Category Archives: America

City on Fire

CoFCity on Fire

by Garth Risk Hallberg

Knopf, New York, New York 2015

Borrowed from SPL.

The last time I was in New York City was during Memorial Day weekend, 1975.  I had travelled there with my boyfriend, Crazy Bob (that is another story), to deliver some furniture for the company he worked for.  We got stuck mid-town, and it took us three hours to get off the island.  I swore I’d never go back.  And I haven’t, even though I miss the museums, the library, St. Patrick’s, Central Park.

I really wanted to dislike City on Fire, what with all the hype and the $2 million dollar price tag but I could not put it down.

I can’t say I loved it, even though there were plenty of times when I believed I did.  It is way too disruptive and difficult a novel for that easy out.  It could have used some editing, but what parts of this massive 900+ novel could have been cut out?  Every messy, multilayered bit feel absolutely necessary to the whole.

New York, a fantastically mythic city, fueled by money, art, crime, drugs and the 1970’s in America.  Heartbroken humans reflected through time as if bouncing off shards of a fun house mirror.  All connected like nodes in Indra’s Net, thrown into darkness and then backlit by explosions of light.

 

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Filed under America, Books, LiteraryFiction

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

1401340873.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Hyperion, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while. I must admit I was a bit nervous about reading it.  The time and place could part of my personal story and, having found Groff’s The Monster of Templeton a bit unbalanced, I wasn’t sure how she would portray this slice of American history.  I needn’t have worried.

Arcadia is Ridley Sorrel Stone’s story.  Known as Bit, born in a van traveling with a caravan of trucks, buses and VWs searching for paradise, this child grows up in a commune known as Arcadia.  Acreage filled with fields and forest and a run-down mansion in upstate New York, lead by musician/guru Handy and overflowing with mid-wives, farmers, bakers and those lost to mind-bending drugs, Arcadia grows and changes along with Bit and his parents, Hannah and Abe.

When Bit closes his eyes, he can see what Abe can see,how Arcadia spreads below him: the garden where the other children push corn, bean seeds into the rows,the Pond. The fresh plowed corduroy fields, workers like burdocks stuck to them.  Amos the Amish’s red barn, tiny in the distance.  The roll of the forest tucked up under the hills.  And whatever is beyond: cities of glass, of steel.  from page 80.

This could have been over the top, but Groff handles it gently, in a kind and balanced way.  Her writing is vivid, both in depicting Arcadia, the falling-down and rebuilt mansion, and in telling the stories of the people who live there .  In reality, not all people living on communes were dysfunctional, some where completely committed to building a new way of living and being.  As Bit grows up and ventures into the “real” world he takes the lessons learned from his parents, his “extended” family and Arcadia with him.

I enjoyed Arcadia, it will be on my Best of 2013 list, and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Groff.  In skimming some comments about this novel on GoodReads, I saw several references to “dirty hippies”.  Can I say that I find this term highly offensive?  Want to talk about it?

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Filed under America, Books, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

Algonquin Books , Chapel Hill, 2011

Borrowed from my local library.

A grand, historic novel based in the imaginary town of Port Bonita (a stand-in for Port Angeles) on the Olympic Peninsula, West of Here follows many characters, some native, some non-native.  There are the colonizers and colonized, the industrialists, explorers and dreamers.  The novel moves between the late 1800’s , a period of exploration, expansion and the decimation of local native tribes, and the early 21st century,  where a once thriving economy based on logging and fish processing is at an ebb, poverty is rampant and the massive Elwha dam is about to be removed.

This is a place I am familiar with.   Evison does an admirable job portraying the land and creating the atmosphere of both time periods, but it often feels like too much, too many story-lines dropped like a stone, too many characters never fleshed out.  Maybe the author’s intention was to write a novel as dense and massive as the forests,  mountains and the waters that make up this part of Washington state but it never really came together for me, there were an awful lot of loose ends.

There are parts of this novel that I loved.  The descriptions of James Mather’s expedition in 1889, up the valley of the Elwha, in an attempt to reach the Quinault.  Certain characters,  Eva Lambert – budding journalist and pregnant free-thinker,  Dave Krigstadt – fish packing, pot smoking cryptozoologist and the Klallam doppelgängers – Thomas Jefferson King and Curtis.

And the land itself, the Elwha River, before being dammed and the surrounding, seemingly endless forests.  Trees so big it’s hard to imagine how men cut them down. The rugged forbidding faces of Mount Constance, Mount Deception and Mount Olympus.  Evison used many historic documents as references for his work and it shows.  All is all, I think that those interest in the history of the Pacific northwest will enjoy this novel.  And to add to the story the Elwha dam was removed last fall.  The salmon will return…

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With Tears..

I don’t talk politics or social issues on this blog.  I keep it safe.  I can no longer keep walking that thin line.  My heart won’t stand for it.  This is The Boss, live in Tampa, Florida, on 3/23/2012,  27 days after the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Peace to you.

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Filed under America, Video