Mine – 3/5 Stars
Ahhhh, 1990. It’s weird to think about how little cultural cache SDS, Weather Underground, and other Leftist groups from the 1960s and 1970s have any more when talked about in media products. This book is not exactly about a Leftist group, but more of a kind of amalgamation of these types of groups, separatists groups like the Symbionese Liberation Army, and even the Manson Family. In Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi describes the Mansons as “Right-wing hippies” and I think, in the sense of fascist tactics, the group that Robert McCammon describes here is more like that. I can’t say there’s much in the way of politics, so much as a kind of anarchism, a kind of revenge against the state, and a lot of drugs.
That’s not the plot though here at all. In Mine, we open with a scene of Mary Terrell (Mary Terror) waking up to the screaming of her baby, and killing it. But we very soon after realize it’s not a real child, but a doll she’s infuses with a kind of psychosis-driven fantasy of a real child. From there, we soon learn of Mary’s associations with a former drug-addled cult type group and now, hiding out from the FBI, she’s cultivated a little underground incognito life that is soon to unravel. She sees an ad in Rolling Stone that spells out a code (maybe) to her that her old group, and namely her former group leader, will be reforming. The last she saw them she had lost a child that she would have shared with the cult leader and so she will need a new one.
Enter Laura, a woman in her 30s who is nine months pregnant and has just found out her husband has been cheating on her. Her upcoming birth will jump off the action in this book when Mary comes looking for a child to steal for her former leader.
The book is kind of gruesome and very violent, but not incredibly good really.
“Sergeant Pepper was dead. G.I. Joe lived on. George Bush was president, movies stars were dying from AIDS, kids were smoking crack in the ghettos and the suburbs, Muslims were blowing airliners from the skies, rap music ruled, and nobody cared much about the Movement anymore. It was a dry and dusty thing, like the air in the graves of Hendrix, Joplin, and God. She was letting her thoughts take her into treacherous territory, and the thoughts threatened her smiley face. She stopped thinking about the dead heroes, the burning breed who made the bombs full of roofing nails and planted them in corporate boardrooms and National Guard Armories. She stopped thinking before the awful sadness crushed her.
The sixties were dead. The survivors limped on, growing suits and neckties and potbellies, going bald and telling their children not to listen to that satanic heavy metal. The clock of the Age of Aquarius had turned, hippies and yippies had become preppies and yuppies. The Chicago Seven were old men. The Black Panthers had turned gray. The Grateful Dead were on MTV, and the Airplane had become a Top-40 Starship.
Boathouse – 3/5 Stars
|A small novel by the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse who I know almost nothing about other than him being one of three Norwegian writers, alive, that I have heard of and read, and how conversations about what Norwegian writers writing might win a Nobel tends to circulate between him and Knausgard. Jon Fosse was Knausgard’s teacher one time, and he pops up as a character in the fifth Min Kamp volume, and seems interested and engaged as a teacher.
This novel is written as a journal, and feels almost like a therapeutic exercise in journaling for the narrator, a kind of recluse who recalls a few specific meetings between himself and an old friend Knut, and Knut’s wife, with whom the narrator shares an uncomfortable and disconcerting attraction. Very little happens in the novel action-wise, but through the reading you come to realize that there’s been some large shifts in the writer’s consciousness, mostly surrounding Knut from his youth until the time of writing, especially coming from once being a regular and talented guitarist and having giving it up at some time. The novel is spare, repetitive, and intense at times.
Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears? 3/5 Stars
This is a small fable-like novella by Robert Coover, and looks from the outset to be a kind of anti-Nixon rant that I already found a solid version of in Philip Roth’s Our Gang, and even in Robert Coover’s other anti-Nixon rant The Cat in the Hat Runs for President. But when you get going here, this is not at all what the novel is. Nixon still appears, in the guise of “Gloomy Gus” or “Ironbutt” — a former NFL halfback who was famous for having a very difficult time stay onside. He’s long dead now apparently, it’s the 1930s, and Communism and Anarchism are in the air as the world prepares for war, so our narrator, a Jewish Anarchist in Chicago, knows a thing or two. But the appearance of Nixon in this guise plays around with what we already know about Nixon, namely that he did in fact go to Whittier College where he played football, and then…. In the 1930s, Nixon was working his way up to being in a position to run for Senate and eventually become vice president. In addition, placing Nixon here in this way turns it into a kind of antipode of Nixon’s anti-Communist fight against Alger Hiss, whom Nixon personally deeply hated, and of course was more of a poseur than any kind of real Communist. The novel is playful and kaleidoscopic in the weirdest of ways and feels a lot like a very unfocused version of The Crying of Lot 49.
The Miranda Obsession – No Rating
In the late 1970s and early 1980s several famous men, usually musicians, writers, actors (and this is all true) became a kind of phone call friend-only to a woman who called herself Miranda. Miranda would contact them by phone, usually late at night, and having engaging and interesting conversations with them. Her details were a little sketchy–she was young, a model, had met them briefly at a party, friend of a friend. But the phonecalls felt very real. It never turned out to be a scam or anything like that, even if it was a deception, but a kind of pre-internet internet-type connection more and more people are familiar with now. This audio play takes that premise and fills in the conversations between Miranda and various of the men. Here we get a little De Niro, some Sting, and various others and a lot of Paul Schrader, Buck Henry, and Billy Joel. The conversations always lead eventually to the question of when can they meet and also what does she look like, which she generally masterfully avers.
This kind of thing is more familiar now, especially with social media, but not limitedly. The closest version of this connection I’ve seen in literature is from Elizabeth Taylor’s (the British novelist) short story “The Letter Writers” about a woman conversing for decades with a favorite writer only to have a disappointing meeting with him later on.
Tell Her Story – No Rating
Margot Hunt writes genuinely solid Audible novellas (I haven’t read her books) that use the format well and understand pacing. In this one, a woman begins to investigate a death and possible murder from her teenage years as a subject for a podcast. We’re in a moment of using a podcast as a pretext in tv and writing. What happened was a beloved teacher was killed, struck by a car, and her husband was briefly suspected but otherwise exonerated and now 20 years later some questions remain. It’s got a little too much of the feeling that the very short list of characters means it’s a very guessable mystery, but the format is solid and the execution is good enough to be entertaining.
Zaddy – No Rating
A little too goofy for words, but otherwise a funny twisty look at “Zaddies” as a concept with good acting/reading and some solid rug-pulling. Our narrator is a 24 year old fitness instructor with a boyfriend. Her friend is into older men who pay for things, and she goes with this friend to a party where she meets a very handsome and charming and rich 45 year old guy, who among other things seems very interested in her. It seems like a meet-cute, but some alarming and strange things begin happening to people in her life, the circumstances of which open her to being available to maybe date her. Those circumstances of course end up being a lot more suspicious than initially believed.
The Cuckoo’s Cry – No Rating
A Pandemic Story!! Get ready for more of these. In general, having a pandemic story also be a thriller/mystery makes it about the only use I feel like dealing with. Allowing the realities of the pandemic create some narrative structures and limits to shape a mystery around is solid.
Our story begins with Don Barlow, a retired city worker who lives in Bondi Beach in the same house he’s lived in for decades. His wife is dead from cancer for about ten years and his only daughter moved away to a few towns over and became busy with her own family and their restaurant business. They aren’t estranged, but there’s more distance than before. It’s the first rumblings of Covid lockdown and Don answers the door one morning to find a young woman about 19-20 there. She tells him that she’s his granddaughter. In his youth, Don got a girl pregnant, and since they were both teenagers, they gave the boy away for adoption. Don had reached out to the agency about contact, but that was not reciprocated. Here’s he got his granddaughter showing up. They talk, they get along, and when lockdowns start he invites her to stay, as she apparently has nowhere else to go. Don’s daughter is surprised, but Don does seem happy. Some strange things start occurring and story details begin to get sketchy. The mystery goes from there as we seek whether or not Morgan actually is his granddaughter.
Dear Seraphina – No Rating
In this short Audible story, we begin with a series of letters written from a middle-age woman who works at a grocery store outside of Los Angeles to a young rising actress. The letters slowly become more and more unhinged, including a suggestion that the letter writer has hurt a rival actress who was up for the same role as the letter recipient. As they get more and more intense, the star’s security team gets involved and we change perspective to her security head detailing the case. The story goes from here and more and more twists occur.
This story mostly works because of the quick changes in perspective and the pacing, which is tense. Lingering too long in any given moment would probably lead to some continuity and plot questions that aren’t particularly worth investigating. It’s the kind of story that could be pretty good as a single episode of an anthology show.
Bernarda’s Daughters – No Rating
A short audioplay that takes place in New York as three daughters living in their mother’s house discuss their complicated relationships with their mother, with each other, and with their place in the world. The story takes place in the midst of the anti-police violence protests around the country, the presence of which provides some plot and tension, but are not the sole focus of the story. The story focuses more so on being in the world and making a life, in the midst, in spite, or just while things like the pandemic, like police violence and protest, and other things are happening. Those are the background to larger conversations about family, race, ethnicity, fathers, colonialism, sexuality, and other elements of their lives.
The Wrong One – No Rating
In this novella, which takes place in the US, a woman from Norway is accused of murder and arrested. An ex of hers, who happens to be a police detective from a different area of the country is called in as a potential contact for her 15 year old son, as a way to arrange some temporary custody. Of course, he also starts investigating the crime. The first thing he notices that sounds off is that the house the two live in seems out of sorts for them. It’s seems oddly shabby in some ways, but otherwise uncharacteristic. It’s also off that the 15 year old son needed to reach out to him in the first place, as he’s underage, but that seems to be a detail missed by the investigating detectives. We also slowly learn through the narration of the teenager, that in the recent past he was implicated, from our perspective falsely, in a rape and murder of his classmate. Evidence he provides seems to exonerate him, but the rumors linger, and of course in small town, minds are made up regardless of facts. All of this is at play as our main characters circulate around each other and we wait for the truth to reveal itself.
This is a solid Audible original, and I think is one of the best examples (most exemplar?) uses of the format. Short burst audio mysteries can be very satisfying. I hope they’re fun to write and are well-paid, because of all the short format stuff, I tend to like these the most.
Tisoy – No rating
In this short story, we begin with Joseph Patrick in a desert convenience store where he’s left his wallet by accident. He’s left in a huff (we don’t know the details yet) and rented an expensive Porsche and gone on this ill-advised roadtrip. Of course, he ends up getting somewhat stranded as a consequence of bad decision making. We take some jumps back in time first meeting his parents, a white college professor and a Philippine immigrant who get married against the wishes of the professor’s parents, who among other racist classics subject the new wife anti-Asian stereotypes, namely eating dogs. She avers, but the story doesn’t just let her end up a hero in this complicated mess of America as both she and her husband, in spite of the prejudice they’ve faced hold their own prejudices and biases, especially toward Black Americans and Jews. The story continues on to Joseph’s life, where he finds himself always checking off the Caucasian boxes of census forms, and he finds that his mixed race status is complicated in numerous ways. Neither his white colleagues and peers nor his non-white colleagues and peers see him as white, and a trip to the Philippines teaches him that his own understanding of his racial past doesn’t offer up easy answers. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t look for his own simplistic personal understandings of things. And a very uncomfortable high school dating situation reveals his parents’ antisemitism has not skipped a generation.
Back to the present where his own children see his inherited prejudices as antithetical to their own world-views and this sends him into the spiral leading him to the desert, where’s he going to confront his own country’s prejudice in an unexpected, but not surprising way.
The story is solid, and I continue to really enjoy Bernice McFadden’s books and writing each time I encounter one.