Category: USA Page 3 of 7

Wright Morris: Plains Song: For Female Voices

The latest addition to my website is Wright MorrisPlains Song: For Female Voices. This is one of Morris’ last novels and tells the multi-generational story of the Atkins Family. Cora has married Emerson, after a very brief courtship, and then joined him and his brother, Orion, who are homesteading land out West. The families tend to have daughters and Cora has one daughter, Madge, who is overweight and quiet as a child a as an adult. Orion marries Belle, something of a hillbilly, and they have three daughters. The middle daughter dies when very young and Belle dies giving birth to the youngest one. However, it is the eldest daughter, Sharon, who is key. She is more boisterous and more independent than her cousin, Madge, and, to a certain degree, clashes with Cora. In particular, a strong contrast is made between Cora, the steadfast pillar of the family, and the more flamboyant Sharon, who leaves the area, has a musical career and never marries. We also follow the changes, both in the individuals and in the world around and the effect this has on the various characters. This is an excellent swansong to Morris’ work, focussing on the women over several generations.

Wright Morris: Ceremony in Lone Tree

The latest addition to my website is Wright MorrisCeremony in Lone Tree. This is a follow-up to his The Field of Vision, but, in my opinion, a much better book. It features much of he same cast but with a few extra, who will, in the second part of the book, attend the eponymous ceremony, namely Tom Scanlon’s ninetieth birthday party, in the now almost deserted town of Lone Star. Scanlon spends most of the book asleep but his two daughters, Lois and Maxine, and their husbands and children feature, as does Gordon Boyd, friend of Walter McKee (husband of Lois). Boyd travels around, finding the A-bomb tests and a young woman he calls Daughter before arriving, almost inadvertently, in Lone Star. The others come from nearby but still carry as much emotional and mental baggage as Boyd, not least Lee Roy, nephew of Bud, Maxine’s husband. He is one of two murderers in this book – the other managed to kill ten, but Lee Roy only two. The ceremony itself is chaotic – a madhouse as Maxine describes it – but takes its course. It is an excellent novel, showing Morris as an excellent portrayer of the foibles and problems of the people of Nebraska.

Jane Bowles: Two Serious Ladies

The latest addition to my website is Jane BowlesTwo Serious Ladies. The story mirrors, to a certain degree, Bowles’ own life and the life of her husband, Paul Bowles. It is also her only completed novel, published when she was twenty-five. It is a decidedly strange novel and got very mixed reviews when first published and had very limited success. The two serious ladies are Christian Goering and Frieda Copperfield though, throughout the book, they are usually referred to as Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield. The two meet briefly early in the book, and right at the end but, apart from those meetings, follow their own path. Miss Goering has generally been disliked by others, both as a child and as an adult. She does not particularly care, as she is well-off. She takes in a companion, Lucie Gamelon, in her expensive New York house, before moving to a house on an island, with Lucie, Arnold, a man she met at the same party where she met Mrs Copperfield and Arnold’s father, before going off with a rough man who thinks she is a prostitute. Mrs. Copperfield goes to Panama with her husband and has a Lesbian affair with a teenage prostitute, before falling to pieces though this is something, she says, she always wanted to do. The book is essentially about women leading their own life in their own way, however wrong or unconventional that way may be. It is not to everyone’s taste but is certainly an original, modernist work.

Robert Coover: Huck Out West

The latest addition to my website is Robert Coover‘s Huck Out West. This is another wonderfully post-modern, iconoclastic, very funny book from Robert Coover. It tells the story of Huckleberry Finn and, to a certain degree, of Tom Sawyer, when they become adults and head out to the Wild West. Finn remains the loveable but somewhat naive and unambitious rogue, essentially decent and trying to do what is best. We follow him as he struggles with General Custer, the Lakota Indians, the Black Hills gold rush and even the Civil War. All he wants is some booze and to be left in peace, with a few friends. Sawyer, however, is ruthless, dishonest, ambitious and devious (possibly based, at least in part, on Donald Trump). Coover thoroughly demythologises both Tom Sawyer and the Wild West but has great fun doing so and leaves us with a wonderful post-modern novel – written at the age of eighty-four.

Wright Morris: The Field of Vision

The latest addition to my website is Wright Morris‘s The Field of Vision. It tells the story of a disparate group of people who are attending a bullfight in Mexico and whose back-stories we learn as the bullfight progresses. Walter McKee, but invariably called McKee, has always looked up to Gordon Boyd, who has had some success as a playwright. McKee, his wife, Lois, his grandson Gordon, named after his father, who was named after Boyd, and his father-in-law, Tom Scanlon, who is now blind and deaf and was expected to die some forty years ago, meet Boyd at the bullfight, with a German-born psychoanalyst and one of the psychoanalyst’s former patients and now seemingly his lover, Paula Kahler. As we follow the progress of the bullfight, we learn about the earlier lives of the characters and, in particular, Boyd’s influence on McKee and his effect on McKee and his family, even when they do not see him for a while. It does not quite work for me, maybe because the characters are not too sympathetic.

Wright Morris: The Works of Love

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The latest addition to my website is Wright MorrisThe Works of Love. Morris is very much an underrated writer . This is a first-class novel, which does not get the recognition it deserves. It tells the story of Will Brady, from the time his father first sought a wife till Will’s death many years later. Will’s father dies when he is only four months old and he is brought up by his mother. When she dies, when he is a young man at working as an assistant stationmaster, he leaves Indian Bow and travels to Calloway. Stepping off the train, he is almost immediately offered a job as night clerk at the local hotel. When the owner dies three years later, he takes over and marries the widow. His next business opportunity also falls into his lap the same way. However, Will finds it difficult to communicate. He has a succession of relationships but they are invariably both initiated and ended by the woman. He drifts through life, though a hard worker, unable to find his place and unable to work out who he is. He even brings up a boy, a boy he did not father, and struggles with that. Morris tells Will’s story very well, showing us a man who prefers the company of wackos and who knows how to give but not how to receive.

Wright Morris: The World in the Attic

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The latest addition to my website is Wright MorrisThe World in the Attic. This book follows on from The Home Place. The two books are very similar, except that The Home Place contained photos. The book is about a visit of just under two days by Clyde Muncy (based on Morris), his wife, Peg, and his two young children to Junction, Nebraska, where he grew up. Clyde essentially abandons his family and visits old friends and old haunts, though he finds, in some respects that the town has changed, though in others it has not changed much. The Muncys spend the night with his old friend Bud. However, early the following morning, Bud’s aunt, from whom he is estranged, dies and Clyde again abandons his family and becomes very much involved in the funeral arrangements. This is an exercise in nostalgia, about the charms of rural Nebraska and how different it is from New York where they now live and, as such, is very well written by Morris.

Wright Morris: The Home Place

HomePlace

The latest addition to my website is Wright MorrisThe Home Place. This is an affectionate though not too sentimental autobiographical portrait of the return of Clyde Muncy to his home place, Lone Tree, Nebraska, with his wife Peggy and their two children. The story takes place on their first day there and every page has an accompanying photo, taken by Morris. Like, Morris, Clyde is now a writer and wants to move away from New York and settle back home, not least because he does not want his children to grow up as New Yorkers. We follow their introduction to the farm where he grew up. He feels a great sense of nostalgia and belonging, while the children are curious and eager and, of course, unaware of the difficulties faced for the farmers, most of whom are old, with the young people having moved to the cities. His wife, though born on a farm herself, is unsure, and is most concerned with finding somewhere suitable for the family to live. Morris tells his story well and clearly with considerable love for the home place, admitting that most people will not understand his feelings. The novel is now a classic of US literature.

Susan Daitch: The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir

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The latest addition to my website is Susan Daitch‘s The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir. Daitch wrote two excellent post-modern novels in 1986 and 1990. Since then, she has written only one novel, till the appearance of this one, a wonderful, long and complicated post-modern take-off of the Indiana Jones/lost city novel. The novel is initially narrated by Ariel Bokser, whose father had been a mineralogist in Iran and who had obtained the notebook of a Russian émigré, indicating the existence of a lost city in the Iranian desert. We follow not only the adventures of Bokser as he tries to find the city but also of the Russian woman and her husband and their predecessors, two Englishmen. Mysterious deaths and disappearances, dubious identities, escapes from moving police cars, Soviet spies, bumbling English officials, the Shah’s secret police, the Ayatollah’s secret police, ships sunk by the Nazis, scrolls in strange languages and pots, statuary and so on are all part and parcel of Daitch’s action-packed but definitely post-modernist tale. It is a great read, the action never lets up and just as you think you know who is who and what they are up to, things change, generally not for the better.

John Williams: Augustus

augustus

The latest addition to my website is John WilliamsAugustus. This is a novel of the life of Caesar Augustus, formerly Octavian or Gaius Octavius. We follow his life from when he is a young man, unsure of himself, even though Julius Caesar has adopted him as his son, till his death. Williams tells the story through various documents – letters, memoirs and the like – some contemporary and some told with the benefit of hindsight. Octavius faces innumerable problems, particularly after the murder of Julius Caesar, but by a combination of courage, political astuteness and military prowess, he manages to win through. His problems are internal – someone always seem to want to take over in Rome – and external but he survives, despite ill health. His only progeny, despite four wives, is a daughter, Julia, and he loves her very much but he ends up having to send her into exile, because of her serial adultery. Williams clearly is fascinated by this great man who, at least in historical terms, seems to be in the shadow of Julius Caesar, though this may, at least for the English-speaking world, be partially Shakespeare’s fault. Williams does help to put him back in the forefront of history and tells his story very well.

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