Coronado and Mystery Walk

Days without return call from landlord: almost two

What we ate for dinner Monday night, sans oven: bok choy and pork stirfry with lots and lots of garlic and olive oil, cooked in the wok. S. loved it and gave it the highest of praise, saying “I would eat that again.” I would, too.

So I’m cheating a bit here and lumping two RIP reads together although I haven’t finished Mystery Walk, yet. But I am halfway through and I’m familiar enough with McCammon’s work that I feel confident in reviewing it in time for the RIP deadline.  For the next several days I need to concentrate on meeting my goals for my writing workshop, which includes re-reading and fixing any typos in Chapter 4 of my novel for submission, finishing Lolita and engaging more in the goals of the group. I took the month of October off because work kept me from attending, and I’m really excited to return. I sort of hope our group continues to read books together – it’s such a great excuse to curl up with a novel for hours on end.

Coronado, by Dennis LeHane

There is a certain contigent of people I know – namely my brother, my dad, me and anyone else who happens to be a Dennis LeHane fan – that is anxiously awaiting LeHane’s next novel.  LeHane has written seven novels so far, the first five of which center around private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. I still remember reading the Patrick and Angela novels. My brother was living with me in Pittsburgh and S. was already in Michigan beginning his law degree. I must have checked one out on some sort of whim, but I loved it so much I forced it on D. immediately after I finished. He read it, loved it, and with that I went to Barnes and Noble, bought the other four, and over the course of a few weeks we traded them back and forth, completely caught up in LeHane’s characters and setting.  After the Patrick and Angie novels, LeHane wrote Mystic River and Shutter Island – both outstanding novels, in my opinion, although the former has received more attention.  Shutter Island is extremely frightening and I stayed up until dawn finishing it so I could resolve Teddy’s situation before falling asleep.

I know it’s completely uncool to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. I generally do not like short stories. I know short stories have inspired hundreds of thousands of fiction writers, but to be honest I’ve never understood why. Most of the time, if I had to choose between reading a short story or an essay, I will always choose the essay.  And oh, I’ve read the greats – I’ve read Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates and Ernest Hemingway and I leave even their short stories wondering why this form is preferable to the novel. I’m the kind of girl – I like to sink my teeth into something. But since I was behind on the RIP challenge and had very little time to read, I turned to LeHane, thinking surely he – he among all my many favorite writers – could turn me onto the short story form.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.  Sometimes, a girl just needs to turn to her father for proper book criticism, so here, in the words of Paul Bray, is a totally accurate and fair summation of this collection:

Good God. There isn’t one moment of levity – one happy thing – to juxtapose all the serious crap he’s writing about.  I mean, I like characters who struggle, and I don’t believe the world is a happy-happy place, but as a writer LeHane has always managed to highlight very human humor found in drastic situations. This book is one depressing person and event after another – I wish I hadn’t read it.

So, there you have it. A girl in my workshop once said (I think she was quoting from Joyce, but I’m not sure) that short stories are the place where the misfits go – characters that can’t be confined or fit into the more traditional novel. I loved thinking of short stories like that, and even tried my hand at writing a couple because Lord knows I have enough misfit characters wandering around my novel to fill 2 or 3 story collections, but in the end I came to realize that I’m simply in the middle of a love affair – a love affair that began in elementary school and will never end – I’m in love with the novel. I want to read novels, I want to write novels, I want to talk to everybody ABOUT novels. And certainly this is presumptuous of me, but I think LeHane is the same way. When I read Coronado, I found characters in every story screaming for a novel of their own – I found stories that could have served easily as novel plots. I think LeHane is naturally a better novelist than a short story writer, and I am greatly looking forward to whatever he produces next.

Mystery Walk

Do you know Robert McCammon? Have you spent time with his books? He’s just – aaaah! He’s just great. Great – combination of fantasy/horror – like Stephen King and Peter Straub meeting up with Ray Bradbury. Actually, I hesitate to review this book, because either you read McCammon or you don’t, and if you don’t you probably don’t want to waste your time reading about him here.  He’s really wonderful at crafty a fantasy journey story, which is what Mystery Walk happens to be.  Okay, so it’s possible, now that I’m putting fingers to keypad, that I haven’t read enough of the book to review it.  But don’t you just have those old reliable authors you love, who never disappoint you? Who can create a world so believable, so entrancing, that you are completely sucked in and don’t emerge until the very last page, even if that world is menaced with shape shifters, evil preachers, Satan, wolf-men, psychotic mothers, spiritual healers, shifts in dimension  barely perceptible? Authors who aren’t considered “literary,” authors who will probably never win the big prizes, but who reliably create some of the best stories you’ve ever read? That’s Robert McCammon for me, and he does not disappoint with this.

So, that’s my reading for now, and at this point I am going to ask for your help.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve decided to attend AWP this year (by the way, there will be a blogger meetup during this time period – if you are interested look for more details to come!) – here is a link to the featured authors – http://www.awpwriter.org/conference/2008headliners.php

I would like to spend the next three months really concentrating on some of the authors I’m not familiar with, and could use some reading guidance. I am of course very familiar with John Irving, E.L. Doctorow, A.S. Byatt, Mark Strand, Robert Pinsky, Joyce Carol Oates, Frank McCourt, Philip Lopate, Amy Hempel, Charles Simic, Martin Amis, Edwidge Danticat, Francine Prose and Sandra Cisneros – but I have no read comprehensively from any of the above except Irving. If I didn’t list an author from the site, that means I have no idea who he/she is. Soo….do you know any of these writers? What should I be reading? Do you have a favorite text from any of the above, or any on the site? I finally have a reason to pull out my copy of Possession, and I own a ton of unread Prose…what would you read to prepare for the conference? Any guidance you can give me would be greatly appreciated. I don’t plan to do any other reading until after the conference as this is such a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear these authors read! I’m spending enough money on this conference – I want to be as well prepared as possible.

Thanks for any thoughts you can provide!

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6 Responses to Coronado and Mystery Walk

  1. Dorothy W. says:

    The poets are really jumping out at me — I loved Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris, and Sharon Olds’s The Father was powerful. But Gluck especially — she’s someone I want to return to.

  2. Litlove says:

    That conference looks amazing – gosh I wish I could go. Ummm, reading-wise, I loved A S Byatt’s Still Life and her Angels and Insects (as well as Possession). Doctorow’s Ragtime is supposed to be the place to start, as is The Rachel Papers for Martin Amis (I find his other stuff too boyish and pretentious). Joyce Carol Oates, I really liked Beasts, a novella and Francine Prose’s Lives of the Muses is wonderful. The rest I don’t really know and am looking forward to hearing other’s recommendations, too!

  3. Emily Barton says:

    With the exception of ghost stories, I don’t like short stories much, either. I think it may come from having them forced on me in high school, but I also have that need to sink my teeth into something and to know the characters. Short stories don’t give enough space for in-depth characterization, and good ones probably really shouldn’t. Can’t help you with many of those authors, as they’re all (with the exception of Irving) ones I’ve been meaning to read for years but haven’t. I’ve read Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and enjoyed it, but ultimately decided it was over-rated.

  4. Becky says:

    I’m with you on short stories. I’ll read Alice Munro and A.L Kennedy and that’s about it. I wasn’t impressed with Coronado either, and I’ve also read everything else by Lehane (and, by the way, enjoyed the film of Gone, Baby, Gone – am v hopeful for more good films of his books; I think Shutter Island is up next).

    I have to say I hadn’t even heard of most of the authors you’re looking at next. Now I have to go and look them up! But, I liked Possession

  5. Courtney says:

    Dorothy – thanks for the tip on the poets – I am woefully under educated about poetry so I will move to those poets, first.
    Litlove – hmm, I think you need to fly to New York to help with your recuperation. Forget about the long flight, the cold weather – come and meet me, Emily, Dorothy, the hobgoblin – seriously. It will be good!
    Emily – I do like a good ghost story, actually! I’m glad I’m not the only weirdo who doesn’t like short stories.
    Becky – Ah, another LeHane fan. We are now bff’s forever. I liked Gone , Baby Gone (the film) but didn’t you find Angie’s role substantially reduced? That sort of angered me – that they transformed her from this kick-ass character into someone more passive. I’ve never read Possession – I’m looking forward to it.

  6. Becky says:

    I did find Angie’s role reduced. She was a shadow. In fact,the whole Angie-Patrick relationship was downplayed, I thought. Based on what you saw of her in the movie she actually seemed rather neurotic and not at all kick-ass.

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