Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Tremor of Forgery

The Tremor of ForgeryThe Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tremor of Forgery is a gently suspenseful story rich in its sun-soaked Tunisian setting and its expat characters, each involved in moral uncertainty about one, possibly two murders, clandestine pro-USA broadcasts to the Soviet Union, a suicide, and a floundering love affair. The main character is an author and he provides details of his own protagonist which suggest comparison to the narrator, or do they? The last few chapters pick up in suspense and the story ends to this reader's satisfaction. "Don't trust her, don't trust her," I kept thinking, anxious for him to see the light. The gay friend upstairs was an important character and revealed the prejudices Highsmith must have been familiar with in 1969; it made me think of Giovanni's Room. The description of the Tunis air terminal delighted me: "The Tunis air terminal presented a confused picture. Vital direction signs vied with aspirin advertisements, the 'Information' desk had no one at it, and several transistors carried by people walking about, warred with louder music from the restaurant's radio on the balcony, absolutely defeating the occasional voice of a female announcer, presumably giving planes' arrival and departure times. Ingham could not even tell if the announcer was speaking in French, Arabic or English." Touted by The New Yorker as "her best novel," I recommend it.

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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Terrace Story

Terrace StoryTerrace Story by Hilary Leichter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Terrace Story was recommended to me by the scintillating reviewer, John Warner https://biblioracle.substack.com/, after I sent him a list of five books I had enjoyed
1. Three
2. The Vulnerables
3. Heroines
4. The Body in Question
5. The Door
I am afraid his algorithm did not work for me although I had never heard of the book which heightened expectations. Alas, the book was not to my taste. The convoluted chronology of the family confused me, made me double back to figure out relationships, and prevented me from relating to any particular character. The author's ventures into fantasy and surrealistic worlds would be a draw to a reader who is attracted to such genres, but I resisted. Yet, if you like an imaginative structure venturing toward post-modernism, here is a well written, slim novel with original contemporary ideas.

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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Library Book

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Library Book is a fascinating and detailed history of the Los Angeles Central City Library, its devastating fire in 1986 and loss of 700,000 items, and comments on the career of librarianship. Chapters are interspersed with the biography of the arson suspect and the culture of the city. But the book, chockablock with facts and book titles from the card catalogue, is not the least bit dull. It's Susan Orlean after all, and she can tell a tale. I had bought the book when it came out in 2018;I was tickled to read it now.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Details

The DetailsThe Details by Ia Genberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Details because it was prize-winning translated fiction and originally written in Swedish. While reading it, I learned it had been chosen for the International Booker Shortlist. A women bed-bound with malarial fever reminisces in four chapters of people influential to her: a couple of intense love affairs, friendships, her parents and children.
"We live so many lives within our lives--smaller lives with people who come and go, friends who disappear, children who grow up--and I never know which of these lives is meant to serve as the frame...That's all there is to the self...traces of the people we rub up against."
It's been described as a quiet book and it is, but filled with wisdom and stories while including numerous references to Swedish authors as well as books which recall relationships in the past. I love a well-written tale with a booklist.

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Alix's Journal

Alix's Journal (French Literature)Alix's Journal by Alix Cléo Roubaud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alix's Journal has a certain addictive quality for me: I was captivated by her reading references to some seventy-odd writers and poets plus music and art, and took notes. Alix Cléo Roubaud was a Canadian living in Paris who kept sad daily journals which talk of insomnia, suicide, depression and her concerns about ailments, drinking, smoking, weight gain and clothes as well as her work as a photographer and her frustrated creativity. She died at the age of thirty-one from a pulmonary-embolism. Examples of journal entries will give an idea:

I read nothing but the TLS.
Every night I fear reading my journal; fear of finding nothing there; or the phrases of an entirely despicable person.me.
impossibility of writing, married to a poet.
The smell of big hotels and deckchairs, when people are having aperitifs: a mixed scent of amber, cigarette smoke, wax polish; and those meats cooking in wine.
Seurat did a good job with Grande Jatte.
48 hour visit from my parents.
I forget more and more.
Beautiful weather.
In playing with God, one loses every round.
--fear of madness. of egocentricity; of everything.
--the moment arrives to put cream on my hands. I wish, intensely, that the scent of mimosa will not die off.
. was it worth all that psychoanalysis to see me melted like butter in the sun and to die of fear.

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Friday, May 24, 2024


KairosKairos by Jenny Erpenbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kairos' International Booker win was no surprise. The book is a significant achievement of original story and translation weaving the "May-December" affair of Hans and Katharina in mid-eighties East Berlin through to the fall of the Wall and the changes to them, their lives and the country. Music accompanies every aspect of their lives together listening to Mozart, Chopin, Bach, in their trysts to avoid his wife, her career moves as a theatre set designer, dalliances and ensuing abuse from him (difficult to read), while political machinations mirror their liaison's end.
"When Katharina walks around in the West, she feels like a bad copy of the people who live there, an imposter, a cheat, liable to be exposed at any moment. With her eyes, which in this other half of the city are a stranger's eyes, she sees how every conceivable need is catered for by some product or other in the shops, the freedom to consume seems like an India rubber wall to her, separating people from any yearnings that might transcend their personal and momentary wishes.
269 Coca-Cola has succeeded, where Marxist philosophy has failed, at uniting the proletarians of all nations under its banner." Kairos is the god of fortunate moments.

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Monday, May 13, 2024

Grief is for People

Grief Is for PeopleGrief Is for People by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sprightly book about grieving and loss, full of snappy lines and trenchant observations, arranged in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief (Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance) although the last is simply Afterward as Crosley never really accepts her loss. Drawn in from the first page by the burglary of her jewelry, as I've had the same happen to me, I admired her chutzpah in pursuing leads to find the missing pieces as well as the hollow feelings, the frustration.
But most of the book describes her friend Russell, who was also her publicist boss at Knopf Vintage, and her grief at losing him: "I am disgusted by the universal truths of grief, by the platitudes. I don't want to make my way through the coming stages..." Her losses left a hole in her heart which "was like a wind tunnel that whistled straight through until dawn."
The end of the book describes New York City in quarantine and any urban dweller can identify with it ("What about the cabdrivers? What about the umbrella guys who manifest at the first drop? What about the theater? What about zoos?..flea markets?") making her feel like her "life had been petrified in ash."
She's a smart, talented writer and I read her book straight through, but, for me, her "trademark wit" interferes with the story.

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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Knife: meditations after an attempted murder

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted MurderKnife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A measured, well written assessment of Salman Rushdie's vicious assault by an assassin wielding a knife, his recovery, love of his wife and sons, and his supportive friendships and medical team. In the second part of the book, he imagines a conversation with his unrepentant attacker which is an education in itself coming from such a knowledgeable nonbeliever.
"When the faithful believe that what they believe must be forced upon others who do not believe it, or when they believe that nonbelievers should be prevented from the robust or humorous expression of their nonbelief, then there's a problem. The weaponizing of Christianity in the United States has resulted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the ongoing battle over abortion, and women's right to choose...the weaponizing of a kind of radical Hinduism by the current Indian leadership has led to much sectarian trouble, and even violence. And the weaponizing of Islam around the world has led directly to the terror reigns of the Taliban and the ayatollahs, to the stifling society of Saudi Arabia, to the knife attack against Naguib Mahfouz, to the assaults on free thought and the oppression of women in many Islamic states and, to be personal, to the attack against me."

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Wednesday, May 1, 2024


JamesJames by Percival Everett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After initial resistance to the dialogue in dialect, those sentences became an ironic and amusing twist along with many in this story of the slave, Jim, now James, and Huckleberry Finn and their fraught travels on the Mississippi River. The book hummed along with occasional references to his reading (John Locke, Voltaire, even Kafka) as James is a stealthy literate whose most prized possession is a pencil. Brilliant, scary and funny.

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The Prophet Song

Prophet SongProphet Song by Paul Lynch

2023 Booker Prize Winner was intense, beautiful and devastating. I wish that I could unread it.

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The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading

The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While ReadingThe Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading by Dwight Garner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I devoured this book. Despite its title, The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading is not a meaty book. Divided into separate sections like Breakfast, Lunch, Shopping, Drinking, Dinner, it is larded with anecdotes, salted with literary quotations and references and peppered with humor. The index is pure gravy.

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Martyr!Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poet author has written a beautiful book about a grieving young Iranian migrant to the U.S. who lost his mother as a baby. He plans a life and work centered around the lives and attitudes of martyrs over time as he contemplates his own demise until he meets an artist who is actually dying. Bleak but the writing buoyed this reader through to its fitting finale.

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Saturday, April 6, 2024


UndiscoveredUndiscovered by Gabriela Wiener
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The strangest thing about being alone here in Paris, in an anthropology museum gallery more or less beneath the Eiffel Tower, is the thought that all these statuettes that look like me were wrenched from my country by a man whose last name I inherited."

Undiscovered by Journalist Gabriela Wiener is a dive into Peruvian history as she traces the lineage of her Jewish Austrian/French great great grandfather, an explorer in Peru, grieves the death of her father and tries to understand his dual life with two families, and documents the racism and colonial-tinged political slurs she's encountered as a Spanish resident. She also discusses her polyamory relationship with her husband, Jaime, and her girlfriend, Roci, plus other affairs she experiences. She's a busy narrator. Although the book is catalogued as fiction, I am thinking it is more like autofiction from the online interviews. She's a good writer but I bogged down a bit in the ancestral family tree hunts and wanted to whip back to the contemporary which yielded plenty of drama. Her exchanges with her mother toward the end were satisfying in conversation and letters, although my overall assessment is that I would rather see any one of the story lines developed, particularly the effects of her move to Spain and life there as a journalist.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024


LiarsLiars by Sarah Manguso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Manguso’s slim volume of precise prose reads like autofiction as she dispassionately describes the end of her fifteen-year marriage to John who’s cheating. “When you’re a liar, you always know something that other people don’t know. Maybe lying to me made John feel extra smart.”
But no one gets off the hook as the narrator admits: “I remember how desperately I had to cling to the story of my happy marriage. It took effort. It felt so good to stop lying,” hence the title. Her reactions are visceral and compounded by the questions her young son asks.
I welcome another Manguso.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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1,000 Words, a Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round

1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round is a book of enjoyable essays with writing advice, interviews and inspiration by well-published Attenberg (six novels, a memoir, a short story collection) generated on her motivational social media site https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.co.... Extolling the virtues of a daily writing practice, Attenberg has set her own output at one thousand words every day and encourages her readers to try doing the same. In June, the sixth version of this communal two-week practice starts with a daily letter of encouragement from the author. The book uses the four seasons of the writer's cycle to discuss creativity, motivation, drafting and publishing. There are notes and insights scattered throughout, all geared to inspiring the writer to make art. And the book's messages could be used for other art forms as well. Highly recommended. Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC.

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The Body in Question

The Body in QuestionThe Body in Question by Jill Ciment
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Body in Question hums along as a story of a sensational murder trial of a young girl accused of murder, and the participating jurors, each identified only by profession or number. In Part Two, the story shifts our focus to one of the key jurors and her aged husband. Now each juror is identified by name and an irregularity surfaces which could challenge the verdict. Journalists hound the jurors and alliances crumble at the same time as one juror's husband is dying.
"Feet planted on the floor, he is half off the bed, half on, the posture of a man who has passed out from a night of hard drinking, but the scene lacks all the joys of inebriation. Only a drunken old poet would imagine that he is going to rage against the dying of the light. At whom? Death is excessively attentive. Death taps her husband's shoulder each time he falls asleep, startling him awake only long enough to remember that the is going to die. Death puts ice packs on his already cold feet. Death fill his bladder..."
Not only funny in bits, the prose is succinct and the pace moves swiftly to a surprising end.

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Saturday, March 30, 2024


HeroinesHeroines by Kate Zambreno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some disagreeable reader comments about the author's excessiveness in this book, but I applaud its combination of memoir and literary commentary about the women writers who are psychologized and pathologized by their creative male partners, i.e. Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien Eliot (Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot), Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, June Miller (Henry and June), Sylvia Plath, Anaïs Nin, as well as fictional characters in Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Anna Kavan, H.D., Elizabeth Hardwick'sThe Ghostly Lover, etc. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the doctor tells the woman writer "to never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live." Kate Zambreno describes "mean reds," fears of abandonment, her IBS and endometriosis, obsessive shopping, and her history of depression and sleeplessness, hence shrinks, pills, hospitalization as one of the "slit-your-wrist girls." She is accused of writing which is too personal, too emotional, too excessive. While some of the stories were familiar, I was sorry to finish this enlightening book and I was grateful for the extensive bibliography of over 150 books and articles about these women's lives. My TBR (To Be Read) quakes under the strain.

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Monday, March 25, 2024


AbigailAbigail by Magda Szabó
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished Abigail by Magda Szabó translated into English by Len Rix in 2020 which I started in CA weeks ago.. This was a dense piece of writing, a coming-of-age novel, which is not my favorite genre but the emphasis on plot kept me moving along. The narrator is placed unhappily in a strict girls' school in a small town in Hungary during WWII by her beloved military father, a general, and each chapter is skillfully filled with suspense so that it is unthinkable to abandon the book. By the end, the final pages pick up the pace and suspicions are confirmed as the heroine encounters grown up revelations and political insights about allies and enemies and the statue named Abigail who allays the troubles of the girls. I recommend Magda Szabó's work to Elena Ferrante fans for its youthful themes and wartime era as well as its psychological underpinnings. I preferred her earlier work, The Door, but have no regrets about reading either and welcomed the chance to learn a bit about Hungary.

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CostalegreCostalegre by Courtney Maum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Costalegre is a story in which I keep trying to fill in all the fictional blanks with real artists. Evidently about Peggy Guggenheim (the mother is called Leonora) and her cadre of Surrealists on the Pacific Coast of Mexico near Careyes doing art and escaping from Nazis in 1937, it is told from the viewpoint of the lonely lovesick teen daughter (inspired by Guggenheim's ill-fated daughter Pegeen), this erratic crew bond, scrap and neglect each other like the real Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Djuna Barnes and Leonora Carrington might have. The chapters are short, labeled for days of the week as though a diary, and a smattering of drawings contribute to the whimsical touch of a lively coming-of-age contribution to the many writings on Peggy Guggenheim, her family and friends.

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ThreeThree by Ann Quin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finishing Three gave me a sense of accomplishment. Ann Quinwrote this dense experimental novel of a ménage a trois often using no distinguishing orthographies or paragraphs for the three different speakers (a British middle-class couple plus their missing tenant/visitor) as well as no such breaks in their journals, diaries, etc. Just endless unpunctuated sentences, thoughts and movement so it is never clear who is speaking: "verbiage bumping up against verbiage in a dim, junk-cluttered hall" described by Joshua Cohen in the introduction. Although confused by the lack of plot, I was at the same time, swept along trying to build a story and propulsively attuned to Quin's fine writing. I intend to read another of her works, Berg.
"...Days become shorter. Hours lengthen. Wind rises
out of the sea
carries mist
to the house. Buries itself
into stonework. The possibility of what might have been sinks
away. Into what is left."

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Ex-WifeEx-Wife by Ursula Parrott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott, published anonymously in 1929, was as good as promised when I heard about it on Backlisted's Patreon podcast and they recommended it as the feminine counterpart to Gatsby in describing the Jazz Age and what happens to young women who are caught between Victorian morality and the sexual revolution of the twenties. I responded with a raised glass to the blurb's description of the narrator as "wedged between Edith Wharton's constrained society girls and the squandered glamour of Jean Rhys's doomed wanderers."
The first person narrator, Pat, announces to her newest man, Noel:
"Don't have any illusions about me. I have slept with more men than I can remember." That was exaggeration, but I had to exaggerate, lest I should understate.
And he responds..."Whatever happened to you has made you poised and tolerant, and comprehending, and anyone who knows you should be grateful for whatever produced the result." But, in the all too familiar refrain, he's taken, and Pat continues the high life in search of a stable closure. And Ursula Parrott sold 100,000 copies of the novel.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024


Flight: A NovelFlight: A Novel by Lynn Steger Strong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flight: A Novel by Lynn Steger Strong is a good domestic novel of three grown children and their spouses and children gathering for Christmas now that the matriarch, Helen, has died. They try to maintain old customs and some are more entrenched in family memories than others, a couple are artists, each has concerns of their own. Most rue the mother's passing. There are mishaps and challenges with the five children present, and the last quarter of the book steps up the pace considerably when a child is missing in a snowstorm. At that point, it went from a three-star to a four-star for me. I thought the writing admirable with a nice balance of scene and dialogue plus introspection. In the beginning with six adults and a neighbor, I struggled to keep track of who was married to who, made their living doing what and who had which kids. I put notes in the front of the book to guide me. Kate, whose mother has died, remembers her: "But she's the only person in the world who ever saw me the way she saw me, who loved me like that, who remembered me as all the things I'd ever been and also thought of me as all the things she still thought I might become...It feel harder--fucking terrifying--that there is no longer any person in the world who loves me like she did." A poignant sketch of mothering and mother loss.

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Saturday, January 13, 2024


TremorTremor by Teju Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teju Cole's book is a learning experience. He writes beautifully, talks about historical tragedies, and the book has a challenging shifting narrator scheme and the same with many locations, starting in Maine, then Cambridge, MA to Mali and Nigeria and back. He discusses J.M.W. Turner's painting "Savers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying" which we've seen with its foreground of roiling seas and brilliant red sky and the ship Zong, plus the Africans, some in chains, which the slaver is throwing overboard, cargo he is transporting to America. Lloyds of London has since offered reparations. There were at least 130 who drowned in 1781. According to the BBC this ship and the crime paved the way for eventual abolition of the slave trade so something was learned by someone.

He also fields an interesting discussion of the unreliability of Western custody of artworks citing the WWII destruction of work by Van Gogh, Courbet, Murillo, Rubens, Titian, Goya, Botticelli, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio. by allied bombs. And there are references throughout to so many paintings (i.e. Chris Ofili's "Mary Magdalene" with a "violet so deep it could drown the eyes, in whose "Raising of Lazarus" there is a violet so base it could raise the dead."

In the beginning of the book, Cole includes a scene where his partner and he are shopping for antiques at a rural warehouse in Maine and find a couple of things they wish to buy including a ci wara, a ritual object representing an antelope and used by the Bambara people of Mali. Later, he goes to Mali for a conference and buys others of these sculptures. He also spends evenings listening to the music of the area at a club and the music is available on a playlist: https://open.spotify.com/queue

I'll skip a recap of the serial killer mentioned by a student in his creative writing class.
He also watches The Searchers and a 1994 film by an Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami, Through the Olive Trees.
Art and music predominate but fewer books from this creative writing professor at Harvard. except for a handful of titles, Virginia Woolf's "The Death of a Moth." Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America about captivity narratives; Invisible Cities and Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. But I remind myself it is not about a WRITING professor, it's about a photographer! I had a hard time not reading it autobiographically.

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Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Door

The DoorThe Door by Magda Szabó
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Door by Magda Szabó is about a hard-working cleaner who is hired to look after the writer-narrator's apartment and performs impeccably until she is struck ill, found by neighbors immobile in squalor and sent to hospital with no help from the narrator who has writing obligations elsewhere. "Emerence was pure and incorruptible, the better self that each and every one of us aspired to be. With her permanently veiled forehead and her face that was tranquil as a lake, she asked nothing from anyone and depended on no-one. She shouldered everyone's burden without ever speaking of her own, and when she did finally need my help, I...left her, in the squalor of advanced illness, for others to witness the single moment of degradation in her life." The author began her writing life as a poet and has written numerous novels, non-fiction and short stories and won various awards. A compelling read.

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Winter in the Blood

Winter in the BloodWinter in the Blood by James Welch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A teacher recommended this book and I dutifully picked it up and inhabited another world, a Montana reservation where members of the Gros Ventre and Blackfeet tribes live outside of towns such as Harlem, Dodson, Havre, where they grow grain and run cattle. James Welch writes with humor and truth. His dialogue skills are rich and authentic: "Why don't you settle down?" I said to my hands. "Pay up," said the bartender. When he left, I said, "If you settled down you'd be a lot better off; you'd be happier, believe me, Agnes." "You bore me," she said. "You should learn a trade, shorthand," I said. "There's a crying demand for secretaries." She looked at me as if she didn't recognize me. "Shorthand?" she squealed.
His images of nature and characters put you right out on that flat grazing land of the West. "Evening now and the sky had changed to pink reflected off the high western clouds. A pheasant gabbled from a field to the south. A lone cock, he would be stepping from the wild rose along an irrigation ditch to the sweet alfalfa field, perhaps to graze with other cocks and hens, perhaps alone. It is difficult to tell what cocks will do when they grow old. They are like men, full to twists." Welch started as a poet and is quoted in Louise Erdrich's introduction: "we are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come." The book was published fifty years ago and I am as excited about reading it as if it were just out, a new discovery. And his storyteller credentials are evident in the braided tale describing a cattle drive perfectly paced with a bar spree. The narrator describes his mother, "she had always had a clear bitter look, not without humor, that made the others of us seem excessive, too eager to talk too much, drink too much, breathe too fast...I saw...how much she had come to resemble the old lady." Highly recommended.

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