Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Eli and Charlie Sisters are hit men for the Commodore during the California Gold Rush.  Eli narrates their adventures in search of their next target, Hermann Warm, but Charlie is the boss and the more lethal of the two brothers.  They basically spare no one on their journey to Warm’s camp, and all this bloodshed seemed a bit gratuitous to me.  Anyway, Eli is ready to quit the business after this last job (where have we heard this before?), and he’s a bit of a softie, considering his line of work.  He passes up the opportunity for a better horse, even though his horse Tub lives up to his name in that he’s not swift of foot.  After Tub’s eye gets bashed in, Eli starts to feel guilty about his treatment of Tub but shows no remorse for the men he and Charlie have murdered.  Charlie rationalizes that those men were all bad anyway, but Warm does not fit the pattern at all.  He’s an inventor with a formula for making gold dust more visible in water, and the Commodore insists that Charlie and Eli obtain the formula before they kill Warm.  Warm and the Commodore’s scout, Henry Morris, have joined forces and found that the formula has grisly, unexpected side effects that change the course of their whole enterprise, not to mention the Sisters brothers plans.  This book is supposed to be darkly comic, but for me it was dark but not comic, especially the crude surgery on poor Tub’s eye.  I guess I felt more sympathy for the horse than the people, too, because the people are mostly despicable, after all.  Still, the story moves at a good pace, and Eli’s deadpan narration is engaging, comic or not.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Arturo Belano, a stand-in for the author, and Ulises Lima are two poets who call themselves visceral realists but seem to make a living selling Acapulco Gold.  The original visceral realist was Cesarea Tinajero, who published a poem in the 1920s that was essentially a series of three line drawings.  Lima’s and Belano’s adventures are told through the voices of more narrators than I could possibly count or keep track of.  These narratives are like journal entries that span several decades (from the 1970s to the 1990s), and either Lima or Belano appears in most of them.  Ulises Lima disappears for a while in Managua, Nicaragua, while on a writers’ junket.  Belano, a Chilean, travels the world; we meet him in Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Mexico City, Paris, and Africa.  There’s a duel with swords on a beach in Spain, an ambush in Liberia, an interesting use of the counting of seconds with “one Mississippi,” etc., a murderous pimp, some muggings, weird odors, a magazine named Lee Harvey Oswald, and two narrators who speak from mental health facilities.  Belano and Lima are dismissive of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and especially Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who also puts in an appearance in the book.  The first narrator, who doesn’t show up again until the last chapter, is a young man who stockpiles a bit of cash by betting on soccer pools using numbers that come to him in visions.  Given all that happens in this novel, it should not be boring, but it was for me, not to mention too wacky and disjointed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Anna Fox, a child psychologist, is a PTSD sufferer with agoraphobia, meaning that, in her case, she is terrified of going outside.  She spends her time watching Hitchcock movies, drinking heavily, counseling fellow agoraphobia victims online, and watching her Harlem neighbors through the telephoto lens of her Nikon.  At first, her inventorying of her various neighbors is a little tedious, but then she becomes embroiled in the lives of the Russell family—Alistair, Jane, and their teenage son Ethan.  Jane Russell, in particular, is difficult for Anna to get a handle on, because googling her name just presents a lot of info about the 1950s-era movie actress.  When Anna believes she has witnessed a murder, things start to get really murky.  Did it really happen, or was Anna so wasted that she hallucinated the whole thing?  The trauma that has rendered her a shut-in is revealed little by little, adding even more suspense to the story.  I figured out one aspect of the story, but mostly I was caught off guard by the revelations at the end.  Is the book totally believable?  Absolutely not, but sometimes a little escapism is just the ticket.  I certainly hoped for Anna’s recovery, but the novel is full of people who are kind to her, even as she pursues a neighbor into a coffee shop in the rain, clad in her bath robe.  This woman is so unbalanced that I think I would have avoided her at all costs.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

FOREST DARK by Nicole Krauss

This is my least favorite Nicole Krauss novel so far.  Still, it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever read.  The two main characters are both in Israel and undergoing life changes, but other than that, they don’t seem to have anything in common.  Moreover, their stories never converge, so that this is like two novels squashed together.  Their only definite overlap happens to be with a gold-toothed taxi driver who drops one character in the desert and picks up the other character on his way back to Tel Aviv.  This coincidence at least confirms that the stories are taking place concurrently.  Jules Epstein has retired from his New York law practice and has a sudden urge to give everything away.  He would also like to create some sort of memorial to his parents in Israel, even though his childhood was not exactly pleasant.  He crosses paths with a rabbi and his filmmaker daughter, but honestly, Epstein’s story did not grab me, although one of my favorite scenes in the book involves his doorman in New York.  The other character tells her story in first person and refers to herself at least once as Nicole (semi-autobiographical?).  She is a successful novelist but has gotten stuck trying to start her next book and is reexamining the state of her marriage.  She abruptly leaves her family for Tel Aviv after being contacted about a project there with a man named Friedman, who may have been a member of the Mossad.  The project turns out to involve Franz Kafka whose death from tuberculosis at the age of 40 was possibly faked.  She eventually has her own very Kafkaesque experience, which brings on even more self-reflection.  This book just did not resonate with me at all, and I found it hard to follow, especially given the almost dream-like quality of the storyline, or, I should say, storylines.