Hard Mother by U R Bowie

Russia. Russia. Russia. Ever since the Wicked Witch of the West succumbed to the Reality Circus Clown, the popular press has been serving up reconstituted Cold War propaganda, declaring that the Russian “enemy” is brainwashing us through Facebook posts and massaging our malleable minds via sexy Russian public television hostesses. Clapper, former U.S. intel head, went so far as to warn us that all Russians are genetically predisposed to lying and meddling.

Before we learn to love the idea of trying to bomb them into oblivion, let’s consider the question of the Russian Soul. Who are these people? What characteristics do they share, if any, with you and me?

U. R. Bowie offers his meditation on Russianness in an extraordinary travel log through Ultimia Thule, the farthest point, exploring dreams, lectures and diaries. Hard Mother (Ogee Zakamora, 429 pages) is a challenging novel; never boring; persistently humorous, it is organized with staggering complexity, interweaving dreams with fiction with anthropology, flashing forward, back and around. The book cover warns the reader to “keep both hands on the wheel.” Good advice. Continue reading

Witz by Joshua Cohen

witzOy vey you say. Another funny Holocaust book?

Now is the month of holidays, from the Jewish New Year through the Feast of Tabernacles and ending with Celebration of Torah. My (Orthodox) friend of forty years came to visit. I showed her a page from Witz (Dalkey Archive Press, 817 pages). She closed the book, fast. “There’s a lot in there I wouldn’t approve of,” she said.

Yes, O WickedWitz. Continue reading

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

With all books, there is a difference between author and narrator. Sometimes the difference is slight, sometimes great. Omniscient narrators tend to reflect the author’s stance about the story more than, say, first-person narrators, which often strike poses very unlike the authors’, excepting the case of confessional “fiction” (which is not actually fictional). At first I thought the narrator of Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library, 384 pages) spoke without irony, without distance being injected between his voice and the author’s feelings about the story. As I read on, I felt more and more an ironic distance between McCarthy and the narrator. I felt as if McCarthy were telling me to resist this narrative for its excesses, its hyperbole and its superstition and fatalism. Continue reading