Moon’s Crossing–Barbara Croft

Jim Moon is a dreamer.  He signs up to fight for the Union because he dreams of war glory.  He heads West because he dreams of the frontier.  He marries a much younger woman because he dreams of romance.  He leaves her and their infant son to seek the dream of the White City at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  There his dreams die.  The buildings are hollow.  The officials are corrupt.  The innocent are chewed up and spit out.

Croft’s lyrical prose interweaves Moon’s story and that of his son, now a young adult.  Moon’s story jumps back and forth through time, starting with Moon’s suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge.  His son’s story begins when he receives his father’s tombstone, shaped like the tree of life, and follows traditional chronology.  Through the warp and weft of these tales of the dreamer and his son, Barbara Croft weaves a spell of an age where innocence died.

Moon’s story is dark.  He names his son after the artist Winslow.  He carries Leaves of Grass through his travels.  He recites “Song of Myself” as he jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge in despair.  What does this mean?  Croft concludes his story with a look at a photograph of Moon when he first arrived in Chicago.  She says, “Moon looks left, a curious smile on his face, as though he is astonished–something has vanished.  Or as though, perhaps, against all odds, he still expects something sublime to appear.”  Which was it?

This is one of those books that left me unclear, when I closed the cover, what I was supposed to get out of it.  While that is not a comfortable feeling, it is not all bad because it forces a reader to think.  I’m still not sure I can answer that question.  What is the truth between the dream and the reality?  Is the dream foolish, naive because it does not match reality?  Or do we need dreams to make our realities better?  Do dreams make you mad or keep you going? Do we scorn the dreamer or admire him?   I don’t know what Croft would say.  I suspect she would ask what we think.

Finished 12/25/11

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A Sort of Homecoming–Robert Cremins

Tom Iremonger is the face of Ireland in the 90s.  Young, beautiful, materialistic.  Bullied at school, at Trinity College he morphed from Tomàs Iremonger to Iremonger, sultan of cool, complete with the Rules of Cool.  He comes home to Dublin for Christmas set on impressing his friends and avoiding his family.  Home has other plans, however, as he is forced to deal with the ghost of his grandfather’s death from cancer, the ghost of his grandfather’s anti-Semitic acts as a civil servant, and the pull of Dublin.

Iremonger claims to be postmodern, undergoing a postmodern anti-Odyssey with his grandfather’s inheritance.   He drinks, snorts, smokes, spends, and has sex across the globe.  He disdains Dublin, Ireland, U2 and the bourgeois cycle of life.  He does it all sporting a super-cool jacket that he names Nico.

For the first half of this book I contemplated not finishing it, but the scenes were so crisp and the dialogue so engaging that I kept going.  The problem was not the writing.  The problem was me.  I am not a twenty-something reader who was identifying with Iremonger and his privileged malaise about the endless cycle of people living small lives.  I am nearly forty with a ne’er do well twenty-ish son who wishes he could drink, snort, smoke, spend and scrump his way across the globe, but who lacks a rich relative who would leave him a bequest to allow it.

Iremonger irritated the hell out of me.  Instead I identified with his mother, hopeful for signs of maturity, but endlessly disappointed; I recognized his father, crushed by his son’s failures into seeing them as his own failures as a parent.

Near the end of the book, as Iremonger is preparing to depart Dublin for Paris once again, having tastefully disposed of his family at the airport restaurant in order to avoid the cloying goodbyes at the boarding pass gate, his father hollers for him.  Iremonger turns back and sees his father, weary and ill.  This man, downtrodden by his own aging body, apologizes to his son for failing him as a parent.  Iremonger tells him he has not failed, that he never stood in his way, to which his father replies, I know.  Ouch.  Parenting at this point in the project, the early adult point, just sucks.

Cremins gives Iremonger his in the end and gives us a comforting moral that you can’t really leave home.

Which led to some cognitive dissonance three pages later on the author blurb, which tells me that Cremins, a Dublin native, now lives in Texas.

Finished 12/23/11

Postscript: And seriously, the worst cover art I’ve seen all year.  Just awful.   Even for the 90s.

Stupid and Contagious–Caprice Crane

Stupid and Contagious is light fun.  The chapters are short (some are only a paragraph) and switch back and forth between Heaven and Brady.  Heaven is a recently fired publicist, then waitress who has a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  In my house we would say she has no filter.  Brady owns an indie record label that is funded mostly by a dwindling inheritance.  They’re both hip, but not and Brady ends up as Heaven’s neighbor when he breaks up with psycho-Sarah.  They dislike each other immediately (Brady hollers at two in the morning just to hear the echo and Heaven opens his mail when it comes to her mailbox), but they, of course, begin to grow on each other and, throw in a stray dog who knows how to smile that Heaven adopts and everyone can go awwwwww.

The story moves fairly quickly once Crane gets past the “we hate each other” stuff, then slows again when we get back to the “we hate each other” stuff at the end.  She has written for MTV and it shows.  A fun read if you don’t want to create any new neural connections, but want to feel good and watch someone else fall in love.

Finished 12/17/11

Two Gentlemen Sharing–William Corlett

This novel is an absolute delight.  Two gay men move into an estate house in a little English village and all hell breaks loose as the village’s dynamics begin to shift.  Rich is a middle-aged producer who has shared a flat with Laurence, an old-school closeted poof.  Rich’s young lover, Bless, is an aspiring actor who has given it all up to keep house in the village.  Bless’ best friend, Maggie, is a busty, crude, aspiring actress who loves to help Bless antagonize Laurence.

Bless and Rich move in next to a crusty old veteran and his mousy wife, the Brigadier and Rosemary Jerrold.  Rosemary’s oppressive marriage is relieved by visits from her mysterious sister-in-law, Phyllis.  The Brigadier declares war on the poofs.

Diana Simpson has joined a feminist commune in France that she found advertised in a feminist journal.  She returns to the village under the cover and darkness being chased by a hypersexual Italian count, who runs his car into the gatepost of Bless and Rich’s home.  Diana takes cover from the count and his crazed lesbian sister, Carlotta, in Bless’ summer house and the romp begins.

Add an aged ballerina, a pushy housekeeper and her pushy village shop-0wning sister, a vicar and his depressed wife, two bored middle-class housewives and their boring husbands, and life gets interesting.  Add the fact that Phyllis is the Brigadier’s cross-dressing alter ego and you have all the ingredients for comedy.

Corlett builds his memorable characters through rapid dialogue that takes place in the zany (yes, I just said zany) scenes in which he places his characters.

I thought this would be an amusing novel for this middle-aged Anglophile.  It was so much more.  This is Corlett’s second novel.  I’m on a mission to find his first.

Finished 12/12/11

The Eggnog Chronicles–Carly Alexander

Why, oh why, must chick lit be littered with lines that make a reader cringe?  Or scenes that just don’t quite make sense?

The Eggnog Chronicles are not Christian chick lit, as became clear from a scene that began with, “Let me get you from behind.”  This was refreshing.  What was not as refreshing was that, once the protagonist dropped her legs from the hunk’s shoulders and got on all fours, that same hunk took her fingertips and pushed them into his mouth.  How? I asked myself.  When my husband picked up the book, which promised some sexy scenes and I pointed him to the one, he read through it and asked the same question.  Why, if this is so obvious to us, was it not obvious to someone along the way to print?

The Eggnog Chronicles follow three women, Jane, her sister Ricki, and Jane’s friend Emma.  Jane is the hard-edged New Yorker looking for casual sex and sure that anyone else looking for more is a moron.  Ricki is a big softie, a humanities major, who runs a Christmas shop that looks like a gingerbread house in Nag’s Head.  She has a collection of friends, including the prerequisite safe gay man, a sassy ethnic woman, a New Age middle-aged housewife, and an engineer-turned-surfer.  Emma is a banker who really just wants a baby.  That’s about it for Emma.

Alexander creates some interesting scenarios, but the actual follow through sometimes misses a step.  Jane is diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, which everyone tells her is treatable, but she takes two weeks off of work (nice job) to wallow in her near brush (in her own mind) with death, which suddenly makes her a compassionate human.  This softer more compassionate Jane seems to have rubbed off by the following year when the chronicles follow Ricki.

Ricki is living with a man who has been in the process of getting a divorce for four going on five years.  She has begun the Christmas shop through a series of accidents that have turned into a highly profitable venture.  She has a family of friends, none of whom like her boyfriend, who support her emotionally and at work as she becomes too busy for her small staff.  Anyone can see that she’s going to end up with her friend the surfer.  It follows the same line as Jane ending up with her bald, but intellectual, editor.  The guy who’s been right in front of you, but you just couldn’t see him because you were too busy being shallow and attracted to gorgeous arses. 

Like the muffed up scene with the downward facing dog and the fingertips, Alexander’s editors miss a glaring mistake in Ricki’s story.  Ricki has an open house that features Santa, which has become a Christmas tradition, according to their local paper and many other community lights.  However, it was just the previous year that Ricki asked her boyfriend to don the Santa suit.  How can something that has happened once have reached the status of Christmas tradition?   I’m going to guess bad editing.

Emma ditches her crappy boyfriend and finds a nice artist-type guy.  However, when nice-artist-guy goes out of town and ex-boyfriend-hunky-model-turned-cup-turned-model/soap opera actor turns up in her apartment to cry, Emma lets him in, lets him stay, lets him stay the night, and doesn’t kick him out of bed when he creeps in, but has sex with him.  When she realizes she’s pregnant she freaks out and assumes it’s his.  When she realizes, because artist-type boyrfriend saw the signs of pregnancy before he went out of town, that she was wrong, she still doesn’t come clean about her cheating and bad decision making and the couple go on to have a beautiful baby girl and the moral dilemma is over.  Wait a minute.  How can an author build a whole plot line around the dilemma of cheating and then whoosh it away when the character realizes that circumstances aren’t going to out her?  Maybe Jane is not truly the hardened cynical character here.

It’s easy to be the armchair critic, but that’s what reading is about, right?  Reading and responding.  I blame the authors less than the editors.   Editorial attention equals respect for the audience.  Respect to the chicks.

Finished 12/4/11

A Death in the Family–James Agee

 

 

Let me preface this post by saying that I love description.  I’m a huge fan of nineteenth-century literature.  I love Charles Dickens, and not just the Disney version of Christmas Carol. 

This means that my decision to stop reading A Death in the Family by James Agee is not because I am a modern ADD reader who needs constant dialogue and short chapters.  This book won a Pulitzer Prize.  It sounded promising.  I loved the first part.  The part before Jay died in a freak car accident.  I can even see the lyricism of Agee’s prose as he painstakingly describes the waiting of Mary and Hannah and Mary’s struggle to cope with the initial loneliness of widowhood. 

However, the description becomes painful.  I began to dread picking up the book. And, with fifty pages left, I realized I could not finish it.  Life is too short to read books that I dread.  Even Pulitzer-prize-winning books. 

Tragically (in an intellectual way), the next book on my pile is The Eggnog Chronicles.  Not exactly Pulitzer material. 

Maybe someday, when my life is not too depressing, maybe then I’ll return to A Death in the Family.  Until then, I’ll enjoy the Wonderbread of some more chick lit.

Gave up 11/30/11 on page 239 of 309