To be fair, it’s always book weather. But even though I’m in Georgia, the temperature took a dive to 10°C and the wind picked up, and my dutch oven and stew pots are both calling to me from the kitchen. Even the cat decided she didn’t want to hang outside, though perhaps she’s just interested in what I’m going to cook. At any rate, it’s time to make sure my bookshelves and my freezer are both stocked with things to get me through the next few months.
Finished: Jim Harrison, The River Swimmer
I rated this 4/5 because there wasn’t a 3.5/5 button and I liked his past work enough to round up. Jim Harrison is one of my favourite authors, and one of my influences… he seems to take the stripped down-storytelling style of Hemmingway and infuse his language with more meaning and unpretentious symbolism than most other modern American authors. I’ve only read four of his books so far (though I’ve read Legends of the Fall twice) and I always feel a peculiar rush of adrenaline when I pick up another of his books. Up until now, I’ve never felt disappointed by anything he’s written.
The first novella, “The Land of Unlikeness,” is perhaps one of the best stories I’ve ever read about coming to a turning point in one’s life… a ‘shit or get off the pot’ moment, where you know without a doubt that you can’t go back to what you want, and you can either keep spinning your gears in neutral and survive, or you can find another pathway ahead. The plot is fairly gentle, the characters are sharp and realistic, and the voice allows Mr Harrison to say quite a few things about art and nature and memory without being overly intrusive. I’ve already read this novella one-and-a-half times, and I will most likely take it out of the library again in a few months, or buy my own copy of it. If I ever move back to my Michigan homeland, it will be in part because of his writing.
The reason I read this a half-time again was because the titular novella was just not worth being in the same book. I am a fan of magical realism (it’s one of my two favourite fantasy genres), yet, I don’t know if he just doesn’t have much practice in it, or was going for a surreal dreamlike effect, or something that completely sailed over my head. Because of the strength of his poetry and his writing, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, in this story (which is thankfully the shorter of the two) his characters generate no sympathy, the plot is barely even present enough for it to be called a picaresque tale, and the imagery clunks and clatters on the page like a fake petoskey stone. I only rated the story 2/5 because I finished it, and I really only finished it because I liked the first one so much, and because I wanted to mark the book off as ‘read’ in my challenge to read 60 books this year. If anyone reading this review liked “The River Swimmer,” please, please comment and tell me what I missed.
Recommendation: Read “The Land of Unlikeness.” Then read it again and tell yourself you finished the book. Then go pick up Legends of the Fall (the other two novellas in that book are equally good) or one of his poetry collections.
Cross-posted in “The Saturday Review of Books” at Semicolon.
I’ll have more to say about Return of the Crimson Guard (Ian Cameron Esslemont) by the end of next week. At this point in my journey through the world of the Malazan Empire (six of ten books in the main cycle, two of six in second series) I always feel a strong sense of homecoming and nostalgia when I wade back in. This (at least The Malazan Book of the Fallen, the ten-book series by Steven Erikson) is shaping up to be my favourite fantasy series, and reading another author’s take on the same world, especially an author who helped create the world, is just as amazing. It would be like if Emily and Charlotte Brontë wrote novellas set in each other’s books. (And that would mean the existence of something set in the moors of Wuthering Heights that isn’t a pile of poorly-written dogcrap, but that’s another story.) I’m halfway through this new book and I’ve gotten used to the new writing style and am definitely enjoying seeing familiar characters from a different angle. More next week.
Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools is a book I’ve heard of for years and years, probably since high school, when our class read the story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” We’ve all read books where, after we finish them, we just want to go up to people, tie them down to a chair (preferably a comfortable one with good lighting) and force them to read it. I’m just past the first section and everyone’s on the ship and I feel like I already know all of these characters. I can’t rightly recommend it to other readers until I’m finished, but I’m already feeling that urge to make sure everyone has the chance to experience this.
What’s everyone else reading today? Send me your recommendations.