Friday, June 22, 2018

SMILE by Roddy Doyle

Finished Th 6/21/18- (the day I painted basement floor); The June, 2018 selection for the Contemporary Book Club.

A strange tale of sexual abuse set in contemporary Dublin.

Victor Forde is a failed writer; began writing rock reviews, and branched into talk radio.

Fell in love and married Rachel when they were in their twenties. She went on to become a famous British culinary expert, 'Meals In Heels', and star and media celebrity of a television show similar to The Apprentice.

Now middle aged, Victor and Rachel are separated and Victor lives in a small apartment (in or near a brothel?) near the sea near Dublin. He tries to establish friendships at a local pub. He's trying to make it 'his pub', when he is accosted by a loutish man who claims to know him. Even after learning this man's name, Ed Fitzpatrick, Victor can't place him. The man claims to have a 'hot' sister, and this seems to ring a bell with Victor.

"The reason for the novel’s title is revealed early on. In a classroom full of mischief-makers, Brother Murphy, a small but violent teacher who exercised power over his students with ruthless cruelty, had always left Victor alone, his explanation coming in eight words that would define the boy’s schooldays and make him the object of scorn among his peers: 'Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile'.”

Victor's obvious loneliness at the pub-

"I stayed up at the bar a few times," he begins, "but I didn't want the barman thinking that I needed someone to talk to."


" His ex-wife, Rachel, is a beloved TV cooking-show host and feminist activist; their parting seems to have been amicable, and they sign their text messages with an X. Victor finds a pub, declares it his local, falls in with some friendly men who are charmed by his nearness to celebrity and his tall tales. He’s starting over, and it stings; but he can’t help finding reasons for optimism."


Description of Ed-

"Fleshy, vulgar, simultaneously bumptious and passive-aggressive, Fitzpatrick is perpetually dressed in a secondhand pink shirt and a pair of shorts — “the ones with the pockets on the sides for shotgun shells and dead rabbits” — and always sits a little too close. Victor doesn’t remember him, but the initial impression is viscerally repellent. “I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kill him.”



Victor strikes up a relationship at the pub with Brenda. She is curious about Rachel and seems to be involved with Victor partly because her husband is away much of the time. He works in England, although he could very easily transfer back to Ireland.

Description of Brenda-

“She was different. She wasn’t Rachel. She was fattish and human. And curious.”


In the end, Ed claims to 'be' Victor. Maybe this means that Victor's character has repressed part of his true nature due to the molestation. He claims that it was only once; The Head Brother (principal) grabbed him by the genitals.

This Christian school is described by Victor as a virtual ' nest of sexual impropriety'. 

Victor's recollection of life at the school-

 "I was often terrified and I laughed so much I went blind," he says. There's the threat of being struck by one of the teachers or mocked by a fellow student for some imperceptible difference. "The wrong word, the wrong shirt, the wrong band," he notes, "could destroy you." When a French teacher says, "Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile," Victor knows immediately, "I was doomed."

"this strange man at the front of the classroom flirting — I suppose — with me. It left me wondering what was wrong with my smile."

Plot turns on this major incident-

"Victor remembers not only this abuse, but the moment of its original excavation from memory, during the happy days with Rachel. He wakes violently from sleep beside her — “I exploded. I’ve nothing to describe it. No picture or sound. I burst apart” — and tells her everything. The abuse, we realize, is partially responsible for many of his life’s failures: his writer’s block, his ineptness as a husband and father. Eventually he confesses the abuse, impulsively, on the radio, earning both public sympathy and derision."

"He contradicts himself, doubling back and changing his story. He suddenly admits, out of nowhere, that he and Rachel were never really married; Victor just calls her his wife to avoid having to explain their unconventional union. And what about Victor’s son? We know he has one, but we never hear about him. Are they estranged? Did something happen to drive them apart? And why, specifically, did the marriage — the non-marriage — end?"

Doyle's success in writing the book-

"For one horrible moment, we get a sense of the victim's unspeakable confusion, the terror that diverts a life and wrecks a mind."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

BACK SPIN by Harlan Coben (A Myron Bolitar novel)

Finished We 6/21/18

This is one of the paperbacks that I picked up at the last library book sale (fifty cents).

Myron Bolitar- head of 'MBSports Reps'. He's an agent for wealthy sports and entertainment figures.

 Windsor Horne Lockwood III (better known as "Win"), and his assistant at MB Reps, Esperanza Diaz make up MBSortsReps. Win is an eccentric, philandering billionaire who frequently gets involved in Myron's cases. Win and Myron have both studied taekwondo in a Korean dojo. In this novel Myron explains that he only recommends that his clients invest their money with Win. He does this because he honestly believes that no investor can do it better, and Win also believes that Myron is the best sports rep on the planet.

Myron's signature drink is the chocolate flavored beverage, Yoo-Hoo.

Win is very odd, yet extremely capable. In this book his 'mother issues' are examined. At the age of eight he witnesses his mother having sex with another man, and Jack Coldren was involved in this encounter. This is why Win will not help Myron on this particular case.

THE PLOT:

The US Open Championship is being played on The Merion Golf Course. This course is adjacent to The Coldrens' home.

Jack and Linda Coldren are both world-class golfers. Thirty years ago Jack lost the title because his caddy, Lloyd Rennart handed him the wrong club and he missed the most important shot of the game. Now, he's playing The Open again, but his teenage son, Chad Coldren has been kidnapped. The Coldrens contact Myron because the kidnappers said no police.

Win is part of the extended Coldren family, but he's cut them off, and will have nothing to do with the case.

During the investigation Myron feels that it's not really a kidnapping, but a ploy to force Jack to lose his title shot.

RESOLUTION:

The ending is fairly complex, but never veers into Agatha Christie territory- 20 possible perps are sloppily introduced and the reader is left to guess 'Whodunit'- based on nothing but Agatha's whim.

The caddy that handed Jack the fateful club thirty years ago, became an alcoholic and killed his wife in a drunk driving accident. His wife was an Asian woman and their daughter survived and this woman, Esme Fong has become a sports representative working for a rival representative firm. Her relationship to the other players is 'the reveal' of the book.

Also, it's revealed that Esme's boss, and long-time associate of Myron's, Norm Zuckerman, is a closeted gay man. He surrounds himself with beautiful women and can't declare his sexuality because he feels it would wreck his career. Jack Coldren is also gay, or bi, and has an affair with Norm.

Esme devised the kidnapping scheme to make Jack lose, and she and her client would reap millions.

Esme doesn't murder Jack, however. He's shot by his wife, Linda.

This novel is similar to Donald E. Westlake's John Dortmunder series in that it is humorous in tone.  I like Coben's more serious stuff, but anything by him is worth a look, and I like BACK SPIN very much.

Monday, June 18, 2018

WE'RE RIGHT, THEY'RE WRONG by James Carville

'A handbook for spirited progressives'

Finished Su 6/17/18

This is one of my trade paperbacks that was 'bathroom reading' for many, many weeks.
Although the book was released in 1996 (I bought it at the main branch on Sunday in October in 1998) this book is still essential reading during The Trump Era.

"One of the lessons Carville gives is one from his grandmother about being a '5/65 Democrat'. What that means is that when you're between the ages of 5 and 65, you should either be in training for a job, or actually in one". Carville has huge respect for 'work', and this is the very heart of his philosophy.

I think the this should be the government's primary concern. This could sound the death knell on poverty and America's exploding prison population.

The Republican Party, then and now, is a union for the rich and the powerful, and The Democrats are for the rest of us.

A slender volume, but the points are nearly indisputable.
At a very basic level, Republicans hatred of government starts with a distrust and a loathing of diversity and community. Republicans do not like or trust anyone who does not think and act just like they do.

I don't usually enter 'the bathroom books' into the blog, but this one was special. I think that Carville could re-release this book today and not need to change a thing.  Although he might consider adding more incidents that bolster his points because 'stuck inside of Trump Era', they're certainly piling up.

A 'Christian Republican' is quite possibly the quintessential oxymoron.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A LONG WAY DOW by Nick Hornby

Finished Sa 6/16/18

This is a trade paperback that I picked up at the library book sale a couple of weeks ago. Nick Hornby wrote HIGH FIDELITY and ABOUT A BOY, so I'm automatically in for a buck (at the very least!).

The premise is that four very dissimilar people meet on a central London high rise one New Year's Eve night. They are all there to end their lives and the story is about how they form a kind of friendship and purpose- to prevent all of them from ever jumping.

Martin- a disgraced morning television host, and modeled after the English equivalent of Regis and Kathy Lee. Martin was caught having sex with a fifteen year old girl and his world pretty much ended. Wife, mistress, daughters, and nearly the whole country has abandoned him.

JJ- the only American in the group, and he arrived on the scene to deliver pizzas. He's a former member of a rock band that had broken up and he's in England to restart his career, but having no luck. Stuck in dead-end jobs, and his girlfriend has left him. He thinks she's gone because she knows that he'll never become a rock star, but actually she wants him to continue as a real musician, and drop the false dream of stardom.

Jess- she is a mouthy and irreverent teenager who drinks, drugs, and sexes wherever and whatever. She cares nothing but the moment. It's later learn that she is the daughter of a fairly high-up member of the English political system. Her father is a high ranking minister of education.

Maureen- the oldest of the group at fifty-one. She has a severely disabled son, Matty. He is wheelchair bound, and has no interaction with this world. Maureen's entire life revolves around Matty's care, and she has realized that nothing that she does will ever make the slightest impression on Matty. What's the point?

Each chapter is arranged from the point of view of one of the four.

That night the group learns that Jess's problem is that her latest boyfriend has dumped her without a reason and she must track him down and find out why he left. The group finds him at a party, and the reader learns more about Jess and the rest of the crew.

They all agree to wait two weeks, keep in touch, and see what happens. They eventually decide to wait three months- 90 days. This is the length of a calendar season, and Martin claims that he's read that your whole outlook changes after a complete season passes.

They all take a vacation to Tenerife in the Canary Islands because Maureen has never been anywhere or ever really taken a vacation. I looked up the details on this place and learned that it's a Spanish possession and has the highest mountain in all of Spain. Seven islands in the chain and they are off the coast of northwestern Africa.

Maureen and Jess go to Martin's wife and daughters to try and save his marriage. Doesn't work.

Their 'biggest adventure' is probably the 'Intervention' that Jess arranges. She is able to have all of the important people in their lives to come to a meeting. She feels if everyone is able to get 'the facts', they can sort it all out. Doesn't work.

Jess has a sister that disappeared several years ago. No one knows where she is or if she is still alive. Jess had been accused of stealing Jen's earrings and Maureen posits that maybe Jen returned to get them since they were her favorites. Jess's parents agree because this gives them hope that their daughter still lives.

JJ meets with his ex, Lizzie, and Ed, his ex band mate. They convince JJ to continue as a musician and he begins busking on London streets. He meets another irritating busker while preforming. This guy will begin the same song that JJ starts- just a few bars behind JJ. Although it's never really stated in the novel, I wonder if this guy will go on to form a band with JJ.

The novel ends, but all of the four's lives begin. Or they begin to change, and this is the point.
The last scene is on the roof of the building, and they see the London Eye (big Ferris wheel), Martin remarks, "It didn't look as though it was moving, but it must have been, I suppose".

My interpretation is that your life might not appear to be moving, but it is, and if it's not, it's only that your perspective is off. Death or suicide is the final 'end', and 'keep on keeping on' because if you're stuck, things will always change.

Although I think that this is a reasonable approximation of what Hornby was getting at, I don't feel it's actually valid if you were dealing with a real individual who was depressed enough to end their life. The premise is a little too simplistic to actually work in the real world.

However, the novel was a pleasant read and the wry and dry narration was a real treat. Anything by Nick Hornby would be worth a look- many looks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

THE SILENT GIRLS by Eric Rickstad

Finished very early, Tu 6/12/18 after a severe thunderstorm rolled through the area about 2am.

This is the first book that I read from the fourteen that I picked up at the library book sale last Saturday.

Set in rural Vermont near the Canadian border.

Frank Rath is an ex-cop that is now a private detective, but he helps his friends on the force.

Detective Groat is one of Rath's  policecolleagues and needs Rath's help to locate Mandy, a distant relation to Groat, beautiful, sixteen, and missing.

Rath uncovers, with the help of a couple of other working police, that a half dozen other teenage girls have disappeared over the last few years.

PREMISE:
An Abortion Clinic is infiltrated by a radical group trying to find young pregnant girls, kidnap them, allowing them to give birth in captivity, and taken the kid. Then, the girls are killed.

The main evil doctor is a man who's natural mother was abducted, and his 'second' mother was a nurse who horribly disfigured him at his birth. The novel opens when this doctor, as a child (this part is Halloween Night, 1985), brutally knifes a woman on her front porch during trick or treat. This woman lived, and was his birth mother. 'Nurse mother' had poisoned his mind about her.

ANOTHER SUB-PLOT:
Frank Rath's sister and her husband are brutally murdered during a home invasion by, Preacher, a man that they had hired many months before as a handyman. Rath raises the couple's daughter, Rachel, who was only a few months old and left to live by the killer.

THE BIG REVEAL:

Rachel is actually the daughter of Preacher. Rath's sister was a 'wild child' and had an affair with Preacher. When Preacher showed up, almost two years later for more sex, he was rebuffed and Preacher flipped. And, the reason he leaves the child is that he's her father.

The last seen of the novel Preacher has been released from prison for good behavior. Rath gets a phone call from Preacher and in the background hears canaries. Rachel and her roommate, Felix have canaries, so Rath knows that Preacher has gotten to Rachel. This apparently lays the foundation for the next novel in the series. 

Mandy was emancipated because her parents were substandard. She is murdered by Mandy's teenage girlfriend, Abby. Mandy is hit on the head with a tire iron and stuffed in the trunk of Abby's car. 

 From the author's page on the Internet-

"Eric Rickstad is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the Canaan Crime Series novels, which includes THE NAMES OF DEAD GIRLS, THE SILENT GIRLS, and LIE IN WAIT. These dark, psychological page-turners, set in remote northern Vermont, are heralded as masterful, disturbing, profound and heartbreaking. Rickstad’s first novel, REAP, was a New York Times Noteworthy Novel. His latest novel WHAT REMAINS OF HER will be published July 24, 2018.

Rickstad lives in Vermont with his wife, son, and daughter, and writes all his first drafts with a pencil in notebooks, often outside in the Vermont woods."

I took a chance at the book sale on this book (a buck for a trade paperback), and I'm very glad that I did. It's well written and a real page turner. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

A CERTAIN JUSTICE by John T. Lescroart

Finished Th 6/7/18

This is one of my ancient paperbacks- no entry when bought or read.
The first third of the book is riveting, but the rest was kind of a let down.

PREMISE-

A black, professional is lynched on the streets of contemporary (pub. date- 1995) San Francisco.

Late one afternoon a white man is driving home in a fairly decent area of the city, and he is accosted by a black male who shoots him dead and takes his car. However, witnesses cannot 100% agree that the man apprehended is the man who committed this crime, so he's let go.

A few days later at a bar where a wake for the murdered white man is underway, a black man locks his keys inside his car and inadvertently triggers his car alarm. Drunken men from the wake pour out of the tavern, and convince themselves that he is stealing a car and they must 'string him up- there's no justice for law-abiding whites anymore'.

A white man who is swept up in the mob attempts to save the black man. He has a knife and slashes his way to the hanging the black man, and he even tries to hand his knife up to the man so that he can cut himself free.

A photographer snaps a picture, however this is interpreted as a white mob leader grappling with and attempting to stab an innocent black man as he is being lynched.

At this point I thought that the book would evolve into an interesting legal thriller about how the man who risked his life to save a lynching victim would defend himself.

Not the case: The book is one long, long chronicle of his attempts to stay free of the authorities and the city's angry population- black and white. In the end, he is able to surrender to police (a subplot has the FBI bent on killing him as he surrenders) and cleared of all wrong doing.

Dimas Hardy is a minor character in this novel and I remember the name and I must have read something else by the author since this character is lead in several of his books. Abe Glitsky is the head of detectives in the book who tries to make sure that the protagonist is able to safely surrender to police.

From the author's page at wikipedia-

" John Lescroart (born January 14, 1948) is a New York Times bestselling author known for his series of legal and crime thriller novels featuring the characters Dismas Hardy, Abe Glitsky, and Wyatt Hunt. His novels have sold more than 10 million copies, have been translated into 22 languages in more than 75 countries, and 18 of his books have been on the New York Times bestseller list. "

Saturday, June 2, 2018

JESUS SAVES by Darcery Steinke

Re-finished Fr 6/1/18

This is one of my old trade paperbacks that I first read during my vacation to Key West- week before Labor Day, 1998.

This a few stories, but the central theme is Sandy Patrick.  A lurid and hallucinogenic portrait of her kidnapping and victimization by an old, bearded pervert in a rural area; possibly the American Northwest.

Ginger- she knew Sandy and her life has changed because of the disappearance.
Ginger's mother has died from cancer. She lost her faith in god and as she was dying and her husband would pray over her, she insisted that he hold the hand of one of Ginger's teddy bears.

Ginger's father is a Lutheran minister at odds with the powers within his church.
Mr. Hulhoffer is an old man who made his fortune in cheap furniture for the suburban economic boom of the late 50's and early and 60's. He calls the shots at the church (actually there is a suburban branch and a crumbling downtown branch), and he wants to get rid of Ginger's father. He feels that the direction of religion is to make the services more like TV or professional sports; yoga and exercise programs for the women and softball teams and special interest groups for the men.
Ginger's father is more in touch with the ancient ways of God and The Church.

Ginger has a sexual relationship with a boy her own age, Ted. His brother is also around and he is older and a delinquent.

The kidnapper is an older man with a long beard and very dirty. Almost like a human troll.

Most of the chapters are titled 'Ginger', but a couple are 'Sandy', from the victim's point of view.

Sometimes Sandy's story disintegrates into a cartoon or fable. It involves the interactions of bears, unicorns, and other animals.

When Hulhoffer finally gets rid of Ginger's father, he begins a relationship with Ruth Patrick, Sandy's mother. This woman seems to 'ground' the man, and it seems like he'll have a future.

The book has a very, very creepy vibe and effectively conveys a feeling of perversion and transgression.

I also bought another book by this author, SUICIDE BLONDE and I'll definitely re-check this out.