writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :KAM’s Bookshelf:

Review: Robert Stone’s “Dog Soldiers”

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

The dark underbelly of the counterculture, where weak saps go to Nam to make money as writers, smuggle three “kays” of “skag” (aka 3kg of heroine) back to the States to make money, and end up – shock horror – embedded in a web of crooked cops, weapons caches double-dealing, soulless hippies taking more synthetic drugs than there are stars in the night sky, perverted spiritual masters, Mexican wetbacks, and hired killers who are, to top it off, gay (which is clearly worse than being assassins). Etc. An entirely average novel, with no merits as writing or thriller. I can only assume it made KAM’s list because it told Americans in the early 1970s who they really were, man. Now, it can be utterly forgotten.

Where it came from: KAM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few evening armchair reads and a morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Zeitgeist should just stick to its damned moment
Who I’d recommend it to:
I wouldn’t
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust; 142 Strand by Rosemary Ashton


Review: James Agee’s “A Death in the Family”

james agee death in the familyThe publication and prize history of this book is a little dubious – according to the assorted prologues, Mr Agee was a revered writer who died successful and relatively young with an unfinished novel on his hands. His friends and editors took the manuscript in hand, “exactly as he left it”, but also confessing they placed certain mystery sections of text as they saw fit; i.e. who knows what Agee meant to do with his own novel? However, between his manuscript, the editors’ loving care, and – one suspects – his fame and early demise, this publication won itself the 1958 Pulitzer. Well done, team.

For it is a good novel, consummately devised and framed, relating the days surrounding the death of one of the thinly veiled Holy Family (I’ll do you the courtesy to not report who died). Parents Jay and Mary, their small children Rufus and Catherine, and assorted brothers, aunts, etc. are all given perceptive narrative streams to flesh out this family’s response to the death. Good book. Recommended.

Where it came from: KAM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of the well-crafted and insightful
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road”

A tightly written catalogue of disappointment and soul-hollowing accommodations to modern (1950s) life. Frank and April Wheeler consider themselves the beautiful, intellectual, up-and-comers of their Connecticut suburb, but 1955 saw the disintegration of their sprawling complacency and empty marriage. “Fine” writing, as they burble in the intro, and a perceptive dissection of pre-60s zeitgeist and its representative characters, but I had thought it would pack more of a contemporary punch. Good enough, though.

Where it came from: KAM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Parenthetic wedding reads and a train finale, somewhat bleakly and moderately absorbed
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: The terrible honesty required to live well, and the importance of safe, legal abortions
Who I’d recommend it to: It’s well-written enough, but it’s so relentlessly, commonplace-ly dark I’m not sure who would actively *want* to read it – perhaps masochists who’d hope to feel superior because their lives are, of course, better and richer than the Wheelers’.
Also reading: Rabbit #5

Review: Voltaire’s “Candide”

A worthy classic from 1759, my hearties. Naïve (not to say gormless) Candide loves the beautiful and improbably named Cunegonde, but her family does not love him. He is cast from the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronkh’s castle in Westphalia into a life involving Bulgarian military service, torture in an auto-da-fé in Lisbon, flight (by ship) to Buenos Ayres, three murders, treks through the Paraguayan jungle to find El Dorado, being fleeced of his red “sheep” (llamas?) and their rich burdens in Surinam, literary vampirism in Paris, association with royalty in Venice, and buying a farm outside of Constantinople to live with those he loves and no longer loves, all while contemplating the Great Question: do we live in the best of all possible worlds? As KAM said, this a tiny novel (87pp) where every action-packed chapter could be a novel in itself, and thank goodness Cervantes didn’t have a go at it. An enjoyable read, I especially liked the Latin American sections, and I can but agree with the dictum that we should focus on cultivating our gardens.

Where it came from: KAM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: A few reads during the day, with interest
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: A general recommendation should do
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Evelyn Waugh’s “A Handful of Dust”

Another one on KM’s list, and it was a good’un. It starts off as a pretty good comedy-of-manners type book – “oh look, aren’t the upper classes rippingly self-important and funny!”. Lady Brenda Last has an affair with gormless John Beaver, abandons her manor-devoted husband Tony for him, and behold, the world falls apart in nasty ways. But wow, it went so far beyond intramarital spats and invitation sponging, and ended in particularly dark place (continental pun not intended). Extreme and unexpected. Made it a much better novel. Good read.

Where it came from: KM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Devotedly during a 12 hour road trip
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: The novel I can’t damned well think of, written by a British woman, minor aristocracy, comedy of manners, bisexual character called “Boy”, really quite good — Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Who I’d recommend it to: It’s a good one, especially if you want to relish the decadence of the dying upper classes
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner