Novel explores the woes of rich white trash

bookLet me take a deep breath and see if I can get this out in one long ugly sentence: 

A man has some sort of mental fugue while driving, slams into a another car, and kills two people; his married brother moves into the man’s house while the man is in prison and a mental evaluation unit; the brother sleeps with the man’s wife; the man sneaks out of the institution, returns home, finds his brother in bed with said wife, and bashes in the wife’s head with a table lamp; the authorities send the man away for treatment which includes living in a wilderness prison where he befriends an Israeli terrorist; the brother, whose wife kicks him out of the house, moves into the man’s house and assumes responsibility for his nephew, a 12-year-old who has a village in Africa named after him for work he did there when he was 10, and for his niece, a 10-year-old who is in a sexual relationship with a female teacher in the private school she attends, a relationship which ends when the brother takes some money to keep the affair quiet rather than reporting it to the authorities; the brother himself engages in internet sex, sleeps with a homemaker whose husband knows everything and then with a much younger woman who later abandons her aged parents to the brother’s care; the brother suffers a stroke, but continues to engage in sex. 

Racism and adultery drive Spencer’s novel

bookDaniel Emerson is afraid of black people. After a chance encounter with a group of violent African American teenagers left him with a broken wrist, a chipped tooth and an abiding belief that he is going to be killed by either one of his clients or a crack addict, the young lawyer persuades Kate, his current helpmate, to sacrifice the advantages of the big city for the pastoral peace of his hometown, Leyden.

Bringing out the horror of teen angst

bookIn recent years, there has been a kind of Swedish literary invasion in America, especially in the horror genre. Perhaps the most notable is John Lindqvist, who wrote the cult classic, Let the Right One In, which became an international bestseller two years ago. The film version that followed was enthusiastically endorsed by Stephen King as a landmark in “intelligent and provocative horror film.” Shortly afterwards, Lindqvist released Handling the Undead and The Harbor, which immediately became bestsellers.

The stuff of dreams: Important 20th century poet discovered in new book

bookAs the poet Yvan Goll lay in a hospital in Paris dying of leukemia, a continuous line of some of the most celebrated artists and writers of the first half of the 20th century formed to donate blood to keep Goll alive while he struggled to finish his final volume of poems Dreamweed. With the blood of poets and painters coursing through his veins, he completed his masterwork and quickly died.

Books for holiday gifts can be a risky business

bookThink of the times someone has said to you: “You’ll love this book!” This well-intentioned person then shoves a book into your hands and dances off, leaving you gripping a volume, white-knuckled, you are now required to love. Though occasionally you’ll open the book and find yourself surprised by its pleasures, more likely you will read a few lines and sink slowly into the nearest chair as full of lead as Bonnie and Clyde. 

Byer’s book brings us a sense of place

mtnvoicesKathryn Stripling Byer lives in Cullowhee. Poet Laureate Emeritas of North Carolina for a number of years, she was this year inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. I’ve known her since 1973 … so I’m going to call her Kay. The lines quoted below are from the opening and closing stanzas of “Morning Train,” the first of 26 poems in her absolutely remarkable new collection titled Descent (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).

Novel is both shocking and admirable

bookAnyone who remembers Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and the Roman Polanski film that came out about a year later, then you have a handle on a spooky plot wherein two New York parents-to-be are faced with the daunting possibility that the wife may be pregnant with (and by) something that is “not of this earth.” I’m still haunted by Mia Farrow’s tortured dilemma as she stands before the crib that contains “the spawn of Satan” ... stands with a knife in her hand. Which is stronger, a mother’s love or her moral obligation to protect mankind from evil?

Diversity within unity — a book for the ages

bookFrom the foothills of the Southern Appalachians, and in the tradition of such spiritual classics as Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men, comes Carolyn Toben’s Recovering a Sense of the Sacred: Conversations with Thomas Berry at a time that is not only propitious, but providential.

Maybe once every hundred years someone emerges from the shuddering mass of humanity who speaks to us with a kind of clarity and wisdom that is universally profound. Father Thomas Berry is such a figure. He was born and raised in a lush and verdant part of the country where nature and beauty trumped progress and development. In this place and in a special meadow near his boyhood home near Greensboro, the seeds of a universal vision for the earth and humanity were cultivated and nurtured — seeds which grew eventually to become a vision that is biblical in its insights, wisdom and compassion.

Lahane scores with steamy suspense novel

bookI have been a Dennis Lehane fan for about two decades now, and after reading classics like Mystic River, Shutter Island and the short story collection, Coronado, I can easily recognize the author’s “signature” talents: cliff-hanger chapters, passages of riveting suspense/terror and, a marvelous gift for writing introductory paragraphs that hook the reader immediately. Here is the opening of Live by Night:

A flawed story that is still worthwhile

bookMark Helprin drives me crazy.

Helprin’s novels — he is the author of A Soldier of the Great War, Freddy and Fredericka, and a half-dozen other works of fiction — remind me of my great-grandmother’s engagement ring, which I took to a jeweler for assessment before giving it to my daughter. The jeweler examined the diamond through her loupe, pronounced the gem chipped and somewhat flawed, then declared that it nonetheless was of excellent value because of its size, its old-fashioned, European cut and its character.

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