Sunday, August 07, 2011

Books read in July

by Susan

I always like the Nick Hornby-style end-of-month posts outlining that month's reading and I'm trying to develop the habit of writing down my impressions, instead of simply appreciating when others do.

Here's what I completed in July (now that we're in the second week of August), with the most recent first:

William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness

Beautiful, alcoholic Peyton Loftis, the sole remaining daughter of the estranged Milton and Helen Loftis, kills herself in New York; her remains are brought home by train to the Virginia Tidewater to be buried. The dark humor of Peyton's funeral procession is interrupted by flashbacks revealing just how deep the dysfunction runs in this mid-20th century family. Everyone feels a victim; everyone behaves badly. Always.

The last chapter is an unholy Quentin Compson/Septimus Smith amalgamation, told in a Molly Bloom narration style. It comes across as more derivative than influenced by, although the fact that Styron managed  a novel like this at a mere 26 years of age is awfully impressive. Wendy and I decided to read this after finishing Alexandra Styron's memoir, Reading My Father, back in June. I'm glad I read it and I'll definitely be reading more Styron, but I think I'd better space them out since they're so dense and dark.

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf.

By now it should be a well-established fact that I have issues where thrillers, particularly thrillers dealing with the occult, are concerned. I can't suspend the little voice inside my head which pipes a persistant "This is stupid" refrain, although I will periodically give one a try.

 So you may be surprised by what I say now: I loved this.

(Granted, at least theoretically I've always been in the werewolf camp, even before my friends and I perfected The Werewolf and The Repossessed Werewolf facial expressions/hand gestures back in high school--yes, yes, we were immature for our age. Not that I ever read much about them or saw many werewolf movies, but just the fact that they were not vampires put me on their side. And we won't even get into how I was known for my wolf howl back in elementary school.)

I thought This is stupid only once while reading about werewolves and vampires and those who hunt them/rescue them and I fully intend to read the sequel. I was too busy enjoying Jacob Marlowe getting from I still have feelings but I'm sick of having them. Which is another feeling I'm sick of having. I just . . . I just don't want any more life to I've stopped abstracting. This is love: You stop bothering about the universal, the general, get sucked instead into the local and particular: Theory and reflection are delicate old uncles bustled out of the way by the boisterous nephews action and desire. Themes evaporate, only plot remains.

Mary Doria Russell's Dreamers of the Day

This isn't of the same caliber of The Sparrow or Doc, but it served my purpose, which was to learn a bit more about how the modern Middle East came about, and have a bit of fun in the process. Plus, it has a dead narrator, a device I always get a kick out of. Caught a whiff of Kevin Brockmier's The Brief History of the Dead in the afterlife, but I don't know if Russell intended it.

Stephen Budiansky's The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War.

A bald fact: more than three thousand freedman and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected governments the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabins by night, or were fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point-blank.

I knew from growing up in the South that generations had been taught a glossed over version of Reconstruction: Yes, the KKK caused problems but things wouldn't have been nearly so bad if it hadn't been for the carpetbaggers; let's move right along to the next chapter in the text and then we'd all go see Gone With the Wind a couple of times the next time it played at the theater and take it as holy writ. Budiansky talks about this, in case your formative years went lighter on the mythology than my own. Otherwise, the situations described in this book were revelatory.

And heartbreaking.

I'll leave it at that.

Linda Grant's We Had It So Good

My first Grant, and one of the books expected by many to at least be longlisted for the Booker; I loved it and wish it had been. My older siblings were first-wave baby boomers, same as the characters here, while I came along 15 years later at the tail end of the generation, and this all seemed very true to the times. But even more, I loved the book for its exploration of how the stories we're told by our families that we accept as truth are often anything but.

Brad Watson's Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

I finished the titular story in this collection of stories in early July, although I started the book back in the spring. Some I enjoyed quite a bit, others left little impression, perhaps because I was at the height of my kitchen remodel mania during May and June. This was a PEN/Faulkner finalist, but one the book blogging community seems to have overlooked. Give it a try when you're in the mood for something a bit weird.


  1. Anonymous8:22 PM

    Wow, The Bloody Shirt sounds fantastic. To the TBR list it goes! :)

  2. Hmmm... well, you've convinced me to think about maybe considering reading The Last Werewolf. I had my heels pretty well dug in because it seemed overly hyped. (I've been in the werewolf camp since my Buffy obsession days, because Oz was the best of all the boyfriends anyone had on that show.)

    And the Bloody Shirt sounds amazing, and I'll take a look at Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives as well.

  3. I am sort of curious about The Last Werewolf. On the one hand I want to avoid paranormal books, but on the other hand it sounds interesting.


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