Sunday, September 24, 2017

IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND by Edward Hoagland

Finished Su 9/24/17

The Contemporary Book Club Selection- August, 2017

NOTES-

Melba- Press's maid, 'charwoman', "pig ate her baby, and what's worse, they had to eat the pig", Bronco Guys- Vegas and Reno.

Carol- Artist/Activist. Dorothy Day's Workers Party, lower east side. 2 kids- Christie and Tim. Stained Glass.

Jeremy and Molly- Press's 2 middle school aged children. Claire is his wife.

Prescott worked for Merrill Lynch before his blindness.

Clarks and Swinnertons are Press's neighbors. Karl- Volunteer Fire Chief, WWII vet, emphysema, scanner. Pays to eat lunch with the Clarks. SOLID ROCK GOSPEL. Dorothy is Clark's wife.

Odd Scene- Melba takes guys wallet as he suicides at Point Reyes, Ca.

Rupert and Melba are lovers and partners. She helps buy his livestock/horses and he lets her live on his property in a trailer.

Al and Rog are Rupert's adult sons.

Chuck- The dealer? Mystery figure who takes Press on fish runs to Maine. Might be from Arkansas or San Diego. Chuck probably not his real name. He takes Press on a road trip south, wrecks the car, and leaves Press to be reunited with Melba.

Friday, September 22, 2017

MARIETTE IN ECSTASY by Ron Hansen

Finished Th 9/21/17 I ordered this book on Amazon after hearing a lecture by James Lee Burke where he mentioned that this was one of his favorite novels. It arrived Sa 9/9/17.

This is a slim novel that provides a picturesque window into the life of an early 20th century priory in upstate New York. Seventeen year old Mariett Baptiste takes her vows, and soon begins to exhibit stigmata. Although godly in nearly all ways and an excellent postulant, the novel examines Mariette's and the cloistered order's reaction to her 'gift'. Reality or Vanity.

The novel takes place from 1906 through 1907.

OUR LADY OF SORROWS, Arcadia, New York. This is about half-way between Rochester and Syracuse; south of Lake Ontario.

Annette Baptiste (Reverend Mother Celine) is the Prioress of the order. She's 37 and Mariette's older sister. They were close as children, but now Celine is her 'boss', and perplexed.

Their father is the local doctor. He is nonplussed that two of his daughters have taken holy vows.

A possible reason why the stigmata cannot be 'proved' one way or another (p. 174)-

"God gives us just enough to seek Him, and never enough to fully find him. To do more would inhibit our freedom, and our freedom is very dear to God."

P 51 THE SEVENS-

7 Deadly sins
7 Healing virtues
7 Spiritual works of mercy
7 Joys of Our Lady

I loved the book and on Friday, 9/22 I ordered two more by Hansen; HITLER'S NIECE- A Novel, and DESPERADOES.

Th 9/21/17 was also the day that my microwave/oven went out. I called Dick Van Dyke on Wednesday and they showed up at 2pm Thursday. $800 to start- No Expectations.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

MOCKINGBIRD by Walter Tevis

Finished Su 1/17/17

I read this as an ebook from the library, but I think that I own a paper copy of this fine novel somewhere in my collection. The interest in Tevis stems from watching the bonus features from THE MAN THAT FELL TO EARTH a couple of weeks ago. I did manage to find my copy of THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT in the collection and soon I'll be reading that novel. I've read that the author considers that one to be his best.

I think that MOCKINGBIRD is one of the finest Sci Fi novels ever written. The themes of the novel, the end of reading and critical thought and the over utilization of computers and automation are contemporary problems and the fact that the novel is set in the 26th century does nothing to blunt this exposition.

From the book's page at wikipedia-

"A central character is the dean of New York University, Robert Spofforth, an android who has lived for centuries yet yearns to die. The novel opens with his failed attempt at suicide. Spofforth brings a teacher, Paul Bentley, to New York. Bentley has taught himself to read after a Rosetta Stone–like discovery of a film with words matching those in a children's primer. Spofforth disliked Bentley and his reading knowledge. Bentley says he could teach others to read, but Spofforth instead gives him a job of decoding the written titles in ancient silent films. At a zoo, Bentley meets Mary Lou, explains the concept of reading to her, and the two embark on a path toward literacy. Spofforth responds by sending Bentley to prison for the crime of reading, and takes Mary Lou as an unwilling housemate. The novel then follows Bentley's journey of discovery after his escape from prison, culminating in his eventual reunion with Mary Lou and their assistance with Spofforth's suicide."

Bob Spofforth is the smartest creature in NYC, and ultimately it is he that is responsible for the end of the human race. The reason that he attempts to end mankind is that this would allow him to end his own life. It seems that he is 'programed to serve mankind' and as long as one human is alive, he must continue to serve.

Fave Scenes-

Toasters in a factory are continued to be made for centuries, but a simple part stops them from functioning properly, so just as they are made, they are discarded. 100% production produces nothing until Bentley solves the malfunction.

The religious commune 'worships' in the mall at Sears.

'Thought Buses' can read minds, yet only are programed to promote 'happy thoughts'.

I would read anything by Tevis and I'm avidly looking forward to THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT which is apparently a book about chess???

Sunday, September 17, 2017

DEAD MAN by Joe Gores

Finished Sa 9/16/17

This is one of my old paperbacks that I first completed on Tu 1/16/95. Joe Gores's writing style reminds me of Donald E. Westlake, engaging story, yet the level of craft is nowhere near 'the greats'- Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, or John D. McDonald. I still liked the book, but the ending was a bit fantastic.

Eddie Dain- Tall, thin private investigator in San Francisco; married to beautiful Marie, five year old son, Albie (named for Albert Einstein). Dain plays chess, and is a computer expert (in 1993, I really don't know what that would entail), and thinks of his life and his career as a game. This 'distance from life' is his downfall- not connected to what really matters, and this is what he learns in the end.

Doug Sherman- San Franciscan book seller; friend of Dain's (also, his attempted killer)

Randy Solomon- San Franciscan police detective; friend of Dain's (Also, his attempted killer)

Evangeline Broussard- Cajun stripper; initiated the plan to steal the bearer bonds when her boyfriend, Maxton asked her to have sex with one of his friends at the office Xmas party. She becomes Dain's lover in the end.

Jimmy- the man in Maxton's law firm who was originally with Vangie. He is killed in the scramble to recover the bonds.

Keith Inverness- One of the three killers of Dain's family. Near the end of the novel he travels with the gang to cajun country to kill Dain and Vangie. He's only concerned with killing Dain- Inverness is 'haunted' by the murders , yet he just can't seem to kill Dain.

Travis and Nicky- two thugs that accompany Maxton to cajun country to get the bonds and kill Vangie and Dain.

STORYLINE-

Dain and his family live a quiet and happy life north of San Francisco. He takes small cases, but one he cannot leave alone. A man has asked to find out the reason for an explosion on a boat that killed his partner. It's found to be accidental, yet Dain discovers that it was actually a murder.

This leads killers to try to murder his whole family. Dain escapes death, but Marie and Albie are shotgunned to death.

Dain spends years in recovery and evolves into almost a comic book hero- Bulking up over fifty pounds and learns numerous martial arts.

He becomes obsessed with the killers and travels to Las Vegas to work for the mob at one of the casinos. He uses his computer skills to penetrate the operations.

Dain follows Vangie to the cajun country where the two are up against the professional hitmen. This is the best part of the book. Dain and Vangie are unarmed, yet take out four gun toting killers.

In the anticlimax Dain learns that his two best friends, Doug Sherman and Randy Solomon were actually involved in the killing of Dain's family. He kills them both, and lives happily ever after with Vangie.

And, there's Dain's cat named "Shensie" that means crazy in Swahili.

The author's page at wikipedia-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Gores

From Publishers Weekly at amazon-

"No matter how many transformations PI Eddie Dain undergoes, readers will remember him as first met--a sunny, bookish and chess-playing computer whiz in northern California, delighted with his vibrant young wife and three-year-old son. Eddie's hubris and naivete lead to a brutal shoot-out, leaving him alone and, after extensive physical rehabilitation, coldly intent on revenge. With his body trained to a muscular machine, he uses his computer skills to become Travis Holt, an accountant in Las Vegas where he learns how to deal with the underside of the law. That task accomplished, he returns to San Francisco as Dain, a PI willing to undertake shady assignments, notably one for a scummy investment lawyer in Chicago caught in a bearer-bond scam. Although Dain renews his acquaintance with a rare book dealer and a cop from earlier days, he remains empty inside, beset by nightmares of his family's final moments and motivated solely to avenge their deaths. Gores ( 32 Cadillacs ) handles these transitions deftly, portraying a PI who, carrying The Tibetan Book of the Dead with him at all times, is both larger than life and believable. How Dain and a young Cajun stripper end up deep in the bayous of Louisiana, pursued by those he'd been pursuing, and how, weaponless, they plan a showdown, provides a stunning climax, with a significant surprise still left to spring. With plenty of plot twists, violence and sex, Gores still makes this a somewhat lighthearted, race-through read--an updated, slightly self-reflective, comic detective story with a hero both hard-boiled and sensitive, who finally recovers his soul."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S. J. Watson

Finished Tu 9/12/17

This book was recommended to me by Becky, a member of the contemporary book club. She said it is was prime example of 'an unreliable narrator', and she was certainly correct!

I got the the book in hardback for a few dollars from Amazon. Money well spent.

Fantastic opening scene-

A young woman wakes up in bed with an older married man. She thinks that she had gotten wasted and had gone home with a married man. When she notices her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she sees that she's twenty or more years older than she thought, and when she speaks with the man, he tells her that he is her husband. Later she learns from a psychologist that she can't trust her husband.

Due to an accident (not true) she retains memory only for one day. When she goes to sleep, her memories are wiped clean. She writes a diary to record what she needs to remember. Her doctor calls her each morning to remind her where to find the journal. She is not to tell her husband.

Christine Lucas
Ben Lucas, her husband
Adam, Chris's adult son. He was killed when he was stationed in Afghanistan (not true).
Dr. Nash, Chris's therapist. Ben is not aware that Chris is under his care.
Claire, Chris's friend
Mike, Chris's lover. This is the man that caused her memory loss. He attacked her when she wanted to break up and go back to her husband and son many years before.

The Twist-

Mike, posing as Ben, takes her out of the hospital. He tells her that he is Ben, her husband, and Claire no longer is in their lives and Adam has been killed while in the army. Chris begins to recover her memory when Mike brings her back to the hotel room of the first attack.

From Amazon.com Review-

"Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben." Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? At the heart of S. J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep is the petrifying question: How can anyone function when they can't even trust themselves? Suspenseful from start to finish, the strength of Watson's writing allows Before I Go to Sleep to transcend the basic premise and present profound questions about memory and identity. One of the best debut literary thrillers in recent years, Before I Go to Sleep deserves to be one of the major blockbusters of the summer."

"S. J. Watson lives in London and worked in the National Health Service for a number of years. In 2009 Watson was accepted into the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, a rigorous and selective program that covers all aspects of the novel-writing process. Before I Go to Sleep is the result."

This morning I learned that the book is a movie and streamable on Netflix. I'm going to watch it this morning, We 9/13/17.

Although I really liked the novel, here's why I liked the movie more-

It works better that Adam is a child. I felt that the 'Afghanistan angle' didn't work.

The 'compressed time' in the film works much better. In the book Chris is 47, but in the movie she's only 40. Chris's level of isolation is more believable if it doesn't last as long.

It works better that Chris is not a published author as she is in the novel. If she was a more public figure, her level of isolation would be more difficult to maintain.

The 'reveal' in the hotel room is really powerful in the film- a terrific and brutal fight scene.

The Winnie The Pooh lines between Chris and Adam provide excellent closure and gives hope that Chris might make a fuller recovery. This isn't even in the book.

Rowan Joffe directs the film, but he did a terrific job as screenwriter. He really took the novel and made major improvements.

Minor criticism of the movie-

Why did they feel it necessary to change the spelling of Dr. Michael Nash's name? In the film it's spelled, 'Nasch'. Why go with the unusual spelling? How does this improve anything?




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell

I ordered the dvd from Netflix and watched it on Sa 9/1/17. I had seen the film when it first came out several years ago, but knew it was worth another look. I wanted to read the book and I found that I could get it through Kindel at the library. I read the whole novel in two days and finished it on Su 8/3/17- Labor Day Weekend. The dialog and quirky expressions are truly one of a kind. I loved the crackling and provocative speech patterns. Many of the better lines were used in the film quoted directly from the novel.

From the book's description at Amazon-

"Ree Dolly's father, Jessup, has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn't show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost."

In the film Ree has a brother and sister, yet in the book she has two brothers. The book makes it clear that everyone believes (knows?) that Jessup had been killed, but I felt that the film kind of left that open. I believed that it was possible for the viewer to believe (for most of the film) that he might have been on the run, or even in some kind of witness protection program.

On Sunday night I watched a documentary called STRAY DOG. In the movie version of Winter's Bone the character of Thump Milton is played by a real person, Ronnie Hall. The documentary was about his life. He's a Harley riding proponent of veteran's rights. The film was about his life and how he travels on his cycle with him friends and Mexican wife to various rallies and observances around the country.

Jennifer Lawrence was tremendous in the film, and so was John Hawkes who played Ree's uncle, Teardrop. Many of the characters were played by people who lived in the area. The film was shot in remote Missouri near Branson, MO.

The film and the novel had almost a biblical or medieval feel. The setup was almost like a knight on a quest as in a classical fairy tale.

I would read anything by Daniel Woodrell and I might even check out Amazon to see what's available in the dollar or less rack- plus postage.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

THE BACHMAN BOOKS- 4 Early Novels by Stephen King

Finished THE LONG WALK, We 8/30/17. Also included in this anthology were RAGE, ROADWORK, and THE RUNNING MAN.

For the last several weeks the 'bathroom book' has been THE KINGDOM OF FEAR which is a collection of long essays about the work of Stephen King, and a couple of weeks ago I found THE BACHMAN BOOKS, an ancient paperback, on the shelves downstairs.

I read that King wrote this while he was a freshman at the University of Maine, and over eight years before CARRIE.

I liked the idea that the reader is thrust directly into the action without any background information. You are at 'The Walk' just before it begins, and you soon learn that the young men must maintain a four mile per hour pace or they will be shot. But, you don't know why or who made the rules.

On the other hand, at the end of the book you never really find out the 'how and why'.
Who was 'The Major', and how did he derive his power?

The book's link at wikipedia-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Walk

The brief descriptions of the walkers at the end of the wikipedia entry provide a good sketch of each young man, and that is pretty much all that the novel reveals about the characters.

King's descriptions of sexuality was a big tip-off that the writer of the novel was not very old or aware of 'the ways of the world'.

This is certainly not among King's best works and probably best appreciated only by his rabid fan base.