Dark story explores love, retribution

bookI have always been drawn to authors who can seize your attention in the first paragraph and like a pit bull, refuse to let you go. Ron Rash can do that (Serena). So can Philipp Meyer (The Son). These guys are so good, they can set the hook and play you the way a seasoned fisherman handles a trout, (Whoa, that is a mixed metaphor, I guess!) for 40 pages, forcing you to abandon chores and your social life, intent on riding out what the critics call “a riveting narrative.” Well, here is another one. Let me summarize the beginning of The Kept by James Scott.

Social media gone awry in this compelling novel

bookIn recent years, I have developed a growing discomfort with the Internet. Services like Facebook, Amazon, Linked-in have become increasingly ... well, personal. They want to know how I am doing, mentally and physically (at times they sound like a nosy, well-meaning relative), and I am constantly being asked to take “quickie” surveys or to rate everything from Netflix movies to Amazon products. I am beginning to wonder at what point does their concern become intrusive.

A story in which nothing is as it seems

bookEarly in this novel, an old retired teacher with Alzheimer’s, mistaking a visitor for his son, gives the young man a copy of a novel by Charles Brockton Brown and suggests that he read it. The novel is Wieland (1798,) a peculiar concoction of bizarre events that is considered the first “American gothic novel.” (I remember that it contains an account of human spontaneous combustion, murders, violent storms and inexplicable voices, insanity and mistaken identities).

Bleak story has far-reaching implications

book11Russell Banks knows how to hook the reader’s interest. In the opening pages of Lost Memory of Skin, the book’s protagonist (known only as “The Kid”) enters the public library in Calusa (Miami) and asks the woman at the desk if she would help him find some information. She agrees and he asks if it is true that people who are called “sexual deviants” are on the Internet program along with their photo and their addresses.

Disappearances, nightmares and a sense of terror

bookSome 30 years ago, a science-fiction writer named Whitney Striber wrote a novel called Wolfen, and it frightened me badly. The basic premise was that humanity had no purpose other than to provide a dependable food source for a terrifying species called “wolfen” that lived in colonies beneath the earth and only surfaced to feed. For thousands of years, these reptilian wolves lived silently in the sewers of major cities. They could move with astonishing speed and only “harvested” human victims who were never missed. It made a decent movie, too.

Distilling the life of blues legend Robert Johnson

bookI 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. 

A poetic description of a savage time

bookIt 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. 

‘Night Film’ is a tiring yet mesmerizing read

bookI 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. 

Slave narratives an insightful collection

book1This 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.

Koch novel a hearty serving of words, plot

bookBack 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. 

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