Inkitt

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Things on the Net can be dangers. Touchy. But they can be helpful as well. I recently found out about Inkitt, a website that promises to be of help to writers, worldwide. This isn’t an endorsement, but it’s worth checking out if you are looking for a writing community online. Here’s the address:

http://www.inkitt.com

Inkitt has just launched a mystery contest called CULT. It might be fun if your inclined toward that genre:

http://www.inkitt.com/cult

Tenderly in the Night

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Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

Writers are taught economy: of sentence structure, of style. But only the better writers can tell a story such as this one with supreme economy. While I do have problems with this novella, it subtly grew on this reader, because Haruf knows how to charm—not by what he writes, but by what he doesn’t put on the page. Meaning, the reader is left to his/her own devices as how to interpret this very brief book. For example:

Addie Moore and Louis Waters decide to engage in certain intimacies (other than sex) in their twilight years. They live just down the street from one another, and their first challenge is to cope with small town gossip and judgment of their involvement in the Colorado town of Holt. Once they have family members and town residents at bay, another challenge creeps into view: Addie’s son, Gene, has a son, Jamie, and difficulties in Gene’s household bring Jamie to stay with Addie for the summer. The boy is a mess, largely because Gene has kept the boy at arm’s length. Louis takes an interest in the boy, playing the grandfather part fully, and the boy responds positively. This of course draws Louis and Addie closer together. But Gene intervenes to prove that blood is thicker than Louis and Addie’s neighborly friendliness. Haruf doesn’t tell you these things, and he only shows them in the most indirect manner, keeping the focus consistently on Addie and Louis.

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However. While Haruf’s narrator in this third person story is largely invisible, or transparent, the author’s initial dialogue often has the taste of stale, unsalted popcorn. But as the story grows, Haruf’s characters and writing style come together, although in a rather cliched listing of events and people. Maybe this is why I’ve never been drawn to his famous works, Plainsong and Eventide.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

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Horrors Between Heaven and Earth

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A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

Many novels have been written around the travails of war (and this year, for some reason, I’ve read quite a few of them), the way war changes persons, but rarely changes their families. Atkinson attempts to depict this unchangeability in A God in Ruins, and while she focuses on one of the most horrid aspects of modern warfare, the carpet bombing of Germany during WWII by the British RAF, the picture she builds of family life surrounding that era comes up lacking. Her characters are vivid, sometimes combative in their own right, but despite having clearly modeled this book after Tolstoy’s War and Peace, there’s little real drama between her characters. This, considering a final look at her main character, Teddy Todd, which she confesses all too late is a novelist’s cheap shot.

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The story is the overarching life of the Todd family: Teddy and his sister Ursula, Teddy’s wife Nancy, their daughter Viola, and her children, Sunny and Bertie, as well as other ancillary figures. Viola is a self-serving bitch, her daughter Bertie ends up a novelist, and Sunny a yoga proponent. But the most vivid aspect of Atkinson’s story here is the very graphic picture drawn of the RAF bomber flights over Germany, the tight-knit crews that sometimes don’t even know one another’s names. Her portrait of these crews is one of twentieth century cannon fodder, these planes and crews thrown mercilessly against the wall of war. Some will eventually reach their targets and firebomb faceless German combatants and innocent civilians: this is the modern face of war-complete destruction done remotely of a nation and an attempted annihilation of its people. Teddy has been a somewhat legendary pilot, surviving into his third tour of duty in these flights, only to finally be shot down.

But what can we make of Atkinson’s final trickery? She’s making a statement, I think, about history itself, of how fictive it eventually is in its essence. Of how we glorify war and tend to refrain from demanding responsibility for it.

Her writing style here is terse, abrupt, particularly in narrative. Her narrator is omniscient and cynical, even gossipy, which tends to diminish the impact of family interactions and distances the reader somewhat from her characters. Despite these flaws, and its initial glacial pace, the book will eventually draw you in, and the impact will leave you inspired.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Telling the Truth in America

Jim Tully – American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, by Paul J. Bauer and Mark Dawidziak (Foreword by Ken Burns)

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It’s often said, by apologists for the American status quo, that anyone can rise from anywhere to a life fulfilled. The thing is, though, that the scrapping, failure after failure, to discover who you are and what you’re about in a society that doesn’t give a damn if you live and die takes its toll. Such is the story of Jim Tully.
Tully was the Irish grandson of a salesman, the son of a ditch digger, who was left to an orphanage when hardly out of the crib. He lived there until twelve or so and ran away to a life on the road, digging ditches himself, working in a chain factory, a reporter for journalism rags, finally making of himself a fine if largely unrecognized novelist.
This is where I know Tully from – his life as a novelist and a biographer of Hollywood luminaries. That is, I knew of him. Sadly, I never read his work, captivated by the brighter lights of Steinbeck and Hemingway – but I shall. And this is the story of Tully the writer, recognized for his semi-autobiographical novels, castigated for his unflinching look at the American underclass that he knew so well.
It’s a fact of life that such writers tell the truth, because they have to, partly because it’s what they know, partly because there’s within them a mixture of anger, righteousness, and a compulsion to describe the American dream in its totality – it’s failures, its spent lives, juxtaposed on the occasional successes that make this dream so alluring.

Bauer and Dawidziak have crafted a fine book, which includes a section of rare photos, of this gifted man who rose from the dregs of society to that of a fine writer. It’s worth a read to better understand America without blinders on and to pay respect to this man, perhaps as perfect an example of an American original as you’ll find anywhere.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

I Pity the Poor Children

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Fourth of July Creek, by Smith Henderson

Literature, novels, and possibly poetry more than any other discipline, seem to tap into the collective consciousness more deeply than any other social chronicling. And one of the subjects that come up over and over in the novels I’m drawn to is the plight of children in an increasingly unsheltered world. Runaways. Child prostitutes. Violence toward children. The violence of children that have been unsheltered, that come to react to their environment in violent ways because those are the only ways they know.
In Henderson Smith’s book, a novel that sends its tentacles across time and place, we become acquainted with the children of Jeremiah Pearl, a man deeply paranoid, a survivalist clinging to distorted Biblical understandings, and his vision obsessed wife. These children want more than a life on the run in the dark forests of Montana, but they can only live on the edge of their father’s harshness and violence. We meet a few of these folks through the book’s central character, Pete Snow, a social worker, who intends to help these children despite Jeremiah’s paranoia.

But Pete has problems, too.

His wife Beth has had an affair, and the couple separate, Beth taking young daughter Rachel with her to Texas. Beth isn’t exactly an ideal mother – she drinks, does drugs, hangs out with unsavory men, one of which apparently attempts to rape Rachel. As with most children of tortured, broken marriages, Rachel feels trapped and decides Austin’s mean streets offer more promise. The book intermittently chronicles Rachel’s (later known as Rose) descent into street life and prostitution. While Beth sits at home in Austin drinking and praying, Pete roams the Northwest looking for his daughter, constantly crossing paths with the Pearl family.

Finally, Pete, who has a drinking problem of his own, becomes the victim of his attempts to salvage lives he finds impossible to rehabilitate, and ends up the subject of a manhunt. Henderson resolves nothing in Fourth of July Creek, and this is, ironically, his project. In a sense he’s the literary child of Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, bent on showing us a naked view of down-and-out people, especially their children, in a world that would just as well be rid of them.

Henderson’s book reads as if written randomly, as if written in bouts of inspiration that aren’t necessarily connected. His prose careens to the edges of coherence at times, making this a somewhat difficult read. I’ve learned, though, that such flaws aren’t to be taken all that seriously. This book’s strength is in the characters, Henderson’s spotlight on people who belong to the night, to the woods, that have been forsaken by society. And that makes this one of the most powerful books you’ll read this year.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.