Saturday, May 9, 2009

TSS: Sunday Book Coveting

The first three books are taken from

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

Writer Helen has a spare room, and her old friend, bohemian single woman Nicola, has cancer and comes to stay to undergo treatment at a deeply suspect alternative healing centre. But there is nothing simple about what follows. For Helen could not have predicted how difficult she finds the three weeks as Nicola's full-time carer, "afraid of her weakness, afraid of her will", overwhelmed by anger at Nicola's belief in her quack doctors and complete denial that "death is at the end of this". It is a complex examination of the limits of friendship and of the problems of remaining a single woman into middle age. For Nicola "had taught herself to live alone", and now, dying, has no one to turn to but old acquaintances. This is a superbly clever novel, in which death looms large, while the narrative and the narrator exist in a vital present: cancer is a fact of life, not an ending.

Whates's first collection gathers 18 tales spanning the genres from fantasy to soft science fiction, ghost story to space opera. The variety is only one of the pleasures on offer; others are the fully rounded, if not always likable, characters, and Whates's knack for taking stories in unexpected directions. A good example is "The Gift of Joy", which starts quietly enough with a conventional client-prostitute pick-up scenario, but rapidly becomes something more alarming. In "One Night in London", Kyle is a cyber-augmented courier faced with a stark choice that might alter Britain's political destiny, and what could have been mere action-noir becomes an effective study of character. This may not be cutting-edge SF, but it is satisfying, well observed and entertaining.

Pandora in the Congo by Albert Sanchez Pinol

Albert Sánchez Piñol's second novel sees him take the traditional Victorian adventure story, in this case a Jules Verne-esque romp, and interpret it through the prism of post-colonialism. The book begins in light-hearted vein as the narrator, Thomas Thomson, finds himself becoming a junior ghostwriter for a pulp storyteller, but soon moves into more disturbing territory when Thomson is approached to write the tale of Marcus Garvey, a young servant compelled to go on a dangerous journey into the Congo. Free of the sometimes stilted quality that dogs translated novels, this is simultaneously a gripping yarn and a genre-bending re-examination of the fiction of a bygone age.

The next two from

Sag Harbour by Colson Whitehead

“Sag Harbor,” is a coming-of-age story about the Colsonesque 15-year-old Benji, who wishes people would just call him Ben. He’s a Smiths-loving, Brooks Brothers-wearing son of moneyed blacks who summer in Long Island and recognize the characters on “The Cosby Show” as kindred spirits. “According to the world we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses. A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it. It was simply who we were,” Whitehead writes. “What you call paradox, I call myself.” For Benji’s family, confident of progress, the black national anthem is “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike

“Endpoint: And Other Poems,” consists entirely of poems Updike wrote in the last years of his life. It is a serious book indeed. The subject is his approaching death, and it turns out that he started treating it as a special poetic subject several years back. The “Endpoint” poems, written at the rate of roughly one a year since 2002, deal with no other theme, and the “Other” poems are plainly collected and grouped so as to reinforce the same theme from all directions, especially the direction of the past.

The lawn’s begun to green. Beyond the Bay —
where I have watched, these twenty years, dim ships
ply the horizon, feeding oil to Boston,
and blinking lights descend, night after night,
to land unseen at Logan — low land implies
a sprawl of other lives, beneath torn clouds.

In his early verse, Updike could be boastful about his sexual prowess. Here, at the 11th hour, he is more regretful about his overmastering, though obviously masterful, early lust.

I drank up women’s tears and spat them out
as 10-point Janson, Roman and ital.


Poetry books are so hard to find. Can someone direct me to some poetry book review sites?


Victoria said...

"The Spare Room" sounds like a good one.

zetor said...

I think the spare room would be my choice out of your list. Hope you have a good week.