Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

The Price of SaltThe Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beginning of The Price of Salt didn't appeal to me and nearly kept me from reading on. Therese seemed a shallow character. Her relationship with Mrs. Robichek was odd and, after she accepted an invitation to the woman's home she responded in a way that was quite rude. On top of that she has a relationship with Richard that is one sided. She doesn't lie about it, but she does take advantage of what he has to offer. I didn't think I wanted to spend hours reading about this woman. But the strength of this novel is in the way Therese matures. She has to discover how to feel and act while dealing with same sex desires during an era when they are condemned. I love the fact that this book wasn't just set in the fifties, it was written back then. Reading it at a time when the acceptance of same sex couples has become a civil rights issue makes it very powerful.

The book is written from the point of view of Therese, so all the characters are filtered through her perspective. Patricia Highsmith made her a sensitive character who pays attention to detail. Here's a sample:

The young man slid all the bundles across the counter, and took Carol's twenty-dollar bill. And Therese thought of Mrs. Robicheck tremulously pushing her single dollar bill and a quarter across the counter that evening.

Here's another:

Later, in the car, Carol asked her about Mrs. Robichek, and Therese answered as she always did, succinctly, and with the involuntary and absolute honesty that always depressed her afterward.

In both these short descriptions we learn something about Therese, something about Carol, and something about Mrs. Robicheck.

The Price of Salt is very well written. I wasn't hooked at first, but once it got going I couldn't put it down. I'm looking forward to seeing the film.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is wonderfully written. It covers big topics, such as racism in the depression era south, but never seems to force the author's views on the reader. Most of the African-American characters speak with broken English and one responds to a brutal act with ignorance, but Carson McCullers also included an educated African-American man in her narrative and in the process avoided the stereotypes so common in work from that period. Although a depiction of southern racism is included, it is not the sole topic of the novel. Other subjects covered include poverty and the politics of the time, but the primary theme is the loneliness of human existence.

The book starts with two mutes, John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos. It goes on to cover their relationship and also Singer's relationships with Mick Kelly, a young girl whose family runs a boarding house, Biff Brannon, the owner of a diner, Jake Blount, an alcoholic advocate for communism, and Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, the educated African-American I mentioned previously. All of these people seek out Singer's friendship and, because the conversations with a mute are primarily one sided, they mold their image of him into the various personalities each of them wants. They don't take the time to learn what Singer is feeling. This observation of human nature is my favorite aspect of the novel.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is enough of a classic to be translated into other languages. This is important to me because I liked the novel enough to recommend it to my wife. She prefers to read in French, so I ordered her a copy of Le Coeur est un Chasseur Solitaire. I know she'll enjoy it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Friday, December 18, 2015

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie, #2)One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson is a light read. It can be fun for someone willing to suspend disbelief, someone who likes the writing on a typical TV crime show, such as Bones or the old Columbo series. (I like both of those, so that comment isn't meant to be disparaging.) Martin, a character in the novel who is a mild mannered crime writer, longs to write something serious and I wonder if that might be a comment Atkinson is making about her own desires.

The character relationships in One Good Turn are interesting. Jackson Brodie is a wealthy, ex-cop whose acquaintances include the aforementioned crime writer, a crazed thug, a dominatrix, a single mom/police woman, and the self-centered actress he's dating. Their dialogue is well written and consistently shows the personalities of the characters in unique ways. The plot has enough edgy moments to keep it moving forward, but it also has countless moments that I had trouble believing even in the fictitious world Atkinson created. There are so many chance events that at times the book seems to be a parody of its genre. Weapons appear out of nowhere, people are connected in unexpected ways, and in one case Brodie escapes a predicament with a sudden death that is so unrealistic Atkinson must have intended it to be funny. (If so, she didn't succeed.)

I would recommend this to someone looking for a light book to pass the time in places where it is difficult to concentrate, such as at an airport or on a train.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is pure non-fiction. It reads somewhere in between a list of facts and a story. In fact, the last third of the book is exactly that, a huge list with graphics.

The book lacks fully developed characters, because the author avoided conjecture unless he identified the statements as his own opinion. All the descriptions of the people were carefully documented and the dialogue was copied from writings by the survivors, with tags like Nickerson remembered or Chase was, in his own words.” Discussions that are critical to the story, such as the decision about the direction to sail, were explained rather than shown.

The book contains constant references to other events such as Captain Bligh's sail after the mutiny on The Bounty and [Ernest] Shackleton's feat of delivering all twenty-seven men of his Antarctic expedition to safety.... There are also many references to Melville's Moby Dick throughout the book because that novel was inspired by the facts of this tragedy.

In the Praise for... section, there is a quote from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that says “the author takes the reader and makes him part of the crew.” I disagree with that, but I do believe this would be a good read for people who enjoy non-fiction, survivor stories.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bloodroot by Amy Greene

BloodrootBloodroot by Amy Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bloodroot is a novel that needs some tightening, but tells an interesting story. The best part of the novel is the feel for life among the poor in backwoods Tennessee. I listened to the audio version, done with six narrators who were all excellent. Some of that success is to their credit. The author knows the culture well and created Byrdie, who is a fascinating and loveable character.

The book is structured in three parts which center around Myra Lamb and her family. It is written in first person with each part having two narrators, Part one covers the time when Myra is a teenager living with Byrdie, her grandmother. Doug Cotter, one of her neighbors, spends many hours with her on the mountain where they live. He and his brother, Mark, have both fallen in love with her, but Myra's interest lies elsewhere.

Part two jumps forward in time and centers on Myra's twin children, John and Laura. Part three moves back in time to cover the period between one and two. I suppose Amy Greene chose to arrange the novel this way because it's mainly Myra's story and wouldn't have worked well if her part was effectively over when the book still had a third to go. But I believe Greene would have been better off dropping most of part two or just including the highlights in a few reflections toward the end of the novel. There were some interesting sections of part two, but most of it didn't add to Myra's story. There were also some loose ends that didn't get resolved along with a large number that waited until the epilogue to get their resolution.

I noticed in some of the other reviews that a few readers objected to a lack of characters they could care about. I didn't agree with that comment. Although most of them had issues, there were some wonderful ones, such as Byrdie. As the story progressed it became centered on an abusive relationship which spiraled down as the novel moved forward. This aspect was hard to read because it was very well written. Overall, the story held my interest and presented ideas I thought about after I was done.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Long GoodbyeThe Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Long Goodbye is a book I should have read years ago. It was published in 1953 and has been very popular since it came out. Since most people who will read this review already know who Philip Marlowe is either from the books or the classic films, this will be just a brief reflection on my own impressions.

I love Raymond Chandler's style. He writes with detail and a rough attitude that is in most of the characters, but ultimately belongs to Marlowe because the book is from his point of view.

Here's a dialogue example:
“Talk it up. Who wants him?”
“The name's Marlowe.”
“Who's Marlowe?”
“This Chick Agostino?”
“No, this ain't Chick. Come on, let's have the password.”
“Go fry your face.”

And here's a narration example:
He handled the second slug with one hand. I did a fast washup in the bathroom and the bell of the timer went just as I got back. I cut the flame and set the coffee maker on a straw mat on the table. Why did I go into such detail? Because the charged atmosphere made every little thing stand out as a performance, a movement distinct and vastly important. It was one of those hypersensitive moments when all your automatic movements, however long established, however habitual, become separate acts of will. You are like a man learning to walk after polio. You take nothing for granted, absolutely nothing at all.

But it isn't just the Chandler style that appeals to me. His plot is complex and interesting. I had my theories as the book progressed. Most of them didn't turn out to be right, but some did. I like a detective story that's logical enough to figure out, but doesn't hit you over the head.

There were a few coincidences that weren't believable, I didn't like the way Marlowe met Terry Lennox in the beginning of the novel because they became too friendly too soon, and I thought it a bit implausible that there were so many drunken philanderers in Idle Valley. But those were minor gripes. This is a great book that everyone who likes crime stories should read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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