Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RIP Challenge

Carl's RIP Challenge ended yesterday and although I'd intended to write lengthy separate posts on all the books I'd read for the challenge, here I am a day late and a dollar short with no more than a few brief words on books I happened to enjoy.

I'm such a bad blogger.

I read James Meek's The People's Act of Love back in September and it will definitely be found on my year's best list no matter how badly I short-shrift it here. The setting is an isolated village in Siberia near the end of the Russian revolution. A small band of Czech soldiers stationed there would like to return home, but their captain's gone insane and prefers to stay. Most of the villagers are religious castrates; their leader, however, had been married before his conversion, and his beautiful, angry "widow" and their son have now taken up residency in the town. Into the mix comes Samarin, an escaped political prisoner from a remote camp, telling of a fellow excapee who'd intended to cannibalize him and is fast on his heels.

'I don't care about that!' shouted Anna. "I don't care, do you understand? I don't care about heavens and hells and gods and demons and tsars and empires and communists and the people this and the people that. Don't tell me any more. I want something for my son's wound and whatever kind of forest witchery comes with it doesn't matter, d'you see?'

If the thought of Dostoyevsky makes you happy, then this is a book you'll want to read.

And if you're still mourning the cancellation of Deadwood, then Oakley Hall's Warlock will be a great comfort. When the mining town of Warlock is terrorized by rustlers who've run off the deputy and killed a nervous barber, the citizens committee, frustrated by the county's refusal to provide protection to the town, takes matters into their own hands. They bring in gunman Clay Blaisdell, the owner of a pair of gold-handled pistols and a lofty reputation, to civilize the town. After a gun battle based loosely on the shootout at the OK Corrall occurs, public opinion, once solidly in Blaisdell's favor, begins to waver. His friendship with nasty saloon owner Tom Morgan, who has an agenda that conflicts with Blaisdell's own, as well as that of Blaidell's new girlfriend, is a cause of concern.

Warlock must also deal with a mining strike and come to terms with its new deputy John Gannon, whose former association with the rustlers towns people find hard to forget. A general gone crazy and the threat of an Indian attack also cause havoc in the town before a final showdown and its aftermath lead to conflagration.

Now the fuse was lit; he vaulted the tie rail, and his boots sank into the soft dust of the street. The sun sat on the peaks, blood-red, like the yolk of a bad egg. He shivered a little in the wind as he turned his back on the sun. He laughed to see the men scampering along the boardwalks as he swaggered out into the street. He had seen towns shot up before. The best he had ever seen at it was Ben Nicholson, but he could beat that. He spat out his cigar, raised Dawson's Colt, and pulled the trigger again. With the blast rocking in his ears he began to howl like a coyote, an Apache, and a rebel all rolled into one.

"Yah--hoo!" he yelled. "I am the worst man in the West! I am the Black Rattlesnake of Warlock! My mother was a timber wolf and my daddy a mountain lion, and I strangled them both the day I was born!"

A great vacation read.

And with Cormac McCarthy's The Road, we're now back to cannibalism. I gulped this one in one setting, the first day back after vacation. It's stylistically very different from Suttree, which I read and loved earlier in the year, more Hemingway than Faulkner this time, but just as worthy of a second more contemplative read. Everyone's reviewing and blogging about this one this month, so I'll just say this is the bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I've read and the best, and leave it at that.

His dreams brightened. The vanished world returned. Kin long dead washed up and cast fey sidewise looks upon him. None spoke. He thought of his life. So long ago. A gray day in a foreign city where he stood in a window and watched the street below. Behind him on a wooden table a small lamp burned. On the table books and papers. It had begun to rain and a cat at the corner turned and crossed the sidewalk and sat beneath the cafe awning. There was a woman at a table there with her head in her hands. Years later he'd stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.

The Italian, Ann Radcliffe's Gothic tale, is still in progress.


  1. So glad you liked The People's Act of Love--despite some of the subject matter--I thought it was an excellent book--definitely one of my favorites this year, too. I need to read Cormac McCarthy's new one--just need to squeeze it in somewhere. Pretty bleak, eh?--that says something!

  2. the McCarthy's such a fast read, it'll be easy for you to squeeze it in if you can find a copy without a long holds list. I never expected it to be such a popular title here.

  3. I did a wrap up post for the challenge today if you're interested. Thanks for participating!!!

  4. I've got the McCormac book on the TBR.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.