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Category Archive for 'Literary'

The death of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till by lynching in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, serves as the starting point for a broad look at racial crime, the people who participate in it, their families, and the society in which they live and perpetuate their own version of “justice.” Author Percival Everett treats Till’s murder and those which follow with the seriousness they deserve, but he also keeps a light, often absurd touch, preventing the reader from becoming so overwhelmed by issues that s/he becomes inured to the individual horrors. Characters have unexpected names (Pinch Wheyface and Pick L. Dill, for example), and ignorance and profanity play a big role here as the murderers of Emmett, all from the same family, themselves become the victims of vengeance by unknown people. Roles get reversed, black investigators take precedence over local white police, and as lynchings spread throughout the country, they ultimately become an issue involving an unnamed former President. Unique and unforgettable in its presentation, format, and messaging.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead is a gem of novel, one certain to win both literary prizes and enthusiastic plaudits from its readers. A crime novel which remains both entertaining and filled with warmth toward many of the characters, even those who do not follow the straight and narrow, it shows life as it is and emphasizes the variety of ways that people deal with their difficulties successfully, even when threats and fear become part of the equation. Despite his marginal set of ethics and a neighborhood in which murder is common, Carney as main character remains intriguing and sympathetic in most of his actions. And though he may never be considered a “hero” on a grand scale, he is a hero to many people for his accomplishments and his pragmatic vision of the community’s future possibilities. His innate goodness, even in the most trying times, somehow shines through, often with a touch of humor.

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With this “mystery novel,” Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro writes a far more character-based novel than what I have seen in her previous novels. Here the character of Elena, a particularly iconoclastic and independent thinker in her sixties, becomes the key to solving the “mystery” of daughter Rita’s death and revealing the hidden lives of Elena and Rita, including many of the issues which led to the constant arguments between this mother and daughter. Limited somewhat by a debilitating illness, Elena marshals all her energy to pursue what she considers the incorrect cause of death – suicide, rather than murder – and she will stop at nothing as she begins her own investigation, ignoring the conclusions of the police and the church, and challenging both priests and police officers. At the same time, as she does her own investigation, she brings up a long-ago peripheral case in which she and Rita were on opposite sides of the question of abortion as it related to one of their acquaintances.

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In what is the most engrossing collection of stories I have read in years, author Haruki Murakami introduces and continues to focus on the very meaning of reality and how one approaches it, participates in it, and finds ways to survive and enjoy it – through love, hope, trust, friendship, and any number of other imaginative ways. Though this may seem an esoteric and complex philosophical set of ideas, Murakami’s personality shines through here – and the resulting stories are not only surprisingly lively and enjoyable, but most often fun and funny. The subjects – including jazz, baseball, a talking monkey, and an unattractive woman who happens to share the speaker’s deep love of Schumann’s “Carnaval,” are offbeat but so brilliantly relatable that this reader, at least, was able to put aside any qualms about the exotic content in order to see and enjoy what the author would do with these subjects. As a result, I have now read this book twice, and can imagine reading it again regularly as a vivid reminder to take nothing for granted and to stay open to the unexpected.

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Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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