Saturday, January 02, 2010

Recent Reading

America, America by Ethan Canin
I loved the first part of this book. I admire the ability of writers to successfully pull off the unrealiable narrative. We don't distrust the narrator because we think he is lying, we distrust him because of his naivete. And so I loved this romp into class differences and the guilty pleasure our young working class kid gets with his chance to rub elbows with the rich and famous. And we understand his ability to detach himself from his own realization that the only reason the workers are given attention is because the unions can deliver votes. Yet, we are left disappointed by the failure of our narrator to recognize his gullibility. I found it hard to believe that someone so accustomed to analysis could so completely miss the clues live had given him. So, although I admire the class consciousness of this novel, I despair of the way our hero makes excuses for the ruling classes.

Dark House by Theresa Monsour
This author has moved to another pseudonym and her books are out of print. I found this used book at a local store. It is the third of third and final novel in a trilogy focused on St. Paul homicide detective Paris Murphy. Serene Ransom is a fascinating villain. Crazy cat lady, child molester, academic. Of course! I have a sense that the earlier books provided an interesting back-story for Murphy, but I'll have to search the used bookstores to find out, it seems.

Blind Rage by Terri Persons
Terri Persons is the next pseudonym used by the woman who wrote as Theresa Monsour. This series wanders into the currently fashionable psychic field of crime fiction. Our heroine, Bernadette Saint Clare, is able to see through the eyes of murderers. Yet her vision has serious limitations and has caused her to draw erroneous conclusions. It's an interesting way to portray esp: useful sometimes, but often misleading. It makes us questions the very concept of "hunches" and "gut reactions". I read the first in the series, Blind Spot and liked it enough to pick up the second book on a recent bookstore expedition. Saint Clare's visitors from beyond the grave are fascinating, infuriating and their powers are mystifying. But it's a fun read and I'm willing to take the ride.

Black Bolshevik by Harry Haywood
Reading this with one of my book groups. We read the first half of the book for our first meeting last Sunday. I didn't make it all the way through. I am fascinating by the discussion of black nationalism and how the Communist Party position diverged from the more popular Marcus Garvey "back to Africa" movement. I have a lot to learn about the discussion and don't feel as if I understand it from reading this book. Haywood spends lots of time attacking sectarianism in a very sectarian way, which makes this book difficult and fascinating. It is fascinating when it shows the "correct" political thinking doesn't mean much if an activist is not connected with the actual struggles going on here and now. We activists have a tendency to build utopian structures that fundamentally miss the realities of the people we claim to support. I look forward to reading the second half of this fascinating portrayal of an American communist activist.