For the Record: Yes, but No

Aside

My initial plan, when starting this blog, was to post only positive reviews. Recently I saw the flaw: it doesn’t help you sort what I have read and not cared for, from what I just haven’t read. Or maybe it’s just the malevolent little spirit within me that needs to tell you there actually are some pretty bad books out there. If your thinking is anything like mine, this brief list of books that ranked anywhere from “Meh” to “Pee-yoo!” may help you save a few dollars:

Defector in Our Midst, by Tom Fitzgerald is due to hit the shelves August 5.
Cardboard caricature characters make all Muslims except one–the GOOD Muslim,
singular–out as terrorists. Keep your wallet in your pocket.

Conversations with Steve Martin, edited by Robert E. Kapsis, available in
early September. What could be more fun than the words of Steve Martin? A book
written by and about Steve Martin. You want the already-published Born Standing
Up, by Steve Martin, which is very readable and very funny. This piece of dung,
on the other hand, takes magazine interviews from the comedian’s whole career,
snips the quotations and attempts to string them together into something
sequential that makes sense. Booooring.

The Greatest Comeback, by Patrick Buchanan. Who still tries to defend the
Nixon administration? Good luck with that.

Don1 The King From Queens, by Louis Gasparro This graffiti memoir looked
to be a cutting edge book on street art. The guy is not Banksy.

Tipperary, by Frank Delaney *****

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review “The most eloquent man in the world”? It’s entirely possible.

This hyper-literate narrative inside a narrative inside a narrative unfolds as a simple tale at first, then becomes more complex as this deft tale-spinner pulls the scope out one notch at a time.

In addition, we are provided with a passionate re-telling of the atrocities visited on the Irish by the Anglo and Irish-Anglo ruling class. Delaney puts such genuine feeling into the narrative of the republican movement as it progressed in the early 20th century that I am surprised the writer doesn’t find himself on the do-not-fly list. His honesty and appreciation of the struggle is refreshing, at times surprisingly witty, and disarming.

At the story’s beginning, I really do not care much for Charles O’Brien and his stalker-like behavior toward April Burke. No means no. What’s WITH this guy?

But then later, the narrator (who is a character within the story) says more or less the same thing, and in due time, I find myself warming toward this awkward but well-meaning fellow. And as the narrator’s camera zooms out and encompasses so much more, I read more closely.

Occasionally I made the error of trying to read it AFTER I took the sleeping pills, and found I had to go back the next time and reread. It is not a story for the short attention span or one who wishes to multitask; it is absorbing, and requires one’s entire focus. But I found it rewarding enough to devote the necessary time and attention, and even found myself doing web-crawls to see how much of one or another historical detail was true, and how much was fictional or unknown.

In the end, my book was jammed full of sticky notes, and I felt as if I had traveled over oceans and centuries. An eloquent story, indeed!

Trailerpark, by Russell Banks *****

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Who but Banks would even go there? He makes his characters real and gives them credible back stories. None of the stereotypes generally dealt out to people who live in mobile homes surface here. His respectful attitude toward every day, working class people, or in some cases, people who have slid from a position of greater prosperity, makes this book work. The transitions are so smooth, so subtly crafted that when one character, one I felt almost as if I knew them as family, eased into the life of another who had been separately introduced, it was close to magical.

I have no doubt that Banks is one of America’s greatest novelists. When he publishes something, I read it (and I recently got to write an advance review; see A Permanent Member of the Family). But one hallmark of his novels–all of them–is tragedy. If you want a good three-hankie-narrative, he’s your writer. I once went on a jag of reading nothing but Russell Banks, and found myself nearly ready to go put my head in the oven. (That would have been a painful way to go, since my oven is not gas, but electric.) From this, I learned that it’s best to read Banks alongside a little of something else. That way I can enjoy his genius without having to carry all of the novel’s despair.

At one point, I said Cloudsplitter was my favorite Banks novel. Now I think it may be a tie. Read them and see what you think, if you like well-developed, real characters, and can deal with (often) unhappy endings.