Sunday, April 22, 2012

Resolution Update #9.

Uh-oh, Blogger has changed its format again. This can only go well. The Resolution marches on. Ah, just had my first format problem. Had to switch to HTML since the normal Compose function does not want to do carriage returns. Well done, Blogger. Driving folks to Wordpress yet again.

Anyway, big update today since I have been shirking my responsibility and have a giant stack of finished books that need to get off my desk:

The Zero by Jess Walter. This was intriguing. Jess Walter came up with a structure I had never encountered before: a main character whose memory switches off and on due to a rather dramatic injury in the first scene. The book is centered around the events of 9/11, and nicely captures the chaos of the event and the insanity of what came after. I would like to see this character again. One warning: this book will make you go out and buy Zingers. It cannot be avoided.

Homicide Special by Miles Corwin. Non-fiction. Miles Corwin spent a year with the LAPD's Homicide Special division. Required reading for anyone who wants to write crime fiction or the modern murder mystery. I believe I shall be stocking up on Corwin's work. Very engrossing reading.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace. Every word I read by DFW makes me more sad that he's gone. He was an absolute original in the world of writing. If you subscribe to the "show don't tell" school, there is less telling in his writing than seems possible. His use of pace, which seems slow if you're not paying attention, actually reveals amazing complexity about human beings. And he does this while sustaining some of the most remarkable absurdity I've ever read. Skim DFW and you'll miss the whole thing. A stand-out story in this collection is about a woman's struggle with depression. DFW captures not only the woman's troubles, but also the rest of the world's troubles with her. Depression was a subject DFW knew too well, and understood completely.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. How have I not read this before? Rushdie is one of the rare writers who can present supernatural events and have them seem to belong in the world. He does not stop to explain, or to let the reader catch up, or in any way to qualify his story. The writing is beautiful but clean and never in the way. Very like Gabriel García Márquez, I find. And I now see why he has had trouble with the fanatics. Respect to him for appearing recently at Christopher Hitchens' memorial. I shall be buying and reading more of his work. The delight of finding a master writer, years later than I should have.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. Memoir. The true story of a tragic adoption. Is there anything worse than discovering you might have done much better to be kept by a young, unprepared mother, rather than be adopted by a married couple? This is what happened to Jeanette Winterson. This book centers on her adoptive mother, a frozen religious woman who would have been better off not marrying and never having a child. The mother's problems hurt her daughter terribly, but this is not a tragedy. Jeanette Winterson survived and triumphed, writing the UK bestseller, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is an autobiography about the same period. If I have any complaint with this book it's that I feel I need to read Oranges to understand everything that happened in this bitter childhood.

Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh. Memoir. I have long been interested in Gypsy history and culture. The UK's unusually lax trespass laws and caravan parks allow Travelers to roam the country, making money as they can, often via construction scams on homeowners. Often violent, rarely educated, Gypsies do not accept outsiders or anyone who wants more than what their culture offers. Walsh fled from his family when his homosexuality meant possible death at the hands of his own father. To this day he has to maintain his anonymity to stay safe. Another incredible tale of someone who escaped a closed society and rose to build a life from scratch as a young adult in an unfamiliar world. Like a deathmatch version of an Amish teenager escaping to the world of the English.

A Carpenter's Life by Larry Haun. Memoir. This was a beautiful book. Haun, a carpenter all his adult life, tells the story of his family through the story of the houses they built and owned. From his mother's life in a sod house on the plains of Nebraska to the small house in which he and his second wife raised their blended family, Haun tells us his thoughts about how we all build and live. He asks questions about what we value. Questions we should all ask. Why build a 10,000 foot house just because you can? Why live in a space so large that you lose sight of your family? Pictures enhance this splendid tale. I'm glad his non-fiction builders' guide publisher took a chance on this book. Everyone should.

The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell. I had some issues with his last novel, Winter's Bone. The main character, a young woman, seemed too passive for me. Other people came along to provide direction in her hunt for her father. Well, no such troubles in this short story collection. These folks (even the young women) definitely know their own minds, and you'll be amazed at the hunts they pursue. Brilliant writing doesn't hurt, either. My only complaint is that it wasn't three times longer.

There is No Year by Blake Butler. I seem to be chasing every novel that promises a magical or unusual approach to storytelling. I enjoyed half of The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and also liked The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. This was wilder than those, more poetic, and was that much harder to follow. I was pondering my problem with this book and it seems to come down to something prosaic: the characters don't have names. They're the son, the mother, and the father. Maybe this is a nod to Heart of Darkness, which is not "the heart of darkness" because such hearts are many and might be anywhere. Does this book mean to say that this dark adventure could happen to anyone? Is happening to everyone? This is a kind of a haunted house tale, but unlike The House of Leaves events and characters do not ground themselves to the real world. They are entirely in this strange story, and I wish I could have been. I am looking forward to reading Blake Butler's novel of insomnia. I think that's a subject that will definitely respond to his style.

The reading goes on...

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