The Hunting Gun

This story was written in 1949 by the burgeoning poet Yasushi Inoue as a serial for his high school buddy, who happened to be the editor of Japanese equivalent of Field & Stream. The hunting hook is Churchill shotgun that is lovingly polished and aimed at a lead character behind her back. That doesn’t sound like much, but a young writer has to get published by any means necessary.

The main narrative is wrapped in a gimmick that isn’t impactful, but the emotions of these players are. The narrative itself is composed of three letters, written by three women, to one Mr. Josuke Misugi. The first is from a young woman who is the daughter of a family friend, a pseudo-niece. The second is from Misugi’s wife. And the third is from the dying woman Misugi has been in long-term affair with. Plot buster – he didn’t get away with it.

The niece’s letter is blah. Misugi’s wife’s is thought-provoking as she reflects on why she didn’t confront the cheaters when she, by chance, spotted them. She reflects on the biggest fork in her life’s road. Perhaps she couldn’t confront them, because The Other Woman was her closest, most respected friend. The one she called Elder Sister…superior to her in every way. She was likely afraid that Musagi would be forced to choose between them and she didn’t like her odds. Ultimately (i.e., 13-years later,) she confronts the dying woman. In the book’s final letter, the one from the dying woman, the dissimilar interpretations of the encounter between the wife and the cheat are also of note.

The final letter is the most powerful and you can read it if you come across this slim booklet. What you will probably remember is the school girl story of whether you would rather love or be loved. Everyone’s swift answer is the latter…but really? Think about it.

Fahrenheit 451

Currently making a comeback are the state paranoia books “1984,” “It Can’t Happen Here” and “Fahrenheit 451.” The Iluminado choose 451F as the book to examine in February. It’s been a while since we met and advanced literary criticism and demolished a few pulled pork & kimchi pizzas at Brewport in Bridgeport, CT, so this memorialization of that discussion will be brief…because I forgot a lot of it.

That said, some semi-eternal impressions…Captain Beatty’s explanation of how things came to pass was riveting, Mildred love of creating roadkill and kicking local dogs – endearing, the Hound – terrifying, everything being boiled down to a snap ending – condensing, and adding a fourth wall in the living room hit a little too close to home, but let’s say it is promising!

We discussed the usual stuff, e.g., all the hands references, but obviously the poignant discussion surrounded this seeming 1953 anticipation of our current culture. Did this book predict the rise of the low information voter? President Noble wins a lot of votes being the nicest looking man running for president, while the hopeless Outs keep running homely guys who don’t brush their hair. Maybe President Noble is orange? There is also a lot of distraction in their world, after all, who wouldn’t want to see men in tuxedos pull 100-lb rabbits from hats, then again we have the Real Housewives of Wherever and an overdue pregnant giraffe. Before we think too badly of ourselves, was 1953 any better than today? Yes, we all like Ike, but even he warned us that beyond the white picket fences were powers that were interested in maintaining our continued disinterest. While Eisenhower waited until his term was up to spill the beans on the military-industrial complex…yes he needed campaign cash too…1953 probably wasn’t a rose garden we might imagine it to be. The big ray of hope was Khrushev replacing Stalin.

As there are at least two ways to look at anything, some editions of the book have a Coda written by Bradbury in response to a young Vassar lady, a progenitor to the current SJW, advising him to rewrite the book with stronger female roles and persons of color. Ray was having none of that PC crap and advised the young lady to write her own book. Maybe his old white ghost’s vote wasn’t in the bag for the divisive politics of the Democrats. It’s nice to see a work that can be politically appropriated by both sides.

An interesting question between burps was, if we are all as blind as Mildred and her two marvelous, White Clown-watching friends, then who is today’s Guy Montag? An anarchist? A hermit? A conspiracy theorist? We couldn’t settle that one. Please comment if you have the answer.

Some of the material in the book doesn’t fly, e.g., bums as libraries, and some things don’t come to pass, e.g., Beatty vs. Faber, but there are many amazing thoughts captured in its ~173-pages. Well worth the effort. Go read it. It has pores.

Comic Books (a.k.a., Graphic Novels)

In the anteroom of the Illuminado’s Athenaeum & Natatorium (the Old A&N,) sits a copy of Patrick Ness’s “A Monster Calls.” The story was made into a $43M motion picture, which was a financial flop, but a critical success, which generally means it was probably a good flick. In order to investigate the graphic novel space, a couple of these comic books were examined.

The first was Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. Asterios is a 50-year old effete, paper architect whose NYC apartment burns down as a result of a lightning strike. Possibly uninsured and/or unmoored, Asterios uses his remaining funds to buy a bus ticket out of his bases of operation in NYC and an unnamed Ithaca NY college, to travel deep into Trumplandia. Seeing a Help Wanted sign and a nearby library, a rock-bottom Asterios steps off the bus in the inaptly named town of Apogee. A quick study of a few car repair books and he is hired-on and rented a cheap room by local mechanic and all around good guy Stiffly.

As Asterios adjusts to his new life and friends, he takes heed of the saying the unexamined life is not worth living and reflects on his professional career and collapsed marriage. These reflections introduce a fascinating character in his wife Hana. Equally brilliant in her field of art and, like Asterios, a professor in Ithaca, Hana lacks Asterios’s self-assurance and toggles between strength and fragility during the recollections. To the reader it is a believable and absorbing relationship, which Mazzucchelli’s artwork enhances gorgeously. The use of the blues for Asterios and reds for Hana and their intensity and interchanging is worth noting and reading into throughout. Contrastingly, the action in Stiffly’s red state is yellow, as are Asterious’s dreamlike conversations with his stillborn twin brother Ignazio, who also serves as the book’s narrator.

Though the size of a chemistry textbook, this book is a quick, worthwhile read, but be warned…these graphic novels are more expensive than those with black type on a pale page, so try your library or getting a used copy somewhere. Yes, that’s not nice for the author or publisher, but a new copy is $29.95.

While in the local library, Blankets by Craig Thompson stood out as a thick well drawn graphic novel. 600-pages later, same result. Powerfully personal story with picture-perfect artwork. The graphic novel space has a lot more than Bone or the X-Men…not that we are knocking either those yarns. Check these books out.

Ghosts

In Ghosts, Argentinian writer Cesar Aira describes events that take place on New Year’s Eve at a luxury Buenos Aires high rise construction site. The building is near completion and has been built by poor Chileans for wealthy Argentines. The Argentines are portrayed as superficial whereas the Chileans workers are “real” with the one unreal exception…these real Chileans can see that the building is infested with ghosts. The workers pay the ghosts no notice, except to occasionally tug on the ghosts’ penises as a gag while working. The ghosts just happen to all be nude males. There are no phantom-homoerotic undertones, nor are the Ghostbusters needed to deal with ghost malevolence.

There is little action in the book. In the morning the future Argentine owners inspect the site with their interior designers, a nephew of the main worker is sent to the store for food, the children of the one workers who lives at the site run wild, the workers get drunk at noon and take a siesta, everyone prepares for the New Year’s Eve party on the roof deck and occasionally ghosts float by. There are a lot of clever observations, comparisons and internal dialogue. In fairness, there also a lot of nonsense.

Cesar Aira is considered a plus writer. In one of the book’s main themes, he often alludes to the uniqueness of being Chilean. It’s probably something all fellow South Americans get, but North Americans can only speculate on, so something appreciable is lost in translation there. Otherwise the book is spotty, with equal tracts of dullness and interest. There is a big decision that is to be made at the end which makes that last 10-pages quite compelling.

Tree of Smoke

boring Tree of Smoke is by an acclaimed writer and was the 2007 National Book Award Winner for Fiction. That said only 3-Illuminado Brothers were able to finish the book. The book may be great, but your humble blogger was in the majority who were bored to death between 200-300 pages in and didn’t complete the mission. Undeniably a poor book club pick. If this book is on your group’s to do list, get ironclad assurances that folks will read the book to its 720-page conclusion. Tree of Smoke beat Jim Shepard’s “Like You’d Understand, Anyway” for the 2007 Award. Rigged!

The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn

dead-mountaineer The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn is a whodunit in the genre of Clue or any other nobody leaves until the Inspector shouts “Twas the Butler!” The book, by brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, stars a vacationing Inspector Peter Glebsky in the Hercule Poirot role amidst a collection of wacky guests and Inn staff. What starts with a missing gold watch and various pranks and bumps in the night leads up to a murder at the Inn. With everyone trapped due to an avalanche, Inspector Glebsky must make like a homicide detective (his actual specialty is catching counterfeiters) and find the murderer.

To give any more of the plot away would be a disservice. The authors are Russian Science-Fiction writers, so this tale eventually goes off the rails, but it enhances the story. A quick, fun read that will have you thinking about reading more mysteries and visiting a Mountain Inn.

There is a 1979 movie based on this book, but it’s in Estonian, so good luck finding it. Actually it wasn’t too hard:

Best Books of 2016

Bruce-Jenner-Olympic-Gold-Medals These are the most appreciated books mentioned on this blog during 2016. They weren’t published in 2016, because then they would be real expensive to buy. If you want to read the reviews, scroll down from here.

Gold: Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World. Donald Antrim is a genius. That’s all…nuff said.

Silver: White Noise. Don Delillo is pretty good too. Maybe it’s the name…Don. It has been the year of The Donald. Another pattern is like Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, the book is hilarious. We’d love for Pete Robinson and Murray Jay Suskind to sit down and talk. Important hair…we never thought of that.

Bronze: All the Light We Cannot See. A pure pleasure to read, while asking the players the gritty question of when you are confronted by evil…what are you going to do about it?

Proper shout-out for East of Eden, Palace Thief Stories, The Dog Stars, A Visit from the Goon Squad and Blindness, all of which stand out from the other fine books we read this year.

Blindness

blindness This is not a cheery book, but it is an excellent one for discussion. For instance, how long does it take for human beings to go feral? Jose Saramago doesn’t think it will take long. Let’s hope none of us ever find out.

In an unnamed city, unnamed people go blind for an unknown reason. It starts with “the first blind man” and rapidly engulfs everyone, except “the doctor’s wife.” She is the witness to the collapse of society, as more and more victims enter a resplendent, milky-white blindness, rather than ordinary darkness. The government effects an ineffective quarantine that lands a pod of patients from the doctor’s waiting room in a ward of a previously abandoned mental hospital. 15-commandments are repeated from loudspeakers every day, the fifth of which, the only one that is a recommendation and not an order, turns out to be critical – internees should organize themselves. That never effectively happens and a might-makes-right organization takes over, leading to dreadful consequences for the interred blind, particularly the women.

As the internees make their way into larger blinded society, the reader is shown how society is reliant on the individual performing their specialized role. Each of us can’t do it all, especially with our eyes closed.

There many details worth analyzing, e.g., can society reorganize, were the doctor’s wife’s decisions the correct ones, the dignity of the women vs. the men, the old man with the eye patch’s monstrous wish, the blindfolded saints, why did the doctor and the girl with the dark glasses get busy, the use of old adages, etc…, but the writer saves the big question for the last page – are we all blind people who can see? Very good discussion book.

East of Eden

east-of-eden If you went to high school before the standards dropped, ahhh…the 90s, then you probably read either Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath. They are OK are far as high school reading goes, i.e., a lot better than Billy Budd, Ethan Frome, and that awful Catcher in the Rye. So you left school with the feeling that Steinbeck is OK. There are worse.

John Steinbeck referred to East of Eden as his “big book” or masterpiece…and deservedly so. It is big, and it is packed with powerful description, history, character development and biblical parallels. This epic chronicles three generations of Steinbeck’s maternal ancestors, the Hamiltons, and the fictional Trasks (from our own little Nutmeg State, Connecticut….well not really.) And don’t forget, the unforgettable Lee, a West Coast, Chinese-American Mr. Carson jam-packed with philosophy.

The first question out of the box was why two stories in one book? Why not a straight Trask fiction and a separate book about his family, plus some artistic license sprinkled about. The answer is, the Hamiltions, with the exception Samuel, just don’t merit a stand-alone, historical non-fiction, and, with respect to our great state, the Trasks need the Hamilton’s Eden/Gomorrah-like Salinas Valley as a backdrop.

Cain and Abel, Cain is able…C & A. Charles and Adam. Caleb and Aron. Maybe Cyrus had a brother named Aloysius as well, undoubtedly East of Eden is chiefly known for its parallels to the story of Cain and Abel. Charles and Caleb are Cain…and in some fashion so is Cathy, who is Caleb’s mother…probably via Charles, thereby making Caleb a Mega-Cain, but for Timshel. Both parents, who bear the mark of Cain on their foreheads, also produce a mini-Adam via their recessive genes in person of Aron. There are other parallels for the readers’ entertainment, e.g., who works the field, who is Dad’s favorite, etc…

During our discussion, the Brothers spent some time on Original Sin and the consequence of ill-begotten wealth. Subsequently discussed events that caused characters to just jump completely out of character, e.g., the two female suicides. Entertained a conspiracy theory that Liza was pregnant with George, forcing Samuel to make an honest woman of her and them both to flee an intensely Catholic Ireland. We imagined the warmth of a few whiskeys around the anvil, the taste of ng-ka-py and a room full of ancient Chinese guys studying 16-Hebrew verses in heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. One Brother even jettisoned Pamela Anderson and W.C. Fields off their list of The Three People You Would Like To Have Dinner With, and put Samuel Hamilton and Lee at the table with Hulk Hogan. Powerful stuff.

Thou mayeth read other books. Thou mayeth read other Steinbeck books. Thou mayeth be an idiot if thou musteth and pass on East of Eden. It won’t care. It’s amazing and very secure in that fact.

FYI…Google can be great. Tooling around for images of the area returned this travelogue of a trip to the Hamilton Farm. The photo here was lifted from this post. You should look this as well…tough farming.

http://epiphanyinbmore.blogspot.com/2013/07/steinbeck-scholars-tour-hamilton-ranch.html#!/2013/07/steinbeck-scholars-tour-hamilton-ranch.html

A Sport and a Pastime

delage 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.