James Salter is sort of an amalgamation of Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller and Penthouse Forum. His description of American ex-pats in post-war Europe is very Hemingway. His idolization of vapid, lay-abouts is very Miller. His authoring a book largely about anal sex is very Guccione.
The milquetoast narrator meets fellow American Phillip Dean at a Paris party and inspires Dean to move his underfunded French sightseeing tour from the City of Light to provincial Autun. Having arrived in Autun, Dean hooks-up with a peasant waitress, which sends the narrator into a full-on vicarious description of what their life must be like. Driving to a new small town every day, eating in a hotel or café, walking at about at night and screwing. An annoying amount of screwing. That the book was written in 1967 and goes from standard sex, to oral, to anal, to essentially Ann-Marie just assuming the position, working the lube and reading a magazine is stunning. That year the moral majority were trying to ban S.E. Hilton’s The Outsiders. Talk about preoccupied…they really missed a doozy by Salter.
The book does have some fine writing, but also has some kvetch worthy writing as well. Just like free-association, scattered jazz music makes no sense, Salter peppers the book with non-linear absurdities. Without bothering to look one up, an example might be that the lighting of a room or some cool air makes Dean temporarily terrified. WTF?
Besides inducing a mild erection, a reason to own the book is that it makes a fine travel guide. With Paris currently flooded by those splendid migrants, visits to Nancy, Dijon, Beaune, La Baule, Sens, Les Settons, Montsauche, Dole, Bagnoles, Angers, Perros-Guirec, etc…might still be like visiting France.
Welp, there’s been another apocalypse. A military plane carrying a shipment of Africanized bird flu crashed in Brampton, England starting a pandemic that wipes out the world’s population. There are only a few survivors. No zombies, so there is some good news.
Holed-up for 9-years at the Erie, Colorado Airport are Hig, his dog Jasper and a gun nut named Bangley. Brotherly love has long since evaporated, so any survivors who cross their perimeter get waxed, then converted into dried jerky for Jasper. Hig and Bangley are an unlikely team, as Hig is pensive outdoorsman/carpenter and Bangley is Wayne LaPierre. It’s clear that Bangley could shrink the airport’s headcount whenever he wants, but although Hig is a comparative softie, he does have his uses. Hig and Jasper sleep outside in furrow near a porchlight the team leaves on all night. Jasper senses approaching intruders, then Hig keys his walkie-talkie a few times, then he and Bangley neutralize the threat. Hig is also a very rare bird in a depopulated world…Hig is a pilot. He flies his Cessna to reconnoiter their perimeter, get supplies, and to help a group of nearby Mennonites who have been stricken with the blood sickness. Bangley is dumbstruck over why Hig engages in the latter, but he has learned that Hig needs his projects.
Hig has been coming a little undone after finishing off a group of five intruders that included one kid. He then flies out to a Coca Cola truck to get some treats for Bangley and the Mennonites and wouldn’t you know it, he has to fight-off two survivors there. Needing some R&R, he grabs his rod and he and Jasper hike into the mountains to fish. Jasper, who is an old dog, passes away peacefully one night and Hig absorbs another gut shot. He hikes down and is unknowingly being tracked by a large group of hostiles. Enter Bangley.
Hig is shot (figuratively.) He needs a change, because what they are doing isn’t living. While on patrol 3-years prior, he received a signal from Grand Junction Airport. Its past his Cessna’s point of no return, but now that doesn’t matter. He’s going. So should you. This is a good book. It’s by Peter Heller. The book cover is an understated masterpiece.
If Michael K had any luck, he’d have no luck at all. Born with a hare lip deformity, he is ditched by his unmarried mother and grows up somewhat abused in a government institution. When his mother becomes ill, she contacts Michael and they try to return to the town of her birth, where as a young girl she had known happiness. The country is in a state of quasi-martial law, so getting papers for a trip for two paupers from Cape Town to the interior turns out to be impossible. So they walk. Rather, K walks and pulls a cart that his afflicted mother rides in. Of course they are harassed all the way and the mother cashes in her chips before they get there, but K pushes on with her ashes until he reaches an abandoned farm that is his best guess as to where she grew up.
From this point on in the book, K makes an assault on the maxim that no man is an island. He lives in a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere, sleeps for days at a time and begins to live on the brink of starvation. Coetzee really goes deep on describing how little K is subsisting on. Despite endless bad luck, people do try to reach out to K, but he maintains an internal independence, even in a forced labor camp or among a band of nomad bums.
Readers compare this book to Kafka or The Bible, but Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning may come to mind as well. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” K is living that way.
Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was the best book we read in 2015. Regrettably, the Life & Times of Michael K is not in that category. You may feel that you are wasting away while you are reading it. In sum, a solid book, but slow and featuring a protagonist that you may not care much about.
What the heck, it was just Halloween. If you have ever read reviews of Thomas Ligotti’s work; you’d almost be too afraid to read anything by him. He is deep in a niche that is window dressed by nice guys like Steven King, Dean Koontz and other scaremongers. Ligotti’s books are unlikely to be on a library or book store shelf, but that may change. Penguin Classics released a compilation of short stories from two collections that were released six years apart, hence the disjointed title. Penguin probably didn’t do themselves any favors by putting a creepy cover on a volume celebrated for its disturbing content.
The book starts with a story called The Frolic, a story about some after-work decompression between a newly minted prison psychologist and his wife. The story is really well written and moves at a sound, anxiety-building pace. Its ending is predictable, but is a perfect landing none the less. There are 30+ more stories in this book, so it’s going to be a nice ride, or frolic if you will.
You read the next one….screech!!! That sucked. Oh well, next one….effing dreadful. Next one…pointless. Next one…ugh! Next one…better, but that was really bizarre. Hmm, do I really want that stuff in my memory banks? Next one…groan. Now you are at the “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story” chapter. No thanks. The book has now become an exercise in finding stories that you can connect with.
Comes a point where you have to bail on the Dead Dreamer stories and jump to the Grimscribe stories to take their temperature. However, at this time, we just can’t. You broke us. Anyone who can power through these stories really needs a psych evaluation and their backyard excavated and searched for the remains of local paperboys. See you next Halloween Grimscribe. Unless we forget.