Posts tagged ‘authors’

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.

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December 6, 2011

David Guterson Wins Bad Sex Award

Today in London, David Guterson won the award no writer wants to win. That would be The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Guterson won the prize for his bad sex scene in Ed King which takes place between a mother and son (ick).

The book is meant to be a rewrite of the Oedipus story. “Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised,” Guterson wrote good-naturedly about receiving the award.

Other authors who were up for the award were Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, and James Frey. Past winners have included Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer.

December 5, 2011

Vonnegut’s Dark Side and What Lurks Behind a Writer’s Words

A negative tell-all has Kurt Vonnegut fans glowering. And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles Shields depicts the literary giant as a sad, angry, and sometimes cruel man. Shield’s look at Vonnegut delves into his personal woes, which included a failed first marriage, a bad second marriage, and fall-outs with his kids.

This doesn’t sit well with critics. The Guardian calls it “unsparing in its portrayal of Vonnegut’s dark side.”  The New York Times called Shields’s portrayal “sad, often heartbreaking”.  I can understand not wanting to read the harsh realities of  someone’s life, especially someone who wrote funny, witty novels sprinkled with obvious fondness for the written word.

Too bad life doesn’t imitate art.

Honestly, from what I’ve read, I’m surprised Vonnegut wasn’t downright insane.  He wasn’t exactly dealt an easy hand. When Vonnegut was in the Army and home on a pass visiting his parents, his mother committed suicide. This was on Mother’s Day. Later, as a P.O.W. in World War II, he was torchered by a German guard. Following these events, his sister and her husband died within the space of a day and Vonnegut took their kids in with his own, despite not being emotionally or financially up for the job.

On a side note, a professor in graduate school once told me he was at a party at Vonnegut’s  back in the ’70s. Apparently Vonnegut was drunk and yelling about how much he hated poets. He then turned to said-professor and chastised him for being one of those “lousy poets” to which said-professor took a swing at Vonnegut and hit him in the jaw.

Personally, I  don’t want the dirt on those who write my favorite books. When I found out that Ray Bradbury is cantankerous, I was heartbroken.  How could a man who wrote lines like, “There are those days which seem a taking in of breath which, held, suspends the whole earth in its waiting.” be a grouch?  Despite this desire to preserve my smoochy-boochy writer fantasy, there are some writers who make their demons into their career and it’s no big surprise to learn they went batshit crazy in the end. Take Sylvia Plath, for example. Her dark fantasies made incredible poetry and I read nearly every one of her biographies with salacious delight.

In the end, the I-don’t-want-to-meet-my-hero-because-he-might-be-an-asshole choice might be the best one. Or maybe we should just adjust our expectations into not believing that everyone should make lemonade when life hands them lemons. It’s hard not to expect lemonade, however, from a writer who wrote about aliens that look like toilet plungers.

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