Archive for November, 2010
Cynthia Ozick, author of THE SHAWL and TRUST, two of my favorite books, has written a gem of a novel in FOREIGN BODIES. A slithering and taut comedy of errors, this book examines issues of betrayal and trust, literal and emotional exile, regret and rage, Judaism in post-World War II Europe and the meaning of art in one’s life. While based on themes similar to Henry James’ THE AMBASSADORS, this novel is distinctly and uniquely Ozick’s.
What a father Salman Rushdie would make! Imagine being read to from a book that opens with “a boy named Luka who had two pets, a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear.” And then to learn that the former “was an expert dancer, able to get up onto his hind legs and perform with subtlety and grace the waltz, the polka, the rhumba, the wah-watusi, and the twist, as well as dances from nearer home, the pounding bhangra, the twirling ghoomar (for which he wore a wide mirror-worked skirt), the warrior dances known as the spaw and the thang-ta, and the peacock dance of the south.”
Family bonds, particularly between fathers and sons, and mothers and sons, are explored with great sorrow and depth in this elegiac and epic tale of the Skala family, hard-working Czech farmers in Lavaca County. In the fertile flat lands of South Texas, in the fictional town of Dalton, 1895, Karel Skala is the fourth son born to Vaclav and Klara, and the one that results in Klara’s death. Vaclav’s pain shuts him down, and he forsakes holding his son.
Reading A.W. Deannuntisâ€™ debut novel, MASTER SIGER’S DREAM, put me in mind of the John Kennedy Toole masterpiece A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. The epigraph for that book â€“ When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him â€“ could easily do service here. In the role of the genius is 13th century philosopher Siger of Brabant, with the dunces being played by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, the Papal Legate, Simon De Brion, and various anonymous sadists of the Roman Catholic Inquisition.
Paul Auster is one of my favorite writers; he paints his characters with taut, finely detailed, yet propulsive brush strokes. And in SUNSET PARK, he does not disappoint.
This novel is less postmodern than his recent book INVISIBLE. It focuses on debris: physical debris from trashed-out foreclosed homes in Florida that Miles Heller, a Brown University dropout, rescues through his camera lens. And mental debris that Miles wrestles with after a spontaneous action on his part results in an accidental death, causing him to flee from his New York family and live in self-imposed exile down south.
As the title suggests, this is a book about living close to nature, or rather, being a part of nature while cognizant of that important and salient fact. For, what more can we be reminded of, if not reminded that we are biology first? It is easy to forget that we are made of the salt of the sea and the grist the land, that atoms and molecules somehow cohere and survive and become…us. That is the delicate core of the quiet little book. We are of nature, let us not forget. The writing in this tradition is long and rich and deep. Henry David Thoreau to Audubon to Anne Dillard and E.O. Wilson–all master practitioners of the genre. And now Susan Hand Shetterly. She is in heady company and she belongs there. This book is spellbinding.