Offensive in All the Right Places
After the wife rats out William Derringer, then dumps him for her own Aunt Ida, he lands up in “Oopawalla State Prison, a maze of dank cement and steel cellblocks and razor wired exercise yards, squatted like a poisonous bufo toad on the flat Florida landscape.” After all he is forced to endure, I was game for a little vengeful action, especially if it promises a romp through all things seamy, southern & smutridden.
Pushed to choose between caring for his two abandoned kids (themselves chips off the old blockhead) or a drug fueled odyssey of revenge from the backwoods of Florida to the bowels of Mexico, we know what’s coming.
The weird thing is that I actually liked Bill from time to time. Really, I came that close…. I often agreed with his more philosophical musings about life; the anti-hero’s lament for the lost ideal, “Time had a way of dulling the harsh details of living, just as the endless tumbling surf smoothed the razor edges of broken glass.”
Somehow the plot holds together throughout the throbbing madness, employing the classic three part rise and fall, although the subject matter would surely find Aristotle spinning furiously in his grave. Revenge lust is the through line that haunts the text but the sidetrips and bizarre entanglements are the spice that solidifies the form. Characters, like the knife wielding Suki-Wa from a halfway house; the dying Margaret (“Gently I picked her up like an old paper sack of odds and ends bound for the Salvation Army…) and the oddly faithful Canadian Jane who is in it for the long haul as well as the challenge to best her own perversions.
This roadtrip from hell finally devolves into a few nights in a Mexican hotel
where “..the only light was a frosted-glass ceiling fixture in which a quantity of fly carcasses lay scattered like dirty little thoughts.” And our hero picks up additional women, plotlines (a lost Burroughs suitcase) and grudges, leading to a final “Apocalypse Now” style showdown in the bowels of the Mexican jungle.
Oftentimes in JW’s World of postmodern noir, the simile is all and everything. “Silence hung over us like an elephant suspended on a bungee cord,” or, “I stood in front of the desk like an out of work cigar store Indian.” Images crowd the pages of this work, each vying for attention and oftentimes one steps off the page, and I stop reading, gazing hopelessly from the text.
In my view this is by far JW’s finest work.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have read many of Rosalind Brackenbury’s books and consider this to be her finest work.The character of Maria Jameson especially resonated. A successful and independent woman, a professor and intellectual who has raised a son and daughter conscientiously and loves and respects her husband, and still finds much enjoyment in the life she shares with him. Even after twenty odd years together. But still ….
Even happily married women imagine a “what if…” scenario- What if she meets an incredibly attractive much younger man who returns feelings of passion for her. One who is also married and will not disrupt either of their situations. What if no one will ever find out? Should she refuse what may be her last opportunity to rediscover herself through they eyes of another in the all encompassing chemistry of genuine sexual discovery.
While researching the life of George Sand AKA Aurora Duphin, a celebrated author and free spirit who embodies sexual freedom, Maria imagines how she managed to juggle lovers, both male and female in a much more repressed society of 19th century Paris – or was it? And so we switch between 21st century Scotland and iconic scenes of George Sand’s life as imagined by Maria, as she gathers material for her biography of George Sand.
Prevailing wisdom has it that affairs occur because of a rift or inadequacy in a marriage, be it sexual gratification, friendship, finances, intellectual compatibility. Or, worse still, because of a sense of entitlement or narcissistic need to be wanted/adored, etc. In Becoming George Sand, Brackenbury sets out to disallow Maria any of these reasons for embarking on a dangerous liason of the sexual variety. Although Maria can easily be accused of being selfish, yet she cannot be dismissed that easily. T’was ever thus that women (especially) have been tarred with this moniker and yes, it may even be fair to judge this way. But Brackenbury’s novel goes well beneath the surface of this judgement to ask deeper questions: Questions that George Sand AKA Aurore Dupin chose to explore and questions that may never be resolved.
Are we merely slogging through our lives, or are we truly alive?
At what cost do we take a risk and at what cost do we deny taking that chance?
This book is wonderfully controversial, Brackenbury does a delicate dance very successfully refusing to come up with easy answers. Becoming George Sand is an exquisite exploration that never veers into the melodramatic, instead this is one book that truly made me think.
The Ploughmen: A Novel by Kim Zupan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Both Gload and Millimaki, are ploughmen. One hides the bones of his victims, the other extracts them from their meticulous furrows – each compulsively searching for some measure of peace – but it eludes them both. Neither the kill nor the retrieve bring much satisfaction.
This is as close to a new classic; a modern and poetic version of In Cold Blood – as I have read in years. On surface, this is a tale of opposites, each of them surprised (sometimes unpleasantly) to find a common thread, although Millimaki, the young third shift jailer will not acknowledge it. Eventually Gload, the aging murderer comes to admire him and although Millimaki, refuses to acknowledge his desire to understand Gload, throughout the narrative he is never truly interested in anyone else, with the exception of his wife, but maybe only because she has finally had enough of the solitude Millimaki craves, and is leaving him.
Many reviewers have commented on the overly complex language but I do not see it as showing off – merely words from a man so comfortable with language that he cannot bring himself to use an inexact word when a finer and more poetic choice so effortlessly comes to hand. I bring up In Cold Blood because of the interview Capote did with Perry and the famously stated line afterward, “ It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.” This tale attempts to untangle the ligature that binds fate to choice, illuminating the essential sadness and unresolvable horror of the mystery.
I took time to read this, but whenever I picked it up, the narrative sang, rang true, and although it is a common literary conceit to call landscape character, this was not a stretch for me as it makes me want to visit the area as much as it makes me want to stay away, from the deadly beautiful landscape of Zupan’s imagination.
I hope he is writing another.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my go to book when I have a hard time getting started or when life gets in the way of my writing. The War of Art puts the lie to notions of writer’s block, and exposes resistance for what it is – a force with its own logic and inner life and many many disguises. I love the practical married to the sublime that I find in these pages. Some sections make me laugh out loud and loosen up long enough to find my way back to the keyboard, and enable me to begin again – the paradox being that at one and the same time I am light-hearted and dead serious about the task at hand.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What I enjoyed most about this book was the way I quickly formed then abandoned opinions about McCandless as the tale unfolded. Krakauer brought me back to an old place of pure idealism and a desire to re-explore the interior and test personal limits. Was his a fool’s journey or a heroic exploration? In many ways reaction to this tale reveals more about the reader than the (ultimately unknowable) subject, despite Krakauers copious research.
Krakauer is masterful in his ability to shine a light on the human soul when pitted against an immovable force – weather and treacherous terrain. Like a character from “Into Thin Air” McCandless cozies up to this formidable foe in an effort to see what he is made of. But unlike the moneyed Everest climbers from “Into Thin Air,” he goes it alone, with little to sustain him.
As I experienced contempt for his inability to prepare for the journey properly, I began to be haunted by the notion that perhaps I was missing the point. He rejected the packaged adventure and went to the edge to connect with his deepest interior self. The tragedy is that he never got to bring it back and join other survivors whose lives bear out the risks they once experienced.
Much to love about this tale – I wanted to give it 4-stars but had to give up the fifth. Let’s settle on 4.5 largely because I had to constantly attribute lack of insight to the era. No friend of Vic (husband) would make excuses for Melinda (wife) today. Children are also given short shrift, put aside after they serve their (small) part as device to show motive or inch plot forward, etc.
I guessed the ending early on, worth .5 of a star as well. That said, the slow poisonous atmosphere, mounting tension and brooding character of Vic are so perfectly rendered that I couldn’t wait to get back to the story. His snail collection, meticulous printing and strange bond to the natural and mechanical world held my fascination.
Highly stylized, funny and dark.