Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Captain Maximus - Barry Hannah
My problem with this story collection is that Hannah intentionally creates the impression that his larger-than-life characters are stand-ins for him. The glossy photograph that fills the entire back of the dust jacket shows Hannah astride a motorcycle, wearing black – the whole package, including grimy hands. This outlaw biker clearly has contempt for the sheltered world, but a look at Hannah’s resume (which I did after I read the book) reveals that he spent most of his life in academia, either as a student or teacher. I found the purported likeness the author establishes between himself and his renegade characters to be an annoying conceit. The book itself is something of a scam. It’s only 101 pages long (with wide margins, big print, etc.) and forty of those pages are devoted to a screenplay that’s nothing more than filler. In other words, here’s a “collection” that isn’t one. I can’t say what’s going on with Hannah; maybe he’s a prankster. What I can say for sure – despite all the reservations I’ve brought up – is that Captain Maximus contains a gothic masterpiece. In “Ride, Fly, Penetrate, Loiter” man’s darkest side is unleashed and runs amok. This wild and fierce story is the real thing.

The Stories of Denton Welch - Denton Welch
I read about half. Maybe I missed an excellent story or two – and I do think Welch was capable of writing them. But the majority were just good, and I reached the point where they started to take on a sameness: a vivid moment in time, involving bizarre characters, with a vague conclusion. Mood pieces done with sensitivity – and that’s it.

Tour of the Hebrides - James Boswell
Johnson Lite. I found him an interesting character and liked to read what he said, but there was too much extraneous matter – people, places, events duly recorded. If, in this book, Boswell learned what to do and what not to do, its chief virtue would be as a precursor to his great Life of Samuel Johnson.

Double Honeymoon - Evan Connell
A terrible mistake from an author I greatly respect. It’s about a sick and sordid relationship. The girl is crazy, in every bad and dangerous sense of that word, and Karl, infatuated with her, comes across as a fool. How Connell could have strayed so far from excellence is a mystery to me.

The Crofter and the Laird - John McPhee
An okay book. I finished it only because it was short. McPhee isn’t interested enough in people to hold my attention. The Scottish characters don’t come alive. His wife and four daughters, though with him, could be in Cleveland. In fact, the author himself never emerges as a person. Sometimes he just recites facts.

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