Monday, May 02, 2016

April: 30 Days, 7 Books Part 1

If only it could be the other way around!
30 books in 7 days. Think of it.

April was a good reading month. Nice mix of fiction and nonfiction, page and audio. Two of my reads left me feeling sweetly twangy, pleasantly steeped in traditional country music.

 And!!! The nerdy Bonnethead part of me sparkled and shone like Ma's house after she and Pa took Mary off to college, leaving Laura, Carrie and Grace behind and they decided to do the fall housecleaning.

1. The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  (novel) The title object refers to a substantial nest egg left to four siblings who are slated to get the payout when the youngest hits her forties. Meanwhile, the oldest son, who is a career wastrel, has his biggest screw-up to date, and the children's (!) mother takes the money and uses it to smooth over the scandal. Someone (I wish I could remember who...someone at Book Riot, perhaps?) theorized that this novel, intentionally or not, is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Thanks a lot, Bookworm. Now I've got to read Bleak House. Meanwhile, I don't know if it is or not, but I don't care. The Nest is a smart novel, a briskly told story that touches on many aspects of modern life without making the common mistake of coming off like a checklist. I am already looking forward to Sweeney's next book and I'm sure there will be a movie version of The Nest.

2. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter - Kate Clifford Larson. (nonfiction) For years, the eldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy was carefully hidden from public view. As her brother JFK's political star rose, rumors abounded: She was a teacher in the Southwest. She was in a convent. Finally, the truth started to come out: Rosemary was mentally handicapped. Then, years after most of her family was dead, more horrors and skeletons emerged from the closet. From the moment Rosemary was born, the world was a hostile place. To placate a doctor's ego, her birth was delayed, resulting in a loss of oxygen which led to brain damage. To make matters worse, she was born to parents for whom image and success was everything. When her erratic behavior threatened that, Joe Kennedy...well, he was an evil bastard, and Rose not much better. The heroine in this story is Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Rosemary's younger sister and founder of Special Olympics. I audiobooked this one, and while it was well done, it was painfully sad to listen to.

3. Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty - Diane Keaton. (memoir) I've always liked Diane Keaton's work, so I was disappointed in this memoir, which reads like a scattered first draft. The parts in which she talked about Woody Allen made me uncomfortable. She is complimentary and loyal. I understand and appreciate that, but then again, Woody Allen. This was my least favorite read for April. The title says it all. I've heard that her earlier memoir was good, so I might try that one.

4. High Lonesome World: The Death and Life of a Country Singer - Babs H. Deal (novel)  My history with this novel goes back a few years. I remember seeing the paperback in our home. Someone gave it to my non-reading parents who further disdained it because "it wasn't real". I tried to read it, but I was still in elementary school and found the shifting viewpoints confusing. Somewhere in all our moves, that copy of High Lonesome World disappeared. I remembered it when the Hank Williams biopic came out, and tracked it down on Amazon.

 At the beginning of High Lonesome World, published in 1969, Wade Cooley, a wildly popular country music singer is found dead in the backseat of his baby blue Cadillac while he is being driven to a show he must perform at on New Years Day. If you're thinking Hank Williams, you're right.

 High Lonesome World takes place in the small (fictional) town of Bellefonte, Alabama over three days' time, as the citizens of that community wait for their hometown hero to be brought back on the midnight train and laid to rest. Wade's life and death is examined through the eyes of his manager, a close musician friend (inspired by Porter Wagoner, judging by description), the old man who taught Wade how to play the blues, and somehow knew he was dead before the news hit Bellefonte; Wade's ex-wife and his current wife, the current wife's angry father, a past lover, a musician in Wade's band, his mother, the undertaker, the publisher of the local newspaper, and an academic who is doing his thesis about Wade's music.

As pointed out above, all of this is a very thinly disguised account of Hank Williams' life and death, so it was interesting and even fun to tie the slight alterations to the real thing. In the acknowledgements, Deal makes a point of naming everyone that helped her, and that list reads like a Grand Old Opry cast list. She goes on to specially thank Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cannon. That went over my head for a moment, then my country music upbringing kicked in and I thought: Oh wow. (or words to that effect) That's Minnie Pearl! 

 The only aspect of the novel that got on my nerves was that the intellectual characters were a tad too pretentious and did some heavy-handed, ham-fisted philosophizing. (There is one exception: Deal does a sly send-up of the academic getting hooked on country music by repeatedly listening to Miller's Cave by Hank Snow and tying it to every literary and philosophical conceit under creation.) The characters with a 'simpler' view of life were much more moving and believable, not to mention palatable. I'm really pleased that I rediscovered this novel and hope that I have brought some small attention to it.

I was going to discuss the other three books I read in April, but this post is getting way too long, and I need space and time to burble enthusiastically about The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Strangers on a Train, and The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones.

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