Category: USA Page 1 of 8

A. M. Homes: The Unfolding

The latest addition to my website is A. M. HomesThe Unfolding. Homes tells two linked stories relating to the Hitchens family. The family is the Big Guy (we never learn his real first name), a very successful and rich businessman, his wife Charlotte, an alcoholic who feels her whole life has just been as an adjunct to her husband, and their eighteen year old daughter, Meghan. The novel is set between the day of the 2008 US presidential election, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, and Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. The Big Guy and his friends are not happy with a black man as their president and plot to do something about it, though, initially, there is more talk than action. At the same time his marriage has serious problems, because of both his past and present behaviour, with both Charlotte and Meghan upset with him. This is all pre-Trump, though written over the past ten years with full knowledge of Trump and his dirty deeds but shows how a non-Trumpian faction might react.

Jonathan Franzen: Crossroads

The latest addition to my website is Jonathan Franzen‘s Crossroads. This is another huge book from Franzen telling the story of a dysfunctional family (church minister father, mother, three sons and one daughter) set in New Prospect, Illinois, in the early 1970s. None of the characters can be said to be evil but all bar the youngest son make serious mistakes and do or say something nasty to at least one other character in the book. We follow in detail their back stories and their current lives.The minister-father plans adultery, the mother worries about her weight and her family, the eldest son drops out, the prom queen daughter messes up her life and the second son uses and deals drugs. The title, by way, refers to the general meaning of the term, the name of the youth centre where some of the action takes place and Robert Johnson‘s famous blue song of that name. Franzen tells an interesting and complex story of your everyday dysfunctional US family.

Susan Daitch: Siege of Comedians

The latest addition to my website is Susan Daitch‘s Siege of Comedians. This is a superb and highly complex novel with three main characters and lots of secondary ones. We follow Iridia, a forensic sculptor for the Brooklyn Missing Persons Bureau, who uncovers a people trafficking plot but has to flee to Vienna as the traffickers are after herl. We then follow Martin Shusterman who goes to Buenos Aires but his girlfriend is disappeared so he becomes an accent expert. However he is obsessed with a Buenos Aires neighbour , Karl Sauer, a Nazi film-maker, and he also heads to Vienna to track him down. The building in Vienna where Sauer worked had been a brothel in 17th century Vienna and we follow the woman who ran the brothel but also three trafficked women who ended up in her brothel. Daitch is clearly attacking the horrific treatment of women through the ages but also tells a superb and complex story with lots of side issues, making this a very complex novel but one well worth reading.

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.

Page 1 of 8

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén