Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Book Group Choice

Tiring of angst, agony, irony, and other vestiges of the postmodern in our literature, the book group unanimously elected to pursue the reading of P.G. Wodehouse's The Mating Season.  As I have yet to make it through a Jeeves and Wooster novel or even collection of short stories, this will present a signal challenge and opportunity.  Wodehouse is much like Chesterton for me--legions of vehement fans--but I just don't get it.  So let's hope that this is my opportunity to get it--and, if not become a rabid fan, at least have a new source of gentle comedy to turn to when the angst of the new age becomes too overwhelming.

By the way--the entire group hated Brockmeier's The Illumination.  The verdict--beautifully written--but too many unrelated gimmicks in a story that was really too dismal for words.  That said--I know that there are a great many out there who will enjoy it and my overall ranking for it--despite by personal distaste remains four-star.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thinking About the Bookgroup

Thinking about the bookgroup I belong to and the fact that I'm kinda looking for something that isn't post-modern and isn't "all that" in the most recent circles of the literati.  Indeed, I'm rather tired of the choices of the literati and thought that a return to 19th or early twentieth century British fiction might do the trick.  I'm looking at the following titles.  If anyone has additional suggestions, I'd love to hear about them:

The Painted Veil--W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor's Edge--W. Somerset Maugham
The Secret Agent--Joseph Conrad
(Nostromo)--Joseph Conrad--sort of in the back of my head--perhaps a little too much right now
Cranford--Elizabeth Gaskell
Parade's End--Ford Madox Ford
The Old Wives Tale--Arnold Bennett
Something by D.H. Lawrence?  Women in LoveThe Rainbow?  In college, Sons and Lovers was quite enough of a Lawrence experience--but perhaps the time has come to revisit?

Having read one Joyce and one Woolf with mixed reviews in the group, I'm shying away from consideration of further works.  But perhaps another Waugh (I've read nearly all, but the group has read, I think, Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust, and The Loved One.  Or Graham Green--I think I'd aim at Brighton Rock--The group has managed at least The Power and the Glory and The Quiet American.

So--others I should consider.  I've read a bit of each of the first seven books--enough to be intrigued by each of them, but not enough to decide what might be worthwhile for everyone so I could make a cogent suggestion. 

Input and discussion are, as always, more than welcome.

Monday, May 23, 2011

LoA: Story of the Week--Wallace Stevens

While called the story of the week, this weeks offering is actually a poem from the LoA collection of "religious verse."  In the instance--Wallace Stevens's magnificent "Sunday Morning."

"Sunday Morning" is a gorgeous, rich, lush meditation on matters religious and otherwise and as with another poet of my acquaintance it perfectly enunciates the inner struggle some have conducted in search of truth--whether or not it comes from faith.

The Illumination--Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination is a book of seven short stories each linked at a single point through a single device.  It tells the story of a diary of love notes that passes from hand to hand and the stories of those individuals who receive the diary.

Beyond that, I have little to say for the novel.  It is well written.  There are parts that are compelling.  There are characters about whom you want to know more--but the necessarily brief space allotted each does not really allow for a deep understanding of each character.

I suppose I would speaking too strongly to say that I was disappointed in the book; but there is some truth to the statement.  It never seemed to gel for me in the way something like The Imperfectionists, which is constructed along the same lines, did.  The novel didn't seem to have so much an ending as a stopping point.  But I don't know what more I could have asked from it or form its unique device.  You see, the illumination is an event at which every human pain and injury suddenly becomes visible to all around.  Each wound, each illness, each pain shows through by the light it gives off.

Perhaps some of the disappointment isn't with the book so much as it is with the idea that this sudden change in things illicits no real change from the human beings whom it effects.  After a brief shift in perception, things return to much the way they were.  Here, injury and pain shines out and begs for consolation, and as human we develop new ways to shield ourselves from it, to politely deny it.  That observation in itself has a profound strain of truth--we are creatures who cannot accept too much pain.  We spend much of our lives seeking a remedy for our various bodily aches and pains--sometimes, depending upon the source of that relief, destroying the bodies themselves.  Our recourse to instantaneous relief of pain, often causing yet more damage.

So, in sum, the stories and characters are interesting, the plot device compelling, but the novel never seems to come together as a complete story--it never really has a resolution.  And the two devices of illumination and diary seem almost too much for a single book.  All that said, the book is fine writing, and perhaps I am overly harsh in my view of it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Welcome Restoration

Meatless Fridays for Catholics in England and Wales

While there is a standing obligation to perform some form of penetential recognition of the day, I know that I often do not do so--more often than not.  Not because I'm unwilling but because the law itself is too nebulous to be of help.  When it is expected of all (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday,  and the Fridays of Lent) it is relatively easy to observe.

A moment out to remember what we are about as a people is salutary.  Perhaps the obligation should be more other-focused--but that is hard to do without serious interference in daily life.  For example an obligation to serve at a food station for the homeless, or to take a home-bound neighbor to the store, a doctor's appointment, or other needed or desired destination.  These would be the penance not of "sack-cloth and ashes"  but of "liberating the poor, the lonely, those imprisoned unjustly" etc.

But this sort of penance would suffer from the present Friday obligation--nebulosity. So some reminder that we are eternally in debt and that debt may only be paid to others is a good and necessary thing. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Edge--Thomas Blackthorne

I first picked up Edge in a bookstore because of the unique cover treatment.  There was an end-dump with books from Angry Robot ( a press I had not heard of) and this one had a cover design that was nearly all words--so much so that the title is a little difficult to distinguish the title.  The cover described what can only be described as a "Running Man" type scenario with knife fights and sudden death.

So, in an England of the future where the right to vote is dictated by the willingness to carry a knife and engage in knife duels and challenges, a young man runs away from his psychiatrist's office and the young man's father goes on a legal rampage against the psychiatrist.  He also hires our knife wielding hero to find his son.  One would think given that this is a future of intense monitoring of all activity that it wouldn't be such a trick.  But just as everything is monitored, much can be cloaked, hidden, and changed in the system.

We follow for much of the book the parallel stories of the searchers and the young man.  But then as we reach a kind of resolution to the plot some sort of additional complication ensues that allows the author to indulge in training for and a long description of the sort of battle featured on the front cover.

Up until this sudden larding of the plot, the story perked along at a nice pace.  A lot of angst, a lot of future dystopia, some interesting insights into character, some fascinating hints of technology and its application.   Really fine stuff.

But this larded plot--this extra piece, which was really, more properly a separate book entirely was nearly impossible to get through.  It added little to what was already there and seemed to detract much. While I would still recommend the book, it is not with the fervor that I would had it lacked the last hundred or so pages.  Ironically, I will note, it is this latter part of the novel described on the cover--indeed, it is for this that I picked up the book in the first place and discovered a much different, much better story heading up the "fun and games" of the latter fourth of the book.

So, overall--a really nice novel with a not-quite-coherent novella tagged on at the end.  Read it for the novel and enjoy, or not the extra piece--it adds little and doesn't take us anywhere we haven't already seen in greater detail.

For the great beginning **** but overall, I fear, ***

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ezra Pound for Young Writers

Pound's composition tips for young writers

Another Startling View of WCW

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

But after thinking of both of them for many years, I believe that the person to whom Williams can be most suggestively compared is his younger contemporary, William Faulkner. They are nothing alike in their ways of writing or in their subjects. They dealt with two distinct varieties of American disorder: Williams with the accumulating mass of detail in the rapidly industrializing New Jersey suburbs of New York City, Faulkner with (among other things) racial division both within individuals and among people who lived more or less together and sometimes were kin to one another.  Both dealt, in different ways, with the reduction of the country's original abundance to a sum of exploitable and deteriorating "resources" for industry. They seem to have been, if not similarly, then equally burdened by their subjects--not, as with many writers, subjects sought out or acquired, but subjects that they inherited by being born int he places where they also lived their lives, and for which they were required, as a personal emergency, to find a language and an imaginative order, at the cost of a life's unremitting work and always at the risk of failure.

First, who would have thought to compare Williams and Faulkner.  To say that they are nothing alike in style or subject is an understatement that beggars the imagination.  And what it says most of all to me is that Berry evidently reads them out of his own heart of concerns.  The themes he recognizes (rightly, I think) are the themes that are part and parcel of Berry himself.  There is a concern with knowledge of place with both the natural elements of it AND the cultural elements as an additional layer.  I am not well enough acquainted with the vast amount of poetry from Williams--and some of it is daunting in its paucity of potential interest.  Really, Patterson, NJ?  And some of the earlier work just thuds on the ear.  So I must trust one better acquainted with the subject.  Again, the power and value of an interested critic.

As a side note--it is interesting that while I was typing the above excerpt, I typed, "They are nothing alike in their ways of knowing. . ." instead of "They are nothing alike in their ways of writing. . . "  And I realized for me that writing is the fundamental way of knowing.  In a very real sense, if it is not written, then it isn't really understood.  It has always been so for me.  I don't think that it is for everyone--but for me, knowledge or understanding gels better when it is written out.  I can read and read and read and read, but true insight occurs when I pause in my reading and take time to say to someone else--even if that someone is only myself--what it is that I am learning or hearing in what I am reading.  Do others have a similar experience?  Or perhaps a very different experience?  I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Influential Works

One often sees lists of influential books and written media, but as I was thinking about it, while books have been highly influential, so have other works of art.  I present below a list of the most influential works or artists in my life:

E. A. Poe
H. P. Lovecraft
Philip K. Dick (most particularly The Man in the High Castle, but also the amazing, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said)
Harlan Ellison--particularly "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin,' Said the Tick-Tock Man."
Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke
Mendelssohn--Overture to the Hebrides (Fingal's Cave) and Incidental Music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Claude Debussy--particularly Jeux, Images, and La Mer
Richard Wagner--(I suppose I should be a little ashamed of this--but I can't muster up much shame for it--splendid if often over-the-top music)
Salvador Dali
Rene Magritte
Yves Tanguy
Claude Monet
Auguste Renoir
The Bible--but most especially the incredibly beautiful Apocalypse of John.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
To the Lighthouse
The Good Soldier

In substantial and profound ways the works listed above have influenced my own writing and my view of the world.   There are probably many others and I'll think about it some more and perhaps come back with what lingers with me from each of these works.

Pet Sounds Breakdown

Pet Sounds Breakdown

Those who know know, and those who do not won't care.

The Kindly Ones considered

The Anything But Kindly Ones reviewed

Repulsive, abhorrent, deeply wrong--this book sounds like a candidate for the surrealist manifesto prize.

Apropos de l'imagisme

HD arrives in London--a font of imagism

More on Williams

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

The now-prevailing idea seems to be that poets occupy their designated place in the departmented structure of the arts and sciences, of which the increasingly industrialized modern university is the model. Poets, that is to say, are professional like other professionals and specialists like other specialists. Their business is to produce, ideally, perfect poems of lasting value individually, as objects of art or "high culture." This assumption seems to underlie the judgment of such dismissive critics as Donald Davie and Bruce Bawer. Precedent to them was Yvor Winters, who, admirable as he was in some ways, ranked individual poems as the greatest ever, greatest in English, etc. as if the art of poetry were a sort of contest. Increasingly, moreover, poets are attached to universities and are dependent upon them for a living. I have been at times so attached and so dependent myself, and thus I know something of what is involved. Unless university poets are actually from some place in particular, and unless they have the good fortune to be employed somewhere near their homes, they tend to be careerists an migrants, without local knowledge or affection or loyalty, like their professional and specialist colleagues.  They are therefore under pressure to conform to, and they have no immediate reason to resist, the industrialist order represented by their university. They, like their critics are inclined to think that the arts are under obligation to keep up with the times, and to conform to the industrial values and the advances of technology.

Of course, given the title of the work, we knew we were to work our way around to the themes close to the heart of Wendell Berry.  I do not know that I necessarily agree with his poetic theory.  Nor am I certain that I would agree with his evaluation of Williams in this light.  But what I do see here is what I see in so much criticism, a revelation of a person in the light of his reading.  Whether or not Williams is indeed a regional poet (a matter that can be debated endlessly, I suppose) what really matters is that Berry read and reads him as such and reading him as such has proven influential in Berry's own work. 

Do I care whether or not Albert Camus cherished Christian values--not at all.  Can I find delineations of classical Christian values in Camus's work--undoubtedly.  But, and here's the trick, that doesn't mean he put them there--that means only that I am capable of finding them where there is work strong enough to support any critical apparatus.  Obviously that says a great deal more about me than about Camus.  Likewise, those who read say Walker Percy or Flannery O'Connor and fail to see the very obvious and pointed references to Christian Theology and values are constructing their own works rather than reading what is on the page. 

Not that constructing one's own work is such a bad thing--literature is a cooperative endeavor.  We consent to be guided by the author, but we do not consent to be blinkered.  We will see what we will see whether or not that was what the author intended for us to see.  While there is an importance to authorial intention, it is not the ultimate importance in reading and understanding a work of literature.  I think this is what Harold Bloom means when he speaks of great works of literature "reading us." We will see as in a glass (sometimes darkly) what we are in the great works.  We will make of them some mix of what the author made of them and what we already are in our experience. Thus we will engage with each in quite different ways.  It is why one so widely read and so thoroughly conversant with literature as Bloom can have such a stubborn blind spot in his vision when it comes to someone like Edgar Allan Poe--nothing there engages Bloom and so Poe is not great. 

But this is where Bloom makes his mistake--Poe can still be great even if Bloom finds nothing there for himself.  This is mystifying to Bloom, you can see his comments in several works on this mystery.  There is about Poe something of greatness--is it in his prose?  Probably not--but whatever it is, it lasts, it grows, and it is highly influential.

So, when Berry reads Williams, he reads a regional poet.  When I read Williams, I read an imagist, and is some cases a near surrealist who transcends any region and, who in fact, is less likely to take me to a specific place than a poet like, say Wordsworth.  Which is Williams?  Well, in fact, through the magic of collaboration--he is both.  I come to know a new Williams by reading Berry's appreciation of him.

So, the value of critics and of criticism.  They force us, for a moment, to look outside of our own narrow worldviews and participate in the world views of others.  Not necessarily those of the author under discussion--and so, in a sense--literature and criticism were a very early form of social networking with the author providing a base and all of the commenters building up a community--sometimes antagonistically (as happens today) sometimes not.

Perhaps more later about Berry's view of Williams, but it is a quick, deep, refreshing read.  I am not a profound fan of much of Williams, but Berry's work suggests that I need to look to Williams for what he does well, not for what I want to find.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Nice Hypertext Hollow Men

"The Hollow Men"

The Complications of Past Sex

"Bringing Past Sex to Life is Complicated"

10 Japanese Writers You Should Know

10 Japanese Writers you should know--or not

Well, at least contemporary--it would seem a shame to ignore Soseki, Kawabata, Tanazaki, Basho, Shonagon, Murasaki, Issa, and countless others--but this is a nice short photo guide to 10 who might be worth your interest.  Ryu Murakami gave rise to a book that in turn gave rise to one of the most disturbing of all of the Japanese or Asian horror films--Audition

Hmm, but what of a list that does not include Yoko Ogawa?

George Saunders Interviewed--Part I

An interview with George Saunders

Saunders is author of some amazingly funny short stories and a marvelous collection of essays titled The Brain Dead Megaphone.

A Complete Short Story by Daphne DuMaurier

"The Doll," unpublished since the late 30's available in its entirety

Existential Star Wars

Joanna Russ--R.I.P.

Joanna Russ has left the SF world

On Williams Redux

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

He was learning to make of his own language a work that could be nothing but a poem--that could not be replaced by a picture, say, or by anything in prose.

Good News for the Poetry Crowd

Good news in the form of a book: The Poetry of William Carlos Willims of Rutherford by Wendell Berry.

For those who respect Berry's voice, thought, and approach, this is an unabashed tribute and appreciation the goal of which is succinctly stated in the prologue:

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

To the extent that a life can have an agenda, my life's agenda for a long time has included some sort of deliberative writing about the poetry of William Carlos Williams, not as an "objective academic endeavor, for which I had no need, but rather as a payment or at least an acknowledgement of a personal debt. I would need to do this late in my life, I thought, the better to understand both Williams' effort and my own, and therefore the character and size of my debt to him. Through most of my life as a writer, I have taken an increasingly familiar pleasure and an invaluable sustenance and reassurance from his poetry And there was a time in my early years, as I was struggling to find my way through much misapprehension and error, when his example was indispensable.

I have not yet finished the book, but have read enough to say that it goes on into a detailed appreciation of the poetry.  I won't say analysis, because I have precious little use for analysis in poetry or in much of literature.  Most analysis tells us more about the person writing than the person written about.  I suppose Freud would term it "projection."  In any competent work of literature (much less great work of literary art) it is possible to read into more than read--and so one must exercise caution in finding Christian symbolism in Shelley or Harte Crane.  If it gives one comfort to think that it is there--no harm is done--but if it is erected as a critical structure over a body of work--well, come to think of it, no harm done either--for what is most criticism but building castles in the sand--work that will perish long before  the matter under examination.  The next critical tide washes through and most criticism is washed away.  How many scholars today spend much time with the scholars and the critics of even the 1920s, much less earlier times.  Criticism is of its time--an interpretative apparatus driven by the agenda of the day--but a true work of art is for all time and will be subject to the vagaries of countless critical agendas and interpretative structures.

Oops.  I was supposed to be talking about Wendell Berry's book.  I say appreciation, because while there are details of what Berry truly admires in Williams's poetry, there is no critical apparatus erected over the opus.  There is no intent to tell us how we should read Williams.  Rather, there is clear instruction in how we should hear Williams as we read.  Study of prosody, meter, and other aspects of the poetic art against the backdrop of Williams's mostly spare opus.

Perhaps more about this later--but I just wanted to let everyone know that it's available, and from my brief reading so far, it is well worth your time if you have any interest at all in twentieth and twenty-first century poetry.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

University of Chicago Free E-Book--May

Chasing Science at Sea

While we're on the topic, I had two rare delights on Sunday before Sam's recital (another rare and extraordinary delight). We went to Sea World so he could ride Manta and Atlantic.  Generally while he rides Manta, I go into the nearby aquarium and enjoy the fact that we have somehow learned how to maintain a reef community aquarium, an accomplishment available only to the most elaborate aquaria and research institutes only a short while ago.  But the real delight is that Octopus vulgaris was out of her lair and swimming about her aquarium.  I've been here many times and the only view I had was of the octopus stuffed into a small tube that connected to adjacent aquaria.  But here she was out and about stretching and flexing for all the world to see.

So, while Sam was riding Atlantis, I went into the nearby aquarium where normal one can see Pacific Sea Nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) and, usually, Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) both incredibly beautiful and fragile--amazing animals.  Well I saw the sea nettles and took my pictures, but then turning to the moon jellies I found that they had been replaced by ctenophores--particularly this species of so called "comb-jellies"  The moon jelly sign was still up, so I don't know the specific species, but there were what seemed like hundreds (but were probably only dozens) of these delicate, graceful, beautiful creatures.

The cilia that help them move create a rainbow iridescence that is both ghostly and lovely.  One viewer compared them to the creatures one sees at the end of  The Abyss--an apt comparison for in all likelihood creatures like these were the models for creature like those.

All in all, a very, very fine day.

Note:  A little subsequent research suggests that I was looking at a species of Pleurobrachia--fairly common shallow watter ctenophores.  I recall netting them near the mouth of the York River in Virginia.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden RIP

If true, may he rest in peace.  If true,  this is a somber victory and should be regarded as such.  No one wins when we make a martyr of anyone, and especially not when people figuratively spit on his grave.  I'm truly sorry that this has to be the resolution of the whole terrible ordeal.

As Anthony says of Caesar,

"The evil men do lives after them;
the good is oft interred with their bones;
so let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
hath told you that Caesar were ambitious;
if it were so, it was a grievous fault
and grievously hath Caesar answered it.

I am no partisan of bin Laden and his followers, but surely we have matured to a place in our civilization where we do not need to crow over a fallen enemy?  That the observance of such a deep moral victory can be made a solemn occasion for remembering not only that something great has been accomplished, but that it had to be accomplished at a terrible price in lives--both those who have died today and those who have died as we have attempted to accomplish this end.

I think the Commonplace Blog did a nice job of summing up.

What the Vatican spokesperson had to say:

"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, had the very grave responsibility of spreading division and hatred amongst the people, causing the death of countless of people, and of instrumentalizing religion for this end," he said. "In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace."

The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously ha

Reading the Holocaust

An annotated reading list

More from The Illumination

from The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier

When he flipped the light on, the objects that greeted his eye had an unusual tidiness to them, a strange and frightening aura of completeness, as if the treadmill and the storage hutch, the stereo and upright speakers, had all suddenly become imprisoned inside their own outlines. The silhouette of a beetle whisked its legs inside the ceiling fixture. One of the pipes gave a tug beneath the house. In the quiet, the noise made him shiver.

Perfect Description

from The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier

He was discharged from the hospital on one of those stern late-winter afternoons when a low blanket of rain clouds had turned the sky the color of a blackboard coated with chalk dust.

The last time I encountered description this powerful and apposite was in Maaza Mengiste's Beneath the Lion's Gaze.  That gives me great hope for this book being powerful and beautiful.

Arrian Continued

The Common Reader continues to share wonderful insights into Arrian's work.

Go to the main page and look back over the last several days--the work is wonderful, the insights worthwhile.  Would that we all took the time to go back and read and learn from these classics.

When the Killing's Done T. C. Boyle

Once one breaks through the massively over-written introduction to this tale of ecologists v. animal rights activists, one is plunged into a story with few, if any likeable characters battling it out over ideology.  What is most fascinating about this is that despite the lack of engagement I felt for any of the major characters in the book, Boyle managed to keep me reading.

The first chapter or so is so grotesquely overwritten as to offer a fairly high barrier to even the interested reader.  But charge through it--there isn't so much given there that you'll miss a great deal if you skim.  You'll learn about the rats on Anacapa and you'll get a kind of insight into the other book-end of the story.  I dare say no more because while there is something germane here at the beginning that leads to an ending that requires some thinking-through, it would be too much to make my point "above the break" as it were.

T.C. Boyle's story traces the work of an ecologist seeking to restore the primal/pristine environment of the Northern Channel Islands off the coast of California.  In opposition to this biologist and her colleagues is a small group of very fringy animal-rights activists--a broad spectrum of vegans to ovo-lacto-piscine vegetarians.  The ecologists seeks to reestablish balance on the islands through a series of slaughters and capture and repatriation programs.

In the course of the novel Mr. Boyle manages to thoroughly undermine the dogmatic positions on both sides.  As one begins to understand the ecologists' scheme, one wonders whether the killing's ever done.  On the other hand, with the animal rights activists, the focus is not so much on the trees, but on the veins of the leaves of the topmost branches of the trees to the detriment of everything and everyone else.

There are some light and amusing moments as the book progresses, but overall, it is a dank and somewhat downbeat assessment of the agenda-driven human who acts so much out of a core belief that is never examined that one is left to wonder how much of a person surrounds this dogma.

I won't say that the story is riveting--it isn't.  I had to force my way through most of the book, but oddly, I did end up liking it overall.  While I wouldn't rank it as one of the more memorable books I've read in recent days, it was thought provoking and engendered a long and thoughtful discussion among members of the book group--something I can't really say for many of the books we have read.


Santo Subito

Il Magnifico--or his Polish Equivalent given the wonderful Mercy of being beatified on a day precious to him (Totus Tuum) and on the day of celebration of the feast he erected--Divine Mercy Sunday.  I do know that there is a variety of Catholic who will not be pleased with this--but I am ecstatic--fallible, human, broken, like us all--but a man of great Holiness with a heart for peace.

Spiral--Paul McEuen

Of the three books I mentioned in my post below, this was the next easiest.  I breezed through it in less than a full day of reading and given its compelling writing and subject matter, it is easy to imagine that the interested reader would do likewise.

McEuen, in this novel at least, is vying to join the ranks of Preston and Cloud, Rollins, Reilly, and Maberry.  While nowhere near as armaments oriented as the last two, neither is the plot nearly as convoluted as the first two.  And that makes for a satisfying, deeply interesting, and intelligent read.

More intriguing is that Mr. McEuen, while he may not be aware of it, also brings the strains of a fascinating Japanese horror film into his book.  The "Spiral" of the title is Uzumaki  (the Japanese word for Spiral and the name of a fascinating and grotesque Japanese horror film about people who turn into snails as the result of a curse--or something--as with most Japanese horror, the cause is never really quite there.)  Uzumaki in the book is the name of a spectacularly devastating weaponized fungal contagion that the Japanese developed at the end of World War II as a sort of Doomsday machine. The book is the story of this fungus, a fungal researcher who is made aware of it at the end of the War and who dedicates his life to finding a "cure" for it, and the group of family and friends who go through the wonderful experience 60 years later of its resurrection.

Doomsday scenarios are fascinating, but McEuen hits all the right keys in this study with nanotech, bioweapons, and other amazing technology combined with solid science and good, understated writing.  Most on-target is his identification of a fungus as potentially the most destructive of all biotrech weapons.  One need only think of the past instances or ergot and similar infestations and of the potential for destruction of something as prevalent as Aspergillus niger. Of the writers mentioned above, I would say that his control and voice are most like Rollins's, but in terms of popular writing McEuen may be even a little better, a little more in control, a little more polished.

This is truly a remarkable first novel--fun, funny (at times), intelligent, fast paced; it truly grabs the reader and keeps her/him involved from beginning to end.  If you're looking for fun, fast, light (but seriously intelligent) this is the book to pick up before your next readathon.

For those looking for all of this in a book, highest recommendation--*****.

Soft and Others--F. Paul Wilson

I had three books to review.  I thought I'd start with the easiest.  For fans of dark fantasy/horror, it's really very simple--get it and read it.  I don't know if it is any longer available in print; however, it is easily available in Kindle format and is bargain-priced at $2.99.

This book is worth that price for three stories along--"Cuts," "Buckets," and "Soft."  Add to that the "prequel" or backstory to The Touch--"Dat Tay Vao" and you have a superb collection.  And those are only the highlights.  "Cuts" is a nasty revenge tale that very nicely shows the position of those who seek revenge.  "Buckets" is a disarming and difficult tale that addresses a modern topic in a way that many readers simply will not care for--but for those of a bent similar to mine, simply puts the truth out there to see.  And of "Soft" Wilson indicates in his preface that it was inspired by the incipient epidemic of AIDS--a disease at the time of the story not well understood.  But its progenitor aside, the story is a powerful  parable of mortality and how one lives one's life.  Finally "Dat Tay Vao" is the story of how the Touch came to arrive in America at long last--another tale of greed and redemption.

I'm not certain Wilson would like the characterization, but he is a hghly moral writer with a moral end to nearly everything he produces.  Mix that with a peculiar political bent and you have an idiosyncratic and satisfying collection of dark fantasy tales.

Recommended ****