Monday, November 30, 2015

SOME CAME RUNNING (revisited) - James Jones

I am yet under the spell Some Came Running put on me fifty-two years ago. If James Jones wasn't himself a sorcerer, he surely must have tapped into some magic reservoir of imagination when he created the most poignant romantic tragedy I've ever read.

I've kept the paperback copy from 1963 but haven't opened it since. Was afraid Jones's story might no longer affect the profound emotions it did back then in me—a small-town Midwesterner on the verge of running away to the Army to flee his failures. I've learned from sad experience along the way trying to recapture a past enchantment often dispels the memory's potency. Some Came Running's was one I had rather not risked losing.
What finally prompted me to take that risk was hearing “Gwen's Theme” from the novel's movie version. Now, the movie left so little impression on me I have barely a recollection of seeing it. I did not recognize the music. Knowing what it represented, though, I could feel through its peculiar, rending harmonies, its swells, diminishes, and earnest tempos, the depth of longing and anguish and sorrow shared by Gwen and her lover as they returned to me from the book. It drew me in like a siren song. With my old paperback copy still in boxes with hundreds of other books from my recent move, I went online to see if maybe there was an ebook version. This is when I learned not only that Some Came Running had been out of print for over half a century, but that a newly abridged edition appeared just last year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Consequences of Desire - Dennis Hathaway

Awfully good writing about awful people. This can be said of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction's namesake as well as the award's 1992 recipient. Commonality beyond these two broad distinctions, however, if they exist, are hard to find

The late Ms. O'Connor's style follows one of the basic commandments of good writing: she shows us what's happening. She doesn't tell us Grandmother is a domineering, self-centered hypocrite. We get to watch the old gal in action, bossing her unattractive family around to suit her fancy. In his winning collection of stories, The Consequences of Desire, we see little outward action involving Dennis Hathaway's characters. But inside their heads, oh, mercy. We're immersed in the kaleidoscopic battling of their thoughts and emotions.
Themewise the stories could hardly be further apart—on the surface. O'Connor, while keeping obvious signposts of her Roman Catholicism deeply camouflaged in subtlety, pushes her characters to extremes of happenstance, including death, where their mortal actions can bring them heavenly grace. Religion or spiritual faith are absent from Hathaway's tales. His self-absorbed characters invariably find their dreams, their hopes, their desires coming up short or crashing to pieces when they find themselves face to face with stark reality. Teenager Justine feels the dream she's had most of her life of becoming a private eye blink out when she loses her nerve tailing a mysterious stranger into a rough part of town.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

St. Albert the Great - Kevin Vost

Sunday I missed my first Feast of St. Albert. I had a couple of excuses, the first being I was already committed to something. The second, of arguably greater weight, was my never having been a Roman Catholic, thus not knowing a whit about St. Albert. In retrospect it is clear I might have brushed either excuse aside with nary a blink of remorse. As a working news reporter I'd eaten free food at many events where I knew little or nothing about the principals.
The feast hosts who'd invited me were my Facebook friends, Mahogany Roasters, a local craft coffee company, the mere scent of whose coffee is enough to lure me to their door through thick or thin.
My curiosity is what did me in. Googling St. Albert, I found right off he was known as “Albert the Great, champion of faith and reason” as well as the patron saint of science. Faith and reason, most unusual bedfellows it seemed. And science? Agogged at the implication of clashing outlooks and stubborn mindsets, practical and metaphysical, and learning also that Albert had been the teacher of a more famous saint, Thomas Aquinas, I bought the book.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Black Cloud - by Fred Hoyle

A Silicon Valley survey by The Atlantic, published in its November issue, found the “greatest work of science fiction ever written” to be Asimov's Foundation novels. For their next choice the techies picked Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud got any votes its total would have come in somewhere behind Star Wars, which captured the only honorable mention.

I've read nothing by Asimov, and the closest I came to Hitchhiker's Guide was to pluck it off the bookstore shelf, read the cover blurb and the first few paragraphs, and return it to the shelf. Science Fiction has so never been my thing I feel awkward just using the genre's vernacular abbreviations. For the sake of brevity in this instance, though, I'll grit my teeth and leap over what seems to be the no-longer-in scifi straight to what I sense is the current password: SF? Or is it lower case?

On second thought I probly wasted most of the previous paragraph building a defense against presumed sf snobbery. This because I just remembered various devoted sf fans have assured me they were unfamiliar with The Black Cloud, and I don't believe they were patronizing me. All the same, as a precaution I fought to withhold any implication of “gotcha” for having read what I considered a prerequisite for anyone pretending intimacy with the literature.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Fly on the Wall - Tony Hillerman

Odd. The Fly on the Wall. A book so unlike Tony Hillerman's other novels, all but one being his celebrated Navajo Tribal Police series, it seems an anomaly. A fly in the ointment, one might say, cheap pun though it be.
Mystery fans enamored of the legend-hued tales featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee indeed are apt to overlook an early one about a newspaper reporter, suspecting perhaps it was a false start, the clumsy effort of a novice before he hit his stride.

In fact Hillerman's false-start novel--the clumsy one, in his own estimation—turned out to be the first in the series that ultimately brought him fame. The Fly on the Wall came out in 1971, a year after The Blessing Way. Yet it was the Indian culture that fascinated him. Wanting to “get it right,” he followed Fly with Dance Hall of the Dead. He knew now he was hooked, and went on to write sixteen more featuring the same milieu and cast. His burgeoning readership got hooked in the process.