Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

Hospital is an Australian writer who now teaches at the University of South Carolina. She received the Patrick White Award for lifetime literary achievement. I met her at the American Library Association's annual summer convention in Anaheim, California.

Orpheus Lost is one of several “Post 9/11” fictional accounts surrounding or influenced by those events. Hospital has done an excellent job of capturing the mystery and the fear engendered by our government’s reaction to the attacks. The clandestine operations, kidnapping, torture, murder, and other horrific acts our country has perpetrated following 9/11 are all described in chilling detail.

The novel begins innocently enough with the meeting of two scholars in Boston who both study music. Leela from South Carolina, and Mishka Bartok from Sidney, Australia hit it off immediately. They seem destined for each other. The first section of the book detailing their meeting and growing relationship is musical, calm, and beautiful.

However, both have dark secrets, and the story quickly descends into a maelstrom of horror. The novel ends with a crescendo, but if the story has any flaws, the end happens too quickly. At 353 pages, another hundred pages could have easily detailed the resolutions. I wanted more of the story in the last 80 pages or so.

Hospital’s prose is absorbing and deceptively simple. She draws readers into the story with interesting, likable characters. What happens to them has happened to way too many people over the last eight years. We can only hope change is coming.

--Chiron, 11/30/08

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blue Bicycle Book Shop, Charleston, SC

My annual visit to Charleston always includes a visit to the Blue Bicycle, and this year was no exception.

Sometimes a first visit is not quite as good as I remember, so the second visit is a disappointment. Not so this time! It was not long before we had a stack of some interesting books on the front counter.

I found a title I needed in my "All About" series from Random House. These books are a fond connection to my early days of reading in the 50s. I also found a copy from 1957 of Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle. The wonderful illustrations came back to me as soon as I opened it. My collection has a recent paperback, but it is not the same as the small hardback with dust jacket.

Blue Bicycle boasts over 50,000 volumes, and we could have picked up quite a few more. It is a good thing we didn't because the ones we did buy put our suitcase 15 pounds over the limit!

Every visit to Charleston must include a visit to Blue Bicycle!

-Chiron, 11/10/08

Monday, November 10, 2008

Independence Day by Richard Ford

This review departs somewhat from my original format, in that I reveal more of the plot than usual. I read this book for a class I am taking for my MFA. I have pasted the analysis I wrote for the class.

Independence Day, by Richard Ford is the story of Frank Bascombe who decides on a father and son bonding trip over the 4th of July weekend. An interesting story, with lots of engaging, even if long-winded, characters.

Frank is an exasperating character. His marriage has failed, he has abandoned careers as a sportswriter, a short story writer, and after an attempted escape to France, he returns to try his hand at real estate sales in his home town of Haddam, NJ. During the period of about a week covered by the novel, Frank recalls, and has glancing encounters with, several acts of violence. A son has died years before, a colleague was brutally raped and murdered in a house she was showing in Haddam, and he arrives at a motel shortly after a tourist was shot and killed. Finally, the climax of the novel involves an attempted suicide by his son Paul who deliberately stands in front of a baseball pitching machine and is hit in the face by a baseball traveling at 75 MPH.

Frank doesn’t know what he wants. His marriage is over, but he clings to the hope he and his ex-wife will get back together by moving into the house they shared when married. He is trying to revive a failing romance with Sally, and most importantly, he is trying to rescue his son who is acting out as a result of the divorce and disapproval of his mother’s remarriage.

The “existence period,” Frank frequently references, is his way of “going through the motions.” The acts of violence are signs of how precarious life is in Frank’s view, and his helplessness in dealing with his son all point to the lost nature of his life. Frank Bascombe is not “independent” and he never will be. His life is entangled in false starts, false hopes, failures, and lack of a clear plan for his life and a relationship with his son.

The final paragraphs tell us Frank’s future will mirror his past. Ford writes, “There is, naturally, much that’s left unanswered, much that’s left till later, much that’s best forgotten. Paul Bascombe [his injured son], I still believe, will come to live with me for some part of his crucial years. It may not be a month from now or six. A year could go by, and there would still be time enough to participate in his new self-discovery.” The last sentence is also telling. I feel the push, pull, the weave and sway of others.”

Frank is floating in water way over his head. He does not know where he is headed, and barely where he has been, since he does not seem to have picked up much from his past life. Life, for Frank is an Independence Day parade, and all he can do is watch it go by. Four stars

--Chiron, 11/08/08