UT | Member Since 2009
If books were free and there was no budget juggling necessary to pay for my addiction, I wouldn't care that a book was arbitrarily heralded and rolled out on a red carpet; I'd chalk a stinker up to an unlucky gamble--pick another from the book tree, and read on. Or, if *professional* critics reviewed books with no thought to marketing, I'd gladly accept my bad taste in literature and go on confidently to the beat of my own drum. Ah, if dishes were wishes... I wouldn't feel so hoodwinked (and light in the pockets); I wouldn't aim my discontent at those well-marketed wastes of trees. But gosh darn it I have spent a lot of $$ lately on books that are more wiener than winner. Therefore, I saw this author's own words, in the first chapter of this book, as encouragement: *once something has been said, it's impossible to ignore or forget what you heard* -- and I heard this book was supposed to be *genius*.
The Execution of blahblahblahblahton would be an outstanding paper for a literature class, or a passable rough framework for a novel, but served up as an amazing debut novel from a promising new author, one of June's top picks...it's a few trumpets short of a fanfare. I don't want to detract from the author's talent, or suggest its arrival should have been heralded by kazoos; she writes with intelligence, uses a considerable vocabulary well, and the book has a forceful pace that never drags. Some of the dialogue is very clever and provocative; she definitely has style, and deserves to be tagged as promising. I believe Elizabeth Silver will be an author to watch for, once she develops a little patina. The story itself is a flat plane, without dimension or plausibility; it suffers from an ambiguous theme and lack of direction or character development. Silver may have had a good premise, she just didn't flesh it out or give the reader the infrastructure for independent interpretation. It seemed inflexible and formulaic. Using the mother's letters to her dead daughter was expository dialogue that made the story feel even more contrived, and rigid. Instead of steering the reader to form those profound moral questions, she forces the reader instep and stuffs a pre-set opinion down the throat.
No reader agrees 100% all the time with all the critics; but lately I've been wondering if I'm speaking the same language as some of those paid to give their opinion. You may find this book very good--I'd agree with that assessment, but genius, mesmerizing, gripping, outstanding, consuming, unforgettable? That's why I ignored the 24 hr. rule and wrote this review immediately...ask me tomorrow and I won't remember this one, but I will remember Elizabeth Silver.
For me, one of the joys of a sequel, especially when it has been announced that there will be at least one other to follow, is the comfort I develop with the characters as they bloom. From their humble beginnings in Cuckoo's Calling, Cormoran Strike and his Watson-esque side-kick Robin Ellacot felt like people I wanted to spend more time with. Knowing Robert Galbraith's talent for character development (consistently captivating us through 7 volumes penned under Galbraith's nom de plume of J.K. Rowling), continuing on from Cuckoo was a given which paid off. The duo is back on the case looking for novelist Owen Quine who has gone missing since writing a scathing quasi-fictional manuscript that paints his associates in the publishing world in the darkest tones possible. When his body is found, elaborately murdered in a ritualistic play that mirrors Quine's manuscript, his colleagues are all suspect.
Here Galbraith shows her/his wonderfully inventive mind creating the eccentric characters and names as colorful as the residents that populated the Potter series. She also pokes some good-spirited fun at the publishing world that she reigned over in her rise to a billion dollar author. Even as *Galbraith* JK's talent is distinct, and a pleasure to read. It flows effortlessly, carrying the reader along through a world Rowling always seem to thoroughly inhabit in all of her writings and incarnations. This style is her strength. The plot of Silkworm is interesting and holds your attention, but it is theatrical more than plausible, with a bit of over achieving on the part of the murderer. Still, it makes for fun reading, as good as any in this genre.
I'd not heard of Smith Henderson. He has won both the Pushcart Prize and a PEN Emerging Writers Award in 2011; he also wrote the Emmy-nominated Super Bowl commercial “Halftime in America” which featured Clint Eastwood. The buzz in such circles that follow these kind of *accomplishments* has his name and the *Great American Novel* in the same orbit. Oblivious to Henderson prior to Audible's *Best of the Month* book list, I found myself, throughout this one, asking, "Can this truly be a debut novel?"
It is no coincidence that Henderson dips his toe into the book writing business with the aptly named Fourth of July Creek. His depiction of 1980's America is heartbreaking and beautiful -- the kind of story flowing with the flotsam and jetsam down-and-outters that would have inspired a Woody Guthrie song. Like watching the ripples radiate from a rock thrown into Henderson's creek, the story grows and encompasses different themes and struggles until it slams onto the landscape of 'this land made for you and me' of today.
The ghosts of Tom Joad inhabit the pages. Henderson's wretched refuse battle their own demons: poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, neglect, and mental illness, Hope driving them on as they struggle for different kinds of freedom. The people seem scraped from our underbelly. Even the DCFS case worker, Pete Snow, is a divorced alcoholic -- dispersing disposable diapers from the trunk of his car to homeless mothers, hiking into the mountains to aid the son of a Old Testament quoting survivalist. His own teen daughter has run away, disappearing into the seedy Seattle life of prostitution and drug addiction. He admits to his ex-wife, "I take kids away from people like us." (An insider's joke in psychology has always been: the odd treating the id.)
How is it that we go on reading when an author makes us ache to our bones? When we can see the projection of an inevitable disaster, the futility of any effort, the cruelty of hope? Because Henderson's language is like a healing balm. It is elegant and rings with bare truth. He glides effortlessly from despair and ugliness to the beautiful realism redolent of Woodrell's *hillbilly noir* novel Winter's Bone, and the zen-like beauty of Heller's Dog Stars. It is restorative, redemptive. How can this be a debut novel?
I'll admit 5 stars is generous. It takes a commitment to get going, and it is a gritty tough novel -- but it is worth it. Novels that still vibrate in you long after you finish them, or when you hear the title mentioned, are rare. This one is like a Steinbeck and McCarthy novel taped together, with a Guthrie and Springsteen soundtrack running through the pages.
**I will caution readers: the female characters here range from meth-head child abusers to full blown mental cases that murder their whole families, with nothing in between but prostitutes and hard-boiled backwoods ignoramuses. If you are looking for the positive female pillar of righteousness...wrong book.
Finally, I was curious about Guthrie's patriotic anthem "This Land Was Made For You and Me". Inspired to read the lyrics, I found the Dustbowl Balladeer's original verses -- which aren't contained in the song we learned back in elementary school:
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city,
In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
After using every tactic in our arsenal to solve the problem of 6 piles of dog excrement that dotted our front lawn like landmines and greeted us each morning when we opened the front door, I purchased this book. When I say every tactic, I mean from calling the city, animal control, stuffing mailboxes with fliers quoting the city ordinances regarding responsible pet ownership, posting a sign in the middle of our yard (with attached plastic bags) imploring neighbors *PLEASE clean up after your dog!* (or horse?), and even doing night recon with our old lame bulldog, an airsoft gun and a spotlight. By the time I had to resort to a ludicrous, tacky, ridiculous, sign pleading with people to pick up their pet's poop from our manicured lawn, we had already had the F-bomb blitzkrieg behind closed doors, and were at the point of standing in our flower beds screaming like crazy people at any one that even walked by our house, including children on tricycles. Having to clean up after a pack of assorted sized dogs with assorted diets every effing morning, will do that to you -- even you gentle folk that think the F-bomb is the ultimate no-no spewed only from those with mouths like a sewer pipe. Did I get an answer? Yes and no; but I definitely laughed and lowered my blood pressure.
Alkon, who writes a syndicated advice column, actually offers some really good advice dealing with the tangles we get into living and working with those people that don't give a F*CK -- the ones that really need this book. The problems she tackles head-on include those not even on the horizon until the advent of electronics and social media, including how to re-act when you receive a text accompanied by a picture of an acquaintance's "zipperwurst". She is hilarious, clever, considerate, and grounded; but mostly she is blunt and fearless, empowering the reader to throw their shoulders back and take some power when dealing with any form of boorish, rude, impolite, inconsiderate, discourteous, insolent, people you still have to see every day. And sometimes she gives examples where the offender actually takes responsibility and ends up apologizing!
Like she says, you can be aggressive without being hostile. But it is a fine art facing an offender of civility if you don't have any desire to surround your property with an electrical razor wire fence, find a new job, or change churches after flipping the middle finger to a driver that cuts you off and realizing it was your Pastor. I don't want to stand out in my yard giving passer-by's the stink-eye, or hurling words my grandmother said, "only make you look unintelligent;" but neither do I want to keep a garbage can full of stinky dog poop in my garage until garbage day. I'm not holding my breath until I hear... "we're so sorry our Great Dane has been using your lawn as his toilet!" But, I do feel fortified with the might of right, the responsibility to live with civility and dignity, and the duty to enforce, with kindness, good manners. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Alkon tells you how to begin that quest...and does it with terrific style and humor.
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” Stephen King
The SK Phenomenon...I love to read the reviews of ardent fans that jump in there immediately for King, almost hear the excitement in their words -- so I always hold off and just enjoy the opinions a few days before I put in my 2 cents (?the cents key?!). You'll find a review here to fit your own feelings for Mr. Mercedes. With an author like King, doesn't it come down to we "like him dammit! we really like him!" Most people even enjoy the King books they didn't particularly like. He releases a book and there is a communal feeling amongst readers of all genres, almost holiday-like. Even my sister, the PhD librarian, gets excited and comes down from her snooty literary stratosphere to read (and enjoy) Stephen King.
Mr. Mercedes is a section of newly paved road on King's journey into the realm of crime thrillers. One that proves his belief that monsters are real, and goes on to tell how those seeds are planted and nurtured into monstrously tortured and demented souls. Brady Hartsfield is that monster in full bloom, manipulated by a mother that is akin to a demented bonsai artist, twisting and clipping a little boy until he grows into the dark expression of her own evilness, who reasons he has a license to kill.
King captures and animates our Americana culture into a horribly fun mise en scène: gated mansions, bustling neighborhoods packed with kids running after ice cream trucks; codger-esque neighbors that think aliens walk amongst us and bake nasty ingredients in cookies just for sh__s and giggles; rich eccentric ladies with perfectly observed mannerisms; and behind lowered blinds, a lonely divorcée and retired detective ("ret det"), Bill Hodges, mourning his days of purpose, with a pistol in one hand and pop tart in the other. You can picture it -- like a Norman Rockwell painting/nightmare from the rich imagery King lays down. But before you can imagine chirping birds and dogs barking (or at least one dog that narrowly escapes a dish of special Hamburger Helper), the ice cream turns to you-know-what. King pits the young killer against Det. Hodges and another young teen on-the-verge-of-manhood. The detective recruits his Harvard-bound lawn boy ("don't call him boy") to help track down L'enfant terrible Mercedes. It's younger generation against younger generation with a veteran at the wheel.
Some of the biggest squirm-inducing moments come not from the heinous acts themselves (from baby slaughter to incest), but from the ease with which King makes you a voyeur...that smiley face / "ew gross" look that this author extorts out of his readers; he makes us all mutineers to ourselves. Plot-shmot...this is just top tier fun.
"There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad..."
A 3* novel that entertains like a 5*novel.
Bird Box captures Audrey Hepburn's helpless groping in Wait Until Dark, the gripping uncertainty of Algernon Blackwood's, The Willows, and the gruesome self-mutilation of M. Night Shyamalan's, The Happening; three stories with the shared conceit of the fear from what we can not see. Remember being blindfolded and led through a haunted house -- a bowl of peeled grapes becomes eyeballs, dried apricots are withered ears, and a tub of cold spaghetti in oil passes for guts? The limited senses, the power of suggestion, and Fear, itself at work.
Malerman uses the ancient fight-or-flight response as a tool as much as he does the language, creating a novel that might challenge those two instincts that are the embodiment of fear. With no visual accounts, other than a few before the you-don't-know-what hits the fans and a few seconds of blind folds off in the house, the book is lights-out experiential, dependent on the narrator, Malorie. She tell us what is happening without the What, Why, Where, or How details and processing -- kind of gut reaction narration .There is also little revealed about the characters Malorie lives with for 4 years, so we don't get much about the Who's either. But Malerman keeps the tension relentlessly taut and in the moment, necessitating the remaining senses that feed your *mind's eye* operate in hyper mode.
In 1938, Orson Welles gave one of the best demonstrations of this whole conceit when on the eve of Halloween he presented, via Mercury Theater on the Air, a radio drama, The War of the Worlds. The resulting mass hysteria sent hundreds of national guardsmen reporting for duty at local armories, and possibly as many as a million people fleeing into the night, believing that invaders from Mars had laid waste to New Jersey and were headed west. While this is a great pulse-raising gimmick for a short story, the sensory deprivation of this delivery become evident in the hours it takes for a novel to play out. We never know the origin of the entity, there are no witnesses, there is never a description of a malevolent creature; we can't even build an entity (it's a little like getting hit in the head in the dark). If an author is going to rely on me and my imagination to fill in the big blanks, he also has to work with me and my ruminations -- and mine were thinking increasingly outside Malerman's claustrophobic little box until it burst open. His story trickled down to -- it can't hurt you if you can't see it -- and that kind of squashed the drama. But, just in time, the story comes to an abrupt end, blindfolds off, pulse normalized, imaginations on cruise.
I have to give this a high recommendation. It's Twilight Zone, Outer Limits fun; if that's your genre, don't miss this. Whether you come away with praise or disappointment, you are almost certain to enjoy getting there. Bird Box is a "you just have to be there" kind of read, and it is especially effective listening to the story. (The narration is good, nothing stands out as annoying or noteworthy.) One of those that will keep you ear-bud bound from start to finish.
Peter Heller refined his craft as a longtime contributor to NPR, and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. Recalling his adventures from the waters of Eastern Tibet’s Tsangpo River, the guarded dolphin-killing cove in Taiji, to Catching the Perfect Wave in Mexico, Heller wrote about his extreme expedition-like adventures. In 2012, he distinguished himself as a writer that was also an artist when he took readers with him on an adventure into the post-apocalyptic world of The Dog Stars; a violent world of devastating loneliness and danger. With a style that was at times achingly beautiful, Heller created hope from the desolation, gave a pine-bore elegance, and a lumbering old dog dignity. It was magical and distinctive, and readers all noted Heller's style.
From the first paragraph of The Painter, (a great opening sentence: “I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.”) I knew this was the magnificence of Peter Heller. The abbreviated snub-nosed blocks of interior monologue stacked between lyrical runs of poetic prose; the writing is again, ruminative and seductive, nearly an organic spiritual experience similar to that of being away from everything but yourself and nature. Heller is also a poet, and this almost reads like a painting of words you could just get lost in, but there is an intense, wild old west flavored story, and a life and death chase that crosses the Rocky Mountains.
Another zen-fly fisherman...Jim Stegner is a bad-boy impressionist artist that finds fame and fortune in the Southwestern art culture. He is a recovering alcoholic, compulsive gambler, and a womanizer, with a hair-trigger temper and poor life management skills. If *Stegner* screams out at you, Heller intentionally gave the character the name, as an homage to favorite authors, which include Hemingway, Conrad, and McCarthy. Though the authors don't appear in the story, their specters are everywhere, influencing the themes and plots.
Heller begins the story at a point where Jim has fled Taos and located himself in a small Colorado town with plenty of scenery, and rivers for trout fishing. As Jim reflects on the violence and grief that has brought him to this new place, we learn that Jim served a prison sentence for shooting a man in a bar -- the man escaped being convicted of raping a young girl and was talking about Jim's own daughter -- so, yeah...it was wrong, but Jim feels he was doing the town a favor. We also learn that Jim's 15 yr. old daughter was killed in a knife fight over drugs, and he feels he failed her by not being there when she needed him. His wife leaves him, a string of violent outbursts plague him, and his grief becomes overwhelming, sending this "smoldering volcano" off to Colorado where he tries to escape into his painting and drown in his fly-fishing. Trouble quickly finds Jim in Colorado. En route to the river, he comes across a gruff man, Dellwood Siminoe, beating a terrified horse and jumps in to defend the horse. Dellwood is a ruthless lump of a man involved in several illegal rackets, and the two cross paths again. This time Dellwood is killed and the local lawmen suspect Jim -- so does Dellwood's equally ruthless brother Grant and his buddy Jason who swear revenge for the deadman. In the following chase, the landscape becomes a vivid character, the descriptions as visual as a painted canvas:
"The creek was low, showing its bones, the fallen spruce propped high on the rocks like a wreck, the little rapids now shallow, the pools cold again and slate blue. The wooded canyon had gone to deep shadow but the pink rimrock high up was brilliant with long evening light and the sky was that hard enamel blue. When a gust blew downstream the willows along the gravel bars loosed their pale yellow leaves to the stones and the water.
I don't think it was perfect. I had a hard time getting into the book -- when Jim is seeking comfort in a model's "grapefruit sized" bosoms, and painting himself "Drowning in a Sea of Women" Jim seemed more on par with Dellwood. (Heller's depiction of the romantic relationship in Dog Stars was a similar speed bump for me -- his descriptions of romance seem awkward.) And, a vigilante murderer is still a murderer...which is exactly how Heller wanted me to perceive Jim. The strong sense of emotions that propel Jim recklessly through his guilt-ridden life are in balance with the depth of his vulnerability. The thought that his self-induced suffering is more punishing than if he were caught and incarcerated is always on your mind, feeding your compassion for Jim. .
At the heart of the novel is a haunted man and his earnest desire for absolution, redemption, and purpose. Through story and the symbols incorporated in the paintings, (the omnipresent black crows that symbolize death) Heller makes the invisible visible, opens the soul of this tormented man to the reader, and gives us a likeable anti-hero we come to know and cheer for. This is a book you could dwell in, stroll through and find something different each time.
I'm going to start with a quasi-contradiction to my rating -- because somewhere in that blurriness between fact and fiction, history and mythology, I learned to love a good story. The fuzzy area gives *possibility* the power to challenge *probability* -- it gives storytellers license to go for it and tell readers to hang on and enjoy a fantastical ride. Harper inhabits that gray area with verve, combining history, philosophy, mythology, mysticism, archeology into a dual-timeline thriller. So, contrary to my 2* rating, I say if you like the premise, go for it and enjoy the ride. The mythology Harper has built his story on has stood the test of time; it's entertaining with a dose of a contemporary mystery thrown in, and this audio version is well produced. I'd also warn you to prepare for a shift. Listening got more tedious as I went on, and I have to blame that on Harper's literal descent.
Orpheus was a musician that had the "ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music." [Wikipedia ..."To be a rock and not to roll"...Led Zeppelin] "No one under the spell of his voice could refuse him anything." When he dared to attempt to bring his wife Eurydice back from the realm of the underworld, he strummed his golden lyre and it was said all the inhabitants of Hell were charmed. And as the legend goes, he alone made it out. Throughout the story, the ancient philosopher Plato is on the heels of friend Agathon, who has disappeared while on a journey for a mysterious *book*. We learn the book is actually a golden tablet said to contain sacred information about the meaning of life and the afterlife: *the ultimate knowledge of the universe,* and the *keys to Hell.* Plato tells the reader this part of the tale in a distant echo-y quality (perhaps to simulate the sound of speaking from a cave; as in Plato's Allegory of the Cave).
Interspersed with Plato's chapters is the contemporary storyline of Jonah and Lily. Jonah is just returning from a semi-successful world tour with his disintegrating rock band when he learns that his wife Lily has disappeared from a mysteriously funded archeological dig to unearth a legendary golden tablet. The tablet is surrounded in myth, linked to several similar golden tablets already in museums around the world, each providing parts of the *ultimate knowledge* that so changed Plato's teachings. This one may hold keys to immortality, and Lily's whereabouts.
Like Eurydice and Orpheus, Jonah and Lily were young and in love. "So deep was their love that they were practically inseparable. So dependent was their love that each felt they could not live without the other." His family and friends tell Jonah Lily has left the marriage, but his heart tells him she loves him, and that there is trouble afoot. Indeed, we learn, there is trouble, cabals, and even a sorceress conspiring against the couple. Friends can't be trusted, neither can his own sense of reality.
It's commendable that Harper keeps the integrity of the classical Greek mythology in his ambitious plotting. By constructing parallel, yet independent stories, that seem to be racing neck and neck toward similar thematic conclusions, he has written a book that holds your attention...for the most part. From an engaging and promising beginning, Harper seems to lurch ahead, losing finesse and sophistication. It is almost as if there was a change of authors. The form slackens, mysteries unravel, and suddenly it feels like a shift into one of Percy Jackson's Olympian adventures. In between the two storylines appears a threatening middle specter...the harbinger of anticlimax (that may be in part due to the foreknowledge of the story of Orpheus). And if that isn't enough of a buzz kill, you face the challenges of melding the authors grand concepts with your own comprehension, and hanging in there with a read that seems to have been hijacked for a YA audience -- which wasn't what I was looking for, as much as I enjoyed all of Percy's exploits.
****?Are all Audible productions of this book created equally? If they are, and you listen to the same recording I did, you are going into this novel without some fascinating information --Ripley Believe It or Not, Guinness Book of World Record fascinating -- provided by the author in a letter to the reader/listener at the beginning of the book. Francine Prose writes about an actual black and white photo she saw at an exhibition that served as the inspiration for this novel: "Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932" by famous Hungarian photographer Brassaï, taken at club Le Monocle in Montmartre, Paris. The provocative photo shows a pair of female lovers sharing a table, one dressed as a male in a tuxedo. Captivated by the image (*which you can Google easily) Prose began researching the photo, finding out about the subjects, the Le Monocle, the patrons, and the period of frivolity that seemed to be driven to excesses by the darkening threat of WW II. The provenance of the photo alone is riveting, but for a author with a such creative mind, the eyes looking out from that B&W must have demanded more from her.
The cross-dresser in Brassaï's photo is the infamous Violette Morris; a French athlete that excelled in all athletic events from boxing to track and field. When she began competing in motorcycle and sports car races she had a double mastectomy to make it easier for her to slide behind the steering wheel. Some of her records still stand and were earned competing against men as well as women, even in heavy-weight boxing (Violette was a 5'5" and 150 lbs. wolverine). She was the only female to ever make the all-male French National Water Polo Team. Eventually, Violette was banned from competing in any athletics, (because of her cross-dressing and lesbianism) including the 1928 Olympics, which she dreamed of and worked for. She became a mechanic, then drove an ambulance on the front lines for her country. Her lustrous career waned, then darkened completely when she was recruited by a Nazi spy, and invited personally by Hitler to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (where she won 2 gold, 1 silver, medals). In an act most likely of revenge, Violette quickly moved through the ranks to become one of Hitler's most notorious operatives, known as "The Hyena of the Gestapo" for her ability to uncover those involved in the Resistance, and her enthusiastic torture of her former countrymen. She was ambushed while on a drive in one of her sports cars, the car completely riddled with machine gun fire, the British and French Resistance the suspected executioners. Her body was never claimed; she was buried in a common grave. **** whew! now on to my review...
* * * * *
Prose has combined the intriguing history with an original concept, reconstructing it into a seductive fictional story written with force and beauty. Without compromising the integrity of the facts or moralizing, she creates a mystery that is just as much a parable, with profound moral questions that are never far from the surface. As a reader you are transported to the exotic left bank of the Seine, and through the streets that Henry Miller described as "capable of transforming the negativity of reality of life into the substantial and significant outlines of art," "surrounded by the men and women of Matisse." A secret password, 'Police! Open up!' throws open the doors to the fictional Chameleon Club and the patrons seeking refuge from society's imposed gender barriers. Alive with flamboyant color, the club is a decadent haven for *glorious peacocks,* women dressed like men, 'bankers and diplomats whose wives might not know they like to go out and dance in heels,' (and where perhaps Josephine Baker's infamous diamond-collared cheetah may have terrorized the orchestra). Ensconced into a leather booth, tucked against a sleek modern beauty, sits the tuxedo-clad Louisianne *Lou* Villars (Violette Morris).
Prose's characters are alive and vibrant, which they actual were in their historical incarnation, and as a skilled author, she inhabits them completely without overlapping any personal nuances. The owner of the Chameleon Club is an Hungarian blonde beauty, always dressed in red, known as Yvonne. A throaty voiced chanteuse with a penchant for sailors, and a large pet chameleon named Louis, that lives in a terrarium in her room -- she is the master of ceremonies to the menagerie of colorful characters that gather at her club and lend their voices to the alternating narratives: the Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyl (Brassaï); his American friend/writer/womanizer Lionel Maine (Henry Miller); the wealthy patron of the artists, a French Baroness by-way-of-Hollywood, Baroness Lily de Rossignol; her husband Baron Rossignol, owner of the Rossignol automobile dynasty, a gay man that prefers Swedish boys to his lovely wife; and an assorted artistically advantaged ensemble not seen since Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Looking back at the events from current time, and writing the biography of Lou Villars, is Nathalie Dunois, a neutrotic distant relative of photograper Gabor's wife. From their letters and narratives the reader must solve the mystery of Lou's evolution. Each has their own experience of Lou, their own perspective. With differing versions, the reader is faced with deciding whether any of these inherently limited truths account for a totality of truth about Lou and her transformation from Catholic schoolgirl to Hitler's favorite Gestapo operative.
I was conflicted about a rating. Prose is definitely one of the finest contemporary writers I've read, but the introduction of these characters is detailed, a long demanding portion of the book (almost half). The intoxication of 30's Paris, the pandemonium in the club, the luminous characters and their complex stories, all make for some tricky footwork just to keep pace. This is not text you just ingest -- you have to chew on it, digest it. You don't just easily slide in and ride along. So I battled with that 5* rating...then looked back at the Nabokov quote the author uses as her lead-in to this novel...
❝Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between.❞ [That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature." from Nabokov's Lectures on Literature.] He continues ..."a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle..."
You could say that 5th star was a victim of the telltale tingle. Lover's at the Chameleon Club is a book of tingly genius; just imagining Montparnasse during the early twentieth century -- this crossroads of artistic revolution, with Stravinsky, Copland, Picasso, Duchamp, Chagall, Diaghilev, Hemingway -- French intellectuals Proust, Sartre...I was already primed with a tingle. Absolutely, Prose created a prismatic and hypnotic novel, but a grand portion of that colorful magic was provided by history, and a black and white photo...and that is where I place my fifth star. Beyond the story, or within the story, I felt Prose incorporated a parable that provides some eternal wisdom: the parable implies that even though one's subjective experiences can be true, theirs doesn't account for other truths, or the totality of truth. There is some relativism to truths, or 'an inexpressible nature of truth,' a deficit that requires communicate and respect for different perspectives. History (and sometimes fiction) is a great teacher, and Lovers at the Chameleon Club a great book.
Highly recommend with the suggestions to persevere, and to look up Violette Morris (if you have any time left after this reading this looong review.) I appreciate your time and hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.
To the point: I don't dislike Keaton, I'm just not a fan -- I'm indifferent about Keaton. I didn't think Annie Hall was absolutely adorkable, and I didn't care for the much emulated fashion either. When friends started wearing gloves and turtlenecks in warm weather, I sincerely wondered if they had psoriasis, until another friend clued me in that it was a "Diane Keaton thing."
Every time I have seen Keaton interviewed, she seems to be an older extension of the Annie Hall character, still uncomfortable, self conscious, and awkward, now because she is aware that she is an older woman in an industry that devours anything female beyond 30. She comes on stage, is lovable and a little off-center, with that characteristic la-di-da body language. But looking beyond those high collars and bowler hats, and listening to what she has to say, is a study of intelligent contradiction. The actress is hardly a one dimensional goof-ball. She is observant, confident, self aware, and unapologetic about being passed middle-age in an unforgiving profession. Those un-botoxed eyes seem to look into the camera and declare, "Here I am, and I am beautiful, crow's feet and all!" It was this appreciation, and understanding of the value of earned beauty that drew me to this book.
Listening was like thumbing through Diane's journals. Each entry is its own story or experience, independent from the previous or the following. At times, it might seem a little disjointed, or extraneous, not unlike a meandering conversation between two people. She recalls memories, moments of gratitude, an epiphany here, a regret once in a while, lyrics that elicited vivid reactions (from The Shadow of Your Smile to Blurred Lines), old neighbors or friends. Many of her vignettes are shared moments between her and her two children. The most significant pieces deal with a young girl becoming a woman and trying to define herself through beauty product advertisements and *suggestions* about 'what to do with that bulbous nose' from film casting agents, or makeup artists, in a culture that valued beauty above all else. Fans expecting Keaton to dish on some of Hollywood's most beautiful leading men, or reveal any tongue wagging fodder will be disappointed. Those that admire her originality and conviction will enjoy sharing these little personal treasures from a woman that has gracefully endured in an industry that thinks 30 is old, age spots are unforgivable, and a sagging keester is the cold kiss of death.
Bottom line: It was OK, short, at times poetic and insightful, and it's always nice to read something that stays positive. But, if I had it to do over, I'd just sit down and re-watch Something's Gotta Give.
I've not read any of O'Reilly's previous books. They seem to be consistently well received and I've been curious, but I didn't know exactly what to expect ... how much of the book would be about the subject, and how much of it about the author. Any concerns I had about the author possibly challenging history and presenting a strongly biased personal point of view were unwarranted. At just 4 hours, the story moves along at a good pace, in line with the known history, and holds your interest. And therein lies it strength...and its weakness. O'Reilly doesn't present us with anything we didn't already know.
Dealing with history, there are the facts, then there is everything else: conjecture, speculation, the mythos, and legend. How does O'Reilly know that John the Baptist felt no pain when he was beheaded? I suppose the author's speculation is forgivable, and embellishing the history with those tiny bits of fiction keep the story immediate and relatable. He gives a good overall view of the political pulse as the events proceed from Jesus' birth up to his crucifixion. Having the story told in that context affords the listener an interesting view of the history. I can't compare this to his other books; I thought this was well written, interesting, and a worthy presentation of the history...with a well-timed publication date. I've read more in-depth books about the life and death of Jesus, more academic, and may have been expecting a little more from O'Reilly only because I was unfamiliar with his writing. A good recap of the hx; I won't have any qualms reading more (apolitical) from this author.
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