Friday, February 18, 2011

Old, Good, Pretty

I've been suffering from some mid-winter-no-snow-coming doldrums (something like Carlo's "Denver Doldrums," I suppose) and started dabbling with some older titles recently -- old but good. Initially, I was a little reluctant to write anything about them. Anyways, here goes. On my bedside they are:

The Ghost Writer by Phillip Roth (Vintage, $11.20) -- Remember that TV show 'Ghostwriter,' that aired Saturday mornings on PBS? ? Roth's classic has got little to do with it. So don't ask. More like the precursor to one of Roberto Bolano's tomes, The Ghost Writer is vintage Roth at his best. Full of haunting, sexy women of foreign background, dubious authors, and the comedy of the bedridden, it's right up there with Operation Shylock or Portnoy's Complaint. Just a little more proof that you can't beat Roth for tragi-comedy.

The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind by David Guterson (Vintage, $10.40) -- Channeling that other Peninsular bigwig, Raymond Chandler, Guterson gets at the heart and its environments in just a few pages throughout this neat collection of short stories. Hunting stories, cheating stories, rafting stories -- they are of many kinds but nearly always carried through in such a way that the environments they involve are as pregnant as their characters. Really interesting reading given his later successes. Enjoy!

Waiting by Ha Jin (Vintage, $12.00) -- This National Book Award winner is about love -- and there's plenty of it. The problem is that Lin Kong loves two women: his wife, who's born of his village and chosen by his parents, and his lover, a nurse at his military hospital who understands the waters of the quick-moving world. Between these nodes of past and present, the rural and urban, the individual and society, and the witting and unwitting, Ha Jin works brilliantly (--so far, I'm not done yet!) to cull up as much subtlety as his characters and their allegorical attachments need. As eye-opening as it is well-written. Love it!