A review of “Iron Lake” by William Kent Kreuger

So, I was looking forward to reading this book as it had been highly recommended, and I did like it, but not as much as I expected. To begin with the main character Cork O’Connor is interesting and likable. He is part American Indian and there are quite a lot of American Indian characters in the book, known collectively as “the people” which interested me very much as I know nothing of their culture.

The story is gripping from the off – incomprehensible murders, a wealthy politician, a crumbling marriage, a sweet love story – and secrets and silence everywhere. An occasional mention of a supernatural element adds to the whole but doesn’t intrude. There’s an easygoing quality as well, and many back stories, but they are so engaging – and easygoing doesn’t mean slow.

However. nearing the end of the book I found that some situations were very contrived to allow the hero to unravel the mystery. Also, the denouement is very drawn out and quite boring. It was disappointing after so good a story.

There isn’t any quotable dialogue here but the pace and shape of the story is good. This is the first in a series of books featuring Cork O’Connor and I will definitely read another one in the future. If formally reviewing this book, I would give it three and a half stars.

Five Best Endings . . .

I got the idea for this post from Stephen Writes at Top Five Memorable Endings I Read In 2020 – Stephen Writes (wordpress.com) and he kindly allowed me to use his idea. For me the ending of a book, the last sentence, indeed the last paragraph, is very important. Often, especially in thrillers, the last few pages are long-drawn out and boring. So when you love a book, and are approaching the end, it’s great when the last words are just as good – and just as important – as the beginning.

No. 1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

The story is about two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are sent by their boss to kill someone. They have various adventures on their journey. The younger of the two is tired of the harsh life they lead and wants to go home. Here’s the wonderful last paragraph:

“I dropped into sleep but awoke with a start some minutes later. I could hear Charlie in the next room, washing himself in the bath tub. He was saying nothing and would say nothing, I knew, but the sound the water made was like a voice, the way it hurried and splashed, chattering, then falling quiet but for the rare drip, as if in humble contemplation. It seemed to me I could gauge from these sounds the sorrow or gladness of their creator; I listened intently and decided that my brother and I were, for the present at least, removed from all earthly dangers and horrors.

And might I say what a pleasing conclusion this was for me.”

No. 2. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

When Quoyle, discovers that his wife has been unfaithful, he heads for his ancestral home on the wild coast of Newfoundland with his two small daughters. He secures a job on the local paper, reporting on the shipping news. This book is the story of his life there, and the characters he meets. It finishes thus:

“Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. A row of shining hubcaps on sticks appeared in the front yard of the Burkes’ house. A wedding present from the bride’s father.

For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat;s blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

No. 3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I’m sure everyone knows this story of the Joad family, and their trek through the Oklahoma dust bowl during the great depression of the 1930s in America. At the end of the book they take shelter in a barn where they find a man dying of hunger, and his small son. The daughter of the family, Rose of Sharon, (Rosasharn) has just given birth to a still-born child, and sharing a deep look with her mother, agrees to breast-feed the dying man:

“For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoisted her tired body up and drew the comforter about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. ‘You got to,’ she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head closed. ‘There,’ she said. ‘There.’ Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.”

No. 4. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

From the blurb on the back of this book – It is a murder thriller, a hilarious comic satire about an archetypal village police force, a surrealistic version of eternity, and a tender, brief, erotic story about the unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle.

“We saw, standing with his back to us, an enormous policeman. His back appearance was unusual. He was standing behind a little counter in a neat whitewashed dayroom; his mouth was open and he was looking into a mirror which hung upon the wall.

‘It’s my teeth,’ we heard him say abstractedly and half-aloud. ‘Nearly every sickness is from the teeth.’

His face, when he turned, surprised us. It was enormously fat, red and widespread, sitting squarely on the neck of his tunic with a clumsy weightiness that reminded me of a sack of flour. The lower half of it was hidden by a violent red moustache which shot out from his skin far into the air like the antennae of some unusual animal . . . He came over ponderously to the inside of the counter and Divney and I advanced meekly from the door until we were face to face.”

‘Is it about a bicycle?’ he asked.

No. 5. Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen

I’ve always been a fan of The Boss and I know he writes his own songs, but still, I was a bit surprised by how good his writing is in this autobiography. The book flowed along and I thought the prose was delicious. This is how he finishes the book – he is riding his motorbike south to Manasquan Inlet:

“My “ape hanger” high-rise handlebars thrust my arms out and skyward to shoulder height, opening me up to the winds full force – a rough embrace – as my gloved hands tighten their grip on that new evening sky. The cosmos begins to flicker to life in the twilight above me. With no fairing, a sixty-mile-per-hour gale steadily pounds into my chest, nudging me to the back of my seat, subtly threatening to blow me off six hundred pounds of speeding steel, reminding me of how the next moment holds no guarantees . . . and of how good things are, this day, this life, how lucky I’ve been, how lucky I am. I turn the corner off the highway onto a dark country road. I hit my high beams, scan the flat farm fields looking for deer. All clear, I twist the throttle as rushing into my arms comes home.”

That will do for now. Reading all these wonderful writers makes me question my ability to write, or even to put a sentence together. I’m very happy that the world is full of so many wonderful books – I’ll probably do another five endings in the future!

First lines Friday – with a nod to A Couple of B’s!

FIRST LINES:

“To the red country and part of the grey country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The ploughs crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the grey country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover.”

Can you guess that novel?

A hint: It’s a famous novel and a famous movie by a famous American writer.

You will all have guessed I’m sure!

The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.

Link to A Couple of B’s – A Couple of B’s ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

The Top Three!

Last week was a strange one for me with various family situations, now resolved. Today I resume my routine. This morning I was out for my walk along the river and I thought very hard about which three books I loved the most; I came up with these three. David Copperfield, Catch 22 and Redhead by the Side of the Road. Which surprised me a little as my favourite writer for some years now is Patrick de Witt.

I first read David Copperfield when I was at school and I’ve read it at least twice since; so many wonderful characters, so many quotes still in my head. There was Peggotty, who worked as cook and maid in his mother’s house until she agreed to marry Mr Barkis, who signalled his intentions with the phrase,”Barkis is willin’.” And the wonderful Mr Micawber who was always sure that “something will turn up” and his wife declaring that she “would never desert” Mr Micawber. I’m going to stop with quotes here or I’ll be writing all day! I will just mention David’s cousins who lived in an upturned boat on the beach in Yarmouth; the boy he met in school called Steerforth who was a bad ‘un and became involved with Rosa Dartle. I can’t leave out his Aunt Betsey who took him in and cared for him and called him “Trotwood”. David’s first wife, Dora, made very little impression on me but apparently she was based on Dicken’s real-life first love. There are many more I could include and many, many quotes but – enough!

Catch 22 I first read in my twenties and again, I’ve read it many times since. It makes me laugh so much. Sometimes I stand at the book case and open it at random . . . I could be standing there for a long time! And sometimes I remember various passages when I’m on a bus or a train and I have to keep myself from laughing out loud. The first chapter sets the tone; the chaplain appears at Yossarian’s hospital bedside and begins a conversation. Yossarian doesn’t realise he is the chaplain and thinks he’s another mad soldier but he is happy to continue the conversation:

“Oh, pretty good,” he answered. “I’ve got a slight pain in my liver and I haven’t been the most regular of fellows, I guess, but all in all, I must admit that I feel pretty good.”

“That’s good,” said the chaplain.

“Yes,” Yossarian said. “Yes, that is good.”

The conversation continues in this vein with many – that’s good, yes that is good, and that’s bad, yes that is bad – until Yossarian realises he’s talking to the chaplain and is disappointed that there is a sane reason for the visit.

And what about Major Major Major Major whose father marches along the hospital corridor and register’s his son’s birth in the name of Major Major, unbeknownst to his resting wife. And the episode where the soldiers are listening to a speech by one of the Generals and they begin to moan at the sight of the General’s bosomy nurse, started by Yossarian of course. Ah yes . . .

Finally, Redhead by the Side of the Road. I won’t say much about this book as I recently posted a review on it. Suffice to say, when I was reading it, I carried it about with me and had many conversations with the main character, Micah Mortimer. Happy days!

An excerpt from the wonderful book – The Grapes of Wrath.

This page from The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me for forty years at least. I could feel the heat, smell the dust, see the insects going about their business, and most of all, the land turtle, star of the scene.

The sun lay on the grass and warmed it, and in the shade under the grass the insects moved, ants and ant lions to set traps for them, grasshoppers to jump into the air and flick their yellow wings for a second, sow bugs like little armadillos, plodding restlessly on many tender feet. And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging its high-domed shell over the grass. His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along. The barley beards slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like finger-nails, stared straight ahead. He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill, which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment. Front clawed feet reached forward but did not touch. The hind feet kicked his shell along and the horny head protruded as far as the neck could stretch . . .

For a moment the turtle rested. A red ant ran into the shell, into the soft skin inside the shell, and suddenly head and legs snapped in, and the armoured tail clamped in sideways. The red ant was crushed between body and legs . . . For a long moment the turtle lay still, and then the neck crept out and the old humorous frowning eyes looked about and the legs and tail came out . . .

Now the going was easy, and all the legs worked, and the shell boosted along, waggling from side to side. A sedan driven by a forty-year old woman approached. She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up. Two wheels lifted for a moment and then settled. The car skidded back onto the road, and went on, but more slowly. The turtle had jerked back into its shell, but now it hurried on, for the highway was burning hot.

And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway . . . Lying on its back, the turtle was tight in its shell for a long time. But at last its legs waved in the air, reaching for something to pull it over. Its front foot caught a piece of quartz and little by little the shell pulled over and flopped upright. The wild oat head fell out and three of the spearhead seeds stuck in the ground. And as the turtle crawled on down the embankment its shell dragged dirt over the seeds. The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell. The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toe-nails slipped a fraction in the dust.

Isn’t this wonderful? I left out a few bits – it’s very long, but unforgettable – for me anyway. Steinbeck rocks!

A Review – Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.

The first and last sections pose a question:

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:

‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘

This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:

‘“Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’

I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.

Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it extremely irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. But Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never occurs to Micah that she would like to move in with him and this causes a breach between them.

‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘

And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them back equally.

I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:

‘Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.’

I found the writing warm, humourous, and delicious. When Micah meets his old girlfriend, he says:

‘ . . . she was so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.’

It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. And one final quote – I can’t leave it out:

“I’m a roomful of broken hearts.”

The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be.

I am very happy to give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

A Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler.

I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.

The first and last sections pose a question:

‘You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.’

I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:

‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘

This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:

‘”Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’

I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.

Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school-teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. Now Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never ocurs to Micah that she’s waiting for him to invite her to move in with him and this causes a – mostly unspoken – breach between them.

‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘

And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them equally.

I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:

‘”Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.”‘

I found the writing warm and humourous, and delicious – when Micah meets his old girlfriend:

‘” . . . she ws so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.”‘

It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be. I should refer to the redhead of the title – a fire hydrant Micah always thought was a person when he caught a glimpse of it, although he knew it was not. To me, it just meant that Micah had imagination but perhaps there is a deeper, hidden meaning to it. I don’t know.

Hidden meaning or not, I give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

Endings . . .

Many books have very disappointing endings, especially thrillers. The last few chapters are boring dreary things with the detective/policeman/woman explaining in tedious detail how she/he unraveled the plot. With other genres it’s as if the writer flounders a bit and doesn’t know quite where to finish the tale. But then there are wonderful books with wonderful endings and here are a couple of them:

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. A row of shining hubcaps on sticks appeared in the front yard of the Burke’s house. A wedding present from the bride’s father . . . Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fires, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.”

Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

“I will try to be happy, you think, and your heart and chest feel a plummeting, as in the case of the hurtling rollercoaster, and your heart wants to cry and sob, but you, not wanting to cry, hit yourself hard in the center of your chest and it hurts so much but you drive on, your face dry and remaining dry, though it had been a close call, after all. Time passes and you shake your head. Work will drive you crazy if you let it, you say. You do not speak for a long time after this.”

I can read these books any number of times. Every word is in the right place, the last sentence as important as the first.

A Review: Rainy Season by Kurt Brindley.

“The sound of falling rain washed into the room like a wave, drowning out the lonely cry of the crooner’s trumpet over the sound system.”

The plot:

Kaito and Takako own and run a jazz club in Tokyo – “The Low Point”, red and blue neon lights pointing the way down the steps to the entrance. They are in financial trouble, worried and anxious about how to keep up their loan repayments. They try to keep the business going by hiring a singer – they are looking for someone really good to bring in the crowds and they find the beautiful Mikako. They have a regular customer, an American, known as Rich, a good-looking, blonde-haired man with an eye patch who lives in an apartment close by. He sits at a corner table and writes in a leather-covered journal while he drinks and smokes heavily. We see from his writings that his heart is broken but we don’t know why. When he hears Mikako singing for the first time he is immediately attracted to her and it soon becomes apparent that she returns the compliment. However, while leaning over his balcony one evening Rich spots a heavy-set man in black following her from the club.

The main characters:

Rich, the American writes of love and loss in his journal but you can see from his writings that it isn’t just a love affair gone wrong – it is a lot heavier than that:

“And how is it that the root of both physical and emotional suffering originates from the same location in the brain, for, can the swift agony of a broken femur ever compare to the eternal aching of a broken heart?”

His melancholy never lifts; he feeds it with whiskey and cigarettes, but he is polite and friendly and helpful, and he becomes very fond of the club owners. You get the impression as you read that he could be very good company if he wasn’t so sad.

Takako is a dote; you’d have to like her. She is loving and happy, giddy and determined; she wants everyone else to be happy too; sometimes she isn’t very tactful but she gets away with it. No one could be angry with her.

Her boyfriend, Kaito tolerates her enthusiasms with fondness and amusement but he is terribly worried about the future and he works hard to secure it for both of them.

Mikako, the beautiful, elegant, talented singer brings changes to all their lives. Rich is half in love with her, and she brings in a huge crowd, which thrills Kaito and Takako; for the moment their worries are over.

The writing:

This book is called “Rainy Season” and rain permeates the whole novel, as if the whole story was contained inside the rain – and I loved this. Here’s a picture of Rich, leaning over his balcony as usual:

“He leaned against the rail and smoked and watched the shadowed, glistening city as it slept within the downpour.”

I found the writing lyrical and rhythmic; words repeated making the prose like music. Indeed, I thought at one time, if I had a tune I could sing this book:

“Candlelight shimmered off her black sequin dress like the promise of a million stars.”

The writer uses many lovely adjectives. I have often heard that adjectives and adverbs should never be used. Bad advice. Should writing be plain and colourless? Look at Dickens – where would he have been with no adjectives, he often uses several in a single sentence!

Overall:

This is a book that would make you want to go to Tokyo, to drink whiskey in “The Low Point”, to chat with Kaito and Takako, and to watch the endless rain reflected in the neon lights and on the dark, wet streets of the city. The cover is great too – it almost tells the story. One last quote:

“He set his can of beer down slowly, carefully, and strained to listen through the hard-falling rain. But all he could hear were the sounds beneath him of tires hissing on wet asphalt and heels clicking on wet concrete.”

I happily give this book 5 Stars.

10 movies/series as good as, if not better than the books.

  1. Death in Venice – I read the short story, but oh, that wonderful movie!
  2. Gone with the wind – again, unforgettable movie.
  3. The Godfather – I read the book decades of years ago. I couldn’t read it now but the movie is still terrific.
  4. The Forsyte Saga: I have this (in three volumes) three times over the years, but I have to admit that the very first series, with Eric Porter as Soames, was tremendous.
  5. Brideshead Revisited – who could forget that wonderful series, so rich and deep and colourful, every character perfect.
  6. A Room with a View. I have read all of E M Forster’s books, and I have seen the movies but this one in particular is an absolute joy and delight.
  7. Misery. I find it almost impossible to read Stephen King – he’s too much for me – but Misery was a great movie – I’ve never trusted Cathy Bates since!
  8. The Shining – again a great movie. Who could ever forget Jack Nicholson?
  9. The Shawshank Redemption. I think I’ve seen it three times, I’ve only read the short story once.
  10. Brokeback Mountain. When I first read this book, I thought it was the loving-est love story I had ever read and I made everyone I knew read it too. I worried about a movie coming out but it was great, the two guys were marvelous and it looked lovely too.

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