An absence of morality would be understating the spiritual content of the characters in this triangle of marital infidelity. They only want. They onlyAn absence of morality would be understating the spiritual content of the characters in this triangle of marital infidelity. They only want. They only will. Out of those desires comes a funny, intricate farce in which the things of this world possess more humanity than the humans. Nabokov's observations stun. In the scenes he paints, he misses nothing.
Dreyer, the businessman and cuckhold, walking by a seaside rack of picture postcards:
"The most frequent object of their derision was human obesity and its necessary object, Herr and Grau Matchshin of Hungerburg. A monstrous bottom was being pinched by a red crab (resurrected from the boiled)" [Note: that parenthetical comment is a good example of Nabokov's vision and humor. A live crab would not be red, if it is red a miracle has taken place], but the nipped lady beamed, thinking it was the hand of an admirer. [Note: this was the level of humor found in many seaside postcards during most of the twentieth century. Nabokov pinches the joke with "admirer." It's doubtful such postcards continue to be sold]. A red dome above the water was the belly of a fat man floating on his back. There was a 'Kiss at Sunset.' emblemized by pair of hugh pygal-shaped impressions left in the sand. Skinny, spindle-legged husbands in shorts accompanied pumpkin-bosomed wives. Dreyer was touched by the many photographs going back to the preceding century: the same beach, the same sea, but women in broad-shouldered blouses and men in straw hats. And to think that those over-dressed kiddies were now businessmen, officials, dead soldiers [ah, the book was written in 1927], engravers, engravers widows."
I see Nabokov standing in the sea breeze jotting notes on his famous index cards.
The novel is wonderfully plotted. Nabakov's set-ups slip by the reader as something whimsical until she reaches the payoff, payoffs that build to subsequent payoffs.
The theme? Make your reservation for Westworld....more
How can Gillian Flynn not come from a working class family that went on the county from time to time, had great regard for alcohol and none for bill cHow can Gillian Flynn not come from a working class family that went on the county from time to time, had great regard for alcohol and none for bill collectors? Like mine. But, no. Upper middle class and parents who were professors. This is a writer who gives the lie to write what you know or at least knew from the beginning. This funny, gruesome, satirical thriller works because she gets all the blue collar stuff right, from the makeshift dinners (kitchen sink hamburgers) to the endless bickering to the stashed money (where that bastard won't find it). In what pool hall did she absorb the merciless dialogue of punks? Her main character, Libby Day, is a fount of acidic observation and hilarious judgment, but Flynn's greatest creation doesn't even have a POV. Runner, Libby's father, is simply brilliant. His resolute and depthless degradation astonish. To paraphrase Steinbeck, wherever people are fighting for a meal or getting beat up by a cop, he'll be there--watching from a safe distance and poppin' a cold one. Flynn has a gift for compressed language (many absolute phrases, appositives and elliptical constructions) A Flynn sentence: "Across the street two teenage boys rode their bikes in wide, lazy circles, interested." My favorite sentence: "The sky was draining quickly now, the horizon just a cuticle of pink."
“A rock is a rock and a diamond’s a diamond, but a man is half good and half bad.” I think Johnny Cash said that, but Google won’t confirm. Whoever sa“A rock is a rock and a diamond’s a diamond, but a man is half good and half bad.” I think Johnny Cash said that, but Google won’t confirm. Whoever said it, the epigram applies well to the characters in Joni Abilene’s terrific collection of short fiction: Cimarron Man and Other stories.
We’re a little north of Flannery O’Connor, east of Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby, and west of Gillian Flynn in Abilene’s tales of troubled working class dudes and the women who are happy to trouble them more.
In the title story, “Cimarron Man,” Jack, a photographer, lives in a battered truck. He’s headed out to the Badlands to shoot some pictures and do some camping, but mostly to think about the mistakes he’s made. He’s approached by a young woman who wants a ride out of town. Jack generally doesn’t pick up hitchhikers, but he’s seen her around, knows she's got an abusive father. Jack shouldn’t be taking her anywhere, but he agrees. She’s happy just to be getting away. As they drive, the quotidian dialogue is the soundtrack for the unreeling prairie.
"I got more food in my camper," he went on. "So if you wait till we camp, there might be something for you to eat that you'll like. What do you like?" "Avocados," she said. "You kidding?" "Avocados and limes and papayas and coconuts." "Well, I ain't got none of those. You like normal stuff?" "What's normal?" "Like, soup, and more soup. It's not much."
He shouldn’t be taking her but she’s pretty, and he feels a responsibility. He made a mistake awhile back and it’s still eating him, maybe keeps him in the camper. And eventually ...
Still, she kissed him and he was falling into the invisible perimeter where bad reasoning made sense. Violet never let him touch her like this. It'd always been a struggle to evoke any kind of abandonment in her. Things like that ruined a man. They'd driven him into a canyon with no direction out.
In "Johnny Cool," a DJ who has gone though many gigs and many handles: Johnny Weird, Johnny Slick, Johnny Eclipse, can’t leave the booze, drugs and accommodating women behind. When he loses his job he sets off on an odyssey to maybe leave it all behind, figure it all out. Let’s just say he takes an extended trip during which he will find a new moniker. A powerful story of a guy twisting in the wind.
My favorite piece in the collection may be “Dear Cuttlefish, Dear Cuttlefish.” A hipster named Dante tries to pick up a woman at a bar only to get a lesson in the fascinating love life of cuttlefish or maybe he gets an extended metaphor on how swiftly our dreams perish.
The stories get shorter as the collection progresses, and toward the end a couple do seem like afterthoughts. “Johnny Cool” wants to be a novella with chapters. But these are compelling reads: smart, funny, compassionate. Highly recommended. ...more
The Grownup reminds me of O. Henry. Every sentence a snap, crackle and pop. The narrator, a hand-job artist with higher ambitions, has the goods on evThe Grownup reminds me of O. Henry. Every sentence a snap, crackle and pop. The narrator, a hand-job artist with higher ambitions, has the goods on everyone. When she branches into psychic readings, she hits pay dirt with a rich woman who has problems with her restored Victorian and weird, nasty step-son. The narrator takes on the rehabilitation of the house and Red Chief. The plot might be considered O. Henry Jamesian. Funny, numerous twists and ghost story tension. A mini-novella, The Grownup is not for children....more
Reminiscent of both Graham Green's Catholic novels and his thrillers, The Hiding Room begins in 1991 with a middle-aged Englishman arranging to take hReminiscent of both Graham Green's Catholic novels and his thrillers, The Hiding Room begins in 1991 with a middle-aged Englishman arranging to take his mother's body to Jerusalem for burial. In Jerusalem, he fulfills her request. After his mother's burial, he remains in the city long enough for an awkward encounter with a prostitute, which moves him to wonder about the father he never knew, and of whom his mother spoke almost nothing. The second chapter jumps back to 1941 and Cairo where we meet a young British officer named Rawlins who is interviewing a Jewish refugee name Esta Weiss, a woman desperate for someone to believe her. Author Wilson meticulously weaves the story of Esta's and Rawlins's relationship in 1941 with the son's efforts in 1991 to uncover clues to his father's identity. Disturbing history, passionate characters and a brilliant narrative design combine for a compelling and satisfying read. ...more
No one writes black humor like Waugh. Here he targets the funeral industry as exemplified by Los Angeles. His attacks are understated, oblique and briNo one writes black humor like Waugh. Here he targets the funeral industry as exemplified by Los Angeles. His attacks are understated, oblique and brilliant. Expect no mercy....more
In Poe's short story an unnamed narrator befriends a man named William Legrand on a small island off the South Carolina coast. Legrand's family, HugueIn Poe's short story an unnamed narrator befriends a man named William Legrand on a small island off the South Carolina coast. Legrand's family, Huguenots (French Protestants), had lived the good life in New Orleans until a string of misfortunes drained their wealth. Devastated by his loss of position, Legrand left New Orleans to live as a semi-hermit on Sullivan's Island. The narrator's relationship with Legrand and his companion Jupiter, a freed slave who has chosen to stick with his former master, is casual until Legrand, a naturalist of sorts, discovers a scarabaeus, a large beetle. Legrand is fascinated by the beetle and summons the narrator to fill him on the details of his discovery. It soon becomes apparent to the narrator (and the reader) that Legrand's obsession with this beetle has driven him to insanity. Legrand's speech and actions are totally out of balance with reality. To a degree the narrator plays along with Legrand's sickness. The skeptic is the loyal and baffled Jupiter. Legrand associates the heavy bug with gold, and this hints that the man's illness is associated with his family's loss of fortune. Legrand eventually talks the narrator into accompanying him on a strange quest. So now that Poe has convinced the reader that Legrand is insane, he will take us on a journey that deconstructs the man's insanity. We will get into secret codes and skulls and pirates, fantastic stuff that slowly but surely eats away at the reader's belief that Legrand is off his rocker. It's a clever story. Great use of a reliable narrator. ...more