Category: USA Page 1 of 7

Richard Powers: Bewilderment

The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersBewilderment. This is another superb novel from Powers, about a widower, Theo, an astrobiologist bringing up a highly intelligent and very sensitive son, Robin who does not fit in and does not want to attend school. Indeed, he really wants to be another Greta Thunberg. To keep the authorities away Theo has Robin participate in an experiment which involves mapping the boy’s brain to another brain map, in this case his late mother’s. While it seems to work, there is an enemy, a Trump-like president who hates science, immigrants and civil liberties. The world is going to hell, while Theo tries to look beyond our world and Robin struggles with our flawed world. Highly recommended reading.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun

The latest addition to my website is Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Klara and the Sun. The novel is set in the not too distant further in the United States and tells the story of Klara, an AF, i.e. an artificial friend, a robot that acts as a friend to a child, not least because children do not seem to go to school but learn online. We follow the story from Klara waiting in a New York shop to be sold and being bought by the mother of Josie, a girl with health problems. Klara is astute and sensitive and tries to help Josie, not least by invoking the sun, the source of Klara’s energy and nourishment. We meet Rick, next door neighbour and close friend of Josie, we learn how Klara struggles to fully understand humans and the issues with Josie’s divorced parents and whether Klara can save Josie. As in many of Ishiguro’s books there is an underlying sense of foreboding, exacerbated by a hint – but only a hint – of societal breakdown. This book clearly sees Ishiguro back to form and is an excellent work on our possible near future.

Don DeLillo: The Silence

The latest addition to my website is Don DeLillo‘s The Silence. This is an-the-end-of-the-world-may-be-nearer-than-you-think novel. Two couples and a solo man are to meet to watch the Superbowl on 6 February 2022. The first two are flying back from Paris and their plane has to make a crash landing, though they have only minor injuries. The other three are about to watch the game when there is a power cut and everything is out. The solo man rambles on about Einstein and the various ills of the world (microplastics, countersurveillance and so on) while the other two, later joined by the couple from the plane, discuss the ever-approaching apocalypse. This is a short novel and perhaps not his best but still makes for an interesting read.

Marilynne Robinson: Jack

The latest addition to my website is Marilynne Robinson‘s Jack. This is the fourth book in Robinson’s Gilead series. Unlike the others, none of it takes place in Gilead, Iowa, but is mainly set in St Louis. It goes back in time and tells the story of Jack Boughton and Della Miles, the outcome of which we learn of in Home. Jack is the black sheep of the family. He has been in prison (unjustly, he claims), drinks, cannot hold a job, steals and generally live the life of a down-and-out, a trial to his family. His father is a church minister. He meets Della, whose father is also a church minister. Della is black and, in those days, mixed relationship were frowned upon and cohabitation and marriage of mixed-race couples were illegal in some states, including Missouri. We follow Jack’s not always successful attempts to reform and Della’s not always successful attempts to help him, all the while knowing that she is upsetting her family and risking her job. If you read only this book, you will get the feeling that rather than a bad man, Jack is ultimately merely a weak man, unable to get his life on track. A good woman, which Della certainly is, should help but, as we know by the time of Home does not. This is superb book about a lost soul and his and Della’s attempt to save it.

Shalom Auslander: Mother for Dinner

The latest addition to my website is Shalom Auslander‘s Mother for Dinner. This is a wickedly funny satire on identity politics and racism. Our hero is Seventh Seltzer and he is a Cannibal American (CA). The CA first immigrated to the US in 1918 though no-one seems to be sure where the Old Country is or, indeed, what it was like (there are two competing myths). Seventh is the seventh son of a woman the children merely know as Mudd – we never know her real name – and she is fiercely protective of the CA traditions and fiercely racist towards other groups. However, there is one tradition the CA have kept. When someone dies the immediate family has to eat the corpse. Mudd is preparing herself for death by stuffing herself with hamburgers. Her children, most of whom have married people who are not CA, are naturally reluctant to eat her but they discover if they do not they will not inherit the proceeds of the sale of the large Brooklyn house. Many of them have financial problems and need the money. What to do? Call Unclish, their father’s brother and keep of the flame and take Mudd’s body to the long since abandoned CA University and prepare for the feast. The book is very funny and holds nothing sacred though some will find it offensive.

Salman Rushdie: Quichotte

The latest addition to my website is Salman Rushdie:‘s Quichotte. This is nominally Rushdie’s pastiche of Don Quixote, with its inspiration more from US TV shows and Pinocchio than from Cervantes. We follow a TV-obsessed Indian immigrant to the US, who wants to win the heart of a former Bollywood, now US TV star and sets out on a journey to do so. However, his story is being written by another Indian immigrant to the US. Both men have similarities with Rushdie himself, both men have fallen out with her sister and both men are estranged from their son (one real, one imaginary). However, Rushdie goes all over the place – cheap jokes, US TV, science fiction, fantasy, racism and Trumpism, the road novel increasingly prevalent psychological disorder in which the boundary between truth and lies became smudged and indistinct. It is quite a fun read but really not a very good novel.

Lucy Ellmann: Ducks, Newburyport

The latest addition to my website is Lucy Ellmann‘s Ducks, Newburyport. This is a very long (1020 pages), post-modern novel. Much of it consists of a single sentence, detailing the thoughts of a middle-aged woman from small town Ohio. She ranges over all the obvious topics – her life and her family (four children, one current and one ex-husband), but also current events, including Trump, guns, pollution and many other current topics. She gives us lists, word associations in their thousands, lots of comments about her life and life in Ohio and the US and her concerns about where her life is going and not going. At the same time, we follow a separate, more poignant story, told in a more conventional way, i.e. with sentences, about a mountain lioness, raising her cubs and struggling with humans, the bane of her life. It is very well told and a joy to read, as Ellmann is such a superb writer.

Dawn Powell: The Golden Spur

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Golden Spur. This is another very witty novel from Powell – her final novel – set, of course in New York (in 1955), centred around a watering hole (the eponymous Golden Spur) and about a naive young man – Jonathan Jaimison – from the provinces (Ohio). His mother (now dead) had spent some time in New York more than twenty-five years ago, as a typist for various writers, and he has just learned from his aunt, his mother’s sister, that his mother returned from New York to marry Jonathan’s father, already pregnant. Jonathan’s mission in New York is to try and find his biological father. He soon has several candidates, based both on his mother’s friends but also his own preferences for a father. We follow his time in New York, his search for a father and his effect, invariably positive, on the various people he meets.

Dawn Powell: The Wicked Pavilion

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Wicked Pavilion. This is another wicked mocking of New York society from Powell, this one set around the Café Julien, where all the characters pass through at some time during the book. We follow tales of love gone wrong, ambitious people thwarted in their ambitions, backbiting and gossip and, in particular, a damnation of all sides of the art world – artists, critics, journalists, dealers, patrons and art lovers. All lack integrity and all are interested in money and sex and not much else – certainly not art. However, no-one is spared, not just the art world. Lovers, Boston society, parents, friends, husband hunters, husbands, wives, all are grist to Powell’s mill. It is very funny and while New York has undoubtedly changed in the seventy years since this book was set, the morality and integrity almost certainly have not.

Dawn Powell: The Locusts Have No King

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Locusts Have No King. This is a love story, about the many vicissitudes in the love life of Frederick Olliver, a struggling but very serious writer, and Lyle Gaynor, a married and successful playwright (with the plays written jointly with her invalid, sexually incapable husband). We follow their love life, and their relationships with others, while, at the same time, Powell satirises all and sundry, from the New York social scene to the intellectuals, the artists, the journalist and advertising men, the gossipers, the ambitious arrivals from the sticks (specifically Baltimore in this case) and anyone else who falls under Powell’s scrutiny. It is an enjoyable read but not her greatest novel.

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