Keep The Change – 2/5 Stars
This is a novel by Thomas McGuane, mostly known for Western and Southern novels that have an air of seriousness to them and a lot of ironic gesturing and clippy dialog. I’ve previous read one of his short story collections which was very strong, but he’s been around for awhile.
This novel is ok, but I can’t say I connected much with it. Joe works as a teen on a farm that his father foreclosed on and the new owner takes Joe a little under his wing. He falls a little for the farmer’s daughter, but nothing much happens with that. As he grows up and moves around a little, he becomes a little disillusioned with life and eventually makes his way back home to the farm, where he decides he’s going to try to reclaim.
It’s a short novel and for the most of it, I have to say, it felt relatively off. It’s almost like a parody of Larry McMurtry’s Texasville novels, but without the sharper writing and characterization. Ultimately it’s a perfectly fine novel, but given that it’s McGuane’s 5th or 6th novel, it feels like a misfire.
“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” – 5/5 Stars
I seriously love this essay, and this is the essay itself and not the collection. David Foster Wallace, brilliant cranky asshole, is sent to review a cruise liner. And instead of taking the cruise as an individual experience, he expounds upon the concept at large. Make no mistake: he’s perfectly willing to admit that the cruise delivered 100% on its promises. The service was stellar, if terrifying at times. He talks about insisting on carrying his own luggage, not realizing this sets off a chain of events in which the porter who should have carried it is chewed out and Wallace is personally apologized by a terrifying Greek officer. He’s also treated very much as a spy aboard, as if he is an investigative reporter looking to find out whatever dark secrets the ship holds. He’s just a guy who is asked to meander around and talk about the experience. He is partially drawn to the assignment after reading an essay, then published by the cruise line, by a well-known travel writer and former professor of Wallace’s, and he thinks a lot about the fundamental difference between an ad and an essay and worries some about what his own will end up being.
He loses terribly to a nine year girl at chess, which makes him defensive, and so he takes out on the DJ/ping pong pro who runs “tournaments”. He tries out all the classes, and even the luxury dinner, where he’s glowered at for wearing a tuxedo t-shirt, instead of a tux. Like most of his nonfiction, there’s a constant tension between his relative nondescriptness as a narrator and the asshole he would much more like to be at times. He’s kindest to the people who seem to offend him the most, because he sees in his judgment something that most be broken about himself, as if he’s worried that he’s tapping into a layer of despair that he didn’t know was there until he felt it. He’s nice to the workers, and that’s all the really matters. This essay, like most of his experiential ones, has a wonderful understated humor to it.
Night-Flight – 2/5 Stars
I didn’t read The Little Prince until like two years ago, so I don’t have the same kind of affection a lot of people do. And of course Antoine Saint-Exupery was an amazing person who died a hero, so that always complicates things. This novel is a relatively slim and shallow (in terms of thinness, not vapidness) look at mail flights in South America in way that most certainly doesn’t reflect on European presence in non-European spaces. The writing is primarily meditative, but the plot is beyond understated.
This also led to a weird little disagreement between my wife and I. The plot of this book was absolutely ripped off by Howard Hawks for his movie, Only Angels Have Wings. So this book became a movie in the early 30s with John Barrymore, but that other movie came out in the late 1930s starring Cary Grant. Anyway, it’s a good movie, but definitely ripped off this book or that movie.
Anyway, the fight was that we definitely watched that movie not that long ago (2016) and she claims we did not. She seems adamant, but I won’t press it.
Redhead on the Side of the Road – 3/5 Stars
I don’t generally like Anne Tyler novels, but I feel compelled to read her. I did like this one. It’s a short novel that takes place in the span of a few days. Micah is a mobile computer tech guy who does in home checkups, setups, and installations and he’s the landlord and building manager for a tenement; he’s also the youngest child at 43 in a big family in Baltimore. He’s doing his regular thing, fixing computers, and meeting up with his girlfriend Cass, a 4th grade teacher in Baltimore Co. One day Cass is upset because her living situation is disrupted and in a decision the reader can see coming from a mile away, he makes a joke instead of picking up her hint that he should maybe discuss moving in together. About this same time, an 18 boy comes to his house asking if he’s his father. He reflects back on the boy’s mother, a college relationship that went south when he saw her kissing another boy, but also one that didn’t involve them sleeping together. He tells the boy he couldn’t be his dad, and the kid slumps off. This sparks a chain of events that has him allow the boy to spend one night in his guest room which pisses off the girlfriend and then it all spirals from there.
Ultimately this is a perfectly fine and pleasant novel about a 43 not-quite-manchild having to come to terms with actually wanting something and trying to figure out how to get it.