Thursday, March 28, 2019

PARIS IN THE DARK – Robert Olen Butler

Weirdest thriller I ever read. Slow, yet engrossing with well-paced suspense and plausible action. Sort of a pop literary thing that avoids pretension as well as the de rigueur cheap sizzle publishers assume the genre market craves. I chose it for the promise of its title: Paris in the Dark. I spent some time in Paris long enough ago to feel the tug of nostalgia for its uniquely familiar ambience—unique among all other cities I’ve visited, its familiarity groomed over years of hearing and reading more about Paris than any other city I knew of. Prompting me also to read Paris in the Dark was knowing it was set in the WWI years, a taste for which I’d acquired recently from John Buchan’s wartime thrillers. similarity between Buchan’s swashbuckling Richard Hannay and Robert Olen Butler’s Christopher Marlowe “Kit” Cobb, a queer mix of Hamlet, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond. Another big difference, which I didn’t discover until I checked the publishing date of Paris in the Dark. Buchan wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle during the WWI era, with its stereotypical characters and manic lingo. Paris in the Dark came out last year, giving it the advantage of a century of social nuance that enriches the historical perspective with depth and texture.
Kit Cobb narrates Paris in the Dark so intimately we’re embedded in his head, privy to his every whim and worry. I found this irritating at first, as the constant mulling over what to do and how and when and where to do it seemed unnecessarily meticulous, the to be or not to be soliloquy playing over and over and over. The irritation soon turned to fascination, though, as I sensed the author’s invisible hand on the controls moving the story deftly toward its inevitable conclusion. Cobb, a credentialed news correspondent from Chicago, is also a secret spy for an unnamed American government agency. Overtly, he’s doing a story on the American volunteer ambulance drivers based at a makeshift hospital in Paris. Meanwhile, working for his spy boss, James Polk Trask, trying to identify, find, and kill the saboteur who’s setting bombs off in public places. He and Trask are working unofficially with the French secret service, which gives Cobb the name and address of a German informant living in Paris.
Robert Olen Butler
Cobb, who speaks fluent German, learns from the informant of a German assassin recently arrived in the city posing as a refugee. Cobb locates the assassin in a German-run bar, and here we get a look at Cobb’s struggle to manage the separate roles of his conflicting identities as he makes friends with the refugee German bar patrons. After buying a round of pricey imported Kulmbacher beer he begins to feel a closeness with these patrons despite knowing he might have to kill one of them. He creates in his head a German word—Bindungsehnsucht--to describe this closeness:
A deep and complex longing for an emotional connection, for a bond. I was surprised to think of this. I was here as a spy. One of them— if he was not here at the moment, he could well have been— one of them that they would hide and even assist could be a killer of civilians in the name of war. The men in this room were the Huns. And the connection they were creating between us was built upon my lies.
But superficial lies. Lies that could easily have been replaced by equally superficial truths. So easily as to show how irrelevant lies or truth were to the making of this bond they sought. Because the biggest surprise of all was that I was feeling the Bindungsehnsucht in me as well. That they were Germans and I was an American or even that I was an American spy portraying an American German to help prosecute a war against them: all that seemed somehow irrelevant. In this moment we were simply men. In a bar. Finding things to bind us, to give us cause to shake hands, lift our glasses, drink in concert, prop each other up, get varying degrees of drunk together, come to a rapport. That the rapport could be achieved over trivial and interchangeable things only spoke to how deep was the longing itself and, therefore, paradoxically, how profound was the rapport.

Of course he has a fling with the head nurse at the American hospital, and has to balance his conflicting roles for her sake, as well. But this is a thriller, so things are not always what they seem. Cobb finds the bomber—two of them, in fact—and, despite his claustrophobia from having been locked in a Vaudevillian trunk as a child, climbs down into the famous, skeleton-crammed Paris Catacombs where he believes the two terrorists have gone to plant a bomb under the site of a critical meeting between the French president and top military leaders of England and France. The chase is on, in the dark amid grinning skulls and scuttling rats. Cobb figures the bomb has a ten-minute fuse. He hears the terrorists up ahead...

As an example of Pulitzer-winning Butler’s mastery of his craft, the following little scene sticks in my imagination more memorably than the entire Catacomb chase. Cobb and Trask are sitting in a cafe intensely trying to come up with a plan to catch the bombers:I thought to simply drink my beer,” Cobb tells us, “and was surprised to see it hanging in the air before me. I’d lifted it along the way but I couldn’t recall when.
I put it down.”
Pretty sure these guys were not doing recreational drugs.

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Archie's in the Army, and Wolfe is dieting and doing roadwork, trying to get in shape to fight for his country. Reading that sentence you might have thought this is some kind of satire. Nero Wolfe dieting? Jogging? No Archie? Pfui! 
 But wait. It's 1944, and WWII is raging. Rex Stout himself is fighting for his country, exposing enemy propaganda in regular broadcasts via CBS as "Our Secret Weapon." How could he not allow his two favorite detectives to join up? Wouldn't be patriotic. Hence Not Quite Dead Enough, which consists of two novellas: Archie Goodwin, a major in Army Intelligence, deliberately incriminates himself in a murder, to persuade his bull-headed former boss to give up notions of soldiering and come to work with him doing detective work instead of carrying a rifle. It's the old fall-backwards faith test with the point of a sword the bad-faith consequence. That's the first novella, which gives its name to the book. We may assume Wolfe relents, saves Archie's skin, and agrees to lend his brilliant mind to the Army, because if he doesn't we won't have Stout's two favorite detectives back in harness in the second novella, The Booby Trap. And we do.

In Not Quite Dead Enough Archie's mission is to win Wolfe away from his determination to give up his reclusive habits, sumptuous food, and tending his rooftop orchids. Since beginning this Spartan regimen with Fritz, his live-in chef, Wolfe has refused to meet or speak on the phone with anyone from the Army. He's even dismissive of Archie when he shows up unannounced in uniform, giving the impression he's on leave. Archie tries his signature sarcasm: "You are wrong," he tells Wolfe, "if you think your sudden appearance in the front lines will make the Germans laugh themselves to death. They have no sense of humor.” It doesn't work.
Restrained for time, and seeing he's unlikely to persuade Wolfe without resorting to drastic measures, he resorts to a drastic measure: implicating himself in the strangulation of a young woman with a personal problem who'd been trying unsuccessfully to meet with Wolfe. Archie deliberately leaves his fingerprints in the woman's apartment, yanks fifteen hairs out of his head and inserts them under the scarf that's wrapped around the corpse's neck. It doesn't take Wolfe's and Archie's police nemesis, Inspector Cramer, long to identify the fingerprints and the head that had produced the hairs.

In jail already next morning as a material witness when the local paper hits the street, Archie reads on the Courier's front page: ARMY MAJOR HELD IN MURDER CASE/NERO WOLFE’S FORMER ASSISTANT LOCKED UP. Well, guess who skips his morning jog with Fritz and shows up at the jail, outraged? Archie persuades Wolfe he'd done what he did to get Wolfe's attention, and Wolfe agrees to help Archie prove who really strangled the woman, and the two persuade Cramer to release Archie so they can solve the murder. This they promptly do. Did we have any doubts?
Comes now The Booby Trap. Wolfe has for some time since the murder case given up "training" for the Army, and has been working with Army Intelligence in apparently various classified matters. Their current case involves a letter a local congressman's received warning that the purported suicide of an intelligence captain was in fact a murder, and that it involved the massive theft of war materials, including a newly developed grenade. Archie and Wolfe meet with a general, a couple of colonels, and the congressman to discuss the letter. Afterward, when everyone's at lunch, one of the grenades explodes, killing Archie's commanding officer, Col. Ryder. Ryder had told everyone at the meeting he planned to leave for Washington right afterward to speak with Army Intelligence's commanding general.

Archie determines that one of the special grenades had been rigged to detonate when Col. Ryder opened his suitcase. Archie and Wolfe set up their own psychological trap, and inviting everyone who had been in the meeting to Wolfe's brownstone home/office. It's a standard setup Wolfe has used in other cases with multiple suspects. It always works, and, of course, it works now. I found the ending a tad unexpected, but upon reflection I could see at work a nod to the tradition of honor in military situations dating back to the conception of honor in military situations. As a modern metaphor it is called falling on one’s sword.

Inspector Cramer makes an appearance in this case, as well, despite the fact it’s an Army matter, because the Army’s offices are in Cramer’s borough. The “top mackaroo,” as Archie calls the New York unit’s commanding general, is arguing with Cramer and Wolfe over the efficacy Cramer’s interest in the investigation. Cramer notes that he always works closely with Wolfe.
"Show me a corpse, any corpse,” he says, “under the most ideal and innocent circumstances, with a certificate signed by every doctor in New York, including the Medical Examiner. Then show me Nero Wolfe anywhere within reach, exhibiting the faintest sign of interest, and I order the squad to go to work immediately.”
“‘Bosh.’ Wolfe nearly opened his eyes. ‘Have I ever imposed on you, Mr. Cramer?’
“‘What!’ Cramer goggled at him. ‘You’ve never done anything else!’
“‘Nonsense. At any rate, I’m not imposing on you now. All this is a waste of time. You know very well you can’t bulldoze the Army, especially not this branch of it.’ Wolfe sighed. ‘I’ll do you a favor. I believe the mess down there hasn’t been disturbed. I’ll go down and take a look at it. I’ll consider the situation, what I know of it, which is more than you’re likely ever to find out. Tomorrow I’ll phone you and give you my opinion. How will that do?’
“‘And meanwhile?’ Cramer demanded.
“‘Meanwhile you take your men out of here and stay out.’”
And he did. 
Author Rex Stout and CBS News director Paul White review propaganda that will be exposed on Our Secret Weapon (October 1942)
 [Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

NADJA ON NADJA – Tsipi Keller

Subtle surprises came at times on the turn of a single word the several hours I spent captive in Nadja's head. I found these unexpected nuances the more alarming amplified against a familiar landscape, and the experience left my head spinning as crazily as hers by the time I escaped. Nadja on Nadja is an intimate journal of a thirty-something woman's whims, fears, notions, hopes, and disenchantments as recorded by an omniscient narrator who takes us past all boundaries to a place so private Nadja would wish us into Hell's ninth circle were she to find out.
Our trespass enters her thoughts at her workplace, on the twelfth floor of a 5th Avenue Manhattan office building. She's on her way to a "breathing break" in the bathroom, fleeing the micro-scrutiny of her boss, the fiftyish Jerry, whom I instantly despise. Nadja finds Jerry as contemptible as she does the corporate environment where she's worked the past seven years as a research assistant in the library of a "large accounting firm." In the bathroom, she enters a stall next to the outside wall with a large window. Looking out the window, she briefly considers what it might be like to jump from there onto the street below:
"She imagines the fear catching in her throat as the wind rushes past her face—the sheer, if brief, exhilaration of giving in to nihilism and madness. In another part of her brain, it surprises her that she, of all people, would even entertain such a thought; she who, in spite of everything, is usually optimistic, not to say hopeful, and is always aware of what is good and what is bad for her."
Always aware, yet not always able to resist reckless impulses. This gives her an unpredictability that holds me rapt as it sparks a melding of our minds. I want to punch Jerry's face. My fist hesitates when she has a "flicker of remorse" for our dislike of the nagging little twit who "walks like a peacock." This momentary softening comes after he suggests she's too erratic. "He may have a point there," she admits. "Maybe Jerry is a nice man, and she, a tormentor against her will, brings out the worst in him." Nah, despite our closeness I can't buy that. The guy needs a serious hurt.
Tsipi Keller
And then there's her squeeze, Raoul, whom I also dislike at first, but in a different way. At the mere mention of his name, before we meet him, a range of emotions disturbs my relationship with Nadja: I'm old enough to be her father but closer to her than a father should be. I feel jealous and protective, but then a pang of empathy for Raoul when she mentions to herself possibly dumping him. No apparent reason. Fickle woman, I think, but not dismissively.
"Woman." Ah, yes! Almost forgot to mention Woman Ending Badly, the novel-in-progress Nadja's surreptitiously working on at work, sneaking in writing spurts when she thinks no one's watching. Frequently, as her mind flees Jerry and worrying about him, Woman, as her creator calls her protagonist, appears as a rescuing distraction. Nadja projects this eponymous character onto an imaginative screen, and watches Woman walk into the office of her superior to be subtly abused (Woman wonders) by the boss’s apparent massaging of his groin all the while Woman is in his office.
Woman Ending Badly never advances beyond this ambiguous scene, but the title alone plants an ominous question when Nadja introduces it. Discussing her choice of title with her best friend, Sabine, she says, “I have this idea about women in trouble of their own making. Women who end badly because of their own gullibility and poor judgment. In fiction and in life.”
When we meet Raoul, I kinda like the guy, He’s about a decade older than Nadja, pleasantly married, with a couple of kids, and seems to be a decent husband/father despite his cheating with Nadja. He makes a decent living at some kind of mid-level management job. Nadja reflects now and then that his wit is a tad limp, but I find him rather—how shall I put this—rather quicker witted than me, a recognition that bugs me a little about Nadja.
Nadja and Raoul spend a long weekend at Sabine’s cottage on Long Island Sound. Sabine, a published novelist, lives mainly on inherited enough money, and suffers from writer’s block. When the two are together, in person or on the phone, they converse at a speed and with an intimacy I find nearly impossible to follow, remembering my younger sister with her friends when we were kids. In fact, Nadja considers she and Sabine “like two little girls, trapped in women’s bodies.”
Returning to her job after the relaxing weekend, Nadja learns she’s about to be fired. Not especially surprised, having made a point over the years of being a few minutes late every day, spending too much time on “breathing breaks,” being snarky with Jerry, working on Woman on company time, nonetheless her nerves get to her as the suspense builds. When she sees the “Angel of Death,” the employees’ name for the company’s human resources director, enter Jerry’s office she knows the game is over.
I’m with her all the way here, admiring her spunk, her refusal to kowtow in the dismissal ceremony. Something she’d shared earlier buoyed me as we walked through the labyrinth of cubicles to meet Jerry and the Angel: “She remembers that she is alone in the world, and not as smart and ‘with it’ as others seem to be, and that her only true talents are hope and delusion. But, she reminds herself, she does have a gift: she is tenacious.”

I had not read any of Tsipi Keller’s previous novels, well-received and honored, before I became aware of her in the online writers’ community That’s where she posted the first chapter of Nadja. Those first few sentences hooked me good. I believe I’ve swallowed that hook.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


The late Louis L'Amour has my deep, belated gratitude for taking me back to one of my very first (and longest-lasting in my boyish imagination) superheroes, whose twenty (or-fifty?)-gallon, wide-brimmed black hat I covet yet today. And I owe gratitude, too, to one of my favorite blogs, Jerry's House of Everything, for spurring me to the Amazon Roundup where I found The Trail to Seven Pines and L'Amour's three other novels featuring the black-hatted superhero, novels I'd not known existed. I enjoyed the dickens out of Seven Pines, the first novel I’d read about my superhero since those old graphic novels (we called them “comics” in those days), coming close to slapping my butt and galloping on pee breaks to the toilet, galloping like my playmates and I did back in the day when Indians were still the bad guys in our movies and in our backyard re-enactments.
My imagination cantered poignantly savoring L'Amour's tale of the "cowboy" I wanted to be when I grew up: a gentleman knight in black denim with a faithful (brilliant, actually) snowy horse and a pair of nickel-plated, ivory-gripped, single-action Colt. 45 revolvers in black leather holsters draped just below the hips and tied to my thighs (to aid in the quick-draw shooting of guns out of bad guys' hands). And then...and then crushing disappointment delivered by L'Amour's son Beau in a note at novel's end mentioning a feud between L'Amour and his publisher over which Hopalong Cassidy to write about. Excuse me? Which Hopalong Cassidy? There are more than one? No! I am too damned old mature. My imagination has locked onto my Hopalong Cassidy. I will truck no other!
The Hoppy played by William Boyd in the movies and on TV had originated in the popular novels of Clarence Mulford, who retired in 1941. A decade later Mulford’s publisher, Doubleday, decided it wanted more Hoppy novels, but Mulford wasn’t interested, and passed the baton to L’Amour, who was writing pulp magazine westerns at the time.

L’Amour wrote his four Hoppy novels under the nom de plume “Tex Burns,” picked by Doubleday, Beau L’Amour tells us, but under protest: “Dad wanted to use Mulford’s original Hoppy, a red-haired, hard-drinking, foulmouthed, and rather bellicose cowhand, instead of Doubleday’s preference for the slick, heroic approach that Boyd adopted for his films.” Lordy. Had Louis L’Amour’s desire prevailed I might very well have grown up with an ambition aiming somewhat beneath the slick, heroic, black-hatted, spur-jangling, straight-shooting (with either hand) defender of truth, justice, apple pie and American idealism that endured until I spouted my first grown-up obscenity, which led down the trail to a taste for coffee, then beer, tobacco (and other smokables), Early Times bourbon, and on to several DUI citations and higher insurance premiums.
L’Amour’s reverse disenchantment, Beau writes, led to his father’s refusal to admit “he had ever written those last four Hopalong stories. The elder L’Amour died in 1988, and the new editions came out four years later, “the first time that they have ever been published with his name on them.”
Louis L'Amour
I haven’t read much of L’Amour’s work, the most recent was The Ferguson Rifle, over twenty years ago, as research for something I was writing at the time. I like his style—clear, no distracting literary embellishments, believable dialogue. His opening sentence in Seven Pines is a get-straight-to-the-point Hemingwayesque polished gem: “Hopalong Cassidy stopped his white gelding on the bald backbone of the ridge.” The second sentence adds a tad more description: “No soil covered the windswept sandstone, only a few gnarled cedars that seemed, as is their way, to draw nourishment from the very rock itself.”
Of course, this being a Hoppy story, the action kicks in mighty early. We’re clued to this with the chapter-one title: “Two Dead Men.” Indeed, riding in a sudden heavy rainstorm Hoppy and snowy Topper virtually trip over a body on the trail. Hoppy determines the victim, altho riddled with bullets, had been “given a chance” before being murdered. Seeking shelter from the rain they come across a wounded man, who’d also been shot. They gallop off to find a doctor, and by sheer coincidence meet a buckboard in which the sheriff, the doctor, and several others are riding. Hoppy leads them to the wounded man, who’s now dead. He’d been executed at close range with his own revolver. 

Before days end Hoppy is deeply enmeshed in a range feud between a good rancher, a bad one, and assorted free-lance rustlers. Our superhero signs on with the good rancher, and soon the feud bursts into all-out war. No need to guess at the outcome, but the little twists and surprises kept me guessing, and the narrative never faltered. This was my Hoppy, alright. Found myself tempted dearly to search Google for 20-50-gallon black cowpoke hats...and I still might. Still might give my butt a slap or three and gallop to the can next time I go for a pee. Old heroes die hard, you know. In fact, I don’t think Hoppy’ll ever die. Not that he worried about it, if we’re to believe this conversation he held with a fellow saddletramp as they prepare for heavy lead-slinging exchange with some really nasty humanoid varmints:
“Lock looked at the gunfighter curiously. ‘Hoppy, don’t you ever worry about cashin’ in? You don’t show it.’
“Hopalong shrugged. ‘I reckon not. When it comes it will come. I don’t think about this fate business. I just ride along, take no chances I don’t have to take, and what happens will happen.’”
Thanks, Jerry House! A million thanks, for pointing me back to the trail of my innocent—albeit misled and misunderstanding—wide-eyed yout’!

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Ways of Looking at a Woman – Caroline Hagood

I took a couple of days off after reading Ways of Looking at a Woman because I wanted the roiling, frolicking notions implanted by this droll, ingenious look at writing, academics, mothering, movies, womanhood, self-hood, and probably a few things I’m not remembering at the moment...I wanted them, the notions, to sort themselves out unmolested so I could see if the buoyant, sparkling mood this brief dance of poetic prose put me in would last beyond violent interruption by the book about an insane US president I had to read, and, if so, if it survived, to see if a closer look might reveal just how Caroline Hagood worked her literary witchcraft.
My Ways-induced euphoria’s intensity, as I’d suspected, bullied me to cancel the experiment for fear intentional exposure to something notably obnoxious might unfairly dilute this sweetly sensual spell. It became a struggle of willpower, which I won, possibly with the serendipitous help from a silly ditty making the rounds on social media. The lyrics parodied a popular tune for children:
If you’re happy and you know it, overthink
If you’re happy and you know it, overthink
If you’re happy and you know it,
Give your brain a chance to blow it
If you’re happy and you know it, overthink

How could it help, you wonder, when the ditty was in-my-face indicting me, a chronic worrier that happiness is a sham, simply a sly subconscious mechanism for avoiding the ubiquitous signs of decay and injustice and suffering and death and hideous executive hairstyles. Well, it didn’t help. Not me. Not directly. Indirectly it did, because as I knew its taunting, rhymy little message with its insipid tune insinuating itself into my brain as a damnable ear worm should have deflated the euphoria Hagood’s magic had given me, but it didn’t! And Hagood clearly was more vulnerable to overthinking than I am. In fact overthinking is the wings of Ways: extended angsty juggling of interplaying expectations, obstacles, disappointments, writing failures, academics, mothering, movies, womanhood, self-hood, and those other probable things I’m still trying to remember. Hagood lays out the challenge with her first two paragraphs:
It electrocutes me in the best possible way to watch the thoughts marching from afar like a terrifying army.
What’s this sick compulsion to shatter the celluloid that encases me, write my way out with a lyric essay, pervade, project light through light, wrap my head around what I am: a movie in the shape of a woman, seeing and being seen, writer-mother, a mixed genre, a person with another person growing inside her?
I had to look twice to find the counterpoise among the negatives, the “terrifying” and “sick compulsion” and “celluloid” encasing her, but there it was: the incipient spirit that graces not only the opening but the entire piece: a sense of irrepressible ebullience, of joie de vivre, of wry, self-effacing humor that underlies virtually every thought, hell--every word in Ways of Looking at a Woman. “It electrocutes me in the best possible way,” she says of the “army” of thoughts marching toward her to conquer her happiness. She’s ready for them. Her hardy, drolly welcoming nature beckons them to bring it on. And they do, and one helluva fight ensues. And me, watching from the catbird seat, I’m gasping with admiration, interspersed with honest laughter, taking notes like crazy, all the way.
I might have missed the whole show, tho, had I been a creature of academia and discovered at the very beginning this woman’s doctoral dissertation was quite the inept, fumbling, disorganized, hootenanny ramble of scrambled notions daring to go public before enduring the de rigueur gauntlet of peer and advisory reviews. Sacre bleu!, I might have ejaculated flinching at the “research proposal” section's failure to conform strictly to the ivoried rigors of academic structure. These reviewers would have withheld their horrified gasps reading the first two paragraphs, quoted above, granting a brow-cocked pass on a presumed cleverly outré lead-in to the coherent, no-nonsense hypothesis with its sufficient data/citations and perhaps a preliminary pie or bar graph or two before launching into the deadly serious “abstract,” with more of the same rendered more cautiously and, most importantly of course, delivered in a timidly passive voice. Here is where I, were I the hypothetical bowel-constricted peruser, would have blown into a bewildering profusion of dancing question marks, each presenting a smirking little face forcing me upon my gown-muffled oath, were I an 18th century diplomaed pirate, to utter the dreaded ARRRRRRRRRRR and hurl the blasphemous excuse for a dissertation as far and wide as its unbound, coffee-stained leaves would carry it. Here precisely is where it would have happened, when I read these very words: And what will happen if I can’t? Will my skin curl, crack, and harden till I’m mummified, bundled beetle-like in my own ambition? If only someone had told me early on, ‘You will never get the orange peel off in one clean spiral, but more haunting shapes will come out of it in the end.’”
It was here, still trying to imagine what new license had been unleashed in the ivied walls of higher learning, that I glanced at the table of contents and then scrolled quickly through the essay to learn to my raucous amusement that Caroline Hagood was making fun of traditional strictures, that her essay, which, while properly peppered with sources and hedged arguments complete with big words, was really just a cap-and-gown garbed poem about the inner and outer life of a brilliant, original, contradicted, adventurous, questing poetic mind that paid no heed whatever to its faux-architectural disguise. She leaps and somersaults and backflips and handwalks her words down page after page, ignoring such divisions as “methodology” and “acknowledgments,” with its “introduction” in the middle, and its real acknowledgments in the “appendices” at the very end.
Involuntary giggles continue to diesel in my throat every time I recall Ways to Look at a Woman’s send-up of ivory-towered pomposity. And this, while knowing she’s busy working on an actual doctoral dissertation, to which she refers with gentle, respectful humor time and again.
The only catiness I found in Ways of Looking at a Woman was directed at Norman Mailer, who, altho profoundly influencing my outlook coming of age, I see now most definitely deserves the hisss and scratch of Hagood’s claws in her book. I shan’t include any quotes, as I’d hate to instigate a futile brouhaha here in the relatively chaste cloister of my blog.
Male Ego Personified

I said earlier I took a lot of notes. That was understatement. I copied twenty-six pages of quotes from the book to my offline review document. I cannot share many more with you, as the review then would risk straying into legal jeopardy as plagiarism. Yet, I cannot pass up, for example, something like this: “Mostly I didn’t write a memoir because nobody wants to read something called The Subtle Art of Writing While Covertly Watching a Zombie Movie, Playing Make-believe with a Tantrumming Kid, and Eating Taquitos.”
Or this: I started wanting to use ‘I’ in the dissertation where it didn’t belong. On every page, Caroline kept popping up—making lewd gestures behind a footnote, mooning me from behind a piece of particularly dry text.”
I’m gonna pound away at my computer to create the perfectly positioned thought UFO to abduct my reader. – Caroline Hagood, Ways of Looking at a Woman
Dear Reader, she tells me, and only me, I’ve taken the liberty of imagining you as my soul mate, lover, best friend, that person I’ve been looking for my whole life who will make me feel less alone, understand my ravings, my UFO to nowhere. The point is I see you. Consider yourself seen.” I suppose this should be at the top in one of those full-disclosure boxes disqualifying me as an objective reviewer. You can fool some of the people...
Meryl Streep?

Anyone so enticed by this thoroughly subjective rave they might wish to read a real review should click here, on Pank Magazine, for Dr. Patricia Grisafi’s knowledgeable, academically sound look at Ways of Looking at a Woman.