Readers unfamiliar with Robert Olmstead’s lyrical style will be delighted to discover this prolific and productive midwesterner’s work. In Far Bright Star (Thorndike Press, 279 pages ) the newest tale of the West, Olmstead weaves a minimalistic account of one man’s confrontation with his mortality and the deeper reaches of the human psyche.
Napoleon Childs is a noncommissioned officer in the U. S. Expeditionary Force sent into Mexico to get the sometimes bandit, sometimes revolutionary Pancho Villa. Detailed to scout for signs of the elusive Villistas, Napoleon leads a squad of green recruits and seasoned soldiers into the trackless Sonoran desert, where they are ambushed by a strange and savage band of independent outlaws. Led by a mysterious woman, the renegades are principally interested in Palmer, a trooper who has maimed a prostitute in the village where the army is bivouacked.
Napoleon, captured and tortured, is the lone survivor of the attack, left to make his way back to tell his story. Continue reading
John Reed’s most recent book, Tales of Woe (MTV Press, 204 pages), structured in novelistic intertwined short stories, is actually a work of non-fiction. Each tale is entirely true, which perhaps is ultimately what makes the book so difficult and simultaneously profound. We walk with Reed through the murky depths of the worse angels of our nature.
Part crime-log, part historical map, we follow countries in contemporary time into the psyche of many cruelties. Reed’s tight minimal prose reads poetic, ultimately serving the work both in realistic relay of information, but also in Continue reading
South of the Border, West of the Sun (Vintage, 224 pages). This book (my first exposure) to Murakami starts off slow and mundane to the point of boredom, but before long you realize you are in the hands of a master. Like a marathon versus a sprint, the mundane realism allows Murakami to unveil with perfect pitch and timing the story of an only child and his long-lost childhood girlfriend (also an only child) who now, still beautiful in her late thirties, lives under mysterious circumstances and comes to see him in his upscale bar. Murakami reportedly translated into Japanese Raymond Carver, who never wrote a novel. It shows. Less is more here, and each revelation at the level of plot conceals something deeper about life. I loved the subtlety of the ending that brings to a naturalistic crescendo the novel-long tropes of walking, rainfall, and the curious Continue reading