September 18, 2019

Book review: “Safekeeping” by Gregory McDonald

When Bill Sikes is introduced in Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens describes him thusly: “The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings which enclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves—the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three days’ growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.” In that first sentence, Dickens makes clear that Bill Sikes, called Mr. Sikes by the boy Oliver Twist throughout the novel, has the appearance of someone who belongs in chains, hence, the legs looking incomplete “without a set of fetters to garnish them.” In other words, Bill Sikes is a bad one.  And […]
September 16, 2019

Book review: “The Bounty Hunters” by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard’s first novel The Bounty Hunters was published in 1953, just eight years after World War II, and it was part of a movement in American arts to reevaluate the national myths. On the surface level, the war seemed to endorse the rightness of U.S. ideals and actions. Nonetheless, artists, such as those in movies, painting and novels, were expressing what might be called the Great Ambiguity.  Yes, the United States fought for freedom and democracy against the soul-crushing, murderous Nazis and their allies.  Still, there is much that America and American soldiers did in battle that unsettled the consciences of thoughtful people.  “By white standards” With The Bounty Hunters, Leonard is setting forth the subject matter that he will deal with more than 40 other novels as well as short stories and screenplays. First, there is Leonard’s affinity for those on the edges of society, an affinity for the zest and piquancy that other cultures and other approaches to the questions of living bring to the communal life. In this novel, it’s expressed in his openness to the Apache way of life which, in American myth of that time, was seen as debased, pagan and inhuman.  By contrast, […]
September 11, 2019

Book review: “The Song of Songs: A Biography” by Ilana Pardes

The Song of Songs is one of three very odd books in the Bible.  Ecclesiastes expresses a deep mournful existential angst not found anywhere else in the Jewish and Christian scriptures; life is short and hard.  Meanwhile, Job wrestles with the question of why bad things happen to good people — and loses; God essentially says in a long rant out of the whirlwind that God’s ways can’t be comprehended by humans, and Job comes to give up on his whining and say: OK.  The essential act of faith. Neither book provides the message that’s found in the rest of the Bible — that, if you do the right thing, God will take care of you in some way. The Song of Songs is even more singular.  It is, on its face, a joyfully sensual celebration of romantic and physical love.  The female lover is identified as the Shulamite, and her breasts are extravagantly praised eight times in the 2,700-word poem.  Depending on the translation, God is mentioned once or not at all. Nonetheless, as Ilana Pardes notes in The Song of Songs: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 280 pages, $24.95), Rabbi Akiva, one of the founders of rabbinic Judaism […]
September 4, 2019

Book review: “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi, translated by Raymond Rosenthal

Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, published in Italian in 1975, is a literary memoir of high art and broad ambition.  It covers the waterfront. The periodic table, of course, is a major subject — that list of chemical elements, now totaling 118, that comprise everything in the Universe. All matter. (The sole exception is dark matter which, according to scientists, is made up of something other than the chemical elements but no one’s sure what that something is.) Levi, who worked all his life as a chemist — indeed, his chemical expertise saved his life during the Holocaust — constructs his book with 21 chapters, each keyed to an element on the periodic table.  Two of these, the ones for lead and mercury, are short stories that a 22-year-old Levi wrote when he was working off by himself in a plant on an island in 1941.  He was, he writes, in semi-hiding as a Jew in Fascist Italy, pondering “my freedom, a freedom I would perhaps soon lose.”  He writes, in Raymond Rosenthal’s English translation: From this rocky love and these asbestos-filled solitudes, on some other of those long nights were born two stories of islands and freedom, the first […]
August 26, 2019

Book review: “The Cold Way Home” by Julia Keller

Near the very end of Julia Keller’s latest Acker’s Gap novel The Cold Way Home (Minotaur, 306 pages, $27.99), Jake Oakes wants something that he knows he may never get, and he tells the woman he loves, Molly Drucker: “I can’t wait and hope.  It hurts too much.  I don’t want to hope anymore.” “We can’t give up on hope,” was Molly’s quiet reply. “Why not? Why the hell not?  What’s so special about hope?” “Sweetheart,” Molly said… “It’s all we’ve got.  It’s all anybody’s got.” Pain, oppression and…. The Cold Way Home is a novel about pain and oppression, about twisted loyalties and dead-end addictions, about commission and confession, about easily snuffed-out passion and enduring friendship, about the grind of making ends meet and the sap and the decay of roots. It is also a mystery involving two murders that are solved by former county prosecutor Belfa Elkins and her fellow investigators, mysteries involving a long-leveled state hospital for women who, in their homes, didn’t fit in and who suffered from the hands of the hospital staff.  A mystery that ends with a showdown in a forest between Bell and the killer. It is, as all of Keller’s Acker’s […]
August 21, 2019

Book review: “Lords and Ladies” by Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax hears a noise outside her witch’s cottage: There was something in the garden. It wasn’t much of a garden.  There were the Herbs, and the soft fruit bushes, a bit of lawn, and, of course, the beehives.  And it was open to the woods.  The local wildlife knew better than to invade a witch’s garden. Granny opened the door carefully. The moon was setting.  Pale silver light turned the world into monochrome. There was a unicorn on the lawn.  The stink of it hit her. Not that kind of book Terry Pratchett’s 1992 novel Lords and Ladies is about fairies, sprites and elves — but it’s not that kind of book. This is not a book about cute fairies, sprites and elves.  There is nothing sweet nor sentimental nor charming nor adorable about these fairies, sprites and elves. Consider the ones in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. All’s well that ends well, as someone said once, so you’re likely to remember them as playful and a bit naughty but basically harmless. Think about it, though.  They operate completely without morals.  They use humans for their entertainment (including one human baby who’s the pet of Oberon, the King of the […]
August 19, 2019

Book review: “Playback” by Raymond Chandler

Two-thirds of the way through Raymond Chandler’s novel Playback, Philip Marlowe is having a conversation with Henry Clarendon IV, an aged, wealthy man who spends his days sitting in a hotel lobby, watching the other guests and anyone else who happens by. He gives Marlowe some helpful information for the case — or is it cases? — he’s working on, and a bit more. “Do you believe in God, young man?” Marlowe says, if he’s talking about an omniscient, omnipotent God, well, no. “But you should, Mr. Marlowe.  It is a great comfort. We all come to it in the end because we have to die and become dust.  Perhaps for the individual that is all, perhaps not. There are grave difficulties about the afterlife.  I don’t think I should really enjoy a heaven in which I shared lodgings with a Congo pygmy or a Chinese coolie or a Levantine rug peddler or even a Hollywood producer.” Clarendon goes on, talking about his difficulty with envisioning a God in a long white beard and a heaven that sounds pretty dull. “On the other hand how can I imagine a hell in which a baby that died before baptism occupies the […]
August 15, 2019

Book review: “The Souls of Black Folks” by W. E. B. Du Bois

Published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folks by W. E. B. Du Bois is an important book of American literature, a significant work in the development of the field of sociology and a foundational text for the study of race relations in the United States. Yet, for me, the heart of the book is far from the objective, analytical, theoretical world of social science. For me, the heart of the book is Du Bois’s cry from the soul that is Chapter 11.  Its title is “Of the Passing of the First-Born,” and it is his account of the death of his 18-month-old son, Burghardt Gomer Du Bois. He was away when he got the telegram that Burghardt had been born and raced home to see the newborn: “What is this tiny formless thing, this newborn wail from an unknown world, — all head and voice?  I handle it curiously, and watch perplexed its winking, breathing, and sneezing.  I did not love it then; it seemed a ludicrous thing to love; but her I loved, my girl-mother…Through her I came to love the wee thing, as it grew and waxed strong; as its little soul unfolded itself in twitter and […]
August 12, 2019

Book review: “Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett

Two dead men. Long ago, the first tried to kill the second with a horrible torture but was killed by an act of a god. The second lived a long, fruitful and productive live and, then, in the normal course of things, died. Now, the second finds the first at the edge of the black desert that must be crossed to Judgement.  For decades, the first has been at this spot, curled up inside himself, as he had been in life, unable to move. Now, the second sees him, takes pity and picks him up to carry (once again, as he had in life) through the desert, no longer alone. A god, like an idea If that sounds like a religious parable, well, yeah. Although not exactly what a Discworld reader expects from Terry Pratchett who tells this story in his 1992 novel Small Gods. Here is the core of all great religions:  We are in this together, and we need to help each other out. Pratchett, a writer of wit, kick and clear-eyed insight, is not your usual devotional author.  And, really, Small Gods isn’t so much devotional (since it rips organized religion up and down) as it is […]
August 7, 2019

Book review: “La Brava” by Elmore Leonard

On the last page of Elmore Leonard’s 1983 novel La Brava, his title character, Joe La Brava, is told by former screen siren Jean Shaw, “It’s not the movies, Joe.” There are ironies upon ironies in that statement that the reader, by that point, is aware of….and Jean is aware of….and Joe is aware of.  Joe, being one of Leonard’s usual pretty-nice-guy heroes, i.e., not averse to twisting the law but dead set against breaking his own code, says, “Swell,” and that about sums it up. “Then [I]  gave them a nice smile: maybe a little weary but still a nice one.  Why not?’ A major literary award La Brava is the only one of Leonard’s 45 novels to win a major literary award, the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel of 1983. Make no mistake, Leonard’s career was honored in many ways, including the 1992 Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Mystery Writers of America, the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature; and the 2012 National Book Award Medal for his distinguished contribution to American letters. All of his books and short stories demonstrate high wit and literary skill as well as […]
August 6, 2019

Book review: “Edward Hopper: Portraits of America” by Wieland Schmied

On one of the final pages of his 1995 study Edward Hopper: Portraits of America, Wieland Schmied emphasizes the starkness, bleakness and harshness of light in Hopper’s paintings, especially those featuring human figures. He contrasts Hopper with Rembrandt and Vermeer, and writes: Rembrandt enfolds his figures in a protective darkness as if in a mantle.  His dusky chiaroscuro mercifully hides the things he does not wish to show.  Rembrandt’s pictures seem to say: what takes place in a person’s heart must always remain obscure. Hopper in a sense removed Rembrandt’s people from their comforting shadows and subjects them to the light of Vermeer.  Unlike Rembrandt’s figures, however, Vermeer’s were created for the light — born into a brighter, more rational world, they were more forthright and self-disciplined, and less vulnerable.  Hopper’s figures, in turn, are as vulnerable as Rembrandt’s, but they have been expelled from Rembrandt’s paradise, the paradise of the past, to be forever subjected to the harsh light of the present. “The human situation” It’s not odd to think of Rembrandt’s or Vermeer’s characters walking into one of Hopper’s paintings which, like a stone goddess, seem to be solidly, profoundly timeless. Humans are the subject of any Hopper […]
July 31, 2019

Book review: “Pavane” by Keith Roberts

Lady Eleanor, a young ruler in the county of Dorset in southern England, is quiet and thoughtful, sitting alone in Corfe Castle with her seneschal, John Faulkner.  Just hours earlier, she pulled the cord on a cannon to start a battle with the Catholic Church, the international institution that dominates this latter half of the 20th century as it has dominated Europe for many hundreds of years.  All hell is about to break loose upon her head and the heads of her people. “You know,” she said, “it’s strange, Sir John; but it seemed this morning when I fired the gun I was standing outside myself, just watching what my body did.  As if I, and you too, all of us, were just tiny puppets on the grass.  Or on a stage.  Little mechanical things playing out parts we didn’t understand…. “It’s like a….dance somehow, a minuet or a pavane.  Something stately and pointless with all its steps set out.  With a beginning, and an end…” She goes on to ruminate about how all of life seems like a single fabric, and to pull or clip one thread — to take any action — is to alter the pattern of […]
July 17, 2019

Book review: “The Book of ‘Exodus’: A Biography” by Joel S. Baden

In 1955, early in his struggle for civil rights, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. likened the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the biblical book of Exodus: “The Red Sea opened, and freedom and justice marched through to the other side.  As we look back we see segregation and discrimination caught in the mighty rushing waters of historical fate.” Three decades later, the Exodus story — God leading the Israelites from slavery and oppression in Egypt through many years of wandering in the desert to the Promised Land — was a foundation stone of an entirely new reading of the Bible, called liberation theology.  The Latin American theologians and activists who developed this then-radical Catholic approach argued that Exodus shows a God who is always on the side of the poor and who wants everyone to live free from all kinds of slavery.  In this context, sin is whatever people do to keep themselves or others enslaved.  Although the Vatican initially condemned this thinking, which implicitly put the church hierarchy with the “Egyptians,” liberation theology has come to permeate much Catholic thinking, particularly that of Pope Francis. Addictively readable and […]
July 15, 2019

Book Review: “The Art of Bible Translation” by Robert Alter

Many readers are likely to dismiss Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation as inside-baseball for Bible scholars.  After all, the Bible is the Bible, right? Well, not really.  The Bible means different things to different faiths.  For Jews, it’s the Hebrew Bible. This, with some adjustments, is included in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament along with the Gospels and other books of the New Testament. Over the past two centuries, Bible experts from both religions, operating separately and together, have worked to better understand the language, culture and times of the writers who produced these works.  The goal: create translations that get closer to what those writers were saying — to the meaning of their words.  For both faiths, the books of the Bible were divinely or spiritually inspired, and it’s extremely important to get right the lessons they transmit about God and humanity. A proliferation of Bible translations There has been a proliferation in Bible translations since the middle of the 20th century, each striving to be as accurate as possible in taking the words from the ancient languages and putting them into English.  Of course, scholars being scholars, there are endless debates on the best […]
July 10, 2019

Book review: “Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography” by June Purvis

Emmeline Pankhurst was a prim, proper, middle-class Victorian Englishwoman who, on a day in early July, 1914, a few days before her 56th birthday, was rearrested by authorities for her work promoting the campaign to bring the vote to British women. She was rearrested under what was called the Cat and Mouse Act, a government effort to solve the knotty political problem of what to do when Pankhurst and her followers were arrested and then refused to eat or drink. These women, the government felt, couldn’t be permitted to go on such hunger strikes (although men were) because think of the bad publicity if a women died this way.  To say nothing about the creation of a martyr. Violent force-feeding was employed, but that left the women nearly as physically debilitated as the hunger strikes themselves.  In at least one case, an emetic was smuggled into prison in the hopes of causing the force-fed food to be regurgitated. So, a year earlier, the Cat and Mouse Act had been approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords and King George V.  Under it, writes June Purvis in Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography, “suffragettes or ‘mice’ in a state of […]
July 8, 2019

Book review: “Christian Flesh” by Paul J. Griffiths

The cover of Christian Flesh by Paul J. Griffiths is a warning that this book of moral theology is not for the faint of heart. It is a detail from Caravaggio’s 1601-1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, and it shows the heads of the resurrected Jesus and the doubting apostle nearly touching and the Savior with a grip around Thomas’s hand.  Jesus has pulled the hand to the wound in his side, just below his left nipple, so that the disciple’s extended forefinger has entered the wound up to the first knuckle. (In John’s gospel, this is what Jesus tells Thomas to do although there is no indication he actually does it.  Caravaggio, as usual, amps up the drama.) The painting is visceral, raw and, some would likely say, crude.  So, too, is Griffith’s book. “Sweat, blood, spittle” The beliefs of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, are rooted in the dual nature of Jesus as God, part of the Trinity, and as a real, flesh-and-blood human.  Yet, that flesh-and-bloodness is often given short shrift, except for the passion and crucifixion. There is a kind of daintiness with which the physicality of Jesus is approached.  Yes, we can imagine him talking to […]
July 3, 2019

Book review: “Unnatural Causes” by P.D. James

Sylvia Kedge, the young physically impaired woman who was the secretary of murder victim Maurice Seton, has just had an emotional melt-down, and one of the policemen is pushing her wheelchair down a path as detective Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard watches. He had discovered that he did not like her and was the more ashamed of the emotion because he knew that its roots were unreasonable and ignoble.  He found her physically repellent… He wished he could feel more sorry for her, but it was difficult to watch, with a kind of contempt, the way in which she made use of her disability. This scene is from the 1967 crime novel Unnatural Causes by P.D. James, and it contains more psychological nuance and insight that all of the pages of all 70-plus books by Agatha Christie. The forumla I mention Christie because, in the 1960s, when James began writing mysteries, she was the gold standard.  She and other mega-seller authors, such as John Dickson Carr, had developed a highly popular and highly entertaining formula which emphasized the puzzle aspects of the crime.  They were, in essence, daring their readers to solve the mystery before the all-knowing detective made his […]
July 1, 2019

Book review: “Medieval Children” by Nicholas Orme

About midway through Nicholas Orme’s fascinating Medieval Children — a history of what it was like to be a child in Europe in medieval times leading up to the Enlightenment — he notes that an engraving from 1659 shows a boy playing with small balls, called bowling-stones. We would call them marbles, but that word, he points out, didn’t come into use until later in the 17th century. It got me thinking about marbles which had a short moment of interest for me in my childhood — round and hard, made of glass (I guess), and used for games.  I don’t think I played many games with them.  In my recollection, they were just fun to roll around in my hand or in a bowl or a cloth bag.  They clicked together nicely.  I admired them as objects. Marbles That got me wondering if kids today play with marbles.  I’m sure they’re being sold somewhere to someone, but how widespread are they as a child’s toy in this era of digital entertainment?  And in this era of heavy parental protection against all dangerous things, such as swallowing small round objects? (As a young boy, my brother Tim once swallowed a […]
June 23, 2019

Book review: “The Secret of Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Well, OK. Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, published in 1967, has sold millions of copies over the past half century.  But it’s not the book she submitted to her publisher. That book had an extra, 18th chapter which, upon the publisher’s urging, Lindsay cut from her manuscript. The shortened Picnic has captivated five decades of readers with its many, complex mysteries over what happened to three teenage girls and their mathematics teacher when they disappeared during a Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900, school excursion to Hanging Rock, a famous geological formation in the Australian state of Victoria. Several days after the disappearance, one of the missing girls was found unconscious but was never able to recall what had gone on during the time she was missing. None of the other three was ever seen again. Did they? Could they? What if? Generations of readers have been left to wonder and speculate over the deliciously vague details of the story — Did the girls plan this?  Did they get away or die?  How was the teacher connected to this? Picnic seems to bring the reader right to the edge of understanding….and then leaves the reader there.  It might be enough to […]
June 23, 2019

Book review: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

To my mind, the most masterful touch in Joan Lindsay’s very well-crafted novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is the disappearance of the self-contained, seemingly logic-driven mathematics teacher Greta McCraw. Sure, the main focus of the story is on the three senior students from Appleyard College — the highly competent Miranda, the extremely rich Irma Leopold and the very smart Marion Quade — who, during a St. Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock in the Australian state of Victoria in 1900, go away from the main group on a walking exploration of the famous geological formation. Suddenly, a younger girl Edith Horton comes stumbling back to the picnic site, her dress ripped by branches and brambles, laughing and crying and babbling that she’d left the other three somewhere up on the Rock. In the ensuing chaos of the rest of that day and the days that follow, much happens: An immediate search fails to turn up the three girls. Michael “Mike” Fitzhubert, a 20-year-old English heir, who was captivated by a glimpse of Miranda on the fateful day, goes searching for the girls on his own and nearly dies in the effort. But he’s able to get his coachman friend Albert […]
June 12, 2019

Book review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff in 1979, a full 52 years after Charles Lindbergh, the first celebrity flyboy, shocked and captivated the nation with his aerial deering-do, crossing the Atlantic all alone in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis, from Long Island to Paris in just over a day and a half. His fame opened doors for him, but also led to the kidnapping and murder of his toddler son Charles Jr. For the subjects of Wolfe’s book, the seven astronauts of NASA’s Mercury program, the first U.S. manned space flight venture — Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton — celebrityhood brought great access to “goodies,” such as a social standing that had them outranking just about everyone except the President.  Glenn eventually landed in the U.S. Senate where he served for 25 years.  Grissom, however, was killed in a 1967 capsule test for the Apollo program, along with two post-Mercury astronauts. Rapidly receding By the time Wolfe wrote his book, the Mercury program was rapidly receding in the nation’s rear-view mirror. After all, its five flights had lasted just two years, from May of 1961 to May of 1963.  […]
June 10, 2019

Book review: “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” by Robert Heinlein

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, published in 1959, collects Robert Heinlein’s novella of the same title plus five short stories — all of which exist in Twilight Zone territory. The Rod Serling show, which premiered the same year as this book, specialized in stories that were weird and grotesque, only occasionally having to do with science fiction. It’s not inconceivable that this Heinlein collection was put together to piggyback on the popularity of the Twilight Zone although there’s no indication in the packaging of the issue I read.  It’s also worth noting that, as far as I have been able to determine, Heinlein never wrote for the show in any of its permutations. Only one of the works in this collection, “ ‘All You Zombies’ ” (originally published earlier in 1959), could be described as clearly science fiction.  It has to do with time travel.  In this case, though, Heinlein seems to be layering conundrum upon conundrum upon conundrum in what seemed to me to be a send-up of the whole if-a-man-went-back-in-time-and-killed-his-father subgenre of speculative fiction.  Only in this story, the complications are much more complicated. Twisted The other works in this collection exhibit a range of styles and […]
June 5, 2019

Book review: “Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis” by Savina J. Tuebal

The book of Genesis in the Bible has a lot of odd stuff, like incest:  Abraham and Sarah aren’t just married, but they’re also brother and sister.  Abraham lets Sarah become a member of the harems of not just one, but two kings.  Jacob is married to two sisters, Rachel and Leah.  Lot’s daughters — whose mother was turned into a pillar of salt outside of Sodom and Gommorrah — get him drunk on two consecutive nights and have sex with him in order to have children.  Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were each described in the Bible as “barren” for decades, but their husbands did not divorce them as was the practice of that era.  During those decades, Sarah and Rachel told their husbands to have sex with a handmaid to conceive an heir. Also, Abraham is the patriarch, the one who made the initial covenant with God in which, later, the Jewish people saw themselves as God’s chosen.  Yet, Sarah seems to make a lot of decisions that he goes along with, such as banishing her former handmaid Hagar and the teenage boy Ishmael whom Hagar conceived with Abraham, in Genesis 21: The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it […]
June 2, 2019

Book review: “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank

Published in 1959, Alas, Babylon was among the first wave of novels to speculate about how the world, and the United States in particular, would look in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It was not a pretty picture. Actually, for Randy Bragg and his circle of friends in central Florida, life isn’t so bad — at least, in comparison to how it is in the places that took direct H-bomb hits and in the places where the weather isn’t as temperate. They have fresh well water, abundant fish, corn crops, a doctor, a variety of useful skills, a short-wave radio, a location uncontaminated (pretty much) by the nukes and their fallout, a willingness to work together and a leader (Randy). Still…. Grim and grimmer Life after what’s called The Day is lived without electricity, except that which can be supplied by batteries that, pretty soon, die, and without rapidly diminishing supplies of gasoline, liquor, medicine, and with the rise of highwaymen and epidemics and radiation poisoning, and without any official forces of law and order. Alas, Babylon depicts a best-case scenario, circa 60 years ago.  It’s grim. Much grimmer, though, today.  Over the past six decades, nuclear opponents built […]
May 27, 2019

Book review: “Stick” by Elmore Leonard

Nestor and Stick are talking about dreams. For most people, Nestor Soto is a scary dude — a Paraguay-born, Cuba-raised, Miami drug lord, also called El Chaco, a free-basing, voodoo-worshipping stone face whose similarly creepy father-in-law is his enforcer. Stick, aka Ernest Stickley Jr., a 42-year-old Oklahoman, just out of prison for armed robbery, is smart enough to know that Nestor is frightening.  But he also knows or has intuited that the safest thing for him to do is to go into this particular lion’s den and explain that he’s not a threat to tell police about Nestor’s involvement in the murder of one of Stick’s friends.  Nestor takes a liking to Stick’s chutzpah and his reasoning, and the two end up talking about their dreams.  Elmore Leonard writes in his 1983 novel Stick: Nestor dreamed of a jaguar that had walked down the deserted main street of Filadelfia, the town where he was born in the Chaco region of Paraguay.  The street was deserted because of the jaguar, the people watching the wild animal from windows and from doors that were open a few inches.  This jaguar was very likely the one that had killed several cows, a goat […]