Archive for ‘book reviews’

May 15, 2012

Henry Shukman’s Lost City

I recently finished The Lost City by Henry Shukman. Shukman is a British literary gem who writes poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. His writing is on par with big names in the living literati like Eugenides, Murakami, and Franzen and I’m surprised I don’t see his name more. Before reading The Lost City, I read a book he wrote called Savage Pilgrams: On the Road to Santa Fe, a non-fiction account of his love affair with New Mexico where he now lives.  (I lost the book when I was almost to the end and thus couldn’t finish. I’m determined to find it or at least buy it again one of these days!)

The Lost City is a novel about a young British expat named Jackson Small who suffers PTSD and has recently been discharged from the British military. More importantly, he is haunted by a “lost city” in Peru called “La Joya” that his deceased best friend Connelly was obsessed with. Small sets out to Peru in search of the city to honor the memory of Connelly. During his quest, Small meets numerous obstacles and characters integral to his transformation.

The story is a little bit adventure, a little bit travelogue, and flavored with a dose of romance. Unfortunately his love interest, an American named Sarah, is not a fully realized character in my mind. I never connected with her because I never felt like I knew who she really was. Apart from Sarah, the other characters in the book are fully realized. They include a ruthless drug lord, a priest who runs an orphanage, a hippy with two wives, a burned out British consulate, and a tenacious orphan named Ignacio who accompanies Small on most of his adventure.

Most of all, Shukman nails the sense of place in this book like he does in Savage Pilgrims. I’ve been to Peru several times and when I read the book, I marveled at how well Shukman brings the place alive on the page. You can see, hear, smell, and feel the dirty, complicated, and beautiful heart of Peru. He’s obviously traveled there quite a bit. There’s a part in The Lost City that involves Small lost in a place called “The Cloud Forest” that will live with me for the rest of my life. Shukman does natures like few others I’ve read.

This book begs to be made into a film. Frankly, I’m surprised no Hollywood big wigs have picked it up yet I’m glad they haven’t. I don’t think anyone could bring “The Cloud Forest” to life the way Shukman does.

Advertisements
May 5, 2012

‘Lord of the Flies’ Still Reigns

My latest column on PopMatters is now up. It’s a look at Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, the original story about kids surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.

Iggy and Ralph

February 12, 2012

Steffie Can’t Come out to Play Because She’s Hooking on a Street Corner

I posted a while back that, after years of searching, I found a book I loved as a kid. The book is called Steffie Can’t Come out to Play by Fran Arrick. It’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who runs away from the doldrums of her life in small-town Pennsylvania and winds up in NYC hooking for a smooth-talking pimp named “Favor”. As a kid I was completely engrossed and felt Steffie’s plight. (Who doesn’t want to run away at some point when they’re a tween?)

I’m reading the book now, and as an adult, it reads much differently than it did when I was twelve. It’s kind of disgusting. The girl is fourteen and the things she does for her “Favor” are disturbing. I want to shake her and say, “Are you crazy? The guy wears gold chains and calls you ‘sweet face’ and wants to watch you put on pantyhose!”

But it’s hard to put down. The book is well-written and captures early-80s New York so well: the seedy hangouts, the run-down hotels, the discos, the bad furnishings in Favor’s apartment (“The bedroom had mirrors with black streaks like marble running through them. And there was also a tiny fountain built into the floor that had real water running through it.”) And it completely satisfies my love of anything hooker-related. I’m almost done reading it, but I’m slowing down because I don’t want it to end.

On Retrobookshop.com it says the book “springs from [Fran Arrick’s] concern for the fates each year of thousands of young American runaways.” Let this be a warning to any young girls who want to run away into the arms of a guy who has a fountain in his bedroom.

%d bloggers like this: