On the Beach…Summer Reading

21 Jun

 

 

 

New York Daily News 1954

 

 

It appears I have lost the fire in my belly as the media attention to the well -worn rubric  ‘summer reading’ has come and gone> And unlike times past,  I have not excoriated the whole damn herd of literary commentators for this vacuous listicle-inducing category. Despite years of an inability to take seriously this meaningless category, it is clear that my meager efforts to staunch this yearly silliness have failed.

 

So, I am joining the herd … with some modification. While I am certain that my recommendation can be read on the beach and/or during the summer. I also positive that they can be read, in the bathroom, while waiting interminably at the Motor Vehicle Bureau (or at any government agency) or basically anywhere  there is ample light and a place to plant oneself out of the fray

 

 

 

 

 

The Force- Don Winslow

This new offering by Winslow may replace his important epic novel The Power of The Dog (and the sequel The Cartel) as his magnum opus. Set for the most part in that other country, the US-Mexican border such was its vivid depiction of the spider’s web of worldwide complicity in the so-called War on Drugs much like any good John LeCcarre story there is an abundance of truth packed into this fiction. In the new opus, Winslow has focused his ample powers of observation and narrative skills on the workings of and the psyches and pathologies of an array of characters of the New York Police Department— kind of  Prince of the City on steroids. When I received my copy I  was vexed by what I saw as blatant hyperbole best selling by thriller writer “Intensely human in its tragic details, positively Shakespearian in its epic sweep – probably the best cop novel ever written” —   After I read  the novel  I could understand Child’s enthusiasm ffor this story*

Heretics Leonardo Padura

Cuban novelist iPAdura is probably best known for his noir quartet featuring Havana homicide detective Mario Conde, which the Spanish have produced as a four part series as Four Seasons in Havana. Certainly entertaining, I was more impressed by his novel The Man Who Loved Dogs which followed the life of  Leon Trotsky’s assassin, with particularly heart-rending episodes set in Hitler’s dress rehearsal for  WWII, the Spanish Civil War. Now comes his new creation Heretics a story that radiates from the infamous incident surrounding the May 1939 voyage of the ocean liner St Louis with 937 ‘stateless’ Jews to Havana, radiating forward to 2007 and  traveling back in time a few centuries with fascinating tangent about a Rembrandt painting that ends up in a Polish stetl.  More revealing (as in real) about the perfidy of the Cuban officials in 1939 (and the later travails of Cuban exiles in Miami) than any documented history could provide, Heretics manages to convert  a few hundred years of history into a story, accessible and intelligible without an excess of factual data…And remember, much takes place in the  US amusement park, Havana…

 

 

 

 

Ancient Minstrel Jim Harrison

 

The recently departed Jim Harrison a true meat eating literary lion produced a series of volumes peculiar to him, three novellas ( you don’t know what a novella is?) tomes. This posthumous volume features as its entitled piece, a fairly accurate portrayal of Harrison and exhibiting him as the observant, good-natured, ravenous and droll to hilarious good fellow. You laugh *I’m not sure about crying), you smile, you ponder, you marvel. All the wonders of a well-turned page can evoke…

 

Augusttown Kae Miller

 

Jamaican-born poet and a well-travelled resident of Brixton London Kei Miller,  provides radiant snapshots and thumbnails of post-colonial village life proximal to Jamaican capital, Kingstown. It’s long on Race and Place, which for literary citizens of the world have great value…

 

 

 

 

There Your Heart Lies Mary Gordon

 

 

I think Mary Gordon has written eight novels but this is the first that I have read. Ostensibly I was drawn to yet another recent narrative set in the perilous center of the Spanish Civil War.To which, not sufficient attention is paid. There are numerous interesting plot twist and turns but the portrayal of the 90 year old Spanish Civil War veteran and her grandchild and their relationship is quite plainly, seductive.

 

 

 

Who Killed Pier Barol Richard Mason

South African born and London resident, novelist  Richard Mason completes his triptych about low-born Dutchman Piet Barol and his struggles to rise to the moneyed upper class. Set in pre-WWI  South Africa, Barol is a clever and multitalented con man who meets and marries a woman equally as talented and bent. This story takes you into the bush and into the lives the land’s original people at a time when they are beginning to suffer the depredations of what would soon become apartheid and genocide. Barol is a shrewd reporter on the class and racial conventions and his prose from the point of non-human sentients is a wonderful leap of imagination (something that Jim Harrison and the recently departed Brian Doyle did well with).

 

 

 

The Bones of Paradise Jonis Agee

 

A mystery and a history not set  in the favorite locale of Western writers— unacknowledged third nation that exists around the USA Mexican boundary—this narrative is set in a western state called Nebraska. All the major players are represented —Whites, Mexicans, Native Americans, Nomads Emancipated Women. Set ten years  after the US Army’s Seventh Cavalry’s infamous  massacre known as  Wounded Knee , Jonis Aggee’s great storytelling places the reader in the still wild  19th West and clears away some of the view obstructing mythology…

 

The Crossing Andrew Miller

 

Though I don’t  recall ever reading a review or a mention of an Andrew Miller novel in a US medium, I have without understanding why,  picked- up some of his novels in the past and been pleased that I did. I especially enjoyed Pure set in France in the late Eighteenth century witb character tasked a very unusual mission. His new opus, ostensibly begins with Scenes from a marriage but gracefully and seamlessly transits to a solo oceanic sail. Not having sailed  farther than the ocean around Manchester (MA ) harbor, lacking any particular interest in sailing or oceanic conveyance  I was still transfixed by the  by the vigilance and energy required to cross an ocean in a small ship. The last novel that I recall which had oceanic sailing as a vantage point  was Robert Stone’s.Outerbridge Reach— a story of one Stone’s troubled characters  involved in a world circumnavigating ship race

 

 

Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World by Jorge Zepeda Patterson , Adrian Nathan West (Translator)

 

Despite Mexico’s  proximity (as Mexican’s intone, “So far from God and so close to the United States”) and various Latin BOOMS and BOOMLETS, Mexican novelists are just beginning to get recognition in USA.Imprints such as Deep Vellum and Restless Books are making valuable contributions and this award winning (in Spain)  does  for human sex trafficking and  hybrid modes of corruption what Winslow’s The Power of the Dog did for the narcotic drug  (Wall Street/Cartel industrial complex) industry. One would hope (against hope ) that the increasing presence of this pestilential activity in  contemporary crime stories (see Season Three of John Ridley’s American Crime would occasion some serious efforts by world’s power structures.But much like PEACE, there is no money in eradicating human trafficking. I leave to you to figure out what this quirky title is about.

 

 

So Much Blue Percival Everett

 

As such things go, I was unaware of writer Percival Everett until I saw mention of him in one of the early 2000’s  literary web sites, unfortunately saddled with the inelegant rubric  ‘blog .  Manned by a delightful mind whose name escapes me, The Minor Chord , The Major Fall was a many levels above the jejune unfiltered gibberish to which media careerists claimed the Internet gave license. It was resonantly valuable to me as I have been delighted to read most every thing Everett has written since. And at least once a  companionable conversation that you can find on line and anthologized in Conversations with Percival Everett. I came  across a  lucid  essay on Everet’s new novel by Jesse McCarthy. Here’s a snippet**

 

  In a characteristic Everett move, Kevin’s race is only glancingly evoked in the novel. The first overt mention of it unsurprisingly comes from The Bummer, a character in the El Salvador section who is the walking embodiment of crude explicit racism. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you’re a nigger,” he warns. When Kevin’s son Will asks him what he wanted to be when he was growing up, we learn that Kevin had an uncle Ty who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, an illustrious heritage deflated by the knowledge that “Uncle Ty was a fucking asshole.” One of Everett’s great achievements has always been his unassuming portrayal of characters that defy the grotesque strait-jacket of racialized characterization, which so much of American fiction (or American culture in general) simply can’t give up. But racial invisibility is as pure a fantasy as racial stereotype…

 

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  1. http://don-winslow.com/books/the-force/

2. https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/sad-and-boujee/

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