Saturday, January 10, 2009

Regeneration - Pat Barker
Too monochromatic. This is an anti-war novel, and it repeats an old formula – an atrocity, which is the cause of a patient’s trauma, is revealed. Very gory stuff, served in large doses. The romance of Sarah and Prior came alive, but Barker didn’t devote much time to it. Back to the trenches and extended talk of misery. I went AWOL.

Black Weather - Berton Roueche
I like noirish psychological mysteries involving everyday people, so I started this with anticipation. It was a big letdown. Since it was short, I finished it – or did I? I examined the book to see if some last pages had been torn out. None were, so I had to conclude that Roueche had simply never written an ending.

Jill - Philip Larkin
Larkin wrote this when he was twenty-one, and his youth accounts for many of the book’s problems. He had talent, but no idea what to do with it. He gives us a depressing study of a misfit, a humorous memoir of Oxford, a fantasy, a nightmare. It doesn’t add up. But individual scenes are good, and the character of John stands out in all the confusion (probably, I suspect, because Larkin was writing about himself).

A Walker in the City - Alfred Kazin
This memoir didn’t connect with me. There’s too much intellectual filtering going on, and as a result young Alfred remains shadowy. Kazin was a noted literary critic, but he failed to do what a good writer of fiction or autobiography does instinctively: make people predominate over ideas.

The Stories of Katherine Mansfield
A stylist whose prose scintillates. Mansfield uses stream of consciousness successfully, she’s an impressionist painting with words. She’s also a miniaturist, capturing the isolated moment, the momentary feeling. Plot is not her thing. But that’s what I want in a story, and in about half of these there’s not even an implied one. The most atypical piece in the book – “The Woman at the Store” – was the best. It’s a harrowing horror story, executed with calculation and subtlety.

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