Hedgehogs have scattered far and wide for the summer—but we’re determined to get through that stack of books. Here are some of the things we’re reading. What about you?
Jay Tolson (Editor)
If you want a good a take on the inner lives of the people who are said to be the core supporters of Donald J. Trump—that is, the underemployed and deeply discouraged members of America’s white working class—then you could do no better than pick up a copy of Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool. Take this not on my own authority but the author’s. He recently said so, with a touch of ruefulness, in an interview on NPR. Russo has been exploring this social terrain long before Trump became a serious (did I just say serious?) contender for the presidency, in eight previous works of well-wrought fiction and a memoir.
This, Russo’s most recent novel, revisits the same fictional territory (the upstate New York town of North Bath) and takes up many of the same characters he explored so compellingly in Nobody’s Fool. Donald “Sully” Sullivan (played by Paul Newman in the 1994 film adaptation of the earlier novel) is back, the stoic anti-hero who retains his quiet philosophical calm as things human and physical (including one of the town’s major buildings) fall apart. The novel opens fittingly with a description of the town’s cemetery, the only thing that seems to be growing in North Bath: “The plot of land set aside on the outskirts of town became crowded, then overcrowded, then chock-full, until finally the dead broke containment, spilling across the now-paved road onto the barren flats and reaching as far as the new highway spur that led to the interstate. Where they’d head next was anybody’s guess.” That, we soon learn, is not the only way the dead affect the lives of North Bath’s struggling survivors. If the novel is elegiac, it is also deeply funny, a comedy for our times.
Leann Davis Alspaugh (Managing Editor)
The great book upheaval after moving house continues and I’m rediscovering several old favorites that I want to re-read. A friend mentioned that he’s re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree for the fifth time and while that is one of my favorites, too, I read it (for the third time) about a year ago. This summer, I plan on heading into the sunset with another McCarthy novel, Blood Meridian, a happy tale about marauding scalp-hunters led by the quasi-mythical and brutally violent Judge.
New reading will include one (or all) of the three Barbara Pym novels that I recently found at the Decatur Bookstore in New Orleans: The Sweet Dove Died, Quartet in Autumn, and A Glass of Blessings. I also have Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Arthur Lewis, World War I flying ace and BBC co-founder. I just finished Y.T. by Alexei Nikitin, a short novel about surveillance, conspiracy, and nostalgia for the past. Nikitin’s book has hilarious elements of surrealism blunted by the banality of Soviet bureaucracy still lingering in 1980s Ukraine. Ultimately, the book was a little disappointing, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that that was the part of the author’s intended effect. (Extra credit to Melville House for a fine new English translation by Anne Marie Jackson)
At present, I’m working my way through Annie Proulx’s latest, Barkskins. This generational saga of early settlers and native people in New France (Canada) progresses—gallops, really—from the seventeenth century to modern times, traveling between the New World, Europe, and Asia. At times, one senses that Proulx is trying to keep the horse from bolting, but, she still has a knack for detecting human absurdity and I’m grateful that she keeps what is surely a novel disguised as an environment admonition from becoming a tiresome screed. (Thanks, William T. Vollmann, for the spoiler in your New York Times review.)
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