Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. I get the feeling that Truman Capote was Truman Capote from the moment he was born. To the extent that he can be imagined in elementary school, he must be pictured disdaining the playground whilst coddling a martini. His main character here is just as well-limned at twelve, as is the object of that character's affection. An unrecognized and rare gift here, to write children as people. Not little people— people. With complex problems and everything.
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez. I confess. I liked it. And I liked that I liked it, because this is the sort of book that would have driven me up the wall a couple of decades ago. I liked plain vanilla fiction back then (not that there's anything wrong with that). Here's a book that moves all over in time, switches point of view and even tense mid-sentence, and is written as not only one long paragraph but one long sentence. I suppose commas were necessary or they, too would have been jettisoned. And yet, for all the confusion, it works. Even I could follow it. Go, me.
Deer Park by Norman Mailer. This is Norman Mailer's "I want to go to Hollywood" novel, I will assume. This one ranks rather low amongst the wines and spirits, in my opinion. A collection of Hollywood-hamster-wheel types out in a thinly-disguised Palm Springs, having rather vulgar and dispirited relationships while planning their Next Big Thing. Yawn.
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. If the Scandinavians ever decide that a white American male is worthy of consideration for the Nobel Prize in Literature, I do hope and expect that Cormac McCarthy will be at the top of their nomination list and I shall drink his health when he wins. This is one of those books that had me gnashing my teeth in jealous admiration from the first paragraph, and that's even with a character archetype that usually just makes me gnash my teeth in irritation. Suttree is a wanderer. Don't expect him to point to some goal and march toward it. This is a man who has given up much, and loses more, and lets it slide. But the writing! Oy!
Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson. This one took me by surprise in a very good way. I've read several of Denis Johnson's books. This was a radically different subject than any I'd seen him take on before. Post-apocalyptic Florida. A last zone of life on a ruined Earth. In this book I learned that not only does Johnson have an epic set of writing chops, he has the wisdom to not over-explain. That is usually the kiss of death in this sort of book, when the writer wades in early to tell you what happened before the story began and again late to tell you what the mystery was all about. Not here. Here you get an elegant riddle that lives on after the book. I will not forget these characters any time soon.
Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Okay, so there aren't 100 pages in this book. It got read just the same. The title poem probably irritated the bejaysus out of Ginsberg's parents' generation, and it has the unique capacity to irritate those that come along later, too. Just remember that this was the first generation to write poetry about its alienation and destruction in a setting other than war, or rather to see themselves at war in the home, classroom, workplace, everywhere. Not the last, of course, so don't get too annoyed with the sense of singular importance they had. For my money, the poem America is worth the price of admission. What a fantastic rant/love letter that poem is. Wonderful.