Friday, March 10

Four Tims

Tim, Tim, Tim and Tim Posted by Picasa

Recently, I was talking to my friend Melanie about folks I knew who had written, or were trying to write, books. I mentioned Nicholas' novel Suburban Aliens.
Mel asked, "Does that book have four pictures of a guy in a trench coat on the cover?"
"You remember Tim from Perth?" I replied.
"Jessie's Tim?" Mel asked (revealing herself to be about 10 years out of date with respect to this particular Tim).
"Yes, that Tim, he's the cover model, the book's cover is four Tim's in a trench coat."
"No way!"
"Yes way."
It turns out that Mel, years ago, had been shopping for a birthday present for a teenage cousin and had seen Suburban Aliens displayed in Angus and Robertson. She liked the cover (not suspecting for a moment that she knew the model) so picked it up and checked it out. She bought it and read it before giving it to her cousin. All she could remember about the book, apart from liking the cover was that a group of kids get locked in a parking garage at some point (where they do lots of drugs).

I've read a bunch of books lately (I'm trying to wean myself off TV). Here are some mini-reviews:

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem - This book is so good that I loved it even though it has touches of magical realism (magical realism, urgh blah). It shows that it can be a good idea to wait (Lethem began his career writing more genre-based work) before writing a semi-autobiographical novel. The first half of the novel (about growing up as the only white-boy in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn) is the best but whole book is excellent.

The Fall by Simon Mawer - A decidedly old-fashioned book about climbing and complicated jealousies. Took me a while to get into it but ultimately it was quite satisfying. I was disappointed by the ending though which I think it is supposed to be a surprise but seemed obvious.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth - Boy, what to say about this? As the entire novel is one extended rant it has its ebbs and flows. But, when it is on it is hilarious and disturbing. This book (published in 1967) is so filthy in parts that I (a free speech advocate and future employee of the ACLU) thought perhaps it should be burned. Really, this book should be burned (but read it first).

Joe College by Tom Perrotta - I love Tom Perrotta (author of Election and Little Children). While he's not the most challenging author in the world, he is consistently funny and entertaining. This book (set alternatively at Yale and New Jersey) made me very nostalgic for both places.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - A "God's-eye view" of a quadruple homicide. The facts of this case, and the character of the murderers, were sufficiently similar to those of the trial I worked on in Vermont that this book was a disturbing read for me.

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner - Unlike Capote, Garner involves herself heavily in this true-crime story and the narrative suffers as a result. (Capote, of course, did get heavily involved in the story he just left all that out). Garner can't be criticized for taking the victim's side but her reactions to this case were much less interesting than the case itself.

Suburban Aliens by Nicholas Carvan - I remember Nicholas writing that he judges books, not by their covers, but by their first sentence. After all, an author can be expected to carefully polish the opening sentence of a novel. So, if that sentence is crap, the book is probably crap. I was curious to see the first sentence of Nicholas' book. Perhaps it would show the signs of too much attention and be overwritten. Thankfully, this is not the case. Suburban Aliens begins with: "The first time I saw them I was in a park with my girl-friend." You know immediately that the book is simply written and about relationships. A fun read about an adolescence very unlike my own.

The Darling by Russell Banks - Banks has been one of my favorite authors of the past couple of years. All of his books I have read are deeply tied to their setting in New England or Upstate New York. The Darling is mostly set in Liberia and is about as cheerful as any book set in that country can expect to be. This book, while very good, was depressing even by my standards. Be warned.


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