What I’ve read this year. I sample or skim some that aren’t included. Happily, I have lost the compulsion or sense of duty to finish every book I start.
I have a strict rule that I will always buy something when I visit an independent bookstore. It’s sometimes a bit of a challenge in a small shop like the combination coffee and book shop I visited in Bend Oregon last summer. So I was pleased to find this reissue edition of a novel I’d enjoyed quite a few years ago. I was even happier to find the story still fresh and engrossing, a really excellent novel.
It’s the original surfer noir novel, well-plotted, strong characters, wonderful descriptive language eg when our young hero comes home after a shocking party night. “The sun was climbing fast by the time he reached the Sea View, heating up the streets, and the machinery of the town was heating up as well, moving into high gear now, the boomer gear, greased with hash oil and cocoa butter, hot-wired with cocaine, chugging to some New Wave anthem, and his heart was beating time, hammering erratically as he reached his room and stepped inside.”
or in a better moment in the surf – “On the horizon, the sun had begun to melt, had gone red above a purple sea. The tide was low and the waves turned crisp black faces toward the shore while trails of mist rose from their feathering lips in fine golden arcs. The arcs rose into the sky, spreading and then falling back into the sea, scattering their light across the surface like shards of flame.”
It might be overreach to say that the Western is an infinitely adaptable literary form but it has proven to be a remarkably useful framework for cultural and psychological exploration. That there are still new ways to tell a story within its seemingly simple structure is dazzlingly demonstrated in this 2011 novel. Canadian author Patrick DeWitt spins elements of the traditional Western with the knightly quest tale, medieval morality plays, fairy tales, road movies and a contemporary comic sensibility into a fresh, funny, completely compelling story that might have been told around a campfire, in a mead hall, or on a comedy club stage.
The two brothers are characters usually seen only in the background of a standard Western, the hired guns who serve the corrupt boss. DeWitt plucks them from the shadows to make them the leading men of a perverse knightly quest. They are dark knights clad not in armor but in long dusters with the sleeves ripped off. The Commodore(king) sends them on a job(quest) to recover something of “great value”. They have adventures and meet all manner of odd characters. Much is learned and much is lost. They betray their trust for the lure of the alchemist’s dream but perhaps find truer treasure at the end.
ed. Henry Hitchings, Pushkin Press 2016
In his essay, “A Tale of Two Bookshops”, Juan Gabriel Vasquez quotes remarks made by Argentine author Adolfo Bioy Casares about why he writes.
“I dare to advise people to write, because it’s like adding an extra room to the house of one’s life. There is life and there is thinking about life, which is another way of living it intensely.”
“What I did like was literature. I felt that it was my homeland and I wanted to participate in its world.”