Alright, here’s the deal, people: I feel that I’ve lost all the faithful readers who slogged through the 117 Days of James Patterson with me by not posting as regularly as I should. Hopefully I haven’t blown things as bad as I think I have, but I’ve had a lot on my plate lately & will be pretty much taking November off from the Catapult. This is good, though, as I’m getting married in a couple of weeks down in New Orleans. So, not so much Catapulting lately – I’m not sure I’d stay engaged to my lady if I did. That said, I have been squeezing in some reading since Day 117 passed & I thought I’d give my thoughts on some of those, sort of as a way of tiding everyone over until I get back after Thanksgiving. (When I get together my annual Catapult Notable List.) Check it:
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
Journalist Vaillant (New Yorker, Outside, NatGeo, etc) has woven together the fascinating history of the Far East of Russia – an area that I knew virtually nothing about – and the search for a remarkably intelligent, man-hunting, revenge-seeking Siberian tiger. Once Vaillant sets the scene of the final confrontation, the tension builds like in a thriller novel – the animal the men are tracking is so intelligent as to be nearly unpredictable. Even the finale is completely on the tiger’s terms. The moral herein: don’t steal food from a tiger and if you shoot him, make sure he’s dead. A fascinating, extremely well told story, made all the more compelling by the truth of it all.
Bandit Love by Massimo Carlotto
Massimo Carlotto is so adept at writing fiction from the criminal’s perspective (see also The Goodbye Kiss) that I’ve begun to wonder about him. Marco “The Alligator” Buratti is supposed to be retired from his life of crime, content to sipping his Calvados and hanging about in his nightclub in Padua. “Supposed to be retired” turns into something else entirely when he begins helping one of his two friends, which leads him into a complex web of drug smuggling, murder, kidnappings, double-crosses, Serbian crime syndicates, and the dark underbelly of modern Italian politics. For those that have enjoyed Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, Carlotto is drinking at the same bar, so sidle on over.
Panopticon by David Bajo
Bajo’s fantastic, dream-like second novel (The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri) explores both the dusty southern borderland of my fair city and the electronic network of cameras that are always watching us. Border reporter, Aaron Klinsman stumbles into what could be the story of a lifetime when he is clued into the fact that there is a vast network of watching eyes scattered all across our urban landscape. But who is doing the watching? And down the rabbit hole we go. The real star here is the balance between Bajo’s delicate, elegant writing & the crazy, almost insomniatic images that skip across Klinsman’s vision: mysterious luchadors in suits, motels that vanish overnight, warehouses filled with last season’s clothes, nymphs in Balboa Park. Is Klinsman even awake at all? Are we? (More on Panopticon to come.)
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
A really well-told chronicling of the exploits of big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and his pals. I was hoping for more of an exploration into why massive, 100+ foot waves are increasingly more common on our planet, but Casey spent more time gazing into Laird’s eyes. In all fairness, she does touch a bit on the science behind the waves – and a few vignettes cover other, non-surfing encounters with freakish rogue waves. If you’re into surfing, like, at all, then this is mos’def for you. I have to admit, Laird’s wave philosophy (and that of his close group of friends) is admirable – basically, “never turn your back on the ocean.” It’s all about r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell
An older novel that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for several years that I had just been looking for an excuse to read. It’s a simple story, really, of a young man growing into manhood in the months leading up to the great Mississippi flood of 1927 in Southern Louisiana. For obvious reasons, I was drawn to the New Orleans theme and Blackwell does an expert job of really bringing that Old South world to life. It was a fascinating time in America – as we began the move from the rural, agrarian to the urban – and Louis’ story is of growing into adulthood much as the country did. Has a great, old-timey feel to it.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
An absolutely brilliant novel & one of the best books I’ve read in 2010. The dialogue! Pitch-perfect, down-home, rural Mississippi, without being at all condescending or hokey. And I know this is one of those clichéd things we always say, but the characters (esp. Silas and Larry) are just so vividly rendered, they all seem just like people that you’re positive you’ve met somewhere in your life, but just can’t quite remember when or where. Larry has lived a hard life in his hometown, under the weight of the presumption that he kidnapped & murdered someone as a teenager. His one-time friend Silas has recently returned to town as a police constable, only to encounter another possible murder case at Larry’s doorstep. Ah, but all is not as it seems with these folks in little Chabot, MS & the resulting story that unfolds is a fascinating character study wrapped up in one of the most compelling murder mysteries I’ve ever read. Just a fantastic novel.
Great House by Nicole Krauss
A finalist for the 2010 National Book Award. This is one of those novels that begs to be read a second time – not for any excessive complexity, but just to soak in all the nuances and connections between characters that subtly slipped by the first time around. I love the structure here: 5 different narratives that all revolve, however slightly or profoundly, around an antique desk. After awhile, it becomes less about the desk, of course, and more about the connections between people – yes, this is one of those books that’s right in my wheelhouse. The little connections between us that make a story compelling, ala Colum McCann, David Mitchell, etc. Krauss is a wonderful, wonderful writer – the unfolding of this story is done so delicately that you truly have to get to the ending in order to fully grasp the significance of all that you’ve previously read.
Thanks for reading – I promise to have more stuff in December for all of you still checking on the Catapult. Cheers!