Saturday, October 10, 2015

Books In My Rearview Mirror

I've been reading and not reporting, and the stack in my rearview mirror keeps growing taller. This is what I read September 19 - October 10:

1. Rage - Richard Bachman/Stephen King.  (Novel) Now I understand why Uncle Stevie didn't want this short novel to be re-published. In spite of the plot and and some of the creaky contrivances, I enjoyed it and was reminded a bit of Shirley Jackson.

2. Snow Angels - Stewart O'Nan. (Novel)  My Stewart O'Nan crush continues unabated. Snow Angels takes place in the early 1970s. It tells the stories of a young teenage boy whose parents are splitting up and the boy's former babysitter, who perceives her life as unsatisfactory, then is carried along helplessly as it gets worse. The two stories are parallel with occasional and significant overlap. Heartbreaking. Depressing. Beautiful writing.

3. A Prayer for the Dying - Stewart O'Nan. (Novel) Do you like westerns and horror?  An unreliable narrator? Looking for an October-ish read? This novel is for you! Set a few years after the American Civil War, a young veteran who is the constable, undertaker and the preacher for his small Wisconsin hometown must deal with a diphtheria outbreak and spreading wildfires all at once. As the situation worsens, gruesome reality is turned over on its side, wheels spinning in the air. Since the story is told in second person, the reader cannot look away any more than the narrator. What a wild, nightmarish ride. I've got to read this one again!

4. The Three Sisters - May Sinclair. (Novel)  Three sisters out on the moors with their stern clergyman father.  The Brontes, right? Wrong! Except for an occasional letter, none of the sisters -- Mary, Gwenda, or Alice writes in this 1914 psychological novel, which reads a little awkwardly to modern readers. A young doctor comes to their Yorkshire village and each sister in her own way contrives how she will capture his heart. The father doesn't want them to marry because his wife has left him to live in London, and if daddy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. At times, the action feels a little stagey, but the writing is good and bravo! to May Sinclair for taking on the subject of unwed motherhood and double standards Way Back Then. Speaking of WBT, one convention I am glad to see gone from literature is faithfully rendered dialect. Sinclair goes at it for pages on end, making the dialogue almost unreadable.  A minor quibble, though. I recommend this novel because of the delectable whiffs of Hardy, Eliot and Lawrence.

5. Man in the Woods - Scott Spencer. (Novel) What a great surprise! I found this book at last week's library book sale, and casually glanced at the first page. I couldn't put it down. Set in the months leading up to Y2K, Paul Phillips, a carpenter and designer for the wealthy who have invaded his rustic New York suburb comes across a man abusing a dog. When the man won't stop, Paul takes matters into his own hands. Grappling with his conscience, he shares his secret with his girlfriend, Kate, an author of pop-religious essays (think Anne Lamott).  Their previously perfect world is shaken, and as part of the background noise, there's the furor and worry about how life will change when the calendar changes. Spencer's writing is so gorgeous. Highly recommended.

6. Wonder Girl - Don Van Natta, Jr. (Biography) Ever since I saw the 1970s TV movie about Babe Didrickson Zaharias starring Susan Clark and Alex Karras, I have been interested in reading a biography about her. Wonder Girl does not disappoint. Lively and muscular prose to match its subject. Van Natta doesn't shy away from Babe's flaws, which makes his book even more intriguing. She was a superb athlete, but she was also an annoying braggart who tirelessly promoted herself. When she married wrestler George Zaharias, he became her promoter and all that doubled. Still, she was amazing and could always back up her bragging. Perhaps Babe's greatest legacy is that she was outspoken about having cancer in a time when the subject was considered unmentionable. She was also the one who attached the warrior and sports metaphors to the treatment of the disease i.e., fighting cancer, beating cancer, cancer is a foe, etc. I came away from Wonder Girl with renewed admiration for Babe and a desire to visit her museum in Beaumont, Texas. I also want to watch the  1952 Katharine Hepburn - Spencer Tracy movie Pat and Mike, which is loosely based on Babe and George's marriage and in which Babe has a cameo as herself, playing golf against Hepburn's character.

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