Sunday, 2 May 2010

The LWOT Panel

We ask the LWOT Panel what's the last great book you read? What made it so great?

Glen Dresser - Correction Road

The last great book I read was Norwood, the 1966 debut novel by Charles Portis.

I love this subtely comic story about a young marine vet, travelling from his home in Ralph, Texas to New York City to collect a $70 debt from an army buddy, and then back home again. In Norwood Pratt, Portis has created a protagonist who is in many ways the opposite of Kerouac's Sal Paradise, although I can imagine the two of them meeting in a boxcar in Pennsylvania or a roadside diner in Virginia and possibly enjoying each other's company for a few miles, despite their differences. (Norwood actually inquires, when in New York, if an acquaintance knows any beatniks, and is introduced to a guitar-playing girl with whom he entirely fails to get anywhere.)

But Norwood, who's dream is to go to Shreveport and sing on the Louisiana Hayride show, tries to believe the best about people, can fall in love quickly and sincerely, and tries to keep his nose clean. In addition to meeting the girl he intends to marry, he befriends the former world's smallest perfect man (no longer so small since his appetite invoked a growth spurt), and liberates a performing chicken named Joann The Wonder Hen. He asks everyone he meets what they earn and if expenses are paid, whether the individual is a cotton field surveyer, a bread delivery man, or a surly Mr Peanut mascot; it is, for him, as innocent a conversation-starter as asking about the weather. The dialog is bright and fast and Portis, from Arkansas himself, does a wonderful job of capturing the dialects of his native region. He constructs a vivid sense of place almost completely through the characters that inhabit each stop along the way.

Craig Davidson - Sarah Court

I read Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane recently and was blown away. I've been reading a lot of crime fiction lately, and that stood out as being particularly wonderful; the crime itself isn't reall a whodunit, although it is - it's just that it's less important overall than the emotions behind the crime, the reaction to it, and the way Lehane handles his character and his setting of working-class Boston that is so brilliant. He's been big with the movies - Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. I've seen and really enjoyed the first two; the third is something of a departure for Lehane and from what I hear not as good, either the book or the film, but it's also his most popular work so far.

Mike Allison - oxygen officianado

I'm going to be honest: the last thing that really impressed me was Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

I know it's not one book, and I realize it isn't the sort of work upon which conversations on "great fiction" are normally based (except among those winding down from games of D&D). It's probably a little derivative -- a patchwork of scenes and themes from books and movies Stephen King grew up reading -- and maybe I wasn't on-board at every turn the narrative took, but the series is great, if only for it's epic-ness. Those seven books haunted Stephen King for over thirty years, and rumour has it he's plugging away on an eighth.

King works his ass off. Maybe he doesn't have a story about genocide in Africa, or of poor immigrants coming to North America, or anything that can be seen as a portrait of a generation. He's just an average joe with some cool, creepy ideas he wants to get out there, and he sits down at his desk every day and hammers them out. As a writer, I can't help but be inspired by that. The Dark Tower series is a testament to what can be done if you want it bad enough.

I could go on, but Stephen King doesn't need any more praise, so I'll end this little Reading Rainbow review by saying: if you at all like cowboys, trains, robots, witches, bad guys, magic, or anything that might fall into the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or western you should read these books (number IV, Wizard and Glass is my favourite -- an excellent western). Or better yet, listen to the audiobooks because the late great Frank Muller reads the first four and he is perfect.

I've embarrassed myself enough for now. Next time I'll outline why Dean Koontz deserves James Joyce's spot on the Modern Library's 100 best novels list.

J.A Tyler - Mud Luscious Press

James Chapman’s The Rat Veda. Mud Luscious Press featured an excerpt in our chapbook series last year, and we will have a new excerpt from it in our eleventh online issue (April 2010), but the book, all together, is beyond tremendous. The power and subtlety that Chapman is able to wrench from words, the combination of emotions and images is truly visionary. He takes simple notions and twists them, burns them, buries them, smothers them until they can’t breathe, until they come out blue-faced and panting and panicked and insatiable. I cannot say enough about Chapman’s skills, and The Rate Veda is a most brilliant example. Here is a little bit, direct from the book:

There’s no subway, no tunnel, no cellar.

The falsehood collapses.

There isn’t any house, the house is a fiction.

There aren’t walls, so there’s not outside and inside.

Those are a misunderstanding.

Rat, walk, you’re free.

You’re not here.

It’s over.

The tension is broken.

The fantasy collapses.

There’s no Rat.

Touch the inside of the moon with your head.

Fly slowly, lying on your back on an atom.

No one thinks about you, no one sees you, you don’t want them to love you, you’re gone.

If you dance, you don’t even know it.

1 comment:

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