Archive for February, 2013

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Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By Tom Wolfe

The Short Take:

Another excellent novel from Wolfe in the manner of A Man in Full. This one is set in Miami and highlights that city’s racial divides. As you expect with Wolfe, you get a real feel for time and place as well as a page-turning novel.

Why?

Wolfe is primarily a journalist and it shows in his novels.  His attention to the environment his characters inhabit adds so much to his books. This one is no exception. You can almost feel that searing Miami sun beating down on you as you read.

Not that there isn’t plenty of plot to keep you turning the pages. Wolfe introduces multiple characters whose story lines overlap in various ways. He weaves a fascinating tapestry of life in a city where skin color and country of origin define modern tribes who resent each other for myriad reasons.

I’m aware that various literary giants like to dump on Wolfe. I don’t get it. His novels are so vibrant and in the “now,” taking the pulse of of today’s society by showing how different segments of it interact — or don’t. They could be of genuine value to historians well in the future as well as entertaining and informing readers now.

I particularly liked the way Wolfe expressed the flash thoughts or insights that  often interrupted a character’s on-going chain of inner musings (framed by a series of colons on either side; you’ll have to read the book to really understand). It’s how we think, but you don’t see it reflected much in novels.

Wolfe is a constant favorite of mine and this book did not disappoint.

A Little Plot:

Cuban policeman Nestor Camacho performs a daring and spectacular physical feat that saves a Cuban would-be-refugee’s life but results in that person being deported. This turns him into a pariah in the tight-knit Cuban community.

His isolation drives him into new relationships — including one with a young and ambitious Miami reporter — which create even more complications in his life. Meanwhile, his beloved girlfriend is bent on escaping the restrictions of the Cuban community, but not with Nestor.

Investigations, possible art forgeries, the Russian Mafia, drug busts, politics, an orgiastic bacchanal, and Haitians of various hues all add to the mix. It’s all good.

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

By Nick Trout

The Short Take:

How can you dislike a heartwarming book about dogs and their owners? Especially when they populate a charming tale of redemption.

Why?

I’m not a dog person at all, but this book moved me to tears more than once. If you actually LIKE dogs, you simply have to read it. It’s a sweet story, but with just enough edge to keep it from going all cotton candy on you.

The McGuffin (look it up if you aren’t a Hitchcock fan)is a touch extreme — the protagonist didn’t need quite so many motivators — but get past that and you’re sure to enjoy this quick and pleasant read.

Nick Trout is an actual veterinarian and he’s drawn on his own experiences in creating this first novel (he has written three non-fiction books). He gets in few digs at vet chains and heartless banks as well as praise for community-focused vets.

You’ll recognize most of the character types, but they’re that much more enjoyable for being so familiar. It feels ready-made for a movie deal; and everyone will want Colin Firth to play the main role. It’s that kind of book.

A Little Plot:

Dr. Cyrus Mills, a veterinary pathologist, arrives in Vermont to dispose of his late father’s failing veterinary practice. He needs the money and has no desire to pick up where his estranged father left off. He has enough problems to deal with back home in Charleston. But then he starts to meet the people of this small community and their endearing pets, and things begin to change.

For more about Dr. Nick Trout and his books, click here.

American Pastoral

Monday, February 4th, 2013

By Philip Roth

The Short Take:

What an all-around fantastic book! The writing is amazingly good. The story is heart-breaking. I tend to like a lot of books (which is why I call myself a book lover rather than critic). However, this book outclasses almost everything I’ve read. It came out some 15 years ago but age hasn’t lessened its impact.

Why?

As the winner of a Pulitzer Prize and widely considered to be Roth’s masterpiece, that should be enough “why” for anyone. This book is simply brilliant. The story moves between the post WWII years, the radical 60s, and the turn of the century (close to when it was published). It illustrates how little we know of people and how what we assume can be miles from the truth. Even golden heroes are not what they seem, nor are their lives as fortunate as we think.

While the characters and the way they are revealed are reasons enough to read this book, the writing is exceptionally wonderful. You find yourself re-reading simple lines of description because they are so fresh yet so revealing.

It’s a delight, and it is deeply meaningful. American Pastoral explores feelings about America as a magical land of opportunity and an exploiter of the world. It shows that even a lifetime of doing the right thing can lead to disaster. It reveals how hard it is to ever determine the truth about anyone or anything.

It is one fantastic read. Since there is finally supposed to be a movie in the works, this might be the perfect time to read it. Again.

A Little Plot.

Nathan Zuckerman attends his high school reunion where he learns the high school athletic star and war hero, Swede Levov, has died. Reminiscing about his few encounters with Swede and what he learns from other sources, Zuckerman attempts to create a more realistic picture of the life everyone assumed was so blessed.

Swede seemed to flow through life with ease. However, nothing could have been further form the truth. In fact, the reality was literally explosive.

Philip Roth has recently declared his retirement. Thank goodness he has enriched American literature with so many special books like American Pastoral. Look for him on PBS’ American Masters in a rare interview on March 29.

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