After two-plus years of successfully evading the coronavirus, it finally caught up to me last week. Fortunately, my symptoms were mild (vaccinated and boosted), the only one lingering was fatigue. That and family responsibilities left me little time to write reviews this past week. So I decided to put these three here instead of my monthly dump because they were all worthy of longer reviews, two good, one damn fine.
Honor Thy Father ****
One of the things that made The Sopranos such an excellent television show was depicting the banality of mafia life. Yes, there are hits and double crosses and informants and affairs but Tony Soprano was largely a negligent husband and sometime father who suffered from physical and psychological ailments, dealt with obnoxious relatives, and just tried to make it in the day-to-day.
In the 1960s, when people were still associating Italian-Americans with the mafia, Gay Talese wanted to tell this story through the eyes of Bill Bonanno, son of Five Families crime boss Joseph Bonanno. I’m listing it as “true crime” because there are crimes (the Bonannos are a crime family, no matter how much Talese tries to paint over this) but by and-large, this is a tale of a family in transition. Bill trying to follow in his father’s steps but unsure of the why or if he should; Joseph growing disenchanted with the industry that made him so successful and which is proving impossible to reform; Rosalie, Bill’s mafia princess wife who is paying the consequences for her family and her husband’s family sheltering her from the nature of their respective jobs.
In order to tell this tale, Talese had access that had to be unparalleled in that era of mafia secrecy. There’s no way men like Carlo Gambino or Chin Gigante were going to let a reporter anywhere near their respective situations. The result is a complete, frequently fascinating, occasionally tedious portrayal of a family in transition. A family that just happens to revolve around the business of crime.
This isn’t loved by mob aficionados and I can see why. Talese has no interest in telling a pulpy tale of gentlemen gangster a la The Godfather. This one is far more accurate. If you can suffer Talese’s lengthy descriptions of traveling, meals, and legality, you may appreciate this one.
Hit and Run ****
After the first book, this is probably my favorite in the Keller series and one of my favorite Lawrence Block books ever.
Instead of sending Keller all over the country on hits, Block instead writes him as a conspiracy-inspired Lee Harvey Oswald-esque patsy, set up to take the fall for a political assassination. This was published in 2008 and I have to imagine the candidate shot was at least partially based on Barack Obama. At any rate, Keller is bouncing from place to place, trying to stay ahead of the law and figuring out who set him up (the why is never important in these books and I think that’s part of what makes them so enjoyable).
I wasn’t a big fan of how it ended but beyond that, I enjoyed this new installation in the series, a series I truly didn’t think I’d enjoy much before I sat down to read it. Block’s work is so much fun and again, this is one of his best.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks *****
I like David Lynch movies/shows without being a diehard. I appreciate what he’s doing and some of it is genuinely inspired. But when paired with a partner whose creative mind is as fertile as Mark Frost, it brings out a sensational product of surrealism and noir: Twin Peaks.
It took me a while to really glom onto the show but now I’m a true believer. It’s damn fine television. And now that I’m hooked, I have to prep myself to view Twin Peaks: The Return.
That meant delving into Frost’s fictional history of the town. And hoo boy, did I get more than I bargained for.
This “secret history” encompasses everything from the early days of the founding of the country and how it interacted with indigenous folks, to the UFO paranoia of the 40s and 50s and the resulting government conspiracies, to small town history that touches on all of this, to the nature of what mysteries are. Along the way, Frost goes long on a peripheral character, making them important and essential to all that was happening before, during and after special agent Dale Cooper arrived on the scene. The mixed media tome made for compelling reading; it was painful to put down, as it encompassed the best aspects of the show: respecting the mystery boxes without guiding them to full realization.
The “writer” of the document wasn’t a surprise but their identity still provided a nice link to all of the stories and made sense in the larger scheme. This got me excited to see The Return and now I can’t wait.