The Day of Our Passing: An Anthologies of Short Stories, Poems and Essays, which yesterday on Amazon reached #1 in the Comparative Religion category and #2 in Reincarnation, is still available for free download through February 23rd. Among its many gems is Chapter 29 from my novel, Student Body. Download it here http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BQLXBXE?tag=geolinker-20 and enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago I read Philip Roth’s The Human Stain for a piece of contract work on “place” in literature, so at last I got around to doing a review on Goodreads. Here ’tis:
** spoiler alert ** Philip Roth's 2000 The Human Stain is an artful, psychological tale of a Classics professor disgraced by a false accusation of racism, a novel that not only explores the conflicts of race and gender and class but also examines issues of hypocrisy, modern education, and, perhaps most important, the personal construction of "self."
After serving as professor at the traditionally ivied Athena College in picturesque rural New England, and then as the Dean who swept out the desiccated academic mummies shambling to class with decades-old lecture notes and replaced them with vigorous new talent, Dr. Coleman Silk planned to spend the last few semesters of his career in a return to teaching. One day, however, when the waggish Silk wonders aloud if two students who still have not appeared by the sixth week of class are merely "spooks," or ghosts, the remark somehow gets back to one of the students, who happens to be African-American, and soon the predictable charges of racism are thrown about until they pile up like kindling and spontaneously ignite. The President who once used Silk as a bulldozer for change is gone, the new Dean, an intellectually and sexually insecure Frenchwoman whom Silk now regrets ever hiring, becomes Silk's chief self-righteous persecutor, and none of his supposed fellow seekers of truth in the ranks of the faculty even attempt to defend him from the contrived accusations. Silk resigns in disgust, and shortly afterward his wife dies of a stroke that he bitterly blames on the scandal. For two years the former academic seethes, writing Spooks, the enraged memoir of the injustices done to him and to his supposedly martyred wife.
All of this is the quick background, though, for where Nathan Zuckerman, the professional novelist who narrates the story, really picks up the tale is with the affair the Viagra-reinvigorated 71-year-old man is having with Faunia Farley, the 34-year-old woman serving as janitor at Athena and part-time cleaner of the post office, who also helps with milking at the local dairy farm in exchange for rooming there. Yet not only is Faunia dirt-poor, but she also purports to be illiterate. Thus in addition to the May-December aspect of the relationship at which gossipers might sneer, the suspicious might consider the wealthy, well-educated Silk something of a calculating predator only a half-step up from a rapist. Aside from Lester Farley, Faunia's ex-husband who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War and who sometimes stalks the pair, Silk's friend Zuckerman is the only one who knows about the secret relationship.
The secret does come out, of course, and it is no plot spoiler to mention that the secret lovers will be dead only months after the book opens--Zuckerman, after all, clues us into this quite early on, so offhandedly that at first it almost could be missed. That life-and-death part of the plot holds up well, and yet so, too, does the narrative's investigation into the carefully hidden past of Coleman Silk, a curly-haired man apparently of Mediterranean descent, who for decades has identified as "white" and Jewish. Almost no character in the novel is who he or she outwardly appears, however--not Silk, with his origins as a high-achieving "colored" youth of the 1930s and '40s; not Faunia, with her two children killed while she was out cheating on her husband, and the diary that turns up after the supposedly illiterate woman's death; not Delphine Roux, whose hatred of Silk stems as much from her hidden attraction as from her trendy principles; not Herb Keble, the African-American professor hired by Silk long ago, who knows full well of Silk's innocence but does not come forward until too late; not even Zuckerman, intrepid and all-knowing narrator whose control of his own bladder has been robber by surgery for prostate cancer.
I would suggest that there is not a single thread in this tangle of characters, motivations, and secrets that fails to intrigue and delight. Roth's style is interesting, too, to readers of patience and open minds; paragraphs sometimes are huge and sentences long enough that sometimes they must be traced back and restarted for full comprehension, and references to Classical mythology are not entirely lacking, shall we say, but all of these things are perfectly appropriate in a "literary" work rather than one of middling, muddling style or lack thereof.
Point of view is perhaps even more of an artful puzzle, for while the novel begins with the first-person POV of Zuckerman as author, it soon dips into the secrets of Coleman's boyhood--which very near the end of the book, we learn that Zuckerman does yet even suspect until after the man is buried--and it also dips, in third-person-limited fashion, into the otherwise-unknowable inner lives of both Faunia and Les Farley. How can Zuckerman know these things, when Faunia, whom Zuckeman met only briefly, ends up killed in a car accident, and Les is portrayed as cagily insane? The meeting of Coleman's sister after the funeral explains one track, but for the other two...well, as Zuckerman comments, his job is telling stories, so apparently all the unknowable details of Faunia's and Les's thoughts, at first presented as narrated fact, have been fictionally extrapolated, hypothesized, or--let's face it--simply made up by Zuckerman. This, too, is part of the subtle art here, the final, somewhat surprising result making the supposedly real narrator little different from the godlike third-person-omniscient narrators floating disembodied in the narrative heavens high above other works.
In short, The Human Stain--by turns witty, gritty, lyrical, earthy and casually profane, and sorrowfully painful--is a fascinating novel for the reader of discernment as it plumbs the depths of the human mind and the conventions of modern academia and wider society alike.
20 February 2016
Today I returned to the Dawn Treader, an absolutely lovely used bookshop in Ann Arbor, where I picked up some more Heinlein: an original ex-library hardcover of Farnham’s Freehold, a first-edition hardcover of I Will Fear No Evil, and a paperback of the British edition of Friday. The covers now are scanned, and posted to the “Later Works” page of my site.
A little while ago, I reread Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which I hadn’t done in probably 15 or 20 years. And speaking of alternate-history Axis victories, thought I, what about that mystery/thriller I picked up a year or two ago...? Last month, therefore, I finally got around to reading Fatherland by Richard Harris—a fascinating and enjoyable read.
Copied below is the review I did today at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1502761931
Robert Harris's 1992 Fatherland is a political thriller whose tension is clicked up a notch for being set is an alternate history of 1964 wherein Hitler won the war in Europe, and Germany rules over a Festung Europa bounded by vassal states to west and south, with a constant guerrilla war against the American-supported Red partisans simmering--its setbacks glossed over and its hushed-up casualties brought back by secret night trains--in the resettled lands of the Urals.
Xavier March, homicide detective for the Berlin Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo, is plagued with the classic failing of world-weary protagonists throughout the history of detective fiction: he is too inquisitive for his own good. Oh, he is a top-notch investigator, of course, but in his personal life he is far from the Party ideal--a Party which March, uninterested in totalizing ideologies, in promotions lost, or in the resulting sidelong glances of his colleagues, refuses to join. After serving as an aggressive young U-boat captain during the war, March drifted into the Kripo, where his restless mind might do some good. His marriage, whose fruitfulness should have been a duty to the Vaterland, has long since failed, and even ten-year-old Pili--Paul, his only child--knows that the comparative loner is an "asocial," a category only one step away from "traitor." With an honorary rank of Sturmbannfuhrer in the S.S. because of his profession, March most likely is the most sympathetic character ever to have worn the grim black uniform.
When his telephone rings at 6:15 a.m., the Sturmbannfuhrer has been lying, unable to sleep, listening to the rain, in his bed in a dingy apartment rented long ago by a Jewish family that somehow had disappeared without a trace. Rather than send the night duty officer on to his partner, the slovenly but amiable Max Jaeger, March is glad to take the case of the body found washed ashore on the muddy bank of Lake Havel--anything to fill the long, lonely hours of the dark morning, in which the mind otherwise might think.
This fat, well-fed body still clad in swim trunks, however, obviously is no mere vagrant. Indeed, March's discreet check of fingerprints proves that the man was a prominent alter Kampfer, an old fighter, or comrade from the very founding of the National Socialist German Workers Party; and while Josef Buhler's blood shows extreme intoxication, the former high official of the wartime occupation of Poland was a known teetotaler. And when furtive inquiry reveals that several other old colleagues of Buhler have died recently, many in conveniently random-seeming circumstances such as a hit-and-run traffic "accident," casual street crime, and the like...well, clearly something strange is going on.
A wiser officer of the Third Reich might shrug and chalk it up carefully to "accidental drowning," similar to the way that no one seems to know exactly where the Jews went after they were "resettled" in the East during the war. Not Zavi March, though. Doggedly he calls in favors, snoops through archives, conducts a little surreptitious breaking-and-entering at Buhler's estate after pretending not to have heard the radio message dismissing him from the case, and even ends up entangled with Charlie Maguire, the famous female journalist from America.
March's doggedness is admirable, but in the context of the literally murderous internecine intrigues of Nazi politics, it is a tad difficult to believe, just as it is difficult to believe that Herr Sturmbannfuhrer March simply would not have met with a handy accident or received a 9mm slug in the base of the brain one dark night. It is the thriller's necessity of the suspension of disbelief that for me reduces this gripping novel from a 5-star read to one of 4 or 4.5 stars; I confess that I also am a little put off by Harris's repeated use of the iconic Luger as police sidearm, for the elegant but outdated pistol was being replaced by the Walther P-38 from 1938 onward and never would have been in service in 1964--a minor thing, but an annoyance for certain students of history.
Such quibbles notwithstanding, Robert Harris's Fatherland is a fascinating, compelling read. Xavier March is suspicious, even privately contemptuous, of the Nazi Party, and hence is the perfect protagonist for a tale set in Berlin on the eve of the celebration of Hitler's seventy-fifth birthday, when the upcoming visit of American President Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., is about to bring detente to the nuclear-armed Cold War powers. This alternate world of 1964, wherein the Greater German Reich stands as the respected political, economic, and cultural center of Europe, able to establish solemn memorial museums to the millions killed in the Soviet gulags, is exquisitely ironic and believable. And the deeply buried secret that March and Charlotte Maguire uncover? It may be a bit anticlimactic now in our own history--which says something about the nature of reality, I suppose--but this truth should be shattering to any sane person, and it might even shake the foundations of the two most powerful nations in the world.
9 January 2016
I was poking through an antique mall down the road, and I’m sure glad I was, for I happened upon a first edition of a library copy of Heinlein’s first book for Scribner’s--Rocket Ship Galileo of 1947. It’s a solid hardcover, presumably made without a dust jacket for the rigors of school library traffic; presumably it saw a decade or two of service in the Valley Farms School Library here in Lansing—as this is what the stamp on the title page says—but the dealie that formerly held the checkout card on the last page unfortunately has been removed long ago.
In any event, this book is a specimen in rather good condition, considering that it’s just short of 70 years old, and it it also contains four decent black-and-white interior drawings by a fellow named Thomas W. Voter. Cover and interiors of course have been scanned and posted to the appropriate page in my galleries.
Well, on the day after Thanksgiving I stopped in to Curious Books in East Lansing, and in addition to a big hardcover collecting the last three juveniles (Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Starship Troopers, and Podkayne of Mars), I also picked up the first installment of The Puppet Masters from Galaxy in 1951.
The cover of the collection harks back nicely to the Emshwiller work on Have Space Suit—Will Travel, and although the perspective is a tad confusing on the Galaxy cover by Don Sibley, it otherwise is very nice, too. I scanned the interior art of The Puppet Masters, and then, now that I have more experience on the pulps, I also went back and scanned the all the van Dongen interiors of the installments of Citizen of the Galaxy I have from my 1957 Astoundings.
All-up, this was a good dozen and a half interiors, plus the two covers. The Outward Bound collection is on my Scribner’s YA page, while the others are on my Serializations page.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Recently I also picked up a couple nice illustrated books of space/SF art, which I have filed on my Science Fiction/Science Fact page—good stuff, including some Chesley Bonestell, whose work is never less than absolutely gorgeous.
Eleven months after the project was begun, Critical Insights: Robert A. Heinlein at last was released by Salem Press. See the Amazon page here. This is a top-notch new reference text full of essays by a worldwide crew of scholars, and I am so pleased to see it come to fruition at last!
Imagine my surprise a little while ago, when poking around Curious Books in East Lansing, suddenly to run across three nice old copies of the beautiful pulp Unknown containing early Heinlein stories: “Magic, Inc.,” “They,” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” Ah, what a find!
Unknown is a huge magazine, by the way, a bit bigger than a 9.5x11-inch sheet of paper, and they are richly illustrated—“They” has only one drawing, but it is absolutely perfect, while “Hoag” has a whopping 10 drawings!
I also picked up “Sky Lift”—cover pictured here—plus the first half of “Gulf” and yet another variation of the Darrell K. Sweet cover of The Star Beast. I had passed on that extra Sweet on another couple of earlier trips, actually, but I finally caved, since this red-background version indeed is an interesting change from the green-background example I already had...
In any event, all now are scanned and thence posted in my Heinlein cover art galleries.
A while ago I picked up some more goodies at Curious Books: the May 1941 Astounding with “Universe,” plus a very nice first edition hardcover of Friday. Also, in looking over some stuff, I belatedly realized that “ ‘—We Also Walk Dogs’,” under the Anson MacDonald pseudonym, is in the July 1941 issue, which I already had... It was time, therefore, for some scanning, wasn’t it? I did so, and now that pristine Friday is cataloged on the “Later Works” page, while the others are in “Pulp Magazines.”
Author of four-dozen-odd pieces of literary criticism and reviews, novel Student Body, some poetry, and quite a bit of advising/Banner training materials.