RARA-AVIS: Summer Reading

From: billha@ionet.net
Date: 27 Jun 2001

As an academic, I have to wait till summer to do much "recreational reading." Here are some reactions to books recommended previously (and commented on earlier) by avians. Apologies for not being able to join discussions when these were hot topics.

Gores' CONTRACT NULL AND VOID (?)--not sure this title was praised, but know there are some Gore fans on the list, and I will now count myself one..with only a few misgivings, based on this first read. Jumping from operative to operative (DKA), from piece to piece of two basic mysteries plus two less integrated operative episodes, is quite impressive, and keeps an almost breathless pace. He exploits the jumps for humor nicely, with tag lines to foreground the situational parallels. I guess the humor is to alert us to the fact that things will ultimately turn out alright for the most sympathetic characters. Still, does he have to be so blatant with the "nick of time" appearances that save those characters? No deaths that hurt? But, I'll read on.

Lethem (sp?)MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN was rightly praised for its uniqueness. A very satisfying plot resolution, to my mind. Don't see a series coming out of the Tourette character, however. His outbursts add instability to certain scenes, and are quite funny, but I noticed that the verbal performance tapered off in favor of action toward the end. ...which is to say, there's no sense in trying to do a James Joyce if you've got a plot in mind. So what should I read next?

Finally got a copy of Pelecano's RIGHT AS RAIN. As I expected, the characters are solid, especially the Southern crackers, the urban loners. I'm used to his structuring through characters, so the jumps don't bother me as much as they apparently do some readers. Tighter structure than Gores, better cause-effect probability, seems to me. Only at some points does the structure seem forced-- parallel sex scenes for each of two major characters (do they achieve climax at the same moment?)--,but mostly you don't notice the writer working at it, which is how it should be (Hemingway bias here). One can always depend on GP for a sense of a period's music or film or sports, and I was glad he decided to weave in the Westerns, both traditional and spaghetti this time. Made me aware of a feature of Leone and Peckinpah shootouts that Pelecanos seems to have made his own: the moment(s) of peace or the quiet gesture of a code, even if your opponent doesn't follow the code. The still exchange of looks or the turning away, when things could escalate or defuse.Effective in giving the sense that even violenthumans can be human, a higher order than animals with automatics.

Bill Hagen billha@ionet.net

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