Saturday, February 16, 2008


The Grass Harp, Truman Capote, Random House Inc, 1951, 181 pp

Truman Capote is a good storyteller. So far in his books he keeps telling the same story: a young boy loses his parents and is sent to live with weird relatives. Apparently the variations on this are endless.

In this case, he is put in the care of two spinster cousins of his father's. One is a business woman who owns half of the small southern town including the sheriff. The other cousin runs the house, has a half-breed Indian/Black friend who is toothless and becomes the boy's friend, pseudo mother and spiritual adviser.

After an argument between the sisters, the boy, the dreamy cousin and her friend "run away" to a tree house. This causes an uproar in the town. The boy finally gets a friend for the first time in his life. The cousin gets a sweetheart. The "mean cousin" gets a heart. All ends well and they go back home. It is almost like the Wizard of Oz, but completely enjoyable reading the whole way.

The Natural, Bernard Malamud, Farrar Straus and Giroux Inc, 1952, 241 pp

My first experience with this author was a good one. Roy Hobbs is a country boy with a natural skill and talent for baseball. He gets discovered by Sam, a fairly washed-up alcoholic scout who takes Roy to Chicago. Roy Hobbs turns out to be a cursed man and the whole story is about his determination to make baseball history. Though he comes very close to achieving his dream, his curse gets him in the end.

The writing is very fine. Malamud portrays the characters of baseball with a sure hand, especially for a first novel, as well as the shifty, sometimes evil ways of the men with the money. His weakest point might be the female characters although they are possibly characteristic of the times.

The Natural was made into a movie with Robert Redford. My husband says it is the baseball movie of all time and that he has seen it three times. (Somewhere on the web I found that the movie changes the book quite a bit with a whole different ending and message.) The book is a classic of its time along with The Man With the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren; Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor; and Catcher in the Rye, by J D Salinger; all stories about the underbelly of American life. All was not suburban peace and prosperity in the 1950s.

Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut, Delacorte Press, 1952, 295 pp

Kurt Vonnegut's first novel is set in a postwar future where machines do all the work, engineers and businessmen rule and the haves are bored while the have-nots have lost their self respect and feel their lives have no purpose.

Dr Paul Proteus, son of one of the major developers of this machine age, has doubts about it all, despite his high position and comfortable life. When an old friend shows up and declares he has quit, they get involved with a revolutionary group that plans to wipe out the machines.

The plot is unlikely but the black humor is well done. He takes on all the issues including women, religion and the masses. I was reminded of some Edward Abbey novels and the one Stanley Elkins book I read.

Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1952, 224 pp

This is the second in the Foundation Trilogy. It was so good that I immediately went on to the third book after finishing this one.

In Foundation and Empire, a "mutant" called The Mule, who has the ability to control and change people's emotions, begins a series of conquests in the crumbling First Empire. He throws an unknown and unexpected monkey wrench into the Foundation's plans for rebuilding the Second Empire.

How he is defeated is the story here. It reads like a combination of epic adventure and mystery. (I am beginning to see that mystery is an element of many good tales outside of the mystery genre.) Once again Asimov shows off his plotting chops as well as an impressive grasp of the ways of men, governments, science and society.

The Currents of Space, Isaac Asimov, Street & Smith Publications Inc, 1952, 172 pp

A spatio-analyst discovers that, due to certain currents in space, a planet will be destroyed. But this planet produces a commodity upon which a whole interplanetary civilization is economically dependent. Naturally the businessmen cannot have the spatio-analyst's discovery become broadly known, so they subject him to a psychic probe which wipes much of his memory.

All of that happens in the prologue. The rest of the story is about how he regains his memory and averts the annihilation of millions of people. Asimov's genius at plotting makes the story exciting on every page. He also has a range of vision about society, economics and science which is astounding and make him truly one of the greats of science fiction. Plus he produced two of these tales in one year! Now I really see what all the raving is about.

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