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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

May God Forgive, Alan Parks’s fifth novel in his Tartan noir series featuring Glasgow detective Harry McCoy, has three grisly deaths for McCoy to look into in the first fifty pages, and twenty characters are also involved. McCoy who has just been released from a month’s stay in hospital for a bleeding ulcer, caused by his drinking, smoking, and hard living. As he investigates these and other crimes going forward, the characters increase, the complex involvements of various gangs create issues, and McCoy spends more time investigating on his own than he does as a representative of the police. Making the novel more personal, father-son relationships become an issue, including for McCoy. The action ultimately features a character list of about 40 characters, competing criminal gangs, and some vivid details of violence, torture, mutilation, and maiming, making this novel a stomach-churning experience in which characters driven by their own senses of “justice” have more sway on all levels than the local police.

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This unusual novel focusing on a talking frog and his help for a tormented man allows author Carolina De Robertis to explore philosophical ideas of governance and individual responsibility. Here author Carolina De Robertis describes the difficult inner world of a member of Uruguay’s Marxist Tupamaros during his fourteen year imprisonment in a hole deep underground during the 1970s and 1980s. This is a man who has been wounded six times during various escape attempts from confinement, who fears for his own mental health during his torture and imprisonment, but who is ultimately elected Uruguay’s President from 2010 – 2015. Author Carolina de Robertis’s intense and involving story, based loosely on the traumatic life and career of the real President, José Mujica, during that period, focuses on the man’s involvement in the political changes in the early twenty-first century. Though it is filled with the horrors of revolutionary warfare and its personal effects on the participants, the resulting fictionalized biography is often very funny, filled with ironies.

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Following the narrative pattern of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, author Jillian Cantor focuses primarily on three young women, all of whom appear in the Gatsby book. Three “Gatsby women,” all originally from Louisville, Kentucky, are the main focus here: Daisy, who becomes the wife of the almost impossibly wealthy Tom Buchanan; Jordan Baker, Daisy’s close friend, a golfer who is on the tour though accused in a major scandal; and Catherine McCoy, a lesser developed character who attends women’s suffrage meetings and who is the sister of Myrtle Wilson, a married woman who is profiting from her role as the secret lover of Tom Buchanan. Their stories rotate throughout, often overlap, and provide the structure of the novel. At the same time, a new character, Detective Frank Charles from New York, appears at key points in 1922, after the death of Jay Gatsby, as he investigates that death, the characters associated with Gatsby, and the clues that have developed, including the discovery of a diamond hair pin at the murder scene. While Beautiful Little Fools is certainly not a feminist tract, it does illustrate how different the outcomes might have been in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby if the position of women, their own expectations, the expectations of them by others, and the culture in which they lived had been significantly different.

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In ten short stories, Irish author Roddy Doyle sums up the new, difficult lives of several men dealing alone with various issues, including the difficulty of dealing with health-required lockdowns in the wake of Covid 19. In Ireland, these lockdowns seem to have been accepted as a matter of course, something affecting everyone and obeyed by everyone, though creating a strong sense of melancholy and loss to everyday life. Roddy Doyle’s book title, “Life Without Children,” also reflects the emptiness many of his characters feel with their children now grown up and missing from their parents’ everyday lives, to the point where at least one character, in the short story “Life Without Children,” wonders if it is even possible to change his now-dull life for the better. The “action” of these stories is quiet and personal for all the main characters, each of whom spends much of his time analyzing his situation, his relationships, and himself. This is a collection which will keep older readers thoroughly involved and intrigued by the author’s solutions to his characters’ darker moments “without children,” while younger readers will be intrigued by Doyle’s insights and his depictions of a different reality.

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However many surprises the artwork of Felix Vallotton (1865 – 1925) may provide for the viewer, this book, a record of two art shows in 2019 and 2020, will provide even more. Five critics, including novelist Patrick McGuinness, give important general information about why Vallotton, a Swiss, may not have received the attention of artists like the impressionists and post-impressionists who were purveyors of new styles. Vallotton,. too, provides new views of the world, but his are unique, not part of a movement. In addition to his insightful, often personal, and sometimes even amusing, paintings, Vallotton revived the whole concept of the wood block print, creating dozens of commentaries on daily life from his perspective as an anarchist, used in newspapers, often in place of cartoons. One picture of one painting by Vallotton, sent to me by a friend this past year, was all it took to unleash weeks of pleasure for me through the study of Vallotton’s work. This book, filled with many pages of color photographs and block prints, will lead, I hope, to similar discoveries among others who read and view it and celebrate the new worlds it opens.

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