Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison’s The Ancient Minstrel is three novellas.  The first is a memoir of a man you might want to have a beer with, but you wouldn’t want to be married to or count on.  This is the story of a terrible husband, a writer who drinks too much. He ignores his wife but wants to get down with the teenager in the pig pen.

 

In the second novella “Eggs,” the main protagonist, Catherine, is a woman who isn’t like any woman you ever met.  Everything about her as a woman bothers me.  If this character had been a man, this novella would have worked much better.  She’s described as shapely, slender, caring about her appearance. Catherine has sex randomly with men she meets without wanting any kind of attachment.  She eats roast beef, venison, hamburgers and steak.  She doesn’t eat salads or tuna fish.  She likes random sex, but she doesn’t want a husband and this is in the 1950s.  I don’t know any shapely Oxford educated farmers who love chickens, random sex and hamburgers.  Okay, this novella didn’t work for me.  But maybe I’ve been in LA too long.

 

The last novella redeemed the whole book.  “The Case of the Howling Buddhas” was a perfect story, a despicable protagonist who you just want to keep watching.  Having a sweet likable character who you follow everywhere is one thing, having a pathetic loser of a character who you can’t keep watching is another. Oddly, this is the same character, or a version of the same character from the first novella, but here is more despicable and more finely drawn.  The ending is crisp and American.  You can see why Jim Harrison is so widely read abroad; there’s something in these stories with all the worst primal viscous parts of an American male’s character and the darkness at the bottom, the threshing of the corn of what’s left of American manhood. We’ve got fishing and hunting.

 

Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Ways of Going Home

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambrano  is set against the backdrop of the fall of Allende and the rise of Pinochet, but there are no horrors in this book except the ones within the heart. We skirt the atrocities of Chile for the familial story of a boy who wanders the city in search of something he cannot define.  He has trouble with his women.  It’s an atmospheric novel, like Rivka Galchen, it’s like entering the spirit of a place and in that place, there are threads that often lead nowhere.

Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Men Without Women

Haruki Murakami’s latest book is a short story collection, Men Without Women does not disappoint. My favorite story is “Samsa in Love” which is a fabulous homage to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” Kafka himself makes an appearance in the story as well as the invasion of Prague and the hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s a perfect gothic love story.  There is also a perfect anti-love story, “The Independent Organ” which threads around the idea that women have an independent organ which allows them to lie without thinking.  I can’t recommend this book enough in spite of two references to Starbucks.

Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  

We bring our music with us. That way, when we’re driving away from Dublin, and there is a rainbow, we’re listening to “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and when it began to rain as we came into Belfast, we were listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance me to the end of love,” and when during the last part of our drive coming into Connemara, Nina Simone was singing exquisitely, mournfully s as if her song was the whole world shattering and becoming a new universe. Connemara is cold, wet and here my head is a mass of curls. Mark and I walked last night to look at the hillside and the sheep. While we walked, I burnt the dinner, and we ate it anyway, and then had strawberries and cream. Why are the strawberries in Ireland so much better than the ones in California? We spent a few days decompressing and journeying, first to Dublin and Temple Bar which was, like many bars, very noisy. They played a mix of Irish music and songs about Reno and Texas. Then we went to the Giant’s Causeway, the rope bridge, the castles and cathedrals of Northern Ireland, the soldiers with machine guns, the heavy Presbyterian churches. We drove from Belfast to Connemara in a day, it alternately poured, showered and lightly drizzled, even a few moments of nearly sunshine. Our travel plans never include lunch. We have certain travel rules: We do not believe in stopping for lunch, checking luggage, listening to guides, travelling in groups, going on cruises and we rarely chat with anyone. Our friend Maureen would have made a dozen friends and several would have invited her over in the few days we’ve been here. She might even have a marriage proposal. We like to chill, to breathe, and Ireland is a great place for breathing. The air is wet and everywhere you walk in this little town, there’s the soft sweet smell of peat burning. The Irish flowers are mostly purple except the buttercups. At the market, they specialize in root vegetables and mushrooms. We have a huge celery root that I plan to make soup with. I didn’t buy turnips or parsnips, just onions, carrots, the celery root, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. From where I write, there are sheep grazing. Shearing season is early August. The lambs follow their mamas closely. Most of the sheep have horns. We are known in town as “the Yanks.” The shepherds have sheep dogs, the same kind of dog we had growing up. In our cabin, there are three copies of Paradise Lost, but for us Yanks, this is paradise found.

 

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Botchan and Thousand Cranes

Mark and I read Japanese authors on the way to Boston. Mark read the new Murakami .  I read  Botchan by Natsume Soseki and Thousand Cranes by Yaunari Kawabata. It made me want to re-read Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima. Botchan is a Japanese version of Catcher in the Rye but with the main character in his twenties. He is a child man.  Our main character likes to take his daily baths; he wants to have his nurse back take care of him.  He misses being a little boy. Many kids want to grow up; want to act on the world, but not our Botchan. He wants to be acted upon. He likes the passive role.  But he’s such a funny endearing fellow.  You want him to be okay; you want him to have fun.  First published in Japanese in 1906; this book is a great look at Japan before both world wars.

 

Thousand Cranes is set in Japan after World War II; a slow sad book about love, hope, marriage, concubines and handkerchiefs, but also about families. What constitutes family? There are the family members we like and don’t like, but still they’re family.  We begin and end with the woman with the birthmark.  I thought about Hawthorne’s story “The birthmark,” and the idea that a person can be marked in such a way that their destiny is changed, and especially a woman. A woman with a birthmark is stained.  Beauty is one of the ways we have made our way forward for centuries, and even now, with access to education and jobs, good looks help a girl and having a birthmark messes with that. The girl with beauty might move forward.  The girl with the birthmark ends up neutered, ignored.  If you are too beautiful, they hate you, if you aren’t pretty, they ignore you. The choices for women aren’t good in this Kawabata novel, but I love learning about Japanese culture. The tea ceremony, the bowls, the dishes, the life of ceremony.

Published in: on May 29, 2017 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alien Covenant

 

The day I returned from Japan, we went immediately to see Alien Covenant on opening day.  In our family, we are fans of the alien franchise, the first and second ones were good, and the first Prometheus movie was great and made us think about our god and our maker, our truth and our destiny. This latest movie didn’t have those kinds of deep waters. I missed Charlize Theron who carried the movie forward on her slim shoulders.  The great subtle beauty of this movie was the relationship between Michael Fassbender (always a pleasure to watch) and himself.  The deep longing between a man and another man was played so beautifully that you felt the keys of your heart being played like a symphony.

 

The horrific part is blood, guts, aliens and more aliens and an unraveling of plot.  It’s hard to be emotionally involved with these aliens with their blood that melts metal, and their complete lack of feeling.  The aliens are simply monsters. There is no passion, just the instinct to kill people.  Aliens erupt from human bellies; guts and blood poured forth all over the screen.  I wonder how many gallons of blood they used for this movie? The last movie made me want to see more Prometheus.  Now I’m not sure.  The other alien movies were sustained by our relationship with Ripley.  No one is alive for us to follow to the next movie.  It was an alien bloodbath.

Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

When are you coming home?

I’m on Amtrak getting ready to go to San Diego to hear the rehearsal for Imagine Dead Imagine

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/imagination-dead-imagine-michael-roth-beckett#/

remembering the three years I came down every week to teach my students at San Diego State MFA who were terrific. I like the train lilting down the tracks, the part where you see the ocean rushing by and Mark would make me chicken drumsticks for the trip. Today I have only hard boiled eggs and an apple. But it will be fine.  I like being hungry on the train. It feels good.

 

My friend Karen Shoemaker is thinking of coming to California by train from the Midwest, and if she does, she’ll be snug in her berth writing her heart out, but also reading, staring out the window and reminding men on the train that she’s married. Part of Karen’s novel, Meaning of Names happens on a train, so I think she’s always figuring out ways to get back to the train and the story. We’ve taken off now in the early morning light.  This is one of the newer smoother trains, so I can read and type pretty easily.  The old ones are so bumpy you feel like your brain is being jarred.  I have five manuscripts to edit so no window gazing for me. Well maybe a little.  I’m on the ocean side, and the ocean is always talking to me and in the immortal words of Brendan Constantine,

“Oh yes, the oceans.

They asked what they always ask

And I promised I’d repeat it,

Why do you never call?

                                When are you coming home?”

Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 5:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Living in the Weather of the World, Richard Bausch is such an amazing collection of stories that it takes your breath away. If I had written either “Veterans Night” or “The Knoll,” I could just hang it up.  I could just start whistling “We are the champions,” I could start dancing in the streets.  When you are reading Bausch, you are in the hands of a master.  His writing is so good, you feel like you are in a hammock rocking back and forth.

https://www.amazon.com/Living-Weather-World-Richard-Bausch/dp/0451494822/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494394566&sr=8-1&keywords=living+in+the+weather+of+the+world

 

My favorite Bausch book has always been Peace,

https://www.amazon.com/Peace-Vintage-Contemporaries-Richard-Bausch/dp/0307388581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494394605&sr=1-1&keywords=peace+richard+bausch

 

but now this book? The short story collection blew me away.  Bausch is a master of his craft.  These are the stories of the compressed life.  Read it and flex your writing hands. Have courage, young Skywalker.

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nutshell

Nutshell by Ian McEwan is a book you don’t want to miss.  The whole book is told from the point of view of a babe in the womb.  The baby hears a murder planned, and his mother is in on the plan.  His mother is ready to kill, she’s ready to get blood on her hands, ready to kill the baby’s father.  You keep reading and it takes a while before you’re inside one of the greatest stories of English literature, Hamlet.  Gertrude my darling, why do you whet your knife as your belly swells? This has got to be one of the most fun books Ian McEwan has ever written.  You are inside your mother’s womb in the wet and slime of it, listening to the murder plans. You put the book down for a minute? You can’t wait to get back.

Published in: on May 3, 2017 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

If you stop and think

What if aliens are watching us and laughing that on this beautiful planet we spend so much time tapping keys.

Why do we have wars?

This 45th president is an outrage.

Why don’t we read more good books?

I need more sleep.

It’s my family that matters and creative work.

Not all of this work stuff really matters.

Why are so many people angry?

Why do I feel small when I could feel grand?

These trees, these clouds, these actual friends, how did I get so lucky?

If you stop and think

Published in: on April 26, 2017 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)