Saturday, August 27, 2016

Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney

A young man searches for maturity in 1980’s Berlin

Jed, screwup son of an upper middle class Chicago family, comes to Berlin after rehab, to stay with his accomplished second cousin Cello, her German husband and her cute band of biracial boys.  Only he understands that sophisticated beautiful Cello was once chubby Ruthanne, music student who literally choked her way offstage at every recital.  Cello is being charitable, but Jed is clearly aware of his inferior status.  Meanwhile, he is fascinated by hot German men and by the mysterious philosophical architect who takes a shine to Jed.

I bailed on this one after attempting fifty pages a night for three nights, each night falling asleep about fifteen pages in.  This novel is a textbook case of the perils of the passive main character.  The tension never built and never even started building, I think, to any sense of emotional stakes.  I am still puzzling out why this happened as the setting was great, the initial setup with blood relative/twin Cello seemed fruitful, the narrator’s sometimes snippy tone and his pithy nuggets of information were interesting.  I believe it was because there was no orchestrated conflict between Cleo and Jed.  You can't build a novel on aphorisms.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

American Copper by Shann Ray

The daughter of a stern copper baron defies her father by her choice of a man

Josef Lowry is a man “hard as granite,” a no nonsense son of an immigrant who has conquered the Montana copper market by his take-no-prisoners approach.  Suspicious of avaricious strangers, he cruelly destroys the family of his son’s intended wife.  A mining accident kills the son, and after that, his chastened daughter Evelynne immures herself in her room.  After several years she ventures into the world only to encounter two very different men, first the monosyllabic giant, horse trainer Zion, known as Middie, and then William Black Kettle, a Cheyenne rodeo rider.  Her father wishes her to never leave his side so Evelynne’s eventual choice of a mate, no matter who it is, will inspire murderous paternal opposition.

This novel began compellingly, clearly establishing the monumental Montana landscape, the furious wills of Joseph and Evelynne and the shared tragedy that forms them.  However, after those chapters, the reader gets becalmed.  Why on earth this sheltered rich girl would want to go live with a Cheyenne rodeo rider is not made clear.  She likes his hair, his masculinity apparently.  And why he, the future leader of his tribe, would want to live with a sheltered rich white girl is also not made clear.  There is a triangle love story and I don’t understand why she chooses William over Middie.  They seem like the same sort of stern resolute Western hero, although Middie struggles with his violent tendencies.  The historical details, however, such as the life of the Indians on the plains, were interesting.  The reader learns of how they coped with the authorities wanting to exterminate them.  In many ways a textbook historical novel,

Sunday, August 14, 2016

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

A dentist finds himself stalked, and, in fact, chosen by a five thousand year old tribe of publicity shy agnostics

Paul O’Rourke, successful dentist in Manhattan, obsessive compulsive Red Sox fan, cannot figure out why he can’t achieve permanent (or even temporary) happiness. Throughout his life, he has found himself at times “cunt gripped,” obsessed by a woman who later rejects him, also becoming enamored of their large ethnic families. These families are connected to something larger, in many cases, a religion, even though rational Paul can’t go there. But he comes on too strong, too weird, and turns people off. Could it have something to do with the fact that Paul’s father blew his brains out when Paul was a child? Soon odd things starts happening, someone is impersonating him on the World Wide Web, creating a dental website and leaving optimistic posts on Red Sox fan sites. The stalking gets more personal and Paul takes action, only to discover something unusual about himself.  He is (or is he) an Ulm.  Now he must find out what an Ulm is.

This was right up my alley: God and the Red Sox, and I enjoyed the story quite a bit, including the hilarious first person slightly autistic digressions. As in Ferris’ previous novels, supernatural elements are seamlessly combined with the mundane details of modern daily life. The novel is also a social commentary on “me-machines” (cellphones), obsessive money making, men and women, and the significance (or not) of existence. The stakes are enormous. The life and death of humanity perhaps. Why do humans make significant meaning out of meaningless tragedy, why do some, ever optimistic, leap from bed in the morning to do good? Does it make a difference?

I love that the reader slowly realizes that Paul’s ex girlfriend, a poet, who he is still sort of obsessed with, remains in his employ as the receptionist in his office. Finally, he plays the dentistry metaphor like Paganini.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Eumenides by Aeschylus

Tortured Orestes throws himself on the mercy of wise Athena

Orestes, pursued by the terrifying Furies after murdering his mother, journeys to Delphi to seek Apollo’s help in freeing himself from the unceasing torment. Apollo sends him to Athens where Athena convenes a jury of twelve freedmen to discover if Orestes truly deserves this horrible vengeance for the murder of a blood kin. After all, he was only asserting justice. The jury is tied, so Athena lets him go. The Furies object, but then Athena persuades them to move on from their primitive female-centric ways and join her in becoming the happy Guardians of the City of Athens.

Once again, the action is crystal clear, the theatricality imaginative and immense, the poetry tremendous, but this play, unlike the preceding two, adds additional level of meaning, a political one. Aeschylus is describing a civilized progress from a family based understanding of justice, to a society based understanding of justice. The gentle harmony at the end, the invoking of love, the purest opposition to the savage images at the end of Agamemnon. This play applauds the movement from the darkness of blood vengeance to the civilized light of Athena.