Friday, December 19, 2014

Black Girl in Paris


Shay Youngblood
Riverhead Trade
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Overview



Shay Youngblood's debut novel, Soul Kiss, received accolades from reviewers and writers alike. The Washington Post hailed it as "intelligent and erotic ... immensely engrossing and satisfying," while The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it "exquisite." Tina McElroy Ansa described it as "extraordinary ... lyrical, intimate, funny, unsettling, enthralling." Now, in her second novel, Youngblood explores the endeavor of a creative coming-of-age, and infuses her story with the same mesmerizing, lush language and impressionistic style that won her so many fans the first time around.

Black Girl in Paris wends its way around the mythology of Paris as a city that has called out to African-American artists. Like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Josephine Baker before her, Youngblood's heroine leaves her home, in the American South, nurturing a dream of finding artistic emancipation in the City of Light. She experiments freely, inhabiting different incarnations--artist's model, poet's helper, au pair, teacher, thief, and lover--to keep body and soul together, to stay afloat, heal the wounds of her broken heart, discover her sexual self, and, finally, to wrestle her dreams of becoming a writer into reality.

Youngblood's lyricism, as effortless as an inspired improvisation, and her respect for the tradition she depicts create a natural tension between old and new, reverence and innovation, and tell a story at once timeless and immediate.




My Review


I love Paris, its grandeur, its palaces, museums, monuments, breathtaking views, restaurants, cafes, its rich culture and history. It is a dynamic, international and happening place.

It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been there last, so I was really looking forward to taking a literary trip to Paris.

Eden, a 26-year-old Black woman from Alabama and an aspiring writer, journeys to Paris with just $200 in her pocket to follow in the footsteps of her literary heroes – James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes.

This could have been a fascinating story, but I found the descriptions of Paris vague, the main character too na├»ve for her age, and far too much of the story focused on her menial jobs. I wanted a little glimpse of the past, some insight into her heroes who were just names dropped on the pages. I also wanted to know more about France’s troubles – the racism, the struggles of the poor and working class, the problems of immigrants.

I wanted a more serious story and less whimsy. I could have done without the recipes and the silly musings about art and love. There were interesting secondary characters I would have liked to know more about – Eden’s androgynous boyfriend, Ving, and his friend Olu-Christophe, a Haitian living in Paris without papers, and Luce, Eden’s friend/lover who taught her how to take what she needed in order to survive.

The story was pleasant enough reading, but lacked passion and spirit, making my literary trip to Paris rather disappointing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mr. Shivers

Mr. ShiversMr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his daughter is killed senselessly by a disfigured drifter named Mr. Shivers, Marcus Connelly travels across the Despression-stricken country for vengeance in the company of several hobos, each with a reason for wanting Mr. Shivers dead...

This tale of death in the Dustbowl was an odd animal to pin down. The pursuit of a mysterious man in gray echoed the beginning of The Gunslinger. Much like the first volume in the epic Dark Tower series, Mr. Shivers is a novel of obsession and relentlessness. How far would you be willing to go to achieve your goals?

The writing reminds me of Joe Lansdale's more literary works like The Bottoms. The subject matter, however, has echoes of Steppenwolf, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Cormac McCarthy. When you track down great evil, you have to fight hard to avoid getting swept up by it. The metaphysical questions the book raises make this more than a Depression-era horror novel.

For a book that's less than 350 pages, it's fairly powerful. It might be overly ambitious for a first novel, though. The concepts were great and Mr. Shivers was suitably creepy but I didn't think Connelly or his hobo compatriots were very fleshed out. The book also seemed really linear and could have made more use of the hobo culture of the Great Depression.

At the end of the day, I'm not even really sure how I felt about it. I loved some of the ideas presented but the story itself was lacking. I guess we'll call it a three out of five.

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A PASSAGE TO INDIA BY E. M. FORSTER

A Passage To IndiaA Passage To India by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Adventures do occur, but not punctually. Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.”

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Illustrations from the Folio Edition by Ian Ribbons.

Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore have journeyed to India with the intention of arranging a marriage between Adela and Mrs. Moore’s son Ronny Heaslop. He is the British magistrate of the city of Chandrapore. He is imperial, much more so than when Adela knew him in England.

”India had developed sides of his character that she had never admired. His self-complacency, his censoriousness, his lack of subtlety, all grew vivid beneath a tropic sky; he seemed more indifferent than of old to what was passing in the minds of his fellows, more certain that he was right about them or that if he was wrong it didn’t matter.”

My impression is that Heaslop may have been elevated rather quickly and had no time to develop his own ideas of the way things were in India, but simply borrowed the established views of the more senior British officials in India. In this new role he was required to play he is a very different person than the young lad that Adela knew in England.

She had decided to break off the engagement and then fate intercedes with a near death experience that allows her to see Heaslop in a different light.

The engagement is back on.

“Sometimes I think too much fuss is made about marriage. Century after century of carnal embracement and we're still no nearer to understanding one another.”

It is always interesting to listen to people talk about marriage. Sometimes people can be too cerebral and talk themselves out of a perfectly acceptable relationship. Others give the commitment of marriage the same amount of thought as they do to deciding what they want for lunch. Arranged marriages used to work perfectly well simply because they were an alliance usually involving money and future offspring. We decided, at some point, that romance was the elixir that we must desire the most in a relationship. Divorce rates have skyrocketed and most people are not any happier than when marriages were arranged for them by their relatives, but free will has given people the idea that happiness can be achieved if they can just find that right person. It is always better to own your unhappiness or happiness instead of having it decided for you.

Adela is not very pretty, but she does have some money. Heaslop seems rather indifferent about the whole arrangement. Yes, he wants the marriage, but more for fulfilling a necessary obligation. The sooner it is settled the sooner he can move on to other things of more importance. Adela is trying to decide whether to accept this situation or wait to see if their is a better one on the horizon.

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Dr. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore by chance in a mosque and though their meeting is rocky in the beginning a friendship quickly blossoms. Adela wants to see the real India, by, well, interacting with real Indians. A meeting is arranged with Dr. Aziz and in the course of their conversations with one another Aziz extends an invitation to take them on a journey to see the Marabar Caves. This is one of those invitations that are extended as a courtesy during a party that are never expected to be fulfilled. To his horror, he discovers, a few days later through an intermediary that the women fully expect him to take them to the caves. At great expense to himself he arranges this outing.

Aziz has always been a friend of the British, in fact, one of his best friends is a British teacher named Cyril Fielding. He had arranged for Fielding and another friend to go with them on this journey to provide the much needed cultural bridge between him and the ladies.

His friends miss the train.

Disaster looms.

Aziz is accused of physically assaulting Adela in one of the caves.

Ridiculous Fielding says.

Of course he attacked her the British community insists. All these brutes desire our women.

As events unfold it becomes more and more unclear as to what really happened, but even as doubt is raised the Colonialists continue to believe that Aziz is guilty.

He must be guilty.

This is considered E. M. Forster’s masterpiece and lands on most top 100 books of all time lists. I personally did not enjoy this book as much as I have some of his other books, but because of the subject matter of this book and when it was published, I fully understand why people look on this novel as his most significant book. He was poking a finger in the eye of his own government and their insistence on continuing to try to rule the world with brutality laced with blatant racism. I can see the men, who returned triumphantly from their postings abroad, sitting around their clubs back in London angrily discussing this book.

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I won’t tell you what happened to Adela or what happened to Aziz, but tragically there was a realignment of thought for both of them. Adela never wanted to see India again. Aziz never wanted to see an Englishman/woman again. In fact, for the first time he feels at peace with who he is…”I am an Indian at last.”


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Angry Woman

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
2013
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Did I find this book or did this book find me?

Either way, this novel was so powerful and jarring that it jumbled my thoughts and disrupted my sleep. The book has been on my radar for more than a year, but I had put it off because I had mistakenly thought it was focused on the relationships between Muslims and Americans, which would have been fine, but that theme has been used a lot since the Sept. 11 attacks. (There is some of that in the book, but it is a minor plot point.)

Instead, the story is focused on the anger and anxiety — hell, let's just call it a mid-life crisis — of Nora Eldridge, a single woman who teaches elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and who wishes she had more time to be an artist. One day, she meets a boy named Reza, and she becomes so attached to him and his parents that she feels like she's falling in love with the family. Sirena, the boy's mother, is also an artist, and the two women share an art studio for the year. Skandar, the boy's father, is a visiting scholar at Harvard, and Nora enjoys long discussions with him. Reza is a charming little boy, and Nora enjoys babysitting him when his parents are busy.

When we meet Nora, she admits she is very angry, but we don't really know what she is upset about. At first I thought it was at being single, at being undervalued as a woman in a patriarchal society, at being forced to be a school teacher when she really wanted to create art, etc. It is some of that, but I didn't fully understand the reasons for her anger until the end of the book, which brought a surprising and enlightening conclusion to the story.

I could relate to Nora's dreams and fears and anxieties and anger, and I saw shades of women I know in her. She was veryreal, very well-drawn. Nora calls herself the Woman Upstairs because she feels invisible, she feels like a good girl who is overlooked and taken for granted. Nora felt more connected to the world when she was sharing part of her life with Sirena and Reza and Skandar. Early on, we sense the relationship was temporary because she called it "the year with Sirena," so at some point, she is abandoned and alone again.

My only criticisms of the book were the references to real-world events. Most of the story takes place in 2004, and I found those newsy intrusions annoying. Also, Reza was described as so cherubic and sweet that it was unbelievable. In the book, the women were more realized characters than the men and boys, and I never really understood Skandar. But overall, this book is well-written and a compelling story, and I would highly recommend it.

Favorite Quotes:

"I always understood that the great dilemma of my mother's life had been to glimpse freedom too late, at too high a price. She was of the generation for which the rules changed halfway, born into a world of pressed linens and three-course dinners and hairsprayed updos, in which women were educated and then deployed for domestic purposes — rather like using an elaborately embroidered tablecloth on which to serve messy children their breakfast."

"I always thought I'd get farther. I'd like to blame the world for what I've failed to do, but the failure — the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger, makes me so angry I could spit — is all mine, in the end. What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity, is me, just me. I thought for so long, forever, that I was strong enough — or I misunderstood what strength was. I thought I could get to greatness, to my greatness, by plugging on, cleaning up each mess as it came, the way you're taught to eat your greens before you have dessert. But it turns out that's a rule for girls and sissies, because the mountain of greens is of Everest proportions, and the bowl of ice cream at the far end of the table is melting a little more with each passing second. There will be ants on it soon. And then they'll come and clear it away altogether. The hubris of it, thinking I could be a decent human being and a valuable member of family and society, and still create! Absurd. How strong did I think I was?"

"When you're the Woman Upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you best of all."

"You know those moments, at school or college, when suddenly the cosmos seems like one vast plan after all, patterned in such a way that the novel you're reading at bedtime connects to your astronomy lecture, connects to what you heard on NPR, connects to what your friend discusses in the cafeteria at lunch — and then briefly it's as if the lid has come off the world, as if the world were a dollhouse, and you can glimpse what it would be like to see it whole, from above — a vertiginous magnificence. And then the lid falls and you fall and the reign of the ordinary resumes."

"What does it mean that the first thing every American child knows about Germany is Hitler? What if the first thing you knew was something else? And maybe some people would say that now it's important, after the Second World War, it's ethical and vital that Hitler is the first thing a child knows. But someone else can argue the opposite. And what would it do, how would it change things, if nobody were allowed to know anything about Hitler, about the war, about any of it, until first they learned about Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, about Hegel and Lessing and Fichte, about Schopenhauer, about Rilke ... one of those things you had to know and appreciate because you learned about the Nazis."

"The Woman Upstairs is like that. We keep it together. You don't make a mess and you don't make mistakes and you don't call people weeping at four in the morning. You don't reveal secrets it would be unseemly for you to have. You turn forty and you laugh about it, and make jokes about needing martinis and how forty is the new thirty, and you don't say aloud and nobody else says aloud what all of you are thinking, which is 'Well, I guess she's never going to have kids now!'"

Bay's End

Bay's EndBay's End by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Trey and Eddie put cherry bombs in the back of the sheriff's car, they blast away the outer layer of the sleepy town of Bay's End and get a look at the sickening underbelly that lies beneath...

I've made no secret that I think Edward Lorn is the best example of self-publishing done right. Not only has he never stalked me to my house and hit me with a brick, he's also given me my money's worth on every occasion. When Bay's End became free on the kindle, it seemed like a slam dunk. It was.

Bay's End is a coming of age tale, akin to Stephen King's The Body or Robert McCammon's Boy's Life. When Eddy moves in across the street, Trey suddenly has a new best friend. Together, they unwittingly uncover a lot of nastiness that lurks beneath the surface of small town life.

Lorn wears his influences on his sleeve but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Bay's End reads like an early Stephen King tale, where the horror comes from ordinary people, not spider clowns that feed on fear. Ever get chased by a vicious dog or threatened by an adult when you were a kid? Scary stuff.

The characters are like people from the neighborhood I grew up in. Eddie's the smart mouth, Candy's the girl next door with dark secrets, and Trey is the everyman the audience can relate to, though I have to think there's more than a little Edward Lorn in Trey.

Bay's End is a pretty brutal book. Nothing that comes to light is pretty. It's a short novel but at the same time, it's the perfect length. If you're looking for a scary trip to nostalgiaville, let Edward Lorn be your driver. Four out of five stars.

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Wyatt

Wyatt (Wyatt, #7)Wyatt by Garry Disher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When an old accomplice named Eddie Oberlin offers Wyatt piece of a job, he's hesitant but needs the money. As these things usually go, there is a double cross and Wyatt and Eddie's ex-wife Lydia Stark are left for dead. Can Wyatt get his money and teach Eddie Oberlin what happens when someone double crosses Wyatt?

I first learned about Garry Disher's Wyatt series while spending hours pouring over The Violent World of Parker. When this one, the seventh book, popped up in one of my cheapo ebook emails, I snapped it up.

"Parker down under" is kind of a lazy way to describe Wyatt but that's pretty much the premise. Wyatt is an Australian version of Richard Stark's Parker, a planner who is relentless when it comes to getting what he wants. He has more of a heart than the criminal force of nature that is Parker but is still one tough cookie.

Wyatt, despite being the seventh book in the series, is a very accessible book. While the past was alluded to, I didn't feel as if I missed anything by not reading the previous six books. The caper is the tried and true snatch and grab, complete with an unforeseen double cross and some equally unforeseen bad information about the take.

I think Garry Disher did a good job of crafting an homage to Parker without making Wyatt seem like a complete ripoff. That being said, there were a ton of Easter eggs for Parker fans, like an apartment building called The Westlake Towers and Wyatt switching clothes with a drunk named Parker in the police station. Also, there was a police officer named Grofield. Another thing I really liked is that Disher didn't seem to be trying to ape Stark's style but still captured the overall flavor of the Parker books.

While I didn't find Wyatt overly original, it was a fun and engaging read. I'm giving it a three since I enjoyed it but someone who didn't have 20-something Richard Stark books to compare it to might rate it higher.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Grace Humiston On the Case





















Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars


This is a very engaging and entertaining novel based on the life of Grace Humiston, a crusading attorney in the early Twentieth century. The real Mrs. Humiston earned a law degree at New York University and later became the first woman ever appointed as a United States Attorney. Humiston, who used her legal skills principally on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, was also known as a brilliant detective, particularly after she solved the case of a missing New York girl in 1917.

In Grace Humiston and the Vanishing, Charles Kelly has used the facts of that case to create a fictional investigation in which Humiston is persuaded to look into the disappearance of a young girl named Ruth Cruger. Grace's husband, who is also an attorney, worries about her safety and has urged her to focus her attention on the law and to forego the detective work. But Grace feels that she must take this case, in spite of her husband's objections, and she promises him that there will be little or no danger involved.

Famous last words.

Mrs. Huniston's principal assistant is a Transylvanian investigator named Julius Kron. Kron know his way around the mean streets of 1917 New York, and he is the principal narrator of the story. Through his eyes we watch the case unfold and we realize what a talented and determined investigator Grace Humiston can be.

Ruth Cruger was last seen near the shop of a mechanic named Alfredo Cocchi, where she was going to have her ice skates sharpened. But Grace's attention is drawn almost immediately to the jewelry shop next door, which seems to attract a significant number of attractive young women like Ruth Cruger who come from wealthy families.

Grace discovers that several other young women have disappeared in recent months and she becomes convinced that the two men who are principles in the jewelry story are running a con called the Uncle Game, in which the younger and more attractive partner seduces wealthy young women into eloping with him to his native Argentina. There he and his partner sell the women into sexual servitude.

The police are of no help at all, and so Grace, accompanied by Kron, must take matters into her own hands and solve the mystery of the missing women. It's a difficult and dangerous mission, but it's also a very gripping story. In Grace and Tron, Charles Kelly has created two very well-drawn and engaging characters. He has also expertly set the stage on which the drama plays out, principally in the New York City of 1917, at a time when the nation was gearing up to enter the First World War. This is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans, even to those who do not generally read historical mysteries. A very entertaining and satisfying story.

Pub Quiz-Type Info About Pubs

A Dictionary of Pub, Inn and Tavern Signs (Reference)A Dictionary of Pub, Inn and Tavern Signs by Colin Waters
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That title, A Dictionary of Pub, Inn and Tavern Signs is very specific and very correct. That's exactly what this book gives you, an alphabetically arranged list of pub names and words most commonly associated with the trade. So, while enjoyable if you're interested in the topic, this is not super exciting reading.

It's hardly academic either. Just the same, it's thorough enough for the casualness of the topic. I just wish some of the entries were a bit more detailed:

Custom House Found in many coastal towns, these are pubs that were formerly the local customs officer's headquarters.

Soooo, "Custom House" is named after the custom house. Got it.

Some are more detailed, but only slightly:

Cutlers Arms As the name suggests, this sign relates to the cutlery trade and is particularly associated with the Sheffield area, although also found elsewhere.

So, "Cutler's Arms" is in regards to cutler's arms and it's found...in places. Wow.

Jumping off the snark-wagon for fairness's sake, the reader is occasionally given a good, chunky entry like:

Green There are a multitude of green people, animals and objects named on inn signs. The Green Man, a pagan symbol, shows the face of a dead man with greenery growing from its mouth. It symbolizes life springing from death. Jack in the Green is a living personification of the same figure, though some signs show Robin Hood. Green Man and Still is thought to have indicated a publican who was also a herbalist. Uniforms are commonly depicted, as in the Green Coat Boy, an inmate of a home for fatherless children, as opposed to orphans who are remembered in the name Grey Coat Boy. Military connections are found in Green Beret, Green Howard, named after the regiment, Green Jacket and Royal Green Jacket. Quite different are Green Carnation, a reference to the flower habitually worn by Oscar Wilde, Greendale Oak, a large oak tree in Mansfield that had an arch cut through it to accommodate a roadway, Green Dragon, Green Gables, Greengage, the plum, Green Gingerman, a reference to local trade in green ginger, Greenhouse, Greenmantle, a novel by John Buchan (1875-1940), Green Parrot and Green Tree, a colloquial name for the oak.

Entries such as that makes me, a chronic penny-pincher (or pence-pincher in this instance), cringe a little less when I think of the ten pounds I spent on this thing while on vacation with my wife in a little shop in The Shambles in York, UK.


Ratings Note: 3.5 stars


* * * Appendix: Personal Pub Favorites! * * *

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
description
descriptiondescription
"Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a public house in the City of London, England, located at 145 Fleet Street, on Wine Office Court...at this location since 1538...rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666...The vaulted cellars are thought to belong to a 13th-century Carmelite monastery which once occupied the site. The entrance to this pub is situated in a narrow alleyway and is very unassuming, yet once inside visitors will realise that the pub occupies a lot of floor space and has numerous bars and gloomy rooms." - Wikipedia

The Cheese is hands down the funnest pub I've ever been to. It's like a playground for pub enthusiasts. On your first visit you'll find it difficult to...well, find. The pub is on a main street, but down a dark, narrow and unassuming alley. Once inside you can actually get lost. Do wander around and investigate the many catacomb-like nooks and numerous floors, especially the crypt-like bar below.

The Golden Fleece
description
"The Golden Fleece is an inn in York, England, which has a free house pub on the ground floor and four guest bedrooms above. It was mentioned in the York City Archives as far back as 1503.[1][2] The inn claims to be the most haunted public house in the City of York." - Wikipedia

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
description
descriptiondescription
"Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is a public house in St Albans, Hertfordshire, which is one of several that lay claim to being the oldest in England." - Wikipedia

Cocks...heehee!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Target

Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson
Roaring Book Press
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Why had the men chosen him? What had they seen about him that said, I’m your target?

Savagely violated by two strangers, 16-year-old Grady West retreats into a deep silence. Everything about the life he knew fades away. He switches to a new school and stops calling his old friends. He can’t talk to his family. As fear and doubt and memories of his horrible experience take over his head, Grady can’t even eat. But there are those around him who can see beyond his silence and want to know who he really is. As Grady struggles to climb out of the pain and recover from his trauma, he begins to connect with people who show him that life is still worth living.


My Review



After attending a school concert, 16-year-old Grady West decides to walk home by himself and is brutally beaten and raped by two men. I wasn’t sure I was ready for another story about teenage suffering, but after Mike's recommendation I went to the library, dug in immediately and barely came up for air.

Grady’s story is harrowing. Before the attack, he hung out with his Group, the six friends he’d known since grade school. After the attack, he has abandoned his old friends and starts over at a new school. His memories continue to haunt him, he is barely able to speak, he has trouble eating, and he is plagued with self-doubt and confusion. Enter Jess, an outgoing African-American with dreadlocks whose relentless teasing finally elicits one-word responses and occasional half-smiles from Grady, and Pearl, a shy and slightly overweight girl who eventually succeeds in penetrating his shell.

The author very realistically explores the effects of rape on a troubled young man and sensitively portrays his confusion over his sexuality, his fear, despair, anxiety and pain. With the help of friends old and new, Grady has some hope.

I was very moved by this powerful and disturbing story.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

GERONIMO REX BY BARRY HANNAH

Geronimo RexGeronimo Rex by Barry Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***This is a mature review not for the kiddos.***

“I knew she was too much woman for me, for one thing, and for another, no man could look on her without becoming a slobbering kind of rutting boar; she did not enchant you: she put you in heat.”

Now, really, truth be known any woman is too much woman for Harry Monroe. He grew up in Dream of Pines, Louisiana and decided to go to school at Hedermansever College in Mississippi mainly because the acceptance letters from Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Juilliard, somehow, never arrived. Hedermansever is a school where 30% of the students are studying theology. By this time I know Harry well enough to know that this college may not be the best fit for him. Monroe tried his hand at a number of things including pre-med and pharmacology, but finally settled on English because it was about the only thing that got him stirred up enough to actually retain something about what he was learning.

He was reading ”doubtful Christians like Joyce Cary, Aldous Huxley, and William Faulkner. You couldn’t get Henry Miller in Mississippi then, with which one masturbates feeling like an intellectual snob.”

Monroe is fixated on Geronimo and convinces himself that he is a reincarnated, pale faced version of that Apache killer. He starts carrying a gun and wearing a reptilian, long coat. He meets Patsy or Patsy meets him. She is enamored with a version of himself that doesn’t exist. He doesn’t really like her all that much, but decides that given the current state of affairs she might actually be persuaded to sleep with him.

It does not go well.

Monroe has recently blossomed and when he looks in the mirror he sees the vestiges of the handsome man he will become. During the foreplay part Patsy just keeps calling him ugly, which shatters his fragile self-esteem, and then she sees his:

”My Lord, it looks like you’ve been wounded! Something they rammed through from behind….”

Okay, Barry Hannah you got me there. I laughed out loud. Poor, poor Monroe.

He has a roommate, not one he chose, not really one that anyone would choose. The self-proclaimed genius Bobby Dove Fleece who barely functions on a normal day and is generally down with some form of swamp flu or malaise from too much contact with the human race. He is not a stabilizing influence in Monroe’s life nor does he have much more luck with women.

”He disdained the female for the reason that none of the was a goddess with whom he could fall hopelessly in love. He jerked the tops of a few letters out of his satchel. ‘Oh Catherine, Catherine, you are my naked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Well do I gain again that day, noon, as the language of your body aroused you helplessly to climb upon the table from which I was eating, open your robe, and lie back supine, your thighs begging me to perpetuate the holiday of love with you…. Oh my lost sperm in you, oh happy, happy spewing away of ambition and power.’”

Oh, Bobby Dove, women just don’t deserve you...really they don’t.
Monroe plays the trumpet. Music, from what I read, is a theme in most of Hannah’s writing. He certainly shows reverence in this book when Monroe gets a chance with a makeshift band to play a tune in a “colored club”.

”Coming in tight, I hit the flatted seventh of what I meant to hit, way up there, and came back down in a baroque finesse such as I’d never heard from myself, jabbing, bright, playing the pants off Sweet Georgia, causing them to flutter in the beer and bacon smoke of the place. Silas began the dip-thrums and I unified with him while Joe locked the gates on the measures, back-busting that beautiful storm of hides and cymbals. Harry had found it and he began screaming with glee through that horn, every note the unlocked treasure of his soul--and things he had never had, yes, he hit an F above high C! What a bop the three of us were raising in there, what a debut, what a miracle. My horn pulsed fat and skinny. Oh, Harry was stinging them, but stinging them mellow. “

Now... that... is a writer that understand music on a whole new level. I can feel music like that, but I can’t write about music like that. As Bobby Dove says when Monroe pisses him off just go suck your trumpet Mr. Hannah.

This book is set in the 1960s in the South. Barry Hannah does not know a word that he is unafraid to use. He uses words long deemed unacceptable when addresses people of color. He uses them so much, that I thought I would eventually reach a saturation point where the words would no longer resonate with me, but they proved as squirm worthy at the end of the book as they do at the beginning of the book.

I hear teenage girls referring to each other, as terms of endearment, with words that I’d been taught a long time ago not to call a woman even if she did deserve it. I hear black men calling other black men names that would give them cause to beat me down, deservedly so, if I referred to them in such a manner. I guess my thought is that if I don’t want other people using certain language towards me then I should not use those words when referring to myself or my friends. Some words just need to be eradicated, like polio.

Monroe falls in love with this girl named Catherine. He knows so little about her that he can build these fabrications about her in his own mind that make her a woman of gossamer and stars. She is living with her Uncle, who is a white supremacist peripherally connected to the murder of Medgar Evars. That doesn’t bother Monroe as much as his paranoid belief that this Uncle has perverted designs on his own niece. This all culminates in a series of comical gun battles between her Uncle and the duo of Bobby Dove and Harry Monroe. They are a demented, inept version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

If you are having difficulties wooing a girl, shoot her uncle.

I don’t know how inebriated Hannah was while he was writing this novel, but parts of it read like a man pontificating about fantasy laden adventures with pieces of those stories floating in a lake of booze and connecting up randomly with other pieces of other stories. Images float out of the haze that left distinct impressions on me.

”She had a way of leaning on the door, a way of being small and brown with her jumbled black hair; her eyes were dull and smoky, and she sighed out the smell of a bruised flower.”

Or this tight, yet full fleshed, description of his neighbor.

”He was near eighty and looked like a dwarf who had started as normal but had been ridden into old age by some terrible concern astride his neck.”

I’ve never read Hannah’s short stories, but I hear that is where he really shines. This novel has some real humor, some moments of dark Southern traditional writing, some moments of beautiful clarity, but it is weighed down by too much muddy Mississippi water. Despite saying that there are scenes in this novel that I will never forget. He takes a few pot shots at William Faulkner and Henry James by complaining that those writers occasionally (well, ok, more than that) write sentences that require a reader to read them more than once to understand them. I forgive him because more than likely he was seeing double when he was trying to read those venerated writers anyway.

***3.5 stars out of 5***






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