Saturday, March 26, 2011

Four books

Four novels I recently read, each worthwhile...or better.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris - If you can buy the premise - a successful dude who suddenly finds himself in the throes of a condition which forces him to walk enormous distances, without regard to weather, terrain, obstacles or reason, which departs as suddenly as it came on, and recurs at irregular intervals, this is a damn good read.  I bought it.  I didn't quite buy how he and his wife decided to cope with it, but not being able to keep things under control is essential to the narrative.  Basically, what we're shown is a mind literally at war with a body.  Some good food for thought there.  Incidentally, the writing in the last scene is off the charts good.  If you only read one Ferris novel, I'd still go with Then We Came to the End.  Definitement worthwhile for book groups.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter - Part of this novel about a reporter who loses his job and tries to keep afloat by selling marijuana made me laugh aloud.  But there's a deeper element at work than mere stoner romp, and you may find yourself coming to care about the characters.  Not an especially good book for discussions, but a great way to pass the time.

Love and Summer by William Trevor - Trevor's one of my all time favorite novelists.  His writing  - and there's a whole lot of it - consistently demonstrates an uncommon economy and grace.  Love in Summer is a simple story about an young Irish woman tethered more by obligation than love to a marriage and farm.  The narrowness of her life is exposed to her by what begins as a chance encounter with a photographer from another town.  Ultimately, there's a choice to be made.  But whose choice and whose consequences are less clear.  I've read more than 10 of Trevor's novels, and there's not a poor one in the bunch.  But unlike Fools of Fortune (my favorite), The Silence In The Garden, and Felicia's Journey, I don't think Love in Summer is prime fodder for book group discussions.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy - Nobody writes like McCarthy.  I don't know how he does what he does, but what he does works for me.  It's stark, apocalyptic, and shocking.  It's also dazzling to the point of forcing me to reread passages just for the thrill of hearing the words in my head again.   Here we have a story about a loner who has no moral boundaries.  He lives for his urges.  The narrative is straightforward and immensely compelling.  In the end, it may be regarded simply as a tale well told (albeit an extraordinary tale, extraordinarily well told), in which case book groups should pass it by.  On the other hand - and this is true those other novels of his that I've read - there are deeper themes at play.  If your group functions on that level, I'd recommend this to you.   I'd also (and more strongly) recommend Outer Dark, the McCarthy novel I find most similar.

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