Book Reports

Recent reading (as in books, paper ones):

1. Richard Stark's "Parker" novels slug you in the gut and walk away. The stories, being republished by U. of Chicago press, have new forwards by John Banville and Luc Sante in the proud tradition of explaining to dumb Americans how good their "popular" writers are. The adventures of an amoral heister who, like the author, has everybody's number. Just learned from Wikipedia that the Godard movie Made in USA was based on The Jugger. The late Donald Westlake (Richard Stark's real identity) sued to stop distribution in America. Wikipedia is silent on whether the movie's belated release stateside had anything to do with Westlake's death.

2. Donald Westlake's "Dortmunder" novels. More trifling than the Parker books but amusing for their in-depth New York locations.

3. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. 800 pages of literary scientifiction puzzlement set in a dying Earth landscape. This is considered a classic but I wonder how much appeal it has outside the hard core of genre readers. Much of the draw is figuring out which tropes (laser weapons, dimensional gates, neurological drugs) are being described by the ignorant, unreliable narrator in this post-apocalyptic medieval setting. Wolfe's visual imagination (strangely claustrophobic and inward-looking even when the vistas are soaring) and his oddball archaic language (based on historical research rather than the usual penchant for calling aliens names like "Qwarlo") keep you reading.

4. Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman. The friend who lent me this tells me it is Amis' self-caricature. In the mold of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One and Nabokov's books where a sophisticate from across the pond recoils in horror at American slick empty-headedness. Roger Micheldene, the narrator, offers no alternative: for all his verbal dexterity he is a consummate horse's ass. I found myself looking forward to Micheldene's sparring with a young beat-ish writer, who is also a jerk.