Thursday, February 22, 2018

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes

The February, 2018 selection for the Contemporary Book Club

Finished We 2/22/18- after I took Buddy for his dental check-up. He didn't need the general anesthetic, just a couple of 'scrapings'.

Since I love novels with an 'unreliable narrator', so this one was a 'no brainer'. Also, this guy was either lied to or people would tell him, "you never get it".

A short novel and lots of it made me want to underline.

Although history is written by the victors, the book reminds us that lots of history is written by the whining losers. And, I suppose, by a lot of people who are just plain uninformed.

Written in two sections. The first refers to his college life where he meets the main characters, and then rapidly skims (forty years!) to his life as a retired English gentleman. The second section- the longest- is about the major deceptions in his life. The 'big things' that he didn't understand, wouldn't understand, and the stuff that he never learned about and very definitely effected everything that he thought about himself.

From wikipedia-

"The novel is divided into two parts, entitled "One" and "Two", both of which are narrated by Tony Webster when he is retired and living alone. The first part begins in the 1960s with four intellectually arrogant school friends, of whom two feature in the remainder of the story: Tony, the narrator, and Adrian, the most precociously intelligent of the four. Towards the end of their school days another boy at the school hangs himself, apparently after getting a girl pregnant. The four friends discuss the philosophical difficulty of knowing exactly what happened. Adrian goes to Cambridge University and Tony to Bristol University. Tony acquires a girlfriend, Veronica, at whose family home he spends an awkward weekend. On waking one morning he finds that he and Veronica's mother, Sarah, are alone in the house, and she apologises for her family's behaviour towards him. Tony and Veronica's relationship fails in some acrimony, as he breaks up with her after she has sex with him. In his final year at university Tony receives a letter from Adrian informing him that he is going out with Veronica. Tony replies to the letter, telling Adrian that in his opinion Veronica was damaged in some way and that he should talk to her mother about it. Some months later he is told that Adrian has committed suicide, leaving a note addressed to the coroner saying that the free person has a philosophical duty to examine the nature of their life, and may then choose to renounce it. Tony admires the reasoning. He briefly recounts the following uneventful forty years of his life until his sixties. At this point Tony's narration of the second part of the novel – which is twice as long as the first – begins, with the arrival of a lawyer's letter informing him that Veronica's mother has bequeathed him £500 and two documents.[11] These lead him to re-establish contact with Veronica and after a number of meetings with her, to re-evaluate the story he has narrated in the first part.[12] On consulting the lawyers, Tony learns that Veronica has Adrian's diary. This leads him to send Veronica repeated e-mails requesting the diary. Veronica eventually sends Tony a single page of the diary, containing Adrian's musings on life as a series of cumulative wagers. Following this, Veronica meets Tony on the Millennium Bridge in London and gives him the letter he sent to Adrian in his youth. On re-reading it, Tony realises how malicious and unpleasant it was, and how he has erased this from his memory. Nevertheless, he persists in attempting to retrieve the diary from Veronica, which leads to her asking him to meet at a location in North London, where she drives him to see a group of mentally handicapped men being taken for a walk by their careworker, one of whom she points out to him. Tony does not understand the significance of this and Veronica leaves him with no explanation. Over the course of several weeks, Tony revisits the location until he is able to relocate the man Veronica showed him in a pub. Tony greets the man saying he is a friend of Veronica's which leads to an upset response from the man. Tony recalls the memory of Adrian from the man's facial features. He e-mails Veronica an apology, saying he didn't realise that she and Adrian had a son together. Veronica only responds with the reply "You don't get it, but then you never did." On revisiting the pub where he saw the man, Tony gets into conversation with the careworker, who reveals that the man is actually the son of Veronica's mother, Sarah, making him Veronica's brother."

I'm interested to see what the reaction will be at the book club meeting. I will be surprised to learn that it was very popular. This is the first 'very masculine' perspective that we've had in a long time- maybe never a book this clearly written by a male.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

THE DOGS OF BABEL by Carolyn Parkhurst

Finished Su 2/18/18

An E-Book, Kindle, from the library that I read because a couple of the members of the book club were talking about it. I loved the book, and it would be great to discuss- I'm not clear about how I feel about it. Lexy's suicide seems so unnecessary- she's in need of therapy, not an early death.

 'LORELEI'S SECRET' in the UK edition


 "In Paul's fantastic and even perilous search for the truth about his wife's death, he abandons his everyday life to embark on a series of experiments designed to teach his dog Lorelei to communicate. Could she really give him the answers he is looking for"?

Plotline from wikipedia-

"Paul Iverson called home to find a police officer answering the phone and suggesting that he come home. When he comes home he finds his wife, Alexandra "Lexy" Ransome, dead, fallen from an apple tree. The police declare it an accident, but Paul is bothered by the "anomalies" he finds, such as signs of someone cooking steak, a rearrangement of the book shelf, and the question as to what his wife was doing in the apple tree in the first place. The only witness to her death is their dog Lorelei, and Paul goes on a crusade to teach Lorelei to speak, in order to clear up the mystery. He cites several past attempts as evidence he will be successful, especially the case of Dog J, who was surgically altered by Wendell Hollis, "the Dog Butcher of Brooklyn", so that he could make human sounds. Paul leaves his job at the college, and dedicates his time to this single cause.

As he attempts to teach Lorelei, Paul remembers how he and Lexy first met, at a yard sale where he bought a square hard-boiled egg mold from her. He recounts their week-long first date to Disney World, and to a wedding where Lexy delivered masks she made. This is the first time Paul learns about the masks she makes for a living, and they are featured prominently throughout the rest of the book. Paul also remembers their wedding, and when he first learned of Lexy's depression, in the story she tells him about her adolescence.

Unhappy with his lack of progress, Paul writes a letter to Wendell Hollis (now in prison) in hopes of getting ideas. In a response letter, he is directed to a man named Remo, who lives in Paul's neighborhood and is in charge of the Cerberus Society, a group dedicated to canine communication. At a meeting of the Cerberus Society, Paul is horrified and intrigued by the methods they use, and is especially excited about hearing Dog J, whom the society has kidnapped, speak. He is disappointed, though, when the mutilated dog is presented at the podium and is unable to say a single word; the rest of the society oblivious to this. The meeting is cut short when the police raid it and Paul flees to his house to find Lorelei gone.

Finally realizing he will never be able to teach Lorelei to speak, and now left alone by both Lexy and Lorelei, Paul falls into an even greater depression. After hearing Lexy's voice on a commercial for a Psychic Hotline, he has been calling constantly, in hopes of finding the psychic Lexy talked to, Lady Arabelle. He finally reaches her, and is informed that Lexy was pregnant, a fact Paul knew but the reader did not. Lady Arabelle goes through the tarot reading she gave Lexy, and Paul is left to wonder how his wife took it.

Paul eventually finds Lorelei in an animal shelter, her larynx removed by the men who kidnapped her. She is now not only unable to speak English, but to even bark. When he idly examines Lorelei's collar, he finds a subtle message from Lexy. He suddenly realizes that Lexy has sent him a message through the rearrangement of books, a quote from the story Tam Lin.  It is then Paul realizes what he has suspected is true, that Lexy committed suicide.

Although he continues to mourn his wife's death, the closure Paul has gotten by learning of its circumstances allow him to return to the world. He goes back to his job at the college, and stops his reclusive ways. The story ends on a happy note, but it is still clear Paul is grieving for his wife.

Characters in The Dogs of Babel-

Paul Iverson - Linguist and husband of Lexy Ransome
Alexandra "Lexy" Ransome - Mask-maker and wife of Paul Iverson. Her death prompts him to try to teach Lorelei to speak
Lorelei - Paul and Lexy's Rhodesian Ridgeback, named after the German mythical siren Loreley
Wendell Hollis - "Revolutionary" scientist who performs surgeries on dogs to enable them to speak"

Friday, February 16, 2018

GO NOW by Richard Hell

Finished Th 2/15/18   The same evening as the new crown from Westside Dental.

This is one of my hardbacks that I first read back in 1999- Th 1/28/99.

I loved the novel and was glad that I had recently reread his memoir, I DREAMED I WAS A VERY CLEAN TRAMP.

GO NOW is a 'roman a clef'- this is a recollection of real life with an overlay of fiction.

Hell, in the novel his name is Paul or 'Billy Mud'.

He and Chrissa go on a trip across the US in a 1957, fire-orange, DeSoto (the cars with the really big fins), Chrissa takes the photos and he writes the narrative. A sleazy promoter, Jack, has set it up. This guy is kind of in awe of Paul's Punk Rock status, and Jack wants to sleep with Chrissa.

The trip is paid for and they even get fifty bucks a day for motel and expenses.

Much of the novel concerns Paul's attempts to get smack to feed his habit, and the tension and emotional distance between Chrissa and Paul. She's more or less always about fed up with him, but still there is an attraction.

The 'Break' occurs near the end of the book when they travel to Paul's childhood home of Lexington, KY. This is also where Richard Meyers (Richard Hell) grew up. They stay with his aunt who always had admired Paul. There is only a nine year difference in their ages- Janey was his mother's youngest sister.

Janey is an aspiring actress, but her primary job is a secondary school teacher. One afternoon when she comes home from school, Paul seduces her. However, she is quite responsive until Chrissa shows up with her camera. That's it for Chrissa- she splits back to NYC. She still leaves money for Paul and he decides to save on airfare and use the remainder for more junk. "I've always been lucky".

In 'TRAMP' Hell says that even as a very young boy, he always wanted to run away. This seems to be his 'highest high'- "Hey, why don't we just run away". GO NOW might be the story of  his life's biggest objective- and that is, to split.

The book is well written and the agony of being a drug addict is brilliantly documented. I might try to get more by Richard Hell because I'll know I'm getting some quality writing. It's really almost a tragedy that the Sex Pistols became The Legends, and Richard Hell is only a kind of footnote. He's the guy who came up with the idea of wearing ripped clothing and using safety pins to hold the rags together- he's obviously so much more than that. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Re-Read I DREAMED I WAS A VERY CLEAN TRAMP by Richard Hell

Finished Tu 2/13/18

I wrote the comments on the re-read at the original posting; Su 4/30/17.

Friday, February 9, 2018

OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS by Truman Capote

Finished Th 2/8/18

I found this on the shelves (ancient paperback with no note of purchase date) after I watched the remarkable film, CAPOTE with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine Keener (as Harper Lee), last week.

The tomboy character, Idabel, is based on Harper Lee.

I really loved the writing, but it got to be just too much- too florid and overblown. It was like all frosting, and not much cake. Although it is supposed to be an early gay classic, Joel, Randolph, and the rest of the characters just seemed more flat-out weird.

The theme of abandonment from family is autobiographical. He was separated from his mother and really did live in rural Alabama. This is where he met Harper Lee, life-long friend. Although their relationship was strained after she won the Pulitzer after writing only one novel her whole life.

His stepfather, Capote, adopted Truman. This man was wealthy and the family lived a rich life in upper Manhattan. However, they lost it all, and the family's financial situation took a downward turn.

Although educated at the finest secondary schools, Truman never attended college. He felt that either you were a writer, or you weren't.

This might have worked better, pared down and offered as a short story.

EXPLANATION OF THE PLOT FROM WIKIPEDIA-

The story focuses on the lonely and slightly effeminate 13-year-old boy Joel Harrison Knox following the death of his mother. Joel is sent from New Orleans, Louisiana, to live with his father who abandoned him at the time of his birth. Arriving at Skully's Landing, a vast, decaying mansion on an isolated plantation in Mississippi, Joel meets his sullen stepmother Amy, his cousin Randolph, a gay man and dandy, the defiant tomboy Idabel, a girl who becomes his friend, and Jesus and Zoo, the two Black caretakers of the home. He also sees a spectral "queer lady" with "fat dribbling curls" watching him from a top window. Despite Joel's queries, the whereabouts of his father remain a mystery. When he finally is allowed to see his father, Joel is stunned to find he is a mute quadriplegic, having tumbled down a flight of stairs after being inadvertently shot by Randolph and nearly dying. Joel runs away with Idabel to a carnival and meets a woman with dwarfism; on a Ferris Wheel, the woman attempts to touch Joel in a sexual manner and is rebuffed. Looking for Idabel in a storm, Joel catches pneumonia and eventually returns to the Landing where he is nursed back to health by Randolph. The implication in the final paragraph is that the "queer lady" beckoning from the window is actually Randolph, dressed in an old Mardi Gras costume.

CHARACTER EXPLANATION FROM WIKIPEDIA-

Joel Harrison Knox: The 13-year-old protagonist of the story. Joel is a portrait of Truman Capote in his own youth, notably being delicate, fair-skinned and able to tell outrageous tales without hesitation.[7]

Mr. Edward R. Sansom: Joel's paralyzed father, a former boxing manager.

Miss Amy Skully: Joel's sharp-tongued stepmother who is in her late forties and shorter than Joel. Miss Amy's character is reminiscent of Callie Faulk, an older cousin with whom Truman Capote lived in Alabama.[8] She is also reminiscent of Capote's maternal grandmother, Mabel Knox, who always wore a glove on her left hand to cover an unknown malady and was known for her Southern aristocratic ways.[9]

Randolph: Miss Amy's first cousin and owner of Skully's Landing. Randolph is in his mid 30s and is effeminate, narcissistic, and openly homosexual. Randolph's character is largely imaginary, but is a faint shadow of Capote's older cousin Bud Faulk, a single man, likely homosexual, and role model for Capote while he was growing up in Alabama.[10]

Idabel Thompkins: A gloomy, cantankerous tomboy who befriends Joel. Idabel's character is an exaggeration of Capote's childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee, later the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.[8]

Florabel Thompkins: Idabel's feminine and prissy sister.

Jesus Fever: A centenarian, pygmyish, African American mule-driver at Skully's Landing, where he had been a slave 70 years before.

Missouri Fever (Zoo): Jesus' granddaughter who is in her mid 20s. She wears a scarf on her elongated neck to hide a large scar inflicted by Keg Brown, who was sentenced to a chain gang for his crime. Missouri Fever's character is based on a cook named Little Bit who lived and worked in the Alabama home where Capote lived, as a child, with his older cousins.[11]

Pepe Alvarez: A Latin professional boxer who is Randolph's original obsession and muse, and the prototype that led to Randolph's obsession with young Joel, as it is inferred that Joel resembles Pepe.

Ellen Kendall: Joel's kind, genteel aunt who sends him from New Orleans to live with his father.

Little Sunshine: A short, bald, ugly, African American hermit who lives at The Cloud Hotel.

Miss Wisteria: A blond midget who befriends Joel and Idabel at a fair traveling through Noon City.

Monday, February 5, 2018

SPLIT SECOND by David Baldacci

Finished Su 2/4/18  I was sick with a bad cold, never left the house, didn't even open the door, and read about half in one sitting. Unfortunately, the book is so corny that a shaker of salt and a pat of butter should be included with the purchase price.

This is a trade paperback that I got at last year's library book sale, Sa 6/10/17

Basically, the book concerns two disgraced secret service agents. The man is guarding a presidential candidate who looks away, and the candidate is gunned down. The woman agent is guarding a presidential candidate, he stops at a funeral home to pay his respects, and is kidnapped.

These two crimes that happened over a period of eight years are connected. The bad guy is not one of the 'players', but his brother.

The plot is so convoluted that on page 243 there is a major 're-cap' of events. And then on page 365 there is a lengthy explanation because almost nothing that occurs could have happened. It is so over the top that one of the characters actually says, "WE JUST SOLVED A HUGE, COMPLICATED MYSTERY".

Baldacci is certainly no craftsman, but I guess is plot-lines are worth a look- slightly.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

THE QUIET GAME by Greg Iles

Finished Mo 1/29/18   I ordered this novel from Amazon after I was blown away by TRUE EVIL by Greg Iles. I loved this one even more, and I must get more by this author!

NOTES:

Set in Natchez, Mississippi
Penn Cage, a Houston prosecutor and famous novelist, returns to his childhood home with his young daughter, Annie after his wife has died of cancer.

He gets involved in a long unsolved murder investigation. In 1968 a black man was murdered. This man was involved in civil rights and unions, and the killing was thought to be racially motivated. J Edgar Hoover has sealed the investigation citing National Security.

Cage's ex-girlfriend, Livy Marston had left the area, and married and divorced in Atlanta. Her father, Leo is a powerful political force in Mississippi.

The reason for the killing is that Leo Marston was involved in a land deal and the distraction of civil rights and a union would hurt the business owner. So he killed the black man to stop any future labor unrest.

A newspaper reported becomes involved with Caitlin. And, Livy is still on the scene, but she is revealed to be more than a little shady.

Over six hundred pages and it never lets up for a single second.