Thursday, July 12, 2007

Junk Summer Reading

Skaneateles Lake, New York

It's summer, life is a bit slower, and it's a good time to kill some time with pulp fiction of unpredictable quality.

So I picked up a paperback to read on a return train trip from New York to Boston the other day. It's called The Fourth Perimeter, by Tim Green. The plot involves the revenge planned by an ex-Secret Service agent, now a multi-millionaire technology entrepreneur, after his only son (who has also become a Secret Service agent, in spite of his family fortune) is murdered and the crime scene altered by the murderers to look like a suicide.

Before many pages had turned, it became apparent that much of the action was going to take place in and around Skaneateles, New York, the region where my father and stepmother were born and raised, so this had some personal appeal. It's not often that your idle entertainment evokes real venues you know and supporting characters whose type you immediately recognize. I've had the same breakfast in the same coffee shop, and the Presbyterian pastor who in the book buried the dead son might well have been the same one who in real life married my father and stepmother. As a drama critic might say, there is an extraordinary unity of time and place. To me, anyway.

On the other hand, I am also reminded of the Robertson Davies quote that CC recently invoked in her review of the 2007 Service of the Living Tradition:

Many authors write like amateur blacksmiths making their first horseshoe; the clank of the anvil, the stench of the scorched leather apron, the sparks and the cursing are palpable, and this appeals to those who rank "sincerity" very high. Nabokov is more like a master swordsmith making a fine blade; nothing is amiss, nothing is too much, there is no fuss, and the finished product must be handled with great care, or it will cut you badly.

On that score, picking up this book is far more likely to give you burned hair than paper cuts. More than a few of its premises strain credulity. There are improbable plot twists to convince you that if deus ex machina is a valid literary device, then the incarnation of deus is not Jesus but the weird guy with the manic laugh in the dunk-the-clown booth at the county fair. In the craft of its language, too, the brute force of the smith's hammer is still palpable in the dents and weals left behind. Here's a sample:

The eastern sky had begun to glow in a crimson wash that extended from one end of the lake to the other. The low ceiling of purple clouds hovered just above the fiery horizon in a dramatic, brooding mass. The angry blood-red sky somehow filled Jill with foreboding.

And later:

The moon rose over the ridge on the east side of the lake like an enormous luminescent melon.

I don't know about you, but watching the sunrise usually calms my nerves, at least if I'm awake that early. It's the enormous luminescent melons coming over the ridge that fill me with foreboding.

What are you reading this summer?


At July 12, 2007 at 11:10:00 AM EDT, Blogger Chalicechick said...

This summer, I've read the complete works of Laura Lippman, a mediocre but loveable author who mostly writes about a plucky detective from Baltimore.

Hmm... I'm rereading Margaret Maron's Sigrid Harald series.

Also A Disorder Peculiar to the Country: A Novel by Ken Kalfus, which is about an incredibly nasty divorce that has 9-11 as a backdrop. It's a little heavy on the metaphor and a bit depressing, but overall a good read.

Right now, I'm reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marisha Pessl, which is like Donna Tartt's "Secret History" in plot but more loveable and better written.

Oh, and lots and lots of books about how not to fuck up your first year at law school.

a little nervous about abandoning the above books for books with titles like "Civil Procedure: Cases, Materials, And Questions" but excited, too.

At July 12, 2007 at 2:54:00 PM EDT, Blogger Rev. Ricky said...

I just finished, "The Friar and the Cipher" by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. It's the story of Roger Bacon a 14th century Dominican who tried to get the church to adopt the scientific method of experiment and observation instead of relying on revelation from scripture. But the hook of the story is a mysterious 200 page book attributed to Bacon written in a core that has never been deciphered and filled with little drawings of fantasy plants, and naked women, and astrological charts, The same husband and wife authors wrote a really great book a couple of years ago called "Out of the Flames" about Miguel Servetus and his banned book, "On the Errors of the Trinity."

At July 14, 2007 at 4:06:00 AM EDT, Anonymous kim said...

We bought a stack of books at GA, but right now I am rereading Huston Smith's The World's Religions for a discussion group. I am making my way through a book of science fiction short stories called How to Save the World. I am also reading The Left Hand of God by Michael Lerner, re-perusing Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem (I recommend it), and have started The Separation of Church and State (edited by Forrest Church) and am partway through Screwed(by Thom Hartmann).
They are scattered about the house. And yes, it is confusing to be reading all those at once. But I seem to keep doing that anyway.

At July 16, 2007 at 1:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger Chalicechick said...

Just finished "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," which becomes rather UN-like "Secret History" about 2/3 of the way in.



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