THREE MINI REVIEWS
I have been reading like crazy in a wide range and sometimes a deep range. Here are three books I read in April, each of which took me away from it all in various ways. I apologize for the mashed up formatting. Sometimes Blogger has its limits.
From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape, 1957, 268 pp
I don't know why I keep being surprised that each of these James Bond books gets better than the last. Most authors get better the more they write. It must be because the movies are so stupid, so lacking in what made the books great.
007 collides with SMERSH again (that is the Russian Intelligence branch) when they send a beautiful agent to seduce him and lead him to their assassin. In fact, the first half of the book takes place in the Soviet Union, setting up the lure, Tatiana Romanova, and the assassin, Red Grant, and the caper. All of that reminded me of Red Sparrow.
Even when Bond comes on the scene, he does not do much except meet and bed Tatiana in Turkey, and accompany her on the Orient Express as they travel to London. They pass through many Balkan cities, the very ones I have been reading about in Black Lamb, Grey Falcon.
Then in the last 20 pages the trap is sprung. Of course Bond survives to die another day.
Eastman Was Here, Alex Gilvarry, Viking, 2017, 356 pp
I grabbed this off my Nervous Breakdown Book Club backlog pile in a fit of COVID19 angst. The cover was intriguing and it had blurbs from Tea Obreht and Gary Shteyngart.
I found plenty to enjoy. Alan Eastman is a cleverly created unreliable narrator, the kind of self-involved male who later showed up in Shteyngart's Lake Success, except that Eastman's story takes place in 1973.
He is a washed up writer with a disintegrating marriage. I had no idea while reading it that the character is loosely based on Norman Mailer. In hindsight, I see it. Self-centered, creates his reputation out of provocative statements and unique takes on contemporary issues, all the while tolerated with amusement by his male contemporaries and even a few women.
I have read quite a bit of Mailer and, aside from his views on women, have usually found him quite intelligent about American absurdities. In contrast, I felt sorry for Alan Eastman despite his infidelity (he maintains a mistress while going ballistic over his wife being unfaithful to him.)
When he goes off to Vietnam with an assignment to cover Saigon as the Americans pull out, he gets his comeuppance from a younger female reporter. I enjoyed that part the most!
Actually I enjoyed Gilvarry's dissection of the late 20th century older male who totally missed the point of mostly everything. The ending where Eastman and his wife try to work out their differences in front of their two young sons just made me sad.
Lullaby For Sinners, Kate Braverman, Harper & Row, 1980, 88 pp
I finished another volume of poetry. Last year I read Palm Latitudes, one of Braverman's novels, after learning that she had been Janet Fitch's writing teacher. I was impressed, so I decided to try her poetry.
Lullaby For Sinners is her second collection. It is stark with dark emotions, both beautiful and horrific images, and though I am no expert on poetry, it seemed to lie on the experimental side of the poetry spectrum.
I felt she was writing about the deep secrets of female emotional and mental trauma. Her poems reminded me of Sylvia Plath and Francesca Lia Block. Probably not for everyone but I liked it.
How has your reading been going? Today is Day 52 for me of staying home and I feel blessed to have everything I need (except a haircut) and so much time to bury into books. For others who have to work in dangerous venues or be stuck inside with small children day after day, I can understand how they must wish this would be over soon.