If a Man be Mad (Permabooks, 156 pages)…there couldn’t have been a more appropriate title for this gem hidden amidst the American literature. Walker Winslow, writing as Harold Maine, had written this fascinating book while living in Big Sur, at a time when other great writers, such as Henry Miller resided nearby. Whether it was Winslow’s gift or the proximity of some of the greatest in modern American literature, Mr. Winslow has achieved what only but a few writers are capable of. He shook my world. Continue reading
Bernard Hawkes is a cynical, disillusioned journalist who finds himself in a spot of trouble when someone starts enacting the theoretical terrorist plots described in his satirical newspaper column. So begins this sardonic tale of conspiracies within conspiracies set in modern-day London.
With the sinister Tranquility Foundation (a New Age conglomerate promising “serenity with security”) on one side and the Primitive Front (a group bent on shaking people out of such complacency) on the other, Bernard’s previously humdrum existence suddenly becomes quite interesting as he is drawn ever deeper into the intrigue behind the bombings. Adding to his problems are Inspector Pitmarsh, the paradoxically chummy yet menacing police detective, a vivacious young revolutionary calling herself Animal, and Dillwyn, his alternatively rational and paranoid neighbor. Continue reading
One of the pleasures of literary fiction is its fluidity, how it engages both the physical world and mental states, moving back and forth in a manner that not only reproduces the experience of being alive, but adds to it. The book in hand is less a mirror than an additional, highly sensitive appendage of the self.
John Reimringer’s Vestments (Milkweed, 407 pages) highlights the process by staking out two sharply contrasting worlds: the earthy, often violent family of James Dressler, a young man growing up in blue-collar Saint Paul, and James’ calling as a Roman Catholic priest, Continue reading
It’s unfortunate that “adult entertainment” has become synonymous with porn, because there’s a shortage of the real thing. By that, I mean books and films for grown-ups. Not only about sex, but about the multitude of other concerns that mature people care about. These people know that there is more to life than celebrities, shopping and getting skinny. Or having to choose between zombies and vampires.
In Someone to Watch Over Me (Harper Perennial, 224 pages), with stories about older men with younger women, a woman recovering from a dysfunctional relationship who hooks up with a horrible golfer who persuades himself he is good, a man with low self-esteem who stumbles out of a bar drunk one morning to save a busload of children, a man who wins the lottery only to face the final anomie of life as loss, Richard Bausch takes somewhat downtrodden and mundane middle-to-lower class characters and reveals them in their secret glory. He has a way of fully seizing an everyday situation and revealing to us its depths, sometimes switching character point of view within the same story. The stories have the opposite effect of Continue reading
This wise and gorgeously wrought novel The Deadwood Beetle (Blue Hen Trade, 256 pages) had me by the heart from its first sentence. Tristan Martens, a retired entomologist in his seventies, has discovered by accident the blackened pine sewing table once owned by his mother in the Nazi occupied Netherlands. As he recognizes it in the New York antique shop – “this ghost, this small, lost thing, floating like a piece of impossible wreckage toward me” – he knows he must possess it to keep its secret from the world. The owner Cora Lowenstein, who has misinterpreted the childlike scrawl on the table’s underside, stands in his way. The table Continue reading
Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (Nan A. Talese, 383 pages) presents the reader with a significant but rewarding challenge. Though as an author she rejects any association with the term “science fiction”, that basically is the genre in which this novel lives. And it really does come to life, though exactly which life-form might be open to debate.
Oryx and Crake are nicknames. Both are animal species and both are extinct. Oryx is female and Crake is male. They are both acquaintances of Snowman, who is really Jimmy. Continue reading