Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stranger With A Gun Review

By Bliss Lomax

Bliss Lomax is a non de plume of a bloke called Drago who wrote about 100 westerns under various names.  I'm not sure why you would need several non de plumes for the same sort of thing.  I mean, if he wrote westerns under one name, and Greek histories under another I could understand it, but all he did was write westerns, but, you know, as the kids say, whatevs. 

I love Westerns, and this one didn't disappoint.  I knew I'd like it when on page one, writing of a fella named Jep who owned the 'store', Lomax wrote: "He was well acquainted with the law that made it a criminal offence to sell whisky on Indian lands.  He violated it every day and thought nothing of it."  Ah, the lawlessness...

I hate book reviews that regurgitate the plot.  Any decent review should summarise the plot in no more that 20 words then get on with the review (or, as in my case, the 'reaction') so here's my 20 words or less plot:  Struggling cattle family forced to move north after government eviction.  They hire stranger with gun to help.  That'll do. 17 words. 

So what's in there?  Here's a checklist:

A tomboy heroine, holding her own against the rough and tumble of cowboys: check.
A stranger comes into town, full of mystery and danger: check.
A rich cattle breeder who thinks he's above the law and causes great trauma: check.
A repugnant, illiterate and violent thug that does the bidding of the rich bloke: check.
An honest, hard working old cowboy who's just trying to look after his family: check.
A good natured and wise 'negro': check.
An epic cattle run: check.
Shootouts: check.
Double-crosses: check
A 'dance' that all the townsfolk attend: check
Characters who intimately know their way around the epic open expanses of several states: Check
Total disregard for Indian sensitivities: check
Utter distrust of northerners, and the political system: check
Awesome meals: check (my favourite in this book was "Fried ham, hominy grits and black coffee.")

So it had everything I needed, and then, as a bonus, I got the extras that round out any decent story - the scenes and plots that differentiate it from its genre-cousins.  In this case, we had the baddie being motivated to do his evil solely out of unrequited lust for a woman.  We also got a description of that woman naked (you never see that in old Westerns).  There was an unambiguous attempted rape.  And of course, hominy grits. 

Democrat President Grover Cleveland also came under attack by the author (I'd never heard of him, so I did some research) and interestingly, he was criticised on two fronts, one being a left-leaning complaint (lack of care for the Indians) and one a right-leaning complaint (meddling in the common man's business). 

I listed in my True Grit review all the reasons that Westerns delight me, but after reading this book I can add one extra observation that tickles m'fancy - that roaming cowboys are sort of like hippies.  They don't mean to be.  They are certainly more manly than hippies.  But that acute awareness, enjoyment and respect for nature and animals is kind of hippy.  I just wish hippies were as hard working and as reliable as your average noble cowboy.  And as manly.  Androgynous is cool if you're urban and sassy, but if you're just a dirty hippy it's kind of rank.  Have a fucken shower and cut off those dreadlocks you wanker.  Androgynous hippies are just too lazy to have a gender identity. 

I recommend this book if you happen to like the things on my checklist.

I give it a B-minus. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Getting Of Wisdom Review

By Henry Handel Richardson
(who's a bloody sheila!)

I really enjoyed this one.  I suspect it helps being an Australian, even more so a Victorian, and even more so a Victorian who has lived in Melbourne and the country because when she describes the house in Chiltern and the blue gum down the side, the streets of Prahran, the walk between South Yarra and Collins Street, and the sands of Portsea, I could see and smell it all, even though it was written and set at the turn of last century.

It's a coming of age story, loaded with cliché.  The (relatively) poor girl at the posh private boarding school, struggling to fit in.  You know how that all goes.  Well, prima facie that's what it was.  That's how it's marketed.  But all I saw was lesbian subtext, centre-left politics, atheism, feminism and even a sense of what the kids these days would call 'emo'.  Two of the girls who our heroine, Laura, sort of befriended, near the end of the novel and just before they matriculated, talked of their aspirations.  One wanted to be a doctor, the other a journalist.  There was no doubt they had the smarts and talents to have been these things.  But their fate was sealed in one line - one became a housewife, the other a governess " the obscurity of the bush".  But the last we see of Laura she is running off into the distance, thorough a park, having finally left the school and its inferred she went on to bigger and better things, and in that, there was an ambiguously happy ending.  But until that point it was a pleasurably uncomfortable read, with its twists and turns always unexpected, and our heroine never being either particularly likeable or unlikeable - just real.  It's also written brilliantly.  Such clear language, and after the convoluted sentence mangling I endured with Pynchon, it was an utter delight.  I put the book down, and then the missus' water broke and next thing I know I had a baby boy.  Things right now are good. 

I give this book a B.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Crying Of Lot 49 Review

By Thomas Pynchon,

Free to good home: 3 x Thomas Pynchon Novels.  Just email me your postal address (perseusq at gmail dot com) and I'll send you an unread copy of Gravity's Rainbow, a half-read copy of Inherent Vice and a half-ready copy of The Crying Of Lot 49, and in return you just have to send me one book you think I might like  - you win in that transaction.  I have given up on Pynchon, and I don't want his books to poison my bookshelf any more.

I heard a while back that Paul Thomas Anderson was making a movie of Inherent Vice, and, figuring I'd probably go see it as I like PTA films, I further figured it was time to try Pynchon.  I bought the three novels (all new) and started on Inherent Vice and hated it.  The dialogue was so impossible, implausible and nonsensical that I found myself yearning for a descriptive passage to break the confusion, but when I got a descriptive passage, I had no idea what he was describing.  This is not being anti-art, or anti-prose, or anti-anything, hell, I read Shakespeare for fun and I can happily spend hours pondering a single Dylan Thomas line. I dig Kathy Acker!  So, I'm not being lazy in dismissing his dense sentences, evasive storylines and dialogue that smacks of snippets, hints and echoes of actual conversation - no, it's not laziness on my part, I just hate it, that's all.  To quote TISM - it's novel, it's unique, it's shithouse.

But, just this morning I decided that maybe I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I tried Inherent Vice, so I picked up The Crying Of Lot 49.  I followed the storyline for all of three pages.  Then he started doing what he did in Inherent Vice... not one piece of dialogue seemed realistic, 'quirky' characters popped up by the fuckload, came in, dropped hints, then off they fucked, leaving me confused.  Pynchon lays out a storyline, then goes all Jackson Pollock on it.  But at least a Jackson Pollock can be positioned to match the upholstery on your couch. 

In this book, a woman is named as the executor of her ex-lover's will, and she travels to California to deal with it, then, I read 60 pages of her not doing anything about it, and instead becoming engrossed in nonsensical plots and subterfuges.  It was clearly going nowhere so I stopped at page 64.  The dialogue made no sense at all - it doesn't sound like people talking - it sounds like a word generator is just throwing words around - and the story, meagre as it is, is merely a backdrop to Pynchon's quirky use of language and his "important comic talent" (Spectator) which reminds me, he's meant to be funny?  Never cracked a smile. 

Pynchon fans will argue that I am trying too hard to 'get' it.  I argue back, I don't care if I get something or not so long as I am entertained or informed as I go, and he does neither for me.  It's just words.  It's just hip words randomly scattered like he's Kerouac's retarded cousin. 

I like stories.  I like well-told stories.  I like well-told stories with believable characters.  I just don't think Pynchon a) can do that for me and b) even wants to do that.   I am glad he has his fans.  I am glad they have all found each other, but I live in a different literary world.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Familiar Review

By J. Robert Lennon

Thank fucking jesus, finally, a modern page-turner that I loved reading.  This was a ripper.  I read a book called 'The Light Of Falling Stars' by this same dude a few years ago, and though I barely remember any of it (plane crash, survivor) I remember really liking it, so decided to give his latest a crack and I'm happy that I did.  I read it in a day, because my missus, Andromeda, is a week overdue with our baby no.2 and all we can do is sit around and wait.  She's been watching Ellen, Australia's Biggest Loser and some other reality show where northern English people have sex, and I've been watching cricket and reading books.  I have so much time on my hands I've even been watching Big Bash (an aside: I am barracking for Hobart because there are two Melbourne teams, both called 'Melbourne', which is fucking spastic - couldn't one be called 'Victoria?' or 'Yarra' or some other form of differentiation?).

But the book... so this woman called Elisa, late 40's, is driving home from interstate after visiting her son's grave - he died about 10 years ago, when he was 15 - and suddenly, she's in a different car, in different clothes, with a different body (fatter) and she gets home and she has a different job, different friends and her son is alive.  Parallel universe?  That's what she thinks, and she investigates.  It's a mystery novel of sorts, but the real clue, I found, was in one line in chapter 21 - "Her thoughts have always been more interesting to her than the world itself."  Much earlier in the novel we become well acquainted with her vivid fantasies (she re-imagines petty disputes she used to have with a college room-mate, but in her re-imagining, they are violent and mixed up with current affairs) and so from my reading, one of the worlds she is/was in is real, the other a vivid fantasy.  Which is the real one?  Who cares?  It's brilliant. 

It reminds me of Sartre's comment that he finds ideas more real than things - in his excellent book 'Words' he says, "In the zoo, monkeys were less like monkeys" - as in, compared to what he thought of monkeys by reading about them and looking at them in books.  I have always been attracted to Sartre because of this.  I feel the same way.  I got to the Parthenon in Athens and it was a lesser place than the Parthenon of my mind.  I have fond memories of both Parthenons.  So this book made perfect sense to me.  Which is more real?  Neither, in the end.  A vivid fantasy is just that: vivid, and real life is not always so vivid.  I can easily live in both worlds, and this is a novel that takes that concept further.  On top of the basic premise, it's also a well-written mystery with interesting characters and reveals.  I also liked how some characters smoked. 

I give it an A-minus.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Monday, 13 January 2014

Eyrie Review

By Tim Winton

Without meaning to, I keep reading books about loners who fuck everything up even though they logically know better.  I find that plot (if you could call it that) excruciatingly dull.

The first half of this book was annoying because I wanted to slap him.  The character, not Winton (he seems like a decent bloke).  Then, suddenly, like headlights over the crest, came a story, and the book went from being the diary of a whingey cuntface to a page-turning love story with an added crime sub-plot.  It was terrific but for some reason the publishers forgot to print the last few chapters so I don't know what happened.

What's that you say?  It was meant to stop there?  The fuck?  What is it with these modern writers stopping stories instead of finishing them?  Oh, it's The Sopranos all over.  I watched that fucking show for years and they didn't finish it.  I'll never forgive them.

I mean, like, come on.  Can you imagine Homer giving us The Iliad, and the horse is wheeled into the Trojan camp and the night is falling and Homer says, "I'll just stop it there and let people come to their own conclusions?"

Shakespeare's writing Macbeth.  The Dunsinane woods are moving, Macduff is on his way, and Shakespeare's stage note is, "Bring down the curtains!"

Authors:  Unless your name is Raymond Carver, finish your fucking stories.  Thank you.

I give Eyrie a C-.

Next baby due this week.  This one's a boy.  I wanted the name 'Ulysses' but the missus said no.