Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Long Will I Cry?: voices of Youth Violence, edited by Miles Harvey

I realized that I should put up a link to my book review of How Long Will I Cry: Voices of Youth Violence. It's at Escape Into Life. Sometimes the reviews that I put over there are a bit random, but this one wasn't. The book was suggested to me by Kathleen Kirk, who handles the poetry end of things over there, but is also the chief factotum, whether officially or no. I don't know how she came across it, but I suspect that her connection with Illinois theatre may have had something to do with it, as the book was originally inspired by the effort to mount a theatre production based on the lives of Chicago youth in neighborhoods in which there is a lot of violence.

My own interest in the project was piqued by the fact that, for ten years, my cousin Ann Graham Deuel ran a home for at-risk kids on the South Side of Chicago called Jamal Place. Blond blue-eyed woman from outside the city though she is, her efforts for the kids who had been dismissed by the powers that be paid off, although trends in funding proved ultimately disastrous for her project. I think the book, among other things, shows that this result is not unusual. Just as the kids are vulnerable to the point of life and death, so are the programs that get off the ground to help them. Although my review points out that individual efforts are crucial in individual lives, in fact, without a societal will to change the story in the kinds of neighborhoods depicted in this book, what one person can do can turn out to be quixotic. This isn't a reason to despair, however. This is a clarion call to action.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, by Philippe Georget

In what may be a bit of reviewing overkill, I've put my review of Philippe Georget's international bestseller up at both Escape Into Life and The Europa Challenge Blog. I think it's good to get some crime fiction up over at EIL, and as this is a Europa title, I wanted to get the word out over there as well.

I know--it's not summertime yet. So sue me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Priest, by Ken Bruen

 It's not always easy to review a book that's midway through a series. Priest is the fifth book in the excellent Jack Taylor series, and for once I read the books in order and advise you to also. As Priest opens, Jack is in a pretty dark place for reasons I won't divulge here. Suffice to say that he could well be the mascot for Beckett's famous line "I can't go on, I'll go on." Well, if he didn't go on, we wouldn't have a book, would we? But lesser men might have failed at this juncture.

It would be interesting for me to know what the majority of Americans think who read Bruen's novels. I've been to Galway, and I have to confess that I didn't encounter any of the dark heart of Ireland while I was there. But of course that means nothing--I was a tourist. It was perfectly easy for me to avoid the underworld of Bangkok when I visited as well. More than the crimes that form the plots of the Jack Taylor novels, though, it's the exposure of the darker side of the Irish psyche that I wonder what Americans will make of. Although Ken Bruen himself has a good bit of the famous Irish charm, his novels don't seem to play to Irish-American expectations of the Old Sod. The Magdalen Martyrs dealt with the notorious Magdalen Laundries scandal, and this fifth book doesn't tread lightly when it comes to abuse by priests of young boys. I don't give too much away to say that it pretty much starts with a priest's beheading.

But apart from these large issues, it's really more the Irish character that Bruen is so good at dissecting and skewering. He doesn't shy away from subjects like Irish alcoholism or the abuse of power by Catholicism in a country where the church and state are more firmly wedded than they ever were in ours.And yet Bruen writes as an insider to the culture, not as an anthropologist. And he still has a bit of respect for the old Galway as opposed to its modern manifestation for all that.

As always literature, figures into Jack Taylor's life, but this round he's at a place where books fail to sustain him. Nevertheless, the chapters often start out with short quotes from the one book that's attracted him, Pascal's Pensées, a memoir that I never thought I'd read, anymore than Jack Taylor thought he would (although I can't speak for Bruen himself here.) But as is often the case with  classics you haven't read, the book appears to be a stranger creature than I took it for, darker about humankind and its journey than I would have thought. I have a feeling I'm going to have to read it.

I've thought off and on about why Taylor is such a charismatic character, not just for his fellow characters (and love or hate him, none of them seem to be able to leave him alone), but for us. But Bruen himself  answered the question for me in this one. Early on, he has Jack say:

"Soren Kierkegaard talked about man's condition being caught between insoluble tensions.

Fucker nailed me."

It isn't I admit, a very California kind of attitude, but the longer I live, the more I see how this must be so, and Jack is the character who knows this within his bones. His integrity, what he has of it, comes from this knowledge. He can be cruel, destructive to people who might not have earned such brutality, but he'll give money to the alcoholic beggar on Eyre Square, or any of a number of other sad sacks that you know are never going to make good either.

He isn't, however, on the evidence of these last couple of books, someone it would be wise to become close friends with.

Here's an interesting article on Bruen that I ran across when I was looking for an image of the book.

You could do worse, too, than to check out the Jack Taylor television series, which is available on Netflix. The stories so far are close to but not quite the same as the books, and Taylor on the show is not as dark a character as the one Bruen wrote. But there is something in the show that remains true to the spirit of the books, and for that I'll keep watching them. Recently, I watched a writer's conference on the web where Bruen talked of being tapped on the shoulder as he walked down the street in Galway and turning around to find a man who said, "Hi, I'm Jack Taylor." The actor was there on location as they shot the show, large as life, in Taylor's disreputable old garda coat and all.

For an author, it must have been quite a moment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gilead at EIL

I forgot to mention here that I wrote up Gilead at Escape Into Life last Friday. Marilynne Robinison's novel, told in the form of a letter by a dying minister to his young son, may not sound like the most scintillating thing you're going to come across, but it is an astounding novel. To read more of my usual rambling on and on, check it out HERE. And feel free to have a look around the rest of the website. EIL is quite the hopping place these days. It's even got a sports columnist now... 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interior Sculpture: poems in the voice of Camille Claudel, by Kathleen Kirk

We should get out of the way right away any idea that I am a poet, or am actually qualified to analyze poetry in any meaningful way. Nevertheless poetry is always in need of further advertisement, unlike all those things in the world that get far too much of it. As it happens, several of my friends and acquaintances are poets, and good ones, so I think the least I can do is add a blog post on poetry from time to time. Who knows? I might actually learn something.

Besides, in this age of everything digital, chapbooks are cool. We should all buy more of them and support the people who take the time and care to make them, rather than just being attuned to the think that the big marketers tell us to want, right? Chapbooks are nice little objects in themselves. Plus, they are fast reads.

Okay. As the subtitle tells us, these poems are a thematically related set of short poems based on the life of Camille Claudel. Remember her? I did, but vaguely. Her life speaks to our era in many ways, and it's no surprise that there have been a couple of big movies devoted to her life, not to mention books, an opera and so on. Many people will know the basic bio, but briefly, she was a woman who had been interested in earthy materials like soil and clay since childhood, but found a mentor in the sculptor Alfred Bouchet, and under his auspices set up a workshop with other young women sculptors. Not as easy as you might think back in 1882. When Bouchet eventually went off to live in Florence, he asked Rodin to continue teaching his students. This, you might say, is where the trouble began.

Camille Claudel became Rodin's muse and lover. Intuitively one feels that it would be hard to be both muse and artist in one's own right. In any case, it was a stormy relationship. As such things do, eventually it broke.

Claudel began to have some sort of mental trouble in the early years of the new century. As with many sorts of women's madness, there seems to have been a great deal else involved than the purely organic. Claudel did not have what you might call a lot of family support once her father died, and eventually she was institutionalized for a very long time and until her death. Her "voluntary commitment" was not exactly or at least entirely that.

The title of this chapbook comes from a description of her work by Claudel's brother Paul, the poet. Their relationship was also complicated.

There are many wonderful, if tragic lines in these poems. I won't pick out too many, as I should leave them for you to discover, but grant me a couple:

"I was working small
from poverty, not some decorative
impulse in myself." 


"I am a woman crouching
in a corner. I am a torso of a woman crouching."


"We don't know what will pierce us."

As the back of the chapbook tells us, the poem cycle was part of a larger collaboration of dance music theatre and poetry called Claudel, which was performed earlier this year. The poet thanks her sister, the actress Christina Kirk, for reading the poems aloud as Camille Claudel in the asylum at Montevergues. Even just hearing of this gives me goosebumps.

So where can you get a copy? You can get one right HERE .

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Off the Shelf does Irish Crime

I was directed to a website called Off the Shelf just now, after reading about it on Declan Burke's blog, Crime Always Pays. The list he was directing us to was of eight works of Irish crime fiction. As I tend to be a bit of a dabbler rather than a completest, in books as in everything else, I was rather shocked to realize that I had read and enjoyed all these authors but one, and even that one I own two books from. I have even read the exact books mentioned, with the exception of the Kerrigan. I was rather bemused by all this. My reading life is really more about things I mean to get around to reading rather than things I have actually read. So what is it about Irish crime fiction that leads me to get the job done?

In any case, here's the list. Rather than my rambling reviews here, you will find these professional editors short and to the point.

(And the author I haven't read yet, for no reason at all, is Tana French. Luckily, she doesn't really need my help.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

In the Morning I'll be Gone now published in U.S., and When the Killing's Done at EIL

I've been reminded to mention that the American publication of In the Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty has finally gone live, and the Audible version of the book is available as well. I reviewed the book just last month for the British edition, but in case some lone soul who somehow is only attracted to American editions is checking in, here's an excerpt of that review and a link. And it can't hurt to put up the new cover.

"Whatever may happen to Duffy in the course of this book, and I'm not telling, there's a general atmosphere of exile and leavetaking permeating it. It begins at the tail end of 1983, and there's a sense that anyone with any possibility of doing so is getting out. There's America, of course, but why not just take the little hop to Scotland or England? Sean's old girlfriend has, and one of his fellow officers is hoping to. And even in the course of his investigations, Duffy will go back and forth a few times. So why shouldn't he make the move more permanent?"

In other news, my review of When the Killing's Done is live today at Escape Into Life. Although this may sound like one of those gritty murder mysteries I'm prone to read, it's actually a thoughtful novel on how best to manage the Channel Islands. Although I discuss several aspects of the book in the review, I neglected to say how pleasing T.C. Boyle is as stylist. I'm the kind of reader who tends to get a little bored by long descriptive passages, but Boyle has a knack for making the Southern California landscape constantly vivid and interesting.