All the Liquorverse stories are very personal in how they deal with small moments in private lives, usually without a grand story arc or a ticking clo...moreAll the Liquorverse stories are very personal in how they deal with small moments in private lives, usually without a grand story arc or a ticking clock; PZB has always been good at showing how character development and Freytag's pyramid don't have to sync up simplistically. DUCK feels more personal than most, though, because it's intimately tied to PZB's personal experience of the Katrina disaster.
That connection is discussed in the forward and mostly disappears in the main action--a trip out of New Orleans for the Liquor crew to serve a 300 person banquet in Cajun country, but it return in full force at the end, rising slowly over the last chapters, and succeeded in choking me up. And I'm a cynical bastard who's never even been to New Orleans.
If you know and love the Liquorverse, you've got enough of a review already: Ricky has a new chef rivalry, they get roped into leaving New Orleans (always a sure sign of trouble), they prepare a large banquet (not their forte), it's a gimmick menu using a variety of wild-shot ducks Ricky and G-Man know nothing about, and they're cooking a gumbo for hundreds of Cajuns. To top it all off, Ricky's personal hero, former football star Bobby Herbert, is the guest of honor, leaving Ricky star-struck and nervous. That's the makings of a Liquor novel.
But if you're a PZB or Liquor fan, this is also a book that marks a turning point in the author's life, and PZB has been open about it, as usual. The book was originally titled Waiting for Bobby Herbert but that got changed in the publishing cycle; a throwaway Robert Altman reference in the middle of the book became the theme for the new title and the cover art. Author/Publisher relations soured and the next book (Dead Shrimp Blues) looks like it's gone.
And every author, like every other New Orleans resident, has had to deal with Katrina in some way. DUCK dodges the issue, because PZB was overwhelmed with the devastation and its effects of his own life as well as a period of severely deteriorating health. In fact, with the trouble with Dead Shrimp Blues and general life unrest, PZB indicated he didn't intend to write fiction again, or at least not for a long time.
So I put off reading DUCK for a couple of years, thinking it would be depressing no matter the content. It was mostly a mistake. The story, like most of PZB's career, is a love letter to New Orleans and the surrounding area, to its people, and to its cultures. This one is more culturally inclusive than most and it ends on a moment--entirely in character, yet surprising--of tolerance and patience from Ricky. Tolerance and patience are two major qualities PZB returned to in repeated blog posts after Katrina and they underly everything in the Liquor/Stubbs stories. If this is the last book in that world, it ended well.
But I hope it's not. PZB has published some short stories since DUCK (see Antediluvian Tales), most of which are Stubbs stories plus a couple of Dr. Brite tales, but all were written before Katrina. I look forward to non-blog writing from post- or non-diluvian PZB.
[Before I get comments on pronouns: Yes, PZB is a biofem. Yes, PZB is a hot biofem. PZB generally identifies as male, however, so that's the pronoun of choice.] (less)
The theme of Rebecca's Tale is recovering from lost love, both departed and unrequited. It's a great theme. Sally Beauman tells the story of Rebecca'...moreThe theme of Rebecca's Tale is recovering from lost love, both departed and unrequited. It's a great theme. Sally Beauman tells the story of Rebecca's life through two characters who are researching her history: Tom Gray, a Scottish scholar with hidden obsessions and a hidden life, and Ellie Julian, the daughter of Colonel Julyan, and a significant minor character in the first book.
It sounds like a great setup: use uncovering Rebecca's past to throw an ongoing love-story into relief, ensure the man has hidden motives and dark secrets, and paint Rebecca has a larger-than-life character the woman feels she can never match. It worked for Daphne Du Maurier, after all.
It also tries to be a coming-of-age story about Ellie, but that storyline fails to work.
The story of Rebecca's life isn't really the focus, though. Learning about Rebecca, and the perspective her life provides, changes Ellie and Tom; their relationship, prickly at first, changes as well.
Don't expect too much though. This is a book about losing love, not finding it.
Unfortunately, the book falls down on execution. It's at its worst when Ellie is the viewpoint, giving in to cheap, breathless foreshadowing every few pages and slogging through 1950's proto-feminism with an unsophistication that doesn't match its more-modern handling of homosexuality and infidelity. Rebecca continues to shock readers because it places us firmly in the time and beliefs of its setting; by losing sense of the era, Rebecca's Tale muddles what is supposed to be shocking and what is supposed to be surprisingly unshocking.
Ellie is torn between taking care of her father, her growing interest in Tom Gray, attention from new doctor in town, returning to college, and her obsession with a type of independence she believes Rebecca stood for. The book never convinces the reader that Ellie truly wants any of these, however, or that they matter to the story, or that they are truly exclusive. So Ellie comes across as a lifeless sponge obsessing over the woman her father was silently in love with. She believes that she has intuitive insight into Rebecca's personality, but she never draws strength from it nor gains insight into Rebecca or herself.
There is some attempt, largely in the last chapter, to turn Ellie's story into a coming-of-age story. Unfortunately, we don't get any actual change.
Rebecca herself speaks in a large section of the book through a diary-letter she kept. It is an odd reading of Rebecca's personality and one which didn't match my expectations: Rebecca as histrionic man-hating feminist is a reasonable read, but pages on end of lines like "beware men bearing gifts" is horrible. The story of Rebecca's childhood is interesting and plausible and it does lead to reinterpretation of Rebecca. However, the person of Rebecca is stronger in Du Maurier than in this book. By spending almost 1/3 of the book with her, we lose the sense of her as a character sketch and we don't have enough variety of epistolary material to create nuance.
The book is at its best with Tom Gray. He is the only character with any mystery and he's a character with strong needs and obsessions. The major mystery of the book--why he is obsessed with Rebecca and what it means to him--is resolved early, right at the half-way point. After that, he moves into the background until the very end, where a mjaor development is revealed. Sadly, his major character development occurs between those two points and entirely off-stage. We are deprived of the process.
All in all, if you haven't read Rebecca, this might make for a good, light read if you want a light, soppy story. It is certainly almost always painless to read. If you have read Rebecca, however, you're better off sticking to another Du Maurier. I'm pretty sure you haven't read them all.(less)
Clearly I'm in the minority here, so the problem may well lie with me. I grew up watching MASH; I saw Stripes and Sgt Benj...more1 star. Couldn't finish it.
Clearly I'm in the minority here, so the problem may well lie with me. I grew up watching MASH; I saw Stripes and Sgt Benjamin in the theatres. National Lampoon and John Hughes gave me my childhood heroes.
Yossarian just comes across as a stuck-up whiner and I couldn't find anything funny in the first hundred pages. All the humor has been done later, better, and clearly-derivitively by other humorists. Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Altman, Alan Alda, Harold Ramis, etc.
Catch-22 is clearly the original that defined the modern "the army relies on cognitive dissonance and common sense locks it up" genre, but like most genres, the original seems oddly strident and naive compared to the better of the imitators.
Read it in junior hight or give it a miss, I think. The quotes from it are funny--let other people surprise and entertain you with them.(less)