I’ve been writing, furiously, and haven’t had much time for the blog. I’ve been reading, too, and the last four books I’ve read are all uniformly excellent.
The Book of Strange New Things—Faber’s epic science fiction novel is a meditative, and disquieting, look at a Christian pastor spreading his version of the gospel to an alien race. As first-contact novels go, it has all the earmarks of the genre: misunderstandings, descriptions of weird physiology and askew landscapes; linguistic discrepancies; and a brooding, sinister feeling. Faber is a major talent for this sort of thing, and there’s a doomed, melancholic air hanging over the novel. The last fifty pages are stunning and devastating.
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail—Over forty years on, and Hunter Thompson’s 1972 campaign book remains one of the indispensible books on American politics; it’s also funny as hell. Thompson was a very fine writer, a great reporter who saw through all the haze and murk right to the core of things. He fell apart, later, and we all know it; but with this and Hell’s Angels, he remains one of our country’s great political and social writers (although I’m probably one of the few people who sees him this way). Along with the commentary, Thompson does the Gonzo thing, getting drunk and high while narrowly avoiding the law. A must-read.
The Ladies’ Man—Richard Price is another great, oddly overlooked writer. Clockers is one of the best American novels in the last fifty years, a uniquely American epic, of cops and gang kids and drugs and urban decreptitude, rendered with a hilarious, and often heart-breaking, patois. Here he’s written a kind of fear and loathing/crime and punishment tale of New York, following a self-involved narcissus, as he loses his girlfriend, wandering the crime-infested 1980s New York in a vicious, seething self-pity, looking for love and meaning. Muscular and thrilling and sexy as hell.
Lila—I finished this a few weeks ago, but I’m still thinking about it. Marilynn Robinson returns to Gilead, Iowa, and the story of John Ames, John Boughton, and now, Ames’s young wife. Lila follows her courtship with the elderly preacher, as well as her wild, desperate youth as an orphan in Depression-era America. The prose is astonishing, simple, supple, robust. I found this marvelous novel the weakest of the three—Gilead and Home being the other two—but I think Lila will probably be seen as the most accessible of the bunch. What makes Robinson such an intriguing writer, and a writer of great moral courage, is her insistence on pr0bing into the prickly issues of Calvinist Christianity.
On the short list to be read: Ted Hughes Gaudete, Stones for Ibarra, The Sportswriter, Pavese’s The Moon and the Wildflowers, Ammaniti’s Let the Games Begin.