Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Books we discussed at our June meeting

Here is the list of books that people threw out at the meeting (with the exception of Stiff by Mary Roach, which is detailed in the "In non-fiction, Babs recommends . . ." post) as books they enjoyed reading:

Ask A Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano (www.askamexican.net)
Inside cover:
Questions and answers about our spiciest Americans. I explore the clich├ęs of lowriders, busboys, and housekeepers; drunks and scoundrels; heroes and celebrities; and most important, millions upon millions of law-abiding, patriotic American citizens and their illegal-immigrant cousins who represent some $600 billion in economic power.
At 37 million strong (or 13 percent of the U.S. population), Latinos have become America's largest minority -- and beaners make up some two-thirds of that number. I confront the bogeymen of racism, xenophobia, and ignorance prompted by such demographic changes through answering questions put to me by readers of my ¡Ask a Mexican! column in California's OC Weekly. I challenge you to find a more entertaining way to immerse yourself in Mexican culture that doesn't involve a taco-and-enchilada combo.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry
Library Journal: Barry, whose recent graphic novel, The Freddie Stories, took as its subject the dysfunctional family from her newspaper cartoon strip, now takes us into the head of an indomitable 16-year-old. Roberta Rohbeson lives with her mother and half-sister, Julie, in a crumbling neighborhood overlooking a garbage-filled ravine. Roberta's energetic voice carries us along two story-lines. In one, Roberta and a classmate, Vicky, cut school and meet up with a series of low-life young men. Simultaneously, Roberta provides us with a running account of a cross-country crime spree with her father when she was 11. This trip involves three suitcases full of money, lots of alcohol, gore, putrefaction, and some of the most desolate, godforsaken locales in modern fiction. It also contains more violence than this reader can usually tolerate, yet Roberta's wacky, irrepressible outlook makes her story fresh, compelling, and sometimes hilarious. Does Roberta survive? All I can say is, she gets my vote as one of the all-time great unreliable narrators. Recommended for most fiction collections

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Publishers Weekly: Set in 1896, Carr's novel about a serial killer lose in New York City was a 25-week PW bestseller.

Train by Peter Dexter
Publisher's Weekly: National Book Award winner Dexter's new book is about pain: the men and women who deliver the emotional and physical blows and the limits of those who bend and break beneath them. This is a theme that runs like a dark thread through Dexter's work, from his prize-winning Paris Trout to The Paperboy. In his latest, no one escapes unscathed, and that includes the reader. It's 1953, and Lionel Walk, a black 18-year-old caddy known as Train, works at an exclusive Los Angeles golf course. The members there are cruel and bigoted, the other caddies violent and criminal. Train is badly treated by everyone except enigmatic golfer Miller Packard, who plays a decent game and recognizes that Train has a special talent for the sport. Packard is a police sergeant who comes to the rescue of beautiful Norah Rose when she is viciously attacked and her husband is slaughtered in an attempted boat hijacking. Packard and Norah fall in love, and he moves into her Beverly Hills home. Meanwhile, Train loses his job and eventually finds work as a groundskeeper at the rundown Paradise Developments golf course. He gets the course back into shape, but this hopeful interlude cannot last. A botched tree-removal project ends in tragic farce, and Train is set adrift again. Packard-a rescuer once more-finds Train, turns him into a golf shark and wins thousands on the boy's exceptional talent. In clear, pitch-perfect prose, Dexter moves the relentless story forward, exposing the ironies and dark undercurrents of charitable actions. The calamitous conclusion looms over the novel from the start, and it comes just as the reader knows it must.

Paris Trout by Peter Dexter
Publisher's Weekly: An expertly crafted and bleakly fascinating tale of social conflict and madness in the deep South, this novel centers on the eponymous Paris Trout, owner of a general store and other property in Cotton Point, Ga., during the years just after World War II. A cunning, violent man, with deep roots in the community, Trout has become an economic predator of the town's poor blacks by running a loan service for them out of the safe in his store's back room. The tensions between Trout and the blacks reaches a critical point when Trout, along with a strong-arm goon, murders an 11-year-old black girl and badly injures a black woman while collecting a debt. Into the vortex of this storm are drawn a number of other characters, highlighting the racial and social divisions of Cotton Point: lawyer and gentleman Harry Seagraves, who is repelled by the case; Paris's wife Hannah, brutalized by her husband and in powerful psychological bondage to him; and Carl Bonner, a young, idealistic lawyer who seesaws between his past in the town and his recently acquired sense of being an outsider in its circumscribed society. Trout's murder trial forces Cotton Point to face some dark truths, while setting in motion a chain of events that lead to a crescendo of violence. Dexter (Deadwood, God's Pocket) is a deft and economical storyteller and a cruel but observant chronicler of deep South customs and characters, with something of a Faulknerian feeling for the bullying violence that can lay at the heart of an inbred small town.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
500 Great Books by Women: With honest and compelling prose, Marge Piercy delves into the mind of thirty-seven-year-old Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, a woman who exists on the fringes of life in contemporary New York City. Early in the novel Connie beats up her niece's pimp and is committed - again - to the psychiatric ward in Bellevue Hospital. The novel shifts between the horrible conditions in psychiatric wards and the year 2137, as Connie at first talks to, then time travels with Luciente, a person from that future time. Luciente lives in a non-sexist, communal country where people's survival is ensured based on need, not money. A sense of freedom, choice, and safety are part of Luciente's world; Connie's world is the complete opposite. Though Connie struggles to stand up for herself and others in the treatment centers, she knows that the drugs she is forced to take weaken her in every way. She knows she shouldn't be there, knows how to play the game, and tells herself "You want to stop acting out. Speak up in Tuesday group therapy (but not too much and never about staff or how lousy this place was) and volunteer to clean up after the others." But she knows she is stuck. Connie spends more time "away" with Luciente, trying to develop a way out of her hell. Ultimately Connie makes her plan of action, and the book leaves us with our own questions about Connie's insanity and decisions.

1 comment:

VVM said...

Gustavo Arellano says: Gracias for plugging my book!