Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lansdale: "Fender Lizards" Joe R Lansdale

Lansdale: Fender Lizards, 2015, 9781596067172.

This is really a Young Adult novel. But, it is a Lansdale novel so that doesn't matter because the book is very good no matter the intended audience.

17-year-old Dot is a roller skating waitress at the Dairy Bob drive-in restaurant in a small East Texas town. Bob, owner of Dairy Bob's, calls the skating waitresses Fender Lizards. Or, maybe that was Dot and her co-workers - the name doesn't really matter.

Dot has left high school and lives in a trailer with her mother and grandmother. Dot works the max 6 hours a day the law allows a minor to work and then she works a few more hours under the table. Dot's sister, Raylynn, has two children, one ex-boyfriend who ran off, and a current boyfriend who is a lay-around lout. Dot still wonders what happened to her father who went out for a pack a cigarettes and never returned. Dot is still quite angry with her missing father who went for cigarettes and has been missing for 10 years.

One day a guy named Elbert shows up and declares himself the father's brother. No one knows who the fuck Uncle Elbert is, even though he claims he is the missing father's brother. He convinces Mom and Grandmom but Dot doesn't much like Elbert. Elbert ends up parking his van there and staying. Elbert wants to help out the family now that he is out of prison for bank robbery. Dot is not impressed with a failed bank robber.

Things drag on for Dot. She bashes her sister's boyfriend with a piece of lumber after the borfriend bashed Raylynn with his fist. This ends Dot up in court with a week's worth of labor at the local animal shelter (which she enjoys). Dot then reads a carnival poster announcing a cash prize for any roller derby team to play and win against the carnival's roller derby team. Well, now Dot has a goal. She talks about the idea to co-workers and they are interested. She tells Uncle Elbert who reveals his past job experience as a skating clown and roller derby fan.

Meanwhile, Dot keeps wondering about her father. She partly wants to beat him to a pulp. She partly wants to hug him as hard as she can. When she tries a simple web search she discovers he lives less than an hour away. Dot and Elbert go to visit her dad. Things happen and I won't give them away.

Another fine story by Lansdale. He always handles difficult family situations and love affairs with a rough grace. His heroes and heroins know when they've done wrong and try to do better, even though they'd rather hit someone with a piece of lumber. His characters recognize their foibles.


Also Heard: Ritual by Mo Hayder

Also Heard: Ritual by Mo Hayder, 2008, audio download from Overdrive.

I listened to this a while ago so forgive a brief synopsis and comments.

Hayder's police officer Jack Caffery has left London and headed west to Bristol. He sold his family home, broke up with his London girlfriend and has been living a solitary life except for visits to local prostitutes.

Caffery is called to a local riverside (either the Severn or the Avon, I do not recall) where a hand is found in the water. The police dive team that recovered the hand is led by a young sergeant. The Sergeant is pixie sized, full of energy, and emotionally rocky after the accidental scuba dive drowning of her parents a year or two ago.

Caffery starts working the case as Diver starts to nose around herself. There is a connection between the hand, drug addicts, and African magic that uses animal and body parts. Another victim is found and Diver and Caffery end up teaming up and finding a link among drug dealers, African witchcraft, and deadly religious fraud and extortion.

Caffery and Diver are attracted to each but do not try to romantically engage. Hayder is very good about writing about spoiled relationships and missed relationships. People regularly miss the cues of other people. Hayder sets things up very well so that the reader knows the desires of the characters and roots for the characters to resolve their problems, but Hayder then dashes your hopes as characters misinterpret, lie, get false information, or just miss opportunities. Missed opportunities are another thing Hayder seems to enjoy giving us. This is the third Caffery novel and a previous one had a horrific tale of child sexual abuse and slavery where Caffery's long lost brother is revealed to be alive with Caffery just missing finding the now grown brother.

Hayder's books read like horror as much as crime or mystery. There are some supernatural elements to each book and she can really crank up the dread and scares.

  • I was reminded of several songs or bands when listening to this.
    • Hayder references the city of Portishead. Although I don't think I ever heard any music by Portishead.
    • A character is near Salsbury Hill at one point. 
    • There was a third connection by I connect recall it now. Probably a place name that shows as a song title or lyric.
  • I kept spelling Caffery as Cafferty. Cafferty is flagged as a misspelling but Caffery is not.
  • Bristol is across Bristol Bay from Cardiff. I just read or heard a Cardiff book. Or movie. I cannot recall what.

Short Stories: "Public Library" by Ali Smith

Short Stories: Public Library: and other short stories by Ali Smith, 2015, 9781101973042.

I read this a week or two ago and cannot say anything too specific about the stories. Smith wrote this when the UK was in the midst of big budget cuts and local councils were closing and selling off local libraries. She relays stories from friends and fellow writers about their experiences with libraries and how important libraries are to learning, literacy, and personal growth.

The stories themselves are all first person - as I recall - and many seemed autobiographical. i do not know if these were intended as nonfic essays or not. Smith's stories deal with emotions. There are is no action or violence. The narration reminisces about family and friends. Talks about regrets. Compares a happy past to a dreary present.

I enjoyed the book more than average. I was surprised by my enjoyment because I checked the book out thinking, "What the hell, I should read this. After a library pays my living." I'm not one of those library people who visit libraries when on vacation. Or reads about library history.

Quit Listening: "Congo Dawn" by Jeanette Windle

Quit Listening: Congo Dawn by Jeanette Windle, 2013 (Overdrive copy).

I selected this novel because I liked the title and cover image. The narration was awful with terrible accents and poor acting. I did not realize this is an inspirational thriller when I checked it out. That's fine I suppose, and I did stick with the story until about half way through the novel.  One character's Bible lesson to the main character had me throw in the towel.

I could have glossed over the Bible lesson - not my bag, man, it absolutely bore me - and the main character's religious crisis if the narration were not so bad. The story was interesting: Former Marine officer takes on military contracting jobs as a translator. She speaks French and Swahili and takes a contract that sends her to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A mining corporation is trying to keep open a molybdenum mine against the attacks of a local guy whose family were killed when the mining corp. arrived. While in Africa the Translator meets the Navy Corpsman she both loves and blames for her Marine brother's death in Afghanistan.

Windle writes well and does a very good job of mixing together: international politics, local thugs, Congo strongmen, faithful missionaries, compassionate doctors, a main character conflicted about her employer and her love for the Corpsman, mining execs who want more money, and mercenaries who are there for the mission and have seen enough death and misery that they do not get involved with local troubles.

Amid all that story Windle lays the schmaltz on thick. Real thick. Vegemite thick. Translator's family troubles with dead parents, a dead brother, a divorced sister, a dangerously ill niece, and holding lots of anger.

1. I'm sure someone somewhere liked the narration. I did not like the voices, the accents, the emphasis, most everything. BOOKLIST gave this a starred review.
2. Terrible narration.
3. Rotten narration.
4. According to the online author photo Windle has curly hair. According to my mirror I have thick hair that needs a brush.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Done: "Amsterdam" by Ian McEwan.

Done: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, 1998, 9780385494236.

This won 1998 Man Booker Prize? What the hell? The "leading literary award in the English speaking world" went to this novel? I'm definitely missing something.

I had not read any McEwan books since I was in grad school and saw a derogatory reference about McEwan in the Times Literary Supplement. I figured, "Heck, I'm checking that guy out!" I then read two of his books and enjoyed them. This is 193 pages of "Let's work the thesaurus and write as thick as possible." There is some black humor here - I think - about two longtime friends in their late 40s who having a falling out and arrange for each other to be killed by some sketchy euthanasia specialists in Amsterdam.

Well, OK. The story could be kinda interesting when discussing UK politics and the press but I still had to force myself to finish what felt like an exercise in navel gazing. Naval gazing I am okay with, that could be interesting. But, endless fixation on your own nonsense is nonsense.

Maybe the whole thing went over my head. Maybe McEwan wrote a parody. I readily admit to taking some things too literally. It's not like sarcasm and caricature are always easy for me to suss out. I'm not going to bother reading any reviews or the Man Booker write-up to see what people say.

1. One good thing about the novel is it reminds me of a Len Price 3 song.

2. It also reminds me of a song by Beautiful South.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

E-Book: "Castle Danger: woman on ice" by Anthony Neil Smith

E-Book: Castle Danger: woman on ice by Anthony Neil Smith, 2017, B06XHNPGKL (stupid ASIN number by Amazon rather than a goddamn ISBN let the rest of the fucking world.)

It's neat how Smith's novel are consistently better and better. The stories stay interesting and the pace keeps moving you right along. Smith's characters are insightful and interesting and their thought processes and decisions always make sense even though those decisions may be the actions of an idiot or a desperate panicked nut.

Duluth Police Officer Manny does not get along with his partner (see my views on this at #1, below). Manny also is recovering from severe burns to his groin and abdomen with a accidental fire a few months ago. One day on patrol Manny is tuning out his partner and thinking about his genital trouble when they get a call for a body fished out of frozen Lake Superior. 

On arrival they discover the dead person is a thin women dressed in tight, skimpy clothes and wearing a snowmobile helmet. As Manny's partner starts poking around and searching the corpse Manny and Partner see that the corpse is a man dressed as a woman. The partner and the corpse then fall through the ice into the lake and the corpse is lost.

Things happen. Manny is intrigued and starts to poke into the case. The detectives on the case tell Manny to take a hike but Manny is personally and sexually fascinated by the transsexual lifestyle of the dead person. Manny has unresolved issues and slowly lets on how he dressed in women's clothes as a teen and spends hours each evening masturbating to online transsexual porn. Manny gets a new partner, WhatsHisName.  WhatsHisName and Manny do not get along.

Manny visits some gay bars and asks questions. Manny ends up visiting a secret club for trans people and their lovers and is warned off from asking more questions. The warning comes with a beating. Manny has bumbled his way into a murder conspiracy and sexual secrets. Manny thinks he knows who the now missing victim was. Manny wants to solve the case. Manny wants to transition to woman but is scared. Manny is full of feelings. [I first typed 'fool' instead of 'full'. Manny is also a fool.]

Trouble ensues. Along the way Manny decides, "Damn it. I've had enough. I'm going to transition to the woman I am." Manny gets grief from both the straight and queer sides as he starts his process. The cops call Manny a fag and the queers think he is faking it and an untrustworthy bastard. Manny has to figure out how to wear stockings and skirts. But, Manny also starts feeling like herself. Manny has only her partner, WhatsHisName, to turn to as more hijinks ensue. 

More things happen but I won't turn the plot into a grocery list.  Like other Smith novels this is a neat one. Smith does tend to go over the top in comparison to other writers but it always fits his style and plots. I'm not always pleased with the third or fourth sections of his novels. I don't know why. I'm thinking the pace and fury wear me out.

1. Keep in mind that Smith kills off what is obviously the best character in the first chapter of the book when Manny's partner drowns in Lake Superior. Hopefully Smith will find a way to bring that character back. He was the absolute best. The best! 
2. Geographical love. 
3. Cold weather love.
4. Rarely realistic look at what happens when you don't use a holster for your pistol.
5. Book #2 is listed on Amazon with a October 10, 2017 pub date.
6. Smith has covered the topic of sexual identity and preference before. It's a subject he is very good at writing about. It's also a topic that I don't often read about in the other fiction I read.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Done: "Sway" by Zachary Lazar

Done: Sway by Zachary Lazar, 2007, 9780316113090.

I was looking something up about the Manson Family. One of the women, maybe. As I was reading I came across an article about Bobby Beausoleil. Beausoleil participated in the July, 1969 murder of Gary Hinman who was a friend of the group. I saw a reference to this novel about how Beausoleil was connected to the Rolling Stones. I figured, "Okay, maybe the Stones were pals with Dennis Wilson and somehow the Stones hung out with Beausoleil." Nope. The connection is more tenuous.

Anyhoo. Here is the plot. Told from the POV of Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Beausoleil, Kenneth Anger, Anita Pallenberg, and maybe a couple others.

Beausoleil is drifting up and down the coast with his teenage girlfriend when they meet up with the Manson group. Before that Beausoleil was the kept teen lover of filmmaker Kenneth Anger at Anger's San Francisco apartment. Anger filmed Beausoleil with the intention of having Beausoleil as the lead in Anger's next short film.

Meanwhile, Brian Jones is leading the Stones. Jones was a bit of a jerk. Many people already know Jones could be difficult. But, the girlfriends he used to punch-up would certainly accuse me of being way too nice. (They are correct.) Jones's drug problems and personality issues drive Mick and Keith start writing songs and leading the band.

Kenneth Anger grows up in the Los Angeles area, loves Hollywood gossip, and hits the art world fame circuit as a 20-year-old with the short, heavily homorerotic film Fireworks.

Comment --- If you decide to read the novel you may be like me and want to leave the book to research the many people, places, events, and things involved. I tried watching some of Anger's flicks and my damn internet connection is all screwed up and the film keeps pausing. That really ticked me off ---- Comment

Anger doesn't make much money at film but moves alternately lives in NY, LA and SF. He falls hard into infatuation with Beausoleil and struggles to complete his film. Anger has a fascination with bikers, sailors, motorcycles and cars, and Satanism. Anger's friendship with a London art dealer introduces him to the Stones and he makes friends with Mick and the rest and tries selling Mick on helping with his latest work.

Anita Pallenberg is dating Brian Jones. Anita seems like a fairly nice lady with a not-so nice guy and a fondness for party drugs. Anita ends up leaving Brain and moving in with Keith Richards. Anita also makes friends with Anger.

More things happen and their is this 1960s mix of drugs, casual sex, making friends, black magic, and a fascination with Satanism and violence. That distant and theoretical fascination with violence comes to head with reality after Altamont and the Tate-LaBianca killings.

1. I thought the novel bogged down in spots with literary bother. Characters dreaming about the universe and love and whatnot. Bleah.
2. Except for Brian Jones all the characters were all still alive at time of print. Only Anita Pallenberg has since died, that this past June. Kenneth Anger is now 90 and still giving interviews. Anita and Keith had three children. I did not know one child died of SIDS as a 10 month old.
3. No mention of Hollywood Babylon.