Monday, August 29, 2011

Map to excellence...(David Mitchell Redux)

I read David Mitchell's most recent novel -- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet -- earlier this summer and loved it, so it was a no-brainer to filch his older, more renowned Cloud Atlas (Random House, 528 pgs, $12.00) off a roommate.

Without revealing too much, here's the rundown:

Think Nabokov. Think Jennifer Egan. Martin Amis. Mash in some history, the kind with veins that paint those ticklish realities that seem real, unreal, surreal, but always pellucid. You've got you're finger on it. In this shimmering, Russian Doll of a novel, Mitchell paints a number of worlds through a series of collapsing sub-novel novellas which peck at and toy with the others' unique realities both intriguingly and hilariously. And truly, these novellas span both time and space. From a Carter-era journalist to a Chatham Islands explorer to a genetically modified 'dinery server' living in the future, Mitchell proves his imagination is incapable of failing to limn out a world or era that does not thrill us. Lastly, the book is action-packed, which when you think about it, is a pretty remarkable thing. These days 'literary' novels skate through, 1,000 pages drizzling pontifications and ruminations left and right, while never actually doing anything. If that annoys you as much as it does me, here's your antidote. READ!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is there anything more summer-eal than the small town? Whether it's the parades or the community pools or the pleasant gossip or the baseball, small towns and summer are just it.

So I was thinking about some better books about small towns, or really, for those who live in them:

The first one that came to my mind!: Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner (Penguin Classics, $13.60, 656 pgs): Sure it's about the West, and America, and always striving to make it, but so much of what goes on in this novel is either set up or backdropped by a small town and its dynamic, it's just beautiful. But that's for later. The novel, in short, is the story of a family's ups and downs as it fluxes through American (and Canadian) life searching for money, happiness and stability. Throughout this journey, its leader, the hardly house-broken hard-head Bo Mason, plants and uproots his family in no less than 15 states and 50 houses, tasting a little of this life and a little of that along the way. Of course, small towns dominate this series of emigrations, and tell us over and over again how splendid they are.

The other great book that came to mind:
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (Simon and Schuster, $12.00, 288 pgs): So you've seen the movie (or if you haven't, check this clip). A young Jeff Bridges, a Cybill Shepard younger and prettier than any of us could've imagined, and all of it shot and directed with a realism that's as startling as it is, well, real. The novel, written by the master of Americana himself, Larry McMurtry,(who actually studied under Wallace Stegner for a while) is even better than the movie, if that's possible. Quaint, beautiful, and so damn real you'll spit on yourself, it's truly one of the best novels about the homespun small-town America of old you'll find anywhere. A must read!