I have always been fascinated by the folklore attending the too-short life of Robert Johnson, “King of the Delta Blues Singers.” For me, he was another doomed genius like James Dean, John Keats and Hank Williams — men who flashed across the night sky like the momentary radiance of a shooting star and then they were gone forever.
It took me almost a year to read this book. I kept losing it, leaving it in restaurants and other people’s cars. However, the major reason for the delay was that I didn’t want to finish it. I kept going back to the beginning and becoming enamored again and again of a young Jake Roedel’s surreal journey through the killing fields of “Bloody Kansas” and Missouri during the final years of the Civil War.
I did not like this book. My first response on finishing it was that I would not review it, but there is a paradox here. The author has an enviable and encyclopedic knowledge of the history of film, and this book is freighted with a wealth of film myth and legend.
This remarkable collection of interviews with African-Americans in North Carolina who were once slaves is a fascinating discovery. Conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930’s, the participating writers and researchers interviewed ex-slaves wherever they found them. All of the participants are elderly and many of them were living out their final years in “county homes.” These “slave narratives” are filled with surprises. More than 2,000 former slaves participated in this program, and of this number, 176 were North Carolinians.
Back in 1981, a provocative film called “My Dinner With Andre” created quite a stir by reducing drama to the bare essentials. For more than two hours (an earlier version was three hours in length), two intelligent, gifted, but very different men (Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn) talked to each other. There were no exotic treks to other locations, no thunderous music scores, no speeding cars.
Although this book was published over a decade ago, A Fierce Green Fire has grown steadily in popularity and is currently receiving maximum exposure, both as a required text in environmental courses in universities and as a provocative film which is now available on the internet. Essentially, this is a “no holds barred” survey of our tragic history in what most authorities now call a “comprehensive account of how we “befouled our own nest” to the extent that it may be too late to save this planet.
I first encountered a Donna Tartt novel some 20 years ago when a friend reverently placed a copy of The Secret History (1992) in my hands, and said, “You will never forget this one.”
It has been more than 30 years since Stephen King published The Shining, but I still remember that little kid, Danny Torrance peddling his tricycle down the halls of the Overlook Hotel, and although the Overlook is supposed to be empty, Danny sees people in some of the rooms. If you are a Stephen King fan, you remember the sound of Danny’s wheels as they trundle from carpet to bare floor to carpet. He passes rooms where dead people beckon to him. (Remember the woman in the bathtub?)
I am convinced that author Daniel Woodrell is what is frequently referred to as “a writer’s writer.” In other words, although he may enjoy considerable popularity from the general public, it is other writers who speak with both envy and admiration of Woodrell’s writing skills. I count myself as one of them. Sitting before my computer, slowly creating a sentence only to delete it again and again ... striving for that elusive thing, a beautiful, balanced sentence that causes a reader to stop, smile and saw “Wow.” Daniel Woodrell is such a writer. With what appears to be an effortless ease, he creates sentences that are so unique that the reader forgets the plot of the story, and reads a single sentence again and again.
I first encountered Robert Henry’s name some 30 years ago in Lyman Draper’s account of the Battle of Kings Mountain (Oct. 7, 1780). Robert (who was either 13 or 14 years old at the time) had been wounded when a British bayonet pinned his hand to his thigh. Later, the young soldier gave a graphic description of the battle, including the manner in which the bayonet was removed from his hand and thigh (a fellow soldier simply grasped the bayonet and stomped on Robert’s hand until bayonet was removed).