You know they're doomed from the moment "The Petrified Forest" ends and Frank heads backstage trying to think of the right thing to say, or even sooneYou know they're doomed from the moment "The Petrified Forest" ends and Frank heads backstage trying to think of the right thing to say, or even sooner, with the first words ("The final dying sounds"), but what makes this book work are the moments of grace in its opening pages ("He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was;" "Her name was April Wheeler, and she caused the whispered word 'lovely' to roll out over the auditorium the first time she walked across the stage." Grace is what these characters aspire toward, and what they fail at because the heart, in the end, is not a simple thing....more
A little simple, but a good way to kick off a semester of comp. At least it tells you that it isn't the panaceaWhat I learned: even I can be happier.
A little simple, but a good way to kick off a semester of comp. At least it tells you that it isn't the panacea for all your problems. That's a lot better than most self-help books. And it cites real science--another bonus....more
I know it's supposed to be some kind of allegory for the racial politics and social (upward, wink, wink) mobilitI learned... too much about elevators.
I know it's supposed to be some kind of allegory for the racial politics and social (upward, wink, wink) mobility, but I couldn't buy into the the whole elevator inspector world. It was too cartoony....more
The notion that going to Africa and digging fish ponds will greatly improve life for the average person seems naive to me in 2007, but in the mid-eighThe notion that going to Africa and digging fish ponds will greatly improve life for the average person seems naive to me in 2007, but in the mid-eighties, when Mike Tidwell went to Kalambayi in what was then called Zaire, Boomer optimism had not yet given way to X-er cynicism. Tidwell's account of the ponds he dug and the people he taught to raise fish marks that transition between generations. ...more
I learned that candles can be used in uncomfortable ways.
John Gregory Dunne's last novel is a literary murder mystery that casts a broad satirical netI learned that candles can be used in uncomfortable ways.
John Gregory Dunne's last novel is a literary murder mystery that casts a broad satirical net over American media culture, politics, and the justice system.
Dunne may be most famous as the subject of "The Year of Magical Thinking" by his wife Joan Didion, but "Nothing Lost" is an excellent example of his attention to craft and his skill at creating intricate and meaningful stories that are simultaneously high and low literature.
The characters here are ones you can care about and the world they live in seems (dishearteningly) like our own. There's Poppy McClure, the rising star Republican, and her husband J.J., the prosecutor in the case to try and convict the murders of Edgar Parlance, or "Gar" as the town affectionately calls him now that he is dead. There's Max, who was demoted from the D.A.'s office for being gay, and Allie, the D.A.'s researcher who plays all the angles. Carlyle is a super model who becomes interested in the case when she discovers her long-lost half-brother Duane is one of the accused and discovers that she can also stand in some of the media glare. Jocko is the football star gone wild who is doing community service for violent misconduct by acting as a Sheriff's deputy. And then there is Teresa Kean, a woman who takes on the defense of Duane Lajoie at a moment when her own life is in crisis.
"Nothing Lost" is a 21st Century "All the King's Men". It succeeds over the original by avoiding its sentimental excesses and Dunne's narrative is tighter and more purposeful. However, Dunne's satire sometimes slips into cartoony moments, especially when Carlyle and Jocko leap into the narrative, and the book lacks the gravitas of "King's" in all but a couple of moments.
What I learned: Love hurts, especially when you love both a boy and a girl.
The narration of William Maxwell's third novel, set in prohibition-era ChicWhat I learned: Love hurts, especially when you love both a boy and a girl.
The narration of William Maxwell's third novel, set in prohibition-era Chicago and the University of Illinois, is distant, almost cool. Maxwell moves freely between characters, observing their outward and inner states. The story, however, centers on two characters, Lymie and Spud, one feeble but bright, the other a boxer, violent and beautiful. The choice to tell this story at a significant distance seems right, not only because the events of this coming-of-age novel could easily slip into melodrama or sentimentality, but also because the quiet observations of the characters from varying points of view allows the reader to see more completely the world in which Spud and Lymie are situated, certainly more clearly than either of them could articulate on their own.
The distant third-person narration also seems necessary given the time and the subject matter. The relationship between Lymie and Spud is intimate, and the book intimates throughout that Lymie's attachment to Spud is more than that of a friend. When Spud moves out of the boarding house and the bed the two boys share, Lymie is devastated; he lays his own arm across his chest and imagines it is Spud's in order to fall asleep. The climax of the novel leaves little doubt about Lymie's feelings, but what is interesting is that the narrator never comes out and says that Lymie is in love with Spud. It does say that he is in love with Sally, Spud's girlfriend. Spud notices Lymie's feelings for Sally and is jealous, all of which is commented on quite directly, but the relationship between Spud and Lymie is always viewed at an indirect angle.
In 1920s Midwestern America homosexuality certainly existed, but it was rarely, if ever, pointed to directly. Maxwell could not easily "come out" and say that Lymie has sexual feelings for Spud, and in fact the characters and story are too complicated for such stark labels. Lymie is no more a homosexual than he is a heterosexual, and bisexual implies a consciousness that is decades away. As in each of Maxwell's novels, the characters resist classification, a trait that makes "The Folded Leaf" ahead of its time, and ahead of our time too....more