THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE by Carson McCullers

CafeWe all know Carson McCullers better for her The Heart Is  A Lonely Hunter,  as well as Reflections In A Golden Eye, and The Member of the Wedding.   Her ‘southern Gothic’ style works are touching, and touch us in an odd way.  Maybe it is because, as Tessessee Williams once said, “Carson’s major theme: the huge importance and nearly insoluble problems of human love.”

Her characters are the misfits and outcasts, those who are just a step or two too close to the quirky to be accepted by the general society in which they live.  They are the ones who live by the dictates of their heart, and soul, if they have one.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is a novella, and the book includes six other short stories.

It is about Miss Amelia, 6’2″, tough and hard and with an eye for the main chance, who lives alone above the general store she operates in a dreary town in Georgia, too far off the beaten track to be much of anything.  She had a ten day marriage to a bad boy turned good by his love and adoration for her, but after the wedding ceremony, she turned him out, refusing to have anything to do with him.  He went off and got himself in big trouble and ended up in the penitentiary,  and all was quiet until the hunchback Lymon, claiming to be a distant cousin of Amelia, strolled into town one day.  Amelia was instantly taken with him, and brought him into her house where he lived for a number of years, to the surprise and astonishment of the townspeople.

Cousin Lyman was a cheerful chatterer, and soon gradually turned the store into a cafe, the one bright spot in the otherwise dismal town.

When we first are introduced to the town, the cafe is closed, the building so ruined and ramshackle that it leaned rather frighteningly, so frighteningly that it wold appear ready to collapse in a heap at any moment, and from the upper window peered the face of Amelia.   What events transpired to bring the cafe and the town and Miss Amelia to this state makes up the story.

It is an examination of love in its various permutations;

Love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved.

The value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.  In a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.

As always, her work lingers in your mind, niggling away in the corners.

 

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THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION by Samuel R. Delany

EinsteinI haven’t got the foggiest  as to where the recommendation for this book came from.  But boy, is it weird with a capital weird. The Einstein Intersection is a 1967 science fiction novel by Samuel R. Delany. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1967 and was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1968.

It is a bizarre commentary on the role mythology serves in our lives, and stars Lo Lobey and Kid Death, Lo Lobey possibly being representative of Orpheus.

Basically, the story, as I am able to tease apart the threads, is about  the planet which has been abandoned by humans many thousands of years ago, leaving only a highly radioactive core and some computer software which is still functioning.  The radioactivity would seem to be the reason for the abandonment.

The creatures now inhabiting the earth are all mutants of some form or another, with a range of functionality.  The worst at kept in kages in the villages, fed and cared for.  The functional ones earn the title Lo, or La for females, and Le for non gendered.   But even among the functional population are members who are ‘different’.  The irony font would be useful here to express my astonishment that anyone any different than the rest of this weird population would be noticeable.

Lo Lobey’s difference is that he can hear music in the head of others and can play it on his flute-y instrument which is the handle of his machete.  This of course, is the different difference from his feet which have finger and opposable thumbs, and thick scaly type skin.  So I think we can be forgiven if we are not astounded by the hearing music thing.

A mute female appears and he falls in love with her.  She mysteriously dies, and he goes on a quest to find and kill whatever killed her.  And that would be Kid Death, who seems to have supernatural powers.

OK, so there are battles with some huge monster thing, which he wins, and the herding of dragons thing,  and the whole oddly philosophical theme of difference and mythology.

Intersperses throughout are diary entries by a kind of author/human that make no sense, and all in all, I care not for this book.   Weird just isn’t my cup of strangeness.

 

A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER by Hamlin Garland

Son of the MiddleHamlin Garland was hugely popular writer and speaker of the early 1900’s, although today you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of him.   He was born in 1860, and wrote in the ‘realism’ school of fiction, depicting the difficult lives of the forward-moving pioneers, especially the lives of women.

His most popular books were his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border , written in 1917 at the age of 57,  followed by A Daughter of the Middle Border, written in 1921 and which won a Pulitzer Prize.

He was always outspoken about issues of politics, the pioneering life, and Henry George’ single tax movement.  In his later life, he became interested in psychic phenomenon and in his final  work, The Mystery of the Buried Crosses ,he tried to justify the veracity of mediumship.

His father, newly home to their Wisconsin farm from the Civil War, has the soul of an explorer and pioneer, and is not content to work his farm, but wants to go further afield as the ‘middle border’ moved westward, out of the green farming country to the plains, and further to the arid regions.

Garland says:

My boyhood was  spent in the midst of a charming landscape and during a certain heroic era of western settlement.   The men and women of that far time loom large i my thinking for they possessed not only the spirit of adventurers but the courage of warriors.

His story is not only the story of his life but the chronicle of the era of settlement between 1840 and 1914.

It is a beautifully written account of the difficulties of his boyhood and of farm life, which in his later years he refuses to prettify in poetic phrases.  It was tough, harsh, and especially hard on the women.  He lived through the era of the ‘prairie schooner’ to the coming of the railroads and the car.  He saw it as a time of the breakup of the family,

I now perceived the mournful side of American ‘enterprise’.  Sons were desertig their work-worn fathers, daughters were forgetting their tired mothers.  Families were everywhere breaking up.  Ambitious young men and unsuccessful old men were in restless motion, spreading, swarming, dragging their reluctant women and their helpless and wondering children into unfamiliar hardships.  At times I visioned the Middle border as a colony of ants — which was an injustice to the ants, for ants have a reason for their apparently futile and aimless striving.

Can any other country on earth surpass the United States in the ruthless broadcast dispersion of its families?

A wonderful story of farming, migration, and of a country that is growing up.

 

 

DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather

6621821-MI had forgotten how much I like Willa Cather.  I never read this one in my younger years.  Somehow the title put me off for some reason.  Maybe because I am not Catholic.  But I came across a reminder of it recently, and decided to give it a go, and I am really glad I did.

It was written in 1927, and it was included on Time’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005, and Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and was chosen by the Western Writers of America to be the 7th-best “Western Novel” of the 20th century.

This gentle story, almost plotless but filled with incidents and encounters, perhaps IS a Western novel, not so much in the cowboy vs Indians style, but because it is set in the West of 1858, in the territory of New Mexico, shortly after the Mexican American war.  It was truly the wild west, but surely not uninhabitated, populated as it was by Native American Indians of various nations, and by Mexicans,understandably since it was not very long ago part of Old Mexico.

It is about a young priest, Jean Latour, assigned as the new Bishop of the New Mexican territory, and his Vicar, Joseph Vaillant, both from the same seminary in France.  They had to travel from Sandusky, Ohio, to the newly created diocese of New Mexico.  At that time,  Cincinnati was the end of the railway line west, so Latour must travel by riverboat to the Gulf of Mexico, and and from there travel overland to New Mexico, a journey which takes an entire year.

In order to get his official papers for his separate diocese, he must then travel to the former Bishop who was elderly and living in Durango, Mexico.  A round trip of something like 4,000 miles over canyons, and deserts and many areas with no trails.  This whole business took months and months.

One thing the book did for me was bring home to me the hardship of travel in that time with no railroads, and poor to non-existent roads, and yet people traveled all the time.  Amazing.

The two men worked tirelessly to bring the Catholic religion back to the region.  When the first Spanish priests came in the 1500’s, they were finally beaten off by the native people, but the Mexicans took to the religion, and over the centuries with no clergy, it had become twisted into a version suitable to the people, and our two clerics now were determined to bring back the true church to the people.

In the book we meet Native Americans, Mexicans, mostly poor common people, we meet some of wealth and prosperity.  We meet corrupt Mexican priests,  and self-effacing clergy who lived in poverty in order to support the populace around them.

The Bishop is eventually made an Archbishop, and builds his dream cathedral in the capital of the Diocese, Santa Fe.  He had always felt he would return to France when he retired to live out his days in the company of family and scholars, but found he missed the open West, and returned to live in his small farm with its orchard.   His death is really anticlimatical,  because the book is not about drama but about the two lives well led by the two protagonists.

I often think I was born too late and should have been born in this period, in the West of the USA, but then I think, ‘Air conditioning.”  And I conclude that I am where I should be.

 

1491: NEW REVELATIONS OF THE AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS by Chrles C. Mann

1491-coverWe are finally beginning to acknowledge the fact that Columbus did not ‘discover’ the New World.  He wasn’t the first here.  Nor were the Spanish the first invaders to set foot in South America and Central America.  Evidence is piling up that there were all kinds of civilizations all over the Americas, long before we ever thought there were.

In his book, Man argues that early civilizations had better control of their environment,  but then goes on to say that when a civilization overreaches the resources for its numbers, it dies out, citing the Maya.

He talks about the Neolithic Revolution, which is the invention of farming.  The historian Ronald Wright divides the human trajectory into two phases — everything before the Neolithic Revolution, and everything after it.  It began in the Middle east about 11,000 years ago.

A second Neolithic Revolution occurred in Mesoamerica, thought to be about 10,000 years ago.  Ancient seeds from cultivated squash were found in Ecuador, at the foot of the Andes.

I found this interesting.  He records that the ‘zero’ was discovered, invented, whatever you want to say, in India sometime in the first few centuries, AD.  In Europe, the zero did not appear until the 12th century AD.  In the Americas, there are Maya carvings from 357 AD, possibly before the Sanscrit.  There are monuments from before the birth of Christ that are inscribed with dates in a calendar system based on the existence of zero.

Another tidbit:  the Olmec, May and other mesoamerican societies did not use the wheel.  They had invented it, but only used it for children’s  toys.

He talks about the Clovis people of New Mexico.  This society was one of the first to be assessed using carbon dating. The culture first appeared between 13,500 and 12,900 years ago, which Mann said was “just after the only time period in which migration from Siberia seemed to have been possible.” Since that dating, archaeologists have found evidence indicating that Paleo-Indians were present in the Americas at even earlier dates.

All in all, a book filled with examples and facts and statements that really get you thinking and rethinking the whole ‘ancient civilization’ thing. You may not agree with all of it, and he may not be 100% right, but it is all fascinating, nonetheless.

 

KILL THE DEAD by Richard Kadrey

Kill the deadThis was  serious book that is really funny, and clever, and a page turner.  It is classified as horror, (but it seems to be  horror that is not particularly horrible), fantasy/paranormal/urban fantasy and maybe a few other genres that I missed.

This is the sequel to Kadrey’s acclaimed Sandman Slim, and the folks in the know say that it is even better than the first book.  I believe the two have been made into a movie.  I am too lazy to go check.

The basic idea is Sandman Slim, James Stark to the initiated, is a Nephilim, which is a being who is half angel, half human.  His mother was a human, and he thinks his father is Lucifer.

After some events, he ends up fighting in the Arena in hell for a number of years.  All this happened in the first book, so I am a little unclear as to what exactly led to his descent, but he eventually ends up back on earth, working for the Golden Vigil, Heaven’s Pinkertons which is dedicated to eradicating vampires and other like creatures, and at the same time, he works for Lucifer, killing enemies of the Fallen Angel.

When he asks an angel ‘What use are you?’,  the angel tells him

“None.  We angels have outlived our time.  We’re superfluous.  But I thought you already knew that.”

The book is filled with all kinds of beings, elementals, golems, werefolk, vampires, angels, Lucifer himself, on earth because he has a movie contract, demons, pixies, and a crazy Czech Gypsy porn-star zombie killer.

Here’s some nifty info for you:

The Codex says that when Lucifer’s army was cast out of Heaven, one of the fallen didn’t make it all the way to Hell and landed in a valley on earth instead.  It was burned and broken, but humans still recognized it as an angel.  The local blue bloods sent their doctors to help it, but the angel was sick and bloated like a tick by then.  It attacked anyone who came near it.  All of those people ended up turning into zeds. [zombies].  Those zeds attacked their families and friends.  The ones they didn’t eat became zeds and attacked other people.  The people who lived in the hills saw that things were getting out of control, so they started fires and burned the whole valley.  They thought they’d gotten everything, but some of the zeds supposedly escaped into caves.  Mostly they stay underground, but every now and then one wanders out or gets summoned by a necromancer.  That’s it.  They all lived happily ever f**king after.  The end.”

So now you know where zombies came from.

Stark is an anti-hero’s anti-hero,  and he even has his own Wikipedia page.  He lives with a head.  No, not a druggie, a head, the bodiless Kasabian, who is thus afflicted due to crossing Lucifer in the first book.   This is a bit of a mystery story as Stark is drawn into a missing person scenario in the bizarro L.A where he lives.  At the same time, Lucifer assigns him the job of being his bodyguard.  Why would Lucifer need bodyguards?  He’s the Devil, for pete’s sake.  Well, because he has enemies — lots of them.  Oh, gee, I wonder why.

The book has gore, battles, magic, funny lines, sad lines, and a likable guy going about his daily business of killing things.  Just another day in L.A.

I loved it!

 

 

SPIDER TRAP by Barry Maitland

spider trapI have been working my way through Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series.  OK, ‘working’ is surely not the right word.  ‘Reading’ would be better.  Reading my way through the series.  I have really been enjoying this series and still have four more to go.  Goodie.

This book’s basic theme was about the Jamaican immigrants of the 80’s to London and other parts of England.  They were called Yardies, and a number of them escaped horrible conditions in Jamaica and were able to create much better lives for themselves.  Others found a more criminal way to survive, bringing in drugs, and setting up criminal headquarters in some areas.

In this book, two teenage girls are found in an abandoned building, shot through the head, execution-style.  Meanwhile, a schoolboy, looking down from his nearby classroom can see into a vacant railroad field which is totally secured and in accessible behind Cockpit Lane, a poor and largely black area of inner south London, watching a couple of foxes.  He determines to get into that yard and see what he can find.  What he finds is a human jawbone, triggering a police investigation which then reveals the skeletal remains of three bodies.

Brock and Kolla’s investigation leads to the Roach family, local crime lords going back to that time decades ago, and Spider Roach is the head nasty.  His sons today seem to operate legitimate businesses today,  but is that only on the surface?

Kathy meets up again with Special Branches operative Tom, who starts to work on the case with them.  Their main lead is a local Member who immigrated from Jamaica in his teens and has gone on to be a prominent citizen.

I found this book just a little bit less enjoyable than the others, because perhaps it concerned crimes decades old, the two teen girls were drug-using problem people who were always in trouble, and had no family to be pushing for their deaths to be solved.  It was a lot more political in the workings of the various law enforcement departments, perhaps a little less personal.  Nevertheless, it was still a great detective story.

Now on to the next, Bright Air.