The barbecue scene in chap. 11 is quite fine, especially the description of barbecoa (tip: it's not that stuff you order at Chipotle). And Jett Rink (the JR of the passage above) is a fine antagonist to the Benedicts; he's one sorry SOB indeed.(less)
I found the cool, detached first person plural narrators' voice of this novel absolutely intoxicating. Chang-Rae Lee finds a graceful way to explain h...moreI found the cool, detached first person plural narrators' voice of this novel absolutely intoxicating. Chang-Rae Lee finds a graceful way to explain how his narrators can be omnipresent but not omniscient. At about page 62, there's a lovely modulation of focus from Fan, the young girl who has begun her picaresque journey in the mountains, to the boy Reg, who left her behind in the new company town of B-Mor; the focus slips back in time and place and then returns, softly, to Fan. The tone even finds a way to accommodate the utterly harrowing episode of the Nickelmans.
There's a fairy tale quality to this story (the narrators at one point refer to the "trials of young Fan"), and something that reminds me of the film Pleasantville. Fan, in a way, restores color to the lives of those she meets.
And there's more than a dash of Huxley here, too, as the people of this future world willingly maintain their places in the new socioeconomic strata, and (especially those in B-Mor) embrace the communal good at the expense of an individual thriving. We are all cousins, as the narrators say.
Some elements are less than perfectly successful. Certain turns of phrase might be more comprehensible to someone who is a closer reader than me. And the dramatic compressing of all the book's events into the brief period of Fan's undetected pregnancy stretches credulity.
I found this novel, one of three of Carkeet's books featuring the bemused linguist Jeremy Cook with which I'm familiar, somewhat less successful than...moreI found this novel, one of three of Carkeet's books featuring the bemused linguist Jeremy Cook with which I'm familiar, somewhat less successful than the others. The plot requires that Jeremy be rather boneheaded about the ways of men and women in a relationship, boneheaded even by the standards of 1990, when the book was first published.
To its credit, the story introduces us to Roy Pillow, Jeremy's infuriating boss, comically opaque and grotesque.(less)
Carrier's essays are honest (sometimes uncomfortably so for the reader), way off the beaten track (one of the pieces here concerns rock and roll in My...moreCarrier's essays are honest (sometimes uncomfortably so for the reader), way off the beaten track (one of the pieces here concerns rock and roll in Myanmar), and deadpan funny. He attempts a prank to spite wealthy skiers who use helicopters for access to slopes in his native Utah and nearly has a fatal accident. In Afghanistan, he meets Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was connected with a horrific massacre of Taliban prisoners and is still active politically today.
The core of this collection is the story of a translator whom he meets in a war zone and subsequently sponsors into a college program in the States, twisted around accounts of the eccentrics who founded the Church of Mormon (Carrier has been in and out of the faith), and bound with revelations of his sometimes unstable personal life. An example of Carrier's wit, from p. 79:
Prophecy and polygamy often go together. When God speaks to a man and tells him he is the new prophet and must now take charge of the only true church, the next thing He often tells the man is to become a polygamist. Part of the responsibility of being the new prophet is to spread "the seed of David" and produce the new chosen people. This takes a lot of women and a lot of effort.
Stories of the commonplace, crammed with fantastical invention. In a couple of instances, for example "A State of Variance," there's so much going on...moreStories of the commonplace, crammed with fantastical invention. In a couple of instances, for example "A State of Variance," there's so much going on that one wishes the story to expand to novella length so as to give the fantasy some space to breathe. "Bad Return" is an engaging picaresque novel of college days compressed to 30 pages. The strongest of the collection is "The Color Master," finding just the right mix (as does the title character) of the quotidian and the bizarre.(less)