Sunday, November 27, 2016

WE WERE THE MULVANEYS by Joyce Carol Oates

Finished Sa 11/26/16

This is a long and sprawling work, and I loved every page.
Another novel (like SACRIFICE) where the action turns on a sexual assault.

Michael Sr.- The Good Republican. Small farmer and business owner who can't 'get respect'. His life unwinds completely, yet his family always remembered his 'better days'.

I'm writing this almost three weeks after finishing the book, but this was one of the best in a long line of good novels from this summer.

The youngest boy is separated by age from his oldest brother by so much that his feelings and observations of 'The Mulvaneys' is much different from his siblings. He almost feels as if he has missed the reality of being a Mulvaney. Makes you try to say exactly when your own family was at its apex.

From the NY times review-

"The Mulvaney family's scruffy Eden, in the fictional town of Mount Ephraim, is called High Point Farm. This peaceable kingdom is under the dominion of parents still so in love that they embarrass their children -- who include a star high school athlete, a popular cheerleader and a class valedictorian. By way of contrast, we also get a Great Bad Place reminiscent of the swamp in ''First Love,'' a lake with water snakes, ''repulsive soft muck like quicksand'' and a resort run by an affable alcoholic eager to drag down the father of the family.

The Mulvaneys' fall from grace begins when Marianne, a pep-squad Clarissa Harlowe, is raped by a local boy and her father's dormant dysfunction wakes up and starts rattling its cage. Esthetically, it's a joy to watch a pro like Ms. Oates take apart this proud, happy and likable family step by inexorable step -- there goes Marianne! here comes the booze! there goes the farm! -- while making you hope all along that she'll spare them. And the modest measure of recompense and reconciliation she eventually hands the survivors doesn't outrage our sense of probability, however our sense of justice may suffer.

''We Were the Mulvaneys'' makes us glad to forgive its trespasses. The brainy son's ongoing agon with Darwinian theory probably fits in thematically -- in what book would it not fit thematically? -- but it sure is ongoing. And Marianne's turn-the-other-cheekiness comes to seem implausible. She's raped, her father exiles her from the family, her mother acquiesces -- yet her anger seems to be so well sublimated that it never makes it onto the page. On the other hand, Ms. Oates honors the novelist's obligation not to play favorites and to let us know how all her characters see things. Corinne Mulvaney is justified in cutting off the dangerous friendship she and Michael once had with the alcoholic resort owner; yet the man is justified in feeling hurt when Corinne insists on paying him for putting them up overnight.

Occasionally Ms. Oates's prose sounds canned and careless (''Abelove irradiated a powerful masculine heat''), but she gives us enough small luminous moments to carry several novels: a nighttime walk where the full moon looks like ''a candled egg''; hairs on a woman's arms lifting ''like filings to a magnet''; the aging, drunken Michael Mulvaney telling his son that he regrets not joining the Marines: '' 'I got married instead, and by the time I was your age I was up to here in it.' Drawing a swift crude forefinger beneath his chin.''

Still, ''We Were the Mulvaneys'' works not simply because of its meticulous details and gestures, or because ''family'' is a hot-button issue these days, or because Ms. Oates has borrowed the primal narrative of Western culture to give her story subliminal oomph. Mere hard work and canny calculation could get a writer that far. What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is something stronger and spookier: her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself."

Link at Amazon reviews-

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

THE SACRIFICE by Joyce Carol Oates

The November 2016 selection for the Contemporary Book Club

Finished Sa 11/12/16    Meeting on Wed. 11/16

The author's page at wikipedia-

Ernetta Frye- Sybilla's mother
Sybilla Frye- the rape 'victim'
Anis Shutte- Ernetta's husband and Sybilla's step-father
939 3rd St. Pascayne, NJ  No such town, but where the Frye's lived
Ada Furst- the teacher that found Sybilla in the abandoned food factory
Ines Iglesias- the female detective on the case. She was picked because Ernetta wanted a person of color, but Ines is a very light skinned Hispanic.
Pearline Tice- Sybilla's great-grandmother. Ernetta takes Sybilla to her home after the 'rape'. 'Sekewstered'.
Jaycee Handler- Sybilla's boyfriend. Ernetta doesn't know about him and would not approve. He is in a youth facility- Mountainview.

Byron Mudrick- lawyer and twin brother of Reverend Marus Mudrick
Marus is a flashy Black advocate, but probably more concerned about himself. Byron is his weak follower.
Klarinda is Byron's wife and she wants him to cut ties with Marus
Jerold (Jere) Zahn- the 'white cop' that Marus says committed the rape. He didn't, he's just a young man that probably doesn't belong in law enforcement.
Kimba Jacyznek- Jere's girlfriend for a time. She dumps him and he stalks her.
Leopaldo Quarrquan- the muslim leader; also a flashy Black civil rights proponent
Esmeraldo Mason- Black poet and writer. Sybilla and Ernetta live with her. Marus set it up
Julio Ramos- an assistant DA that's also accused of the incident
Feb. 1988 Sybilla converts to Islam and takes the name Aasia Muhamod
p. 266 Sybilla visits Mountainview
p. 79 Martine, Sybilla's friend, questions Sybilla about the incident. How could it have happened if you were seeing your boyfriend the next day?
p. 28o More evidence

I liked the book and the only thing that's missing is that the actual crime is never revealed. At the end, you know that Anis did the act, but the details are left to the imagination of the reader. But, I'm sure that Oates did this purposely because the story is about the 'fallout' and the effect on the characters. The actual event is secondary.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dakota Days by John Green

Finished Su 11/6/16

This is a trade paperback that I've owned for many years, but never read. The book was written by the Lennons' tarot card reader.

Yoko seems to be interested in all forms of mystical philosophies. She felt that John Lennon would not respond to her tarot card reader if they shared the same first names, so she said that his name was Charlie (Swan). This is how he's referred to in the book.

John seems less of a true believer, and more of a sceptic.

Yoko had a much larger role in the business aspect of Lennon's life than I thought. She was his legal representative in the Apple company.

I didn't realize that she came from such a powerful and influential family.  They were the first Japanese to enter American politics , first Japanese to graduate from Harvard (who these people were is not mentioned), and her family represented a powerful banking interest in the home country.

John comes across as very depressed during this period. He seems to have given almost all of his power and influence to Yoko.

Yoko's page at wikipedia-

Regardless if it's all true, it certainly paints an interesting portrait of the Lennons at a rather critical point in their lives. John had just returned to Yoko after an affair with May Pang. The book says that this relationship was set up by Yoko. She would rather have John involved with someone that she knew (and could control?).

And, Yoko becomes pregnant and John decides to become the caretaker of Sean. Lennon seems to admit that he's basically just hiding. He says that 'how busy could I be'?... He has nannies and servants to help, so there's no real need to stay at home.

The book at amazon-

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Late October, 2016

This was a 'bathroom read' and I had been chipping away at it since early summer. Reaffirms the fact that not only did Roger have impeccable taste in films, but he was also a terrific writer.

The book was released in 1984, so it's pretty dated, and some of the 'stars' were unknown to me. But a visit to wikipedia and I was onboard.

My favorite entries dealt with John Belushi. Ebert had an uncanny ability to describe both the man, and his crippling addiction. Early in his career, Ebert also suffered from alcoholism. After reading his treatment of Belushi, I found WIRED, his biography by Bob Woodward, in the collection, and I read this one with renewed interest.

The title of the book is taken from the song, 'As Time Goes By'. This piece of music is associated with the classic film, CASABLANCA.

The actors from RUMBLEFISH (Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Vincent Spano) are nearly unknown, at the time and barely out of childhood.  

David Bowie is treated as an 'actor'. His interview took place after he disbanded the Spiders From Mars Band and he claimed that he had left the music industry.

Kirk Douglas struck Ebert as extremely intelligent.

Jerry Lewis said that you can tell a crazy person by watching his eyes.

Charles Bronson was a coal miner.

Brook Shields is a child actor.

Woody Allen actually did prefer the big city of NY and hated the country.

Clint Eastwood sounds sane.

Most of the entries were written for magazines and seemed to be 'just long enough'. The impression created was indelible.

I'd read (watch, see, or taste) read anything by Roger Ebert.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

KINKS KRONIKLES by John Mendelssohn

Finished Sa 11/5/16

This is one of my trade-sized paperbacks that I carried in my work bag for about a week, and finished Th 7/13/16. But, I had owned the book for years.

My impression this time-

Somewhat a biography of the band but dangerously close to a mere collection of reviews of the songs on the record albums. Also, it's pretty dated since it ends in the early 80's, and I wonder what has happened in the last thirty five years.

The last paragraph of the book is the best- "Nobody changes all that much".

The Kinks at wikipedia-

Customer Reviews at amazon-

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

SNOWBOUND by Blake Crouch

Finished Tu 11/1/16

This is a library book that I got because I loved DARK MATTER. This novel is nowhere near as interesting as DARK MATTER, but a very compelling thriller (mabe a bit overblown).

Will Innis and his wife, Rachel, and his five year old daughter, Devlin live near the Mexican border in Arizona. Rachel is a nurse and one night she fails to come home. For no real reason, the police suspect Will, so he runs with Devlin, and they start a new life (one of many plot points that are pretty hard to accept).

One day he is approached by Katlyn Sharp. She claims to be with the FBI and she knows who he is, but is only interested in him because she wants him to identify Javier Estrada. This man belongs to The Alphas, a group of super-commandos who provide protection for the Mexican cartels.

Rachel had been kidnapped by a rich group of men who use women for sex and torture in a lavish secret resort in remote Alaska near the Wolverine Mountains.

Katlyn pretends that she is one of these women to infiltrate the group and allows herself to be transported to this resort. Will and Devlin (this is five years after Rachel's abduction) follow with a tracking laptop.

Wolves run wild near this place and kind of act as security. Katlyn, Will, and Devlin attack the resort, kill all of the rich men. Soon, Javier returns with three other commandos and attempt to retake the resort. They don't. Much mayhem with little or no character development. But, a ripping good read (however, it's one of those things were you kind of hate yourself in the morning).

In the end, it appears that Katlyn and Javier are together, but after their escape from Alaska, they are on a luxury liner heading for South America. Katlyn throws him over the side of the book. Will, Devlin, and Rachel hope that they can live out their lives 'under the radar' of The Alphas'.

This is part of The Fear Trilogy- three distinct and separate stories. Crouch seems to write a lot of series.

I will read more of this author and I'm looking forward to watching his TV series, WAYWARD PINES- Matt Dillon, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo.

link to amazon-

link to many reviews at GoodReads-


"A train wreck of a book. Couldn't look away, but thought less of myself because of that"