Monday, October 31, 2016


Finished Su 10/30/16

This is one of my paperbacks and I had never read it before. No notation as to when it was purchased, but I would imagine I've owned it for many, many years.

The title is from a poem by Wallace Stevens. It describes the wake or preparation for the funeral of a woman. Her feet are described as 'horny'. Knobs are missing from a bureau in the room. She was a seamstress? Celebration of life (ice cream) is contrasted with a scene of death. Burly men with cigars churning ice cream.

"Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

(In the context of death, an echo of Hamlet's comment to Claudius: “Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots.” Hamlet, act 4, scene 3)

The novel is set at the beginning of WWII. 1939 through April 7-8 1941, The Belfast Blitz

Gavin Burke is the protagonist. He has finished the Irish equivalent of high school, but has put off going to college. His parents want him to finish his education. He has joined the UK Red Cross (ARP- Air Raid Precautions/ FAP- First Aid Party).
His prudish Catholic girlfriend is Sally Shannon. She is a nurse's aid and although she likes Gavin, she dates other people.

Gavin's quasi-military function is to keep an eye out for an air attack and man the stretchers if there are wounded.
At the beginning of the war most people thought that Belfast wouldn't be bombed because it would require the planes to travel over 1,000 miles one way. However, when the Nazis took France, it became very accessible.

Many older Irishmen hated the British more than Hitler.
Gavin's father is a lawyer and he's sympathetic to Germany.

Owen and Kathy are Gavin's siblings. His brother is more accomplished and so is his sister.

Freddy is Gavin's best friend and also in the FAP. He sees himself as an actor. Some scenes involve this acting troupe. Freddy is a socialist. Some of the actors are gay and this is shocking to Gavin.

The best part of the novel is near the end when Belfast is bombed. Freddy and Gavin volunteer for corpse duty. The novel climaxes at The Belfast Blitz. This means that the novel spans 1939-1941, but it seems much shorter. Gavin's experience doesn't seem to be two years.

In the end, Gavin and his father reconcile in the bombed ruins of their Belfast house. The father had left for Dublin with the rest of the family, but he came back for Gavin.  The 'father' becomes the 'son'- life is forever changed.

Belfast Blitz wikipedia-

Author's page at wikipedia-

Wallace Stevens page at wikipedia-

I enjoyed the book. It's mostly a quirky comedy involving the odd characters who are in the ARP and FAP. But, the final part of the book is tragic.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

Finished Fr 10/28/16

This is a library book that was recommended to me by a guy that works out at FitClub West. He has some connection to the presidential library, and he told me that at one time he was available for private showings of all the Lincoln sites in town- for one thousand dollars a day!!

This novel is really beyond classification, but is marked SciFi, yet it would work just as well for people who hate science fiction.

SCHRODINGER'S CAT- A cat is placed in a sealed box with a nuclear device (I guess any lethal substance would work) that has a fifty percent chance of activating. Until the box is opened and the status of the cat is verified, it is possible that the cat could be alive and dead simultaneously.

Jason Dessen lives in a Logan Square, Chicago neighborhood with his wife, Danielle, and son, Charlie.  He is a professor of physics at a small college and his wife is a housewife. She had abandoned a stellar career as an artist and he was on track to become an internationally known, groundbreaking physicist. Fifteen years earlier, when they learned that Danielle was pregnant, Jason and Danielle decided not to follow their dreams, but to have an ordinary family life. This is the Schrodinger's Cat fulcrum for the novel. Basically, Jason 1 returns from the reality where he has become a world famous physicist and tries to recapture what it might be like if he had not taken this path. Jason 2, the protagonist of the novel, is pitted against his 'alter-self' and fights to keep Danielle and his son, Charlie. By the last part of the novel, he is at war with an infinite number of these 'selves'.

I haven't read anything this fast-paced and thrilling since GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.
A very easy read and it's a pulse-pounding, thought provoking thriller from start to finish.

It really makes you appreciate the vastness of infinity. The novel demonstrates how each and every action by an individual implicates an infinite array of other possible actions and outcomes.

Although Jason 2 is the hero of the book, doesn't Jason 1, who is portrayed as the villain, also have a definite right to his reality. Is it not just as 'heroic' to try and recapture a past that might have been?

Indispensable link to Youtube video where the author explains the book-

Link to amazon books-

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

LILA by Marilynne Robinson

Finished Tu 10/25/16 The October 2016 selection for The Contemporary Book Club

Last month's book, THIS IS YOUR LIFE, HARRIET CHANCE! was a sunny read, this month's was mostly cloudy.

Lila is a young woman of the Depression. The book is set in the mid-west (St. Louis, Gilead, Iowa).

Lila is rescued (kidnapped?) from a very poor and dysfunctional family by Doll.

Doll is a member of a 'crew' headed by Doane and Marcella. These people stick together out of survival.

Doll acts as Lila's mother, but will try to leave her when she believes that it might be in Lila's best interest.

Long paragraphs with little dialog.

Timeline can switch in a single paragraph.

The book is the third in a trilogy (THE GILEAD TRILOGY).
 Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014)

Reverend John Ames meets Lila and after a strange and distant courtship, they marry. And Lila becomes pregnant.

They have a son, and the novel ends with Lila in an unsettled state. She isn't sure whether her 'wandering youth' might resurface and she might find it irresistible to take her boy and leave.

Reverend Ames wants only what Lila wants and he realizes that since he is old (68) Lila will probably have another husband.

Lila is attracted to Ezekiel, book of the bible

 "a dissenting view," critiquing the Christianity that Robinson writes about as "gospel thin, exiguous, a story slight and wanting, and Flannery isn't here to say so."

I doubt that this novel will have many rabid followers at the book club meeting tonight.

After the meeting-
The members liked this book more than I did, and after thinking about, I guess I liked it more than I thought. A few days later I got GILEAD and am reading it now (Nov 2nd).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

SPEAKEASY by Nathaniel Benchley

Finished Mo 10/17/16

This is a hardback that I owned and it looks as if I bought it at the library sidewalk sale. There is no date of purchase and I have apparently never read it.

The novel is set during Prohibition and it's about the characters and the action at Nick Baldino and his wife, Marie Dubros speakeasy, CIRCE, in downtown NYC.

Roland Butterworth- He's a newspaperman and very straightlaced. He becomes a PR Man and possibly an alcoholic. He has two kids and a wife who live in the suburbs. Although he spends many nights away from his home, his wife still cares for him, but there is a feeling that she might be having an affair.

Frank was a hero in WWI and met Marie while in France. He was recuperating from bullet wounds.

Marie is an accomplished cook and has always wanted a restaurant.

George MacDougall- Also a reporter and Roland rooms with him on the nights that he can't make it back to the suburbs. Also a boyfriend of Dorothy. He was the father of her child which she aborted. Lionel (Puddin), a baby and Nancy, a toddler are George's kids.

Fred McClain is an engineer and Nick allows him to drink and eat for free because he makes changes to the layout of the CIRCE. He's also the boyfriend of Dorothy Peterson. She seems to be based on the character of Dorothy Parker.

Lucky Livorno- He is a gangster in the protection rackets. He tries to shakedown Nick, but he always refuses to pay.

'Circe' was the enchantress represented by Homer as turning the companions of Odysseus into swine by means of a magic drink. A most clever name for the speakeasy and thought of by Marie.

k- EE- r- k- ee    pronunciation of CIRCE

The action is rather bland, but the characters are kind of noble almost to the point of being unbelievable. I guess the author is trying to recreate Robert Benchley's love and admiration of these people.

The book almost seems to pave the way for a sequel as in the last scene Roland Butterworth has become a famous stage actor and leaves for Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. And, his wife Sarah might have taken up with one of their neighbors' husbands, Mark. The kids referred to him as 'Uncle Mark'.  On the other hand, the main focus of the novel is the action in and around CIRCE and he's trying to portay (in a fictional setting) Robert Benchley's time at The Algonquin Table.

From Kirkus-


It's somehow fitting that N. Benchley's last, posthumous novel is a loving, roman à  clef-fy evocation of R. Benchley's 1920s--because, while Benchley Jr. at his best (The Off-Islanders) was a genial entertainer, he never really strode out from under the shadow of his father's comic genius. (Not to mention the commercial success of son Peter.) A fellow awfully reminiscent of the young Robert Benchley, then, is the central figure in this near-plotless ramble: Roland Butterworth--who, with ""a bow tie and an embryonic moustache,"" is seen dabbling in assorted night-crawler careers (reporter, theatrical press agent, actor). . . while his neglected wife, off in the country with the kids, grows increasingly impatient for Roly to settle down. And among Roly's pals and acquaintances in the Manhattan '20s are a slew of real and almost-real Benchley comrades: Humphrey Bogart; Ring Lardner; John Barrymore (""Which part are you going to play?"" asks Roly when Barrymore announces plans for a Hamlet production); Dorothy Peters--a faithful mock-up of Benchley's beloved Parker, complete with rotten love affairs, suicide attempts, wisecracks, and boozing; and Nick Baldino, operator (with WW I war-bride Marie) of a speakeasy/restaurant called the Club Circe. There are dib-dabs of action here--a few prohibition raids, Nick's troubles with the Mob. But, for the most part, Benchley cheerfully mixes bits of '20s history (Sacco-Vanzetti) with lots of theater/newspaper chat, plus agreeable food-and-drink details. And, though some of the quasi-biographical material can get confusing for those in the know (Parker's doomed real-life passion, John McClain, is called MacDougall here, while another lover is called McClain), this is a pleasant Twenties-in-New-York pastiche--and an oblique yet revealing portrait of the Benchley/Parker circle in its early days, in some ways more revealing than N. Benchley's 1955 biography of his father.

Author's page at wikipedia-

Friday, October 14, 2016


Finished Th 10/13/16

This is one of my paperbacks that I first finished on Mo 8/18/97. According to the flyleaf I had just been notified that I would begin a two week suspension on 8/19. Wonder what that was all about? I reread the book again and finished on Su 12/26/04. And after reading it a third time, I can definitely see that, on down the line, I will probably visit this novel again. It's very well written and a true lost gem!

It is a satiric political thriller chock full of delightful characters (with crazy names!). I guess the two principle characters are Morgan Citron and Draper Haere.

The book opens with Morgan serving an undetermined sentence in an African prison. He's being held by a President/Emperor who is a cannibal. Right before he's released he is served a stew that contains the flesh of a child. The Pres/Emp also gives him an uncut diamond.

The complicated plot revolves around a shady deal by US policy makers in Central America. The book was written in 1983, at the height of Reagan's America. A multi million dollar coke deal involving a corrupt general and the CIA and the FBI. If this incident was made public, the current US administration would topple.

Exactly what happened in the central American country of Tucamondo is explained on p. 257

Here's a list of characters-
Morgan Citron
Draper Haere
Velveeta Keats
Drew Meade
Craigie Grey
Gladys Citron
B.S. Keats (Byron/Shelley/Keats)
John Yarn/ Richard Tighe
David Slipper ("Slippery")
Jimmy and Bobby Mineras
Baldwin Leatch ("Baldy")
Colonel General Rafael Carrasco Cortez
Bill MacAdoo

2 Running Gags-
Numerous times in the novel characters ask Morgan if the President/Emperor really was a cannibal.

When Draper is told that someone has died of 'heart failure', he always corrects them by saying that, 'everyone dies of heart failure, the correct term is heart seizure'.

I'd recommend this novel to anyone and it is definitely a cut above. Maybe I'll get more by Thomas.

The author's page at wikipedia-

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Finished Mo 10/10/16 Columbus Day

This is a quality paperback that I purchased on We 12/17/03 at the Target on Bell Road- must have been a Sun City visit. And, I never recorded when I finished it for the first time, but there are some notes on the flyleaf.

key passages- p. 188, p. 251


Rebecca, 53 years old and a widow for many years, begins to feel that she is leading a life that she didn't choose. Maybe if she had followed a different path she would have become the person that she was meant to be. The novel is kind of a journey to her self acceptance.

The Four Daughters- Minerva/Bridget/Patricia/Elinore

Min Foo- (Minerva), Rebecca's natural child by Joe. Min Foo has had three husbands and is presently married to a middle eastern man and they have a new baby. She's already feeling uncomfortable in the marriage.

Biddy- Rebecca's stepdaughter. Her husband died early in her marriage and she has lived for many years with Troy, her dead husband's gay brother, Troy. They are raising Dixon. Biddy is a caterer and an adventurous foodie.

Patch- Rebecca's stepdaughter.  Athletic and married to Jeep who is a gym teacher.

No No- Rebecca's stepdaughter. Barry is her fiance and they marry in the beginning of the book. Peter is Barry's son and one of the most interesting characters in the novel. He is struggling to find friends, but is very smart, yet shy. No No feels she is clairvoyant.

Poppy- is Joe's 99 year old uncle. He lives with Rebecca and celebrates his 100th birthday near the end of the book. He was widowed many years ago and always remembers his wife, Joyce.

Zeb is Joe's younger brother and has always been attracted to Rebecca. At the end of the book Anne Tyler says that in the future he will most likely ask Rebecca to marry him. He is a cardiologist.

Joe was 13 years older than Rebecca when they first met.  She was happily involved with Will Allenby, but always felt that something was missing from that relationship. It seemed 'preordained' and not her true path, but a big theme of the novel is how she tries to reach out to Will and 'try again'. It's a failure. Will is now a professor of physics at Macadam College. This is where they both were in college.

The Open Arms is the row house and the spiritual home of  Davitches.

I loved the book and I've never really been disappointed with anything Anne Tyler.

The author's page at wikipedia-

The novel at wikipedia-

Saturday, October 8, 2016

SAVAGE SEASON by Joe R. Lansdale

This is one of my oversized paperbacks that I had bought at Powell's Books in Portland OR on Tu 8/27/02, and I finished the book on Mo 9/16/02 (in two days).

Refinished Fr 10/7/16

I noticed that this has been made into a series on the Sundance Channel. I checked out a trailer and it seems that they went heavy on the comedy of the book- Completely missed the point. This is a textbook example of Hillbilly Noir, and not that funny at all.

This is the first in a series featuring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Set in Laborde, East Texas (fictional place).

Hap Collins was a college student during the Vietnam war and decided to Not Serve. He didn't want to take conscientious draft status because he felt that he would have fought in WWI or WWII, but just not in Vietnam. According to the government, you can't cherry pick our wars. He served 18 months in a Texas prison. He was adept at martial arts and was a tough Texan, so he didn't have any problems.

Leonard Pine is a ex-Vietnam vet with conservative leanings, and he's also gay. Very outspoken and extremely cynical.

Storyline/ Characters-

Hap is visited by his ex-wife, Trudy. She was briefly married to Hap, but left him when he went to prison. Both were active in the California hippie scene and she went from man to man, and finally settled with a man named Howard. Both Trudy and Howard have strong ties to the underground violent 60's radical groups (Weathermen, The Mechanics (a group known for making bombs. I don't think this group really existed).
Chub- Fat guy who is in the Movement and deeply into analysis. A wimp and not popular.
Paco- One of the Mechanics and has lived the underground life for many years. Not roots, couch surfer. Badly disfigured in an accidental bomb explosion. Face and ears nearly unrecognizable.

Angel- Musclebound woman, 6 ft tall.
Soldier- Ruthless, porkpie hat, sweats vaseline.

Howard told Trudy of a bank robbery that went bad. Crooks left the bank with the loot, traveled to a boat, but sank it trying to get away. All the robbers died (were shot by the survivor) and this man tells Howard where the boat went down. In a swamp near an Iron Bridge. Trudy wants to get Hap in the gang because he's familiar with this area.

They find the money and Paco sets them up with Angel and Soldier. These two are supposed to sell them guns so that they can give them to 'worth causes'.

There are no guns. Angel and Soldier just want an easy score.

The final fight scene starting at an abandoned drive-in  is great. Everyone is killed except Hap, Leonard, and Soldier. Hap could have killed Soldier, but he couldn't bring himself to kill in cold blood.

Hap finds the money where Trudy had buried it. She anticipated a ripoff. He splits the three hundred grand in three. $100,000 goes to Greenpeace in Trudy's name.

amazon link-

The author's page at wikipedia-

Thursday, October 6, 2016

ALL ABOUT LULU by Jonathan Evison

Finished We 10/5/16

This was a library book that I got because I loved THIS IS YOUR LIFE, HARRIET CHANCE! which was also written by Evison.

Another comic/tragedy tied together by a dark sexual secret

The Miller's

Big Bill, Doug, Ross (Alistar), Annie (first wife), Willow, and William (the narrator)

Big Bill is an ex-Haight Street Hippie living with his family near Muscle Beach in Venice, CA.
His firs wife Annie dies of cancer and he takes up with his grief counselor. She has a daughter, Louisa (Lulu).

William is a slight boy and the only male in the family not involved with bodybuilding.
Doug and Ross are twins; Meatheats, Dumb and Dumber. Crude and Rude.

William becomes obsessed with Lulu from the first time he sees her. They become inseparable pals until Lulu turns fourteen.

Troy- one of The Benders- Rich kids from out of the Venice area who live to party; Troy becomes a boyfriend of Lulu- a rival to William

Dan- When Lulu moves to the Seattle area after high school Dan becomes her boyfriend. He is a base player and fairly well known in the Grunge Circuit.

The Great Reveal-

Lulu is NOT just William's step-sister, she is his half-sister. Big Will, Annie, and Willow were all friends in San Francisco and Will had a brief sexual affair with Willow when he first took up with Willow.

When Annie died, he went back to her.

At age fourteen, Lulu went to a cheer leading camp in Maine. It was there that one of the relatives told her who she really was. This is why she changed so dramatically when she returned.

Secrets, Misdirections, and Incest.

William wants a career in radio. He loves baseball, especially the LA Dodgers. He has a great radio voice.

Big Bill wants to become an Olympic champion in bodybuilding, but never makes it.

Big Bill tells William his real relationship to Lulu in The Haight, Golden Gate Park.

Willow and Big Bill don't want William to have any contact with Lulu, but after he learns the truth, he confronts Lulu to tell her he knows.

In the epilogue we learn that later Lulu has two children and William goes on to be a "successful and very happy, but I would be lying about one of the two".

No Pain, No Gain

I loved the book and will read more by this author.

amazon link-

Monday, October 3, 2016

TONY AND SUSAN by Austin Wright

Finished early morning, Mo 10/3/16 (Bo's first birthday party was yesterday afternoon at Brandenburg Stadium near State and Ash)

This is one of my over-sized paperbacks that I probably got when I was a member of Quality Paperback Books in the early 90's. I had not read this novel.

This book was released in 1993 and despite great critical reviews, it did nothing. Then, in the 2010 it gained traction in England and was re released. It's now a film called NOCTURNAL ANIMALS with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Mike Shannon. I can't wait to see the film although many changes have been made. Tony's story is set in rural Texas instead of along a desolate freeway in Pennsylvania. And Susan runs a prestigious art gallery, and as far as I can tell, there's no mention of her husband, Arnold. The release date for the film is November 23, 2016. Can't wait.

This is a 'story within a story'.

Twenty years later Susan gets a note from her ex husband, Edward. He's finally written a book and he wants her to read it and offer her critique.  His novel is more or less included in it's entirety, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.  This is written in the style of Cormac McCarthy or Donald E. Westlake.
Tony Hastings, wife, Laura, and teenaged daughter, Helen. They are driving all night from Ohio to their summer cabin in Maine.

Edward Sheffield is the author, and nearly 25 years earlier he was married to Susan.

The only contact Susan has had from Edward is the occasional Xmas card that was written by his new wife, Stephanie.

Susan Morrow is married to Arnold Morrow, a heart surgeon. He is at a medical conference for three days and this allows Susan a time to read the novel. Susan has three kids and a dog and cat.

Ray Marcus/Lou Bates/Steve Adams

Leader of the criminal band is Ray. Teeth too big for his mouth, triangular shaped face with a high forehead, and tends toward the sarcastic.

Lou- drives Tony to the fictitious town of Bailey when they separate Tony from his family.

Turk (Steve Adams)- wears glasses and is killed in a robbery. This case allows Detective Bobby Ames an opportunity to gather clues on the murder/abduction case.

In the movie, Bobby Ames is played by Michael Shannon

When he was fifteen, Edward's father died of a heart attack, his step mother didn't want him, so Susan's family, neighbors, took Edward into their home so that he could finish high school. Edward's real mother had been institutionalized.

Arnold's wife, before he connects with Susan, was also institutionalized.

Susan and Edward don't see each other for eight years. They meet in graduate school at the University of Chicago. Susan became a teacher. This job keeps them solvent while Edward tries to become a writer. He had been studying to become a lawyer.

The end of the book is murky, but works-

Ames gets Tony to come with him. "how much would you do to make this thing right"?
Ames shoots Lou in front of two women (one of them is named Susan) the other is named Ingrid. This woman works in the doctor's office where Bobby Ames is being treated for terminal cancer.

Ray escapes, Bobby has left, and Tony has a gun and finds Ray in the cabin where the rape and murders of his family had occurred. Ray goads him into shooting him, but attacks Tony first.

This is where it gets blurry. Tony has shot Ray dead, but something Ray has done to Tony has left him with a deadly injury. And, he crawls from the cabin and probably bleeds to death while the other police are in the area. Tony is blinded. Could he have been stabbed? And, he might have also accidently shot himself while trying to signal the police.

Susan agreed to see Edward and discuss the novel. She wanted to invite him to dinner to discuss the book, but he never returns her call. You never really know why he doesn't contact her. Maybe there was some real reason for not meeting, or maybe he was just being passive/aggressive.  "I'm finally a true author in spite of the fact that you never believed that it was in me"!

I loved the book, although this is not something that I would have thought would be a good subject for a film. Because most of the book is Susan's reflection on her life with Edward in the past, her feelings toward her philandering husband Arnold, and her critique of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.
Too much of the novel happens between Susan's ears, and this is the biggest strength of the book, but how would you film this?

The film was shown at Cannes and it is one of the most anticipated films of the Fall season.

The author's page at wikipedia-

Amazon Books link-

From an article in THE TELEGRAPH, and English newspaper

"As she reads her ex-husband’s book, Susan “rereads” her own real-life saga, “rewrites” her memory. Austin Wright asks: are readers really writers of the books they interpret for themselves?"

"I’ll tell you the last thing he said to me – which may have been the last thing he said to anybody,” says Katharine. “He wasn’t speaking to anyone – he seemed to be in another place. I said to him: ‘Dad, do you recognise me? Do you know who I am?’ All of a sudden he focused on me. He looked sort of mischievous and mysterious, and he said, with a pause between each word: ‘You. Are. Invented.’ And after that he went back into outer space.”"