New of the World by Paulette Jiles

newoftheworldI will avoid the absurdity of defending a National Book Award finalist; we can agree that the western can be literature. We have Larry McMurtry and Charles Portis to underline the point. The clean prose of News of the World (William Morrow, 224 pages) similarly explores universal themes of honor, purpose, age, and culture within a detailed period piece, allowing the conventions of bar fights and gunfights, natives and lawless towns, blacksmiths, willing ladies, and Mexican aristocracy to tell a fresh and compelling tale. Continue reading

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

betrayersThe Betrayers (Little, Brown & Co, 267 pages) begins with a Russian expression on a young woman’s face. A pretty blonde woman working as hotel clerk in Yalta is berated by a young woman from Israel, who insists she be given a room. The clerk “endured the assault with a stiff, mulish expression. A particularly Russian sort of expression, Kotler thought. The morose, disdainful expression with which the Russians had greeted their various invaders. An expression that denoted an irrational, mortal refusal to capitulate—the pride and bane of the Russian people.”

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Wanderer Springs by Robert Flynn

wandererUp in that part of state just east of the Cap Rock, south of the Red River and west and north of Wichita Falls is a region of the country the residents continue to call “East Texas,” although, even at 70 mph it is hours from Amarillo, Lubbock or Spur, a half-day from San Angelo and Odessa, and a long, hard, hot day from Ozona or El Paso.

It is a part of the country that rhetorician Jim Cordon once called “terra incognito,” forgotten by most of Texas, ignored by everyone else. It is a hard land, filled with rattlesnakes, mesquite, winters that freeze livestock and people, summers that dry the ground so hard it cracks. Continue reading

The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor by Kurt Brindley

seatrialsBefore I begin this review, let me first recommend to anyone whom it persuades to read The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor (Amazon,198 pages), that after doing so they further benefit themselves by looking again at their copy of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor that I shall, however, quote from extensively. Kurt Brindley’s accomplishment should come into even greater focus when looked at through the lens of the nineteenth-century classic novel. Continue reading

The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

landacrossLately I don’t read much science fiction, though it was once a passion. I received this book as a gift, though, and found the cover information intriguing. “Wolfe is our Melville,” proclaims Ursula Le Guin on the inside jacket. She’s an author I admire, so started in, not looking for Moby Dick, exactly, but maybe Billy Budd.

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The Contractor by Charles Holdefer

THECONTRACTOR

As the twenty-fist century accelerates toward a new low point in modern political history, eighty-five people possess about forty percent of the world’s wealth (that’s not a typo),* second- and third-generation war-terrorized children are born to benumbed, dehumanized parents, and most news reports would probably seem horribly unreal to even Bradbury and Orwell.

One may ask, What does twenty-first century art have to say about all this?  We’ve heard from activists, a few courageous whistle-blowers; we’ve seen Hollywood thrillers with at least one Cheney-like character snarling with glee as he slaughters the hopes of yet another welfare mom. But where is the nuanced rendering of this story about the death of democracy?

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Sunflower by Cass McMain

sunflowerSunflower (Holland House Books, 452 pages) moves slowly forward, accumulating in its plain language the details of Michael’s uneventful life as a metal worker and sculptor. He and his live-in girlfriend, Jess, mostly talk about ordinary things, like what to pull out of the freezer for dinner, why the item in the freezer wasn’t pulled out in time for dinner, and whether or not Michael has finished the metal fence commissioned weeks and weeks ago. (He hasn’t.) Continue reading