I’ve been thinking more and more that less and less of life requires comment, or, my comment. Thus, my long run of having written about each book I read shortly after having read it came to an end. Too, I started a Pinterest page (and you can click here to visit) and my first board was about what I was reading. Pinterest allows only five-hundred characters of copy for each photo so I’ve been limited to short, concise exegeses of my impressions about my reads. That has been somewhat liberating. I considered letting this blog become — again — solely an existential traipsing through my dysthymia and adventure in going further and further (or, is that farther and farther? No. Further is metaphorical and I suppose my retreat from the conventions of modern-life is more metaphor than actual physical travel and distancing.) off the grid, but, I know some of you are interested in what I think about books and not everyone has a Pinterest account — I resisted for as long as I could but the opportunity to collect pictures of sexy Marlon Brando and men with tattoos and people’s personal reading nooks finally defeated me — so, here I am, going back into writing about what I’ve read, albeit, in shorter form. (I think. You hope.)
THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT, by Alexander Chee, Hardcover, 561 pages, February, 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt This was the third in a troika of books by gay writers to which I had very much been looking forward. (The first two were Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You and Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door – read about them HERE.) Unlike the other two, Night isn’t built around a gay person, although it does take place in the world of opera, which is about as gay a milieu as one can visit – but, strangely (to me) this narrative lacked gay content. It lacked little else. Chee managed to create a huge world, a huge life, there is detail and dynamic enough for a few books. Well reviewed and much heralded by the literary literati, it is delightful that three gay authors have experienced so much success already this year. Happiness. I bought this because I wanted, very much, to support Mr. Chee. When I checked with library about availability (which I routinely do for books in which I am interested, to see if others are reading them too) I saw they had only two copies and the wait was eight weeks. I donated my copy after reading.
THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, by Stuart Neville, Hardcover, 320 pages, September, 2015, Soho Crime I love the escape of crime procedurals, the comfort of a returning character, in particular one with flaws and peccadilloes, so I am always giving new series a chance, hoping to find the next “go to” sort of solace I like between heavier reads. This is the first to feature Irish DCI Serena Flanagan, and both she and probation officer Paula Cunningham were well-developed, interesting. The plot concerned two doomed brothers, one a sociopath, the other his victim, and had some twists, some supposed-to-be surprises. It was a quick read, nicely done. I think I will likely give its next entry a go. Borrowed from library.
EILEEN, by Ottessa Moshfegh, Hardcover, 272 pages, August, 2015, Penguin Press As I said in my Pinterest blurb, this was an extremely unpleasant story full of extremely unpleasant characters, without even a hint of redemption or joy. I found it to be unkind. I don’t know how else to describe the experience and I am sorry to be so negative, but I would not recommend this to anyone. Just ugly. The author was compared to Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith — both of whom I admire and enjoy — its milieu said to be evocative of David Lynch’s filmic work — much of which in small doses has fascinated me — but, for me, this bore little similarity to the works of those auteurs. It was relentlessly bleak of heart (which it meant to be, so, congratulations) and mean of spirit (which it meant to be, so congratulations) and strove to be tongue-in-cheek but, instead, was snide and cruel. It is censoring, I suppose, to say that life is too short and dark enough already without spending my time in a fictive world of such dark, soulless, venomous, ferocious despair — so be it, I don’t need this sort of energy in my life. Borrowed from library.
AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE: STORIES, by Helen Ellis, Hardcover, 208 pages, January, 2016, Doubleday I quite enjoyed this collection of twelve pieces — I wouldn’t call all of them stories — that were frequently funny, and often trenchant without trying too hard. Had I to read it again, I’d have spread them out rather than reading all at once, as in, Ellis is a writer whose work I’d like to come across regularly in magazine — her take on life is amusing and insightful — but consuming it all at once, I think it lost some of its power. So, yes, quite good, but read one a week or so, not in toto. Borrowed from library.
AFTERSHOCK: A THRILLER, by Andrew Vachss, Hardcover, 368 pages, June, 2013, Pantheon This was another first in a crime series. I gave it a try because I read many of the author’s Burke series, years ago, suggested to me back then by my dear, departed brother-in-law. So, I picked this up out of sentiment. Vigilante justice — no matter how heinous the criminal — not my thing anymore, and Dell, the main character, like Burke (who he very much resembles) takes the law into his own hands, doing away with scum. Well, I suppose it’s a release for my baser instincts to read about such a thing, but, killing is killing, and if you become the killer — even of those who are horrid — you are still a killer and horrid yourself. As I’ve aged, my ability to read about ugliness decreases (see review of Eileen above). In this, as I mentioned, ugliness is answered with vigilante ugliness and when I find myself cheering for the murder of even villains, I question reality and such and so, no. Also, tenses and grammar often purposely incorrect for “voice” – even for voice, it gnaws at me. Borrowed from library.
THE PAST, by Tessa Hadley, Hardcover, 320 pages, January, 2016, Harper I love Tessa Hadley’s writing. She is an incisive stylist and observer of people, love, connections, desire, and despair. In this tale of siblings gathered to decide whether to sell the family home, each dealing with its histories and echoes in different ways, the ghosts of the past becoming the characters of the present – it’s divided into Present/Past/Present structure – the how we get here and how we fall apart and how we mistake the shapes of love, are so well done, it felt to me as if Hadley had met my family. She has a gift for making specific the universal. Wonderful book. Borrowed from library.
FINE, FINE, FINE, FINE, FINE, by Diane Williams, Hardcover, 131 pages, January, 2016, McSweeney’s Hmm. Collection of short – very short – stories. Gloriously languaged, chock-full of sharp-edged imagery, these stories are like shards of something broken one tries to piece together into a whole. Bleeding ensues. I liked it but a little “Emperor’s New Clothes” hipness & WTF? Some of these were simply beyond comprehension, or, even, sense — another in a plethora of late of what seem to me exercises in journaling given publication. I should very much life my existential ramblings and prose-poems to be gathered together and put between hard-covers and huzzah-ed as the big thing by the literati. I don’t begrudge Ms. Williams her publication – but, like I said, some (even, much) of this was sort of – “okay, but, why?” (Full disclosure: Every year I enter the McSweeney’s columnist competition and every year I lose. So, bitter much? Maybe.) Borrowed from library.
AFTER THE PARADE, by Lori Ostlund, Hardcover, 340 pages, September, 2015, Scribner I wanted to read this because Ms. Ostlund had won the Edmund White award. Well written but awfully sad study of the many kinds of love and loneliness and abandonment: parent/child, friends, lovers. Struck personal chords for me about needing to leave someone as a matter of saving one’s own self & soul and being manipulated by someone who confuses love with control. I was irritated because my local library does NOT have it. I ordered a bargain ($2) copy from the evil empire and then donated it — when I’d finished reading — to library.
FELICITY, by Mary Oliver, Hardcover, 96 pages, October, 2015, Penguin Press I am only just beginning to read poetry on a regular basis after many years of not having done so. In the long ago it was Erica Jong and Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara and Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Patti Smith and Rimbaud. The theme of this slim volume is love, of the romantic and nature varieties. I am not much a believer in romantic love – its categorization outside and over and above other loves – especially lately I am annoyed by the cultural insistence on its primacy – and nature I can take or leave as well, I refer smog and city sounds, so, perhaps I am the wrong person to talk about this book. On the other hand, Oliver’s facility with language, the spare beauty of her imagery, quite stunning. But then again, given my general ignorance about poetry (I am studying now) and love (I am a life-failure and no amount of study will remedy that, this I have accepted), don’t listen to me about poetry. Borrowed from library. (Still have it, actually, plan to renew all five allowed times as I continue to re-read, examine, think – because, it’s poetry.)
BLACK DEUTSCHLAND: A NOVEL, by Darryl Pinckney, Hardcover, 294 pages, February, 2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Not going to lie, I had a tough time getting through this. I got it because it was blurbed by Edmund White and compared to Isherwood. No. Aside from troublesome syntax and construction, it really didn’t have anything to say (to me) & far too much meandering detail, seeming — again — as if the narrative was interrupted with pieces from his journals about which Mr. Pinckney said, “Oh, this is lovely” and wanted to use but which added nothing. It needed to be better edited and the time jumping was unclear, a muddle. I kept falling asleep while I read it and wishing I had stopped early on. The last eighty pages were such a slog, but I was determined. Again, sorry to be negative, but Mr. Isherwood’s Berlin Stories is one of my favorite books and to compare this to that, well, no. Borrowed from library.
And now, I am up to date on up-to-dating you on my reading. I know, dears, quite a lot of comment for one who says he is questioning the need to comment at all on anything, and just more dumping on the grid for one who says he is considering further grid-self-removal. But, if I am nothing else — and certainly not a McSweeney’s columnist — I am a conundrum (or two or dozens). In any event, I leave you with this — because, you know, I may not believe in love, but I do believe in fantasy love.
And with that, darlings, dear ones, loves, lights, here I am, going.