Echo House

Just, Ward. Echo House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.

Covering three generations equaling 90  years of politics and power struggles, Ward Just follows the lives of the Behl family starting with Adolph and Constance Behl and their quest (notice I said their quest) for the White House. Adolph’s son, Axel and grandson, Alec continue the saga with their own political ambitions (although Alec goes the legal route becoming a lawyer). Supporting them, and sometimes leaving them, are the women who forever loved them, loved power and had ambitions of their own. Ward Just includes an entire host of Washington characters as well as well-known political events through history. At the center of it all is the Behl family mansion, Echo House. Built to be the next White House it is the scene of secrets of all kinds. Dirty secrets, family secrets, secrets told, secrets kept, secrets that help, secrets that hurt. While nothing terribly exciting happens it’s what doesn’t happen that makes Echo House such fun to read.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135), and from the chapter, “Politics of Fiction” (p 189).


Lost Steps

Carpentier, Alejo. The Lost Steps. New York: Noonday Press, 1956.

The Lost Steps is about a man who takes a journey that becomes more than travel to him. Married to an actress who barely has time for anything but the stage, he takes a trip to South America with his mistress with the mission of finding primitive musical instruments for a museum curator. In the beginning of the story the man is fixated on making himself happy. For example, caught in the middle of a violent revolution where the streets are riddled with gunfire, he cannot think of getting himself to safety. Instead, he is fixated on returning to his companion for fear she has already (within minutes) taken up with someone else. Throughout the story his priorities change and he begins to imagine the wild landscape back in time, before mankind. His imagination takes him to unchartered territories that are vividly described. Carpentier’s observations are astute and he writes with remarkable clarity. The landscapes of South America are breathtaking.

Favorite lines, “When my birthday was celebrated among the same faces, in the same places, with the same song sung in chorus, the thought invariably struck me that the only difference between my previous birthday and this one was the extra candle on the cake, which tasted exactly like the last one” (p 9). “In this country, I was told, passing from power to prison was the normal thing” (p 60). “Silence is an important word in my vocabulary” (p 109).

Something else I found interesting: The New Yorker claims The Lost Steps begins in New York City yet Alejo Carpentier prefaces the story with a note that begins, “even though the site of the first chapters of this book does not call for any specific location…” (p v). The New Yorker must have gotten the New York City information from another version.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Cubi Si!” (p 68).


Wonder Boys

Chabon, Michael. Wonder Boys. New York: Villard Books, 1995.

From what I understand, Wonder Boys was made into a movie. Of course, that means I haven’t seen it. I don’t even know if it was any good when it first came out.

Wonder Boys was a pleasure to read once I actually sat down to read it. The story is written from the point of view of aging, graying, heavy-weighted, writer/professor Grady Tripp but it’s really about his writing student, James Leer. James is a young, quiet, skinny, troubled, yet talented writing student who is obsessed with Hollywood suicides. Almost like a party trick he can recite style of suicide along with date of death and no one finds this strange. Somehow Leer and Grady become involved in a couple of crimes together and the rest of Wonder Boys is their journey in search of redemption and sanity. Michael Chabon’s style of writing is eloquent with a bite of sarcasm. Humor and sadness hold hands on nearly every page.

A few of my favorite passages: “Her own parents had married in 1939 and they were married still, in a manner that approximated happiness, and I knew she regarded divorce as the first refuge of the weak in character and the last of the hopelessly incompetent” (p 30), and “They weren’t my family and it wasn’t my holiday, but I was orphaned and an atheist and I would take what I could get” (p144).

BookLust Twist: Spotted a couple of times in More Book Lust – first in a chapter called, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Pennsylvania)” (p 30). Also in “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 143). Just so you know, I didn’t quote the sentence that drew Ms. Pearl in. I found others I liked better.


Walls Came Tumbling Down

Deal, Babs A., The Walls Came Tumbling Down. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down is very much a late 1960s book. In the beginning I wasn’t sure I would get into it or even like it. It is the story of seven sorority sisters still living in the same small town, still friends as adults. Their friendships are tested when a skeleton of an infant is found in a wall of their sorority house. An investigation would prove the baby was hidden during a renovation that happened during a summer when only those same seven young women were living in the house – twenty-four years earlier. The majority of Deal’s book is filled with busybody gossip, small town snobbery and the uncovering of many secrets besides a hidden pregnancy and birth. Adulterous affairs, the inability to trust one another, and the growing suspicions and prejudices are all brought to light when literally and figuratively, the walls come down.

My favorite line: “I do not want to believe I fell in love with a smile” (p 56).
One of the most telling viewpoints of the times: “His secretary was Miss Wilson. She had been an airline hostess until she got too old. She was thirty-two: (p 109). Thirty-two is too old? Yikes?

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Southern-Fried Fiction (Alabama)” (p 206).

ps~ I found it interesting that Babs Deal had a small obsession with what kind of cars her characters drove.


Tortilla Curtain

Boyle, T. Coraghessan. The Tortilla Curtain. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

From the very first page this book had me cringing. The back cover of Tortilla Curtain reads, “…from the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact…” The opening scene is the freak accident and it sets the tone for the entire story. To be honest I cringed my way through the entire book. Like watching a movie with one eye squeezed shut I could barely stand what devastating thing would happen next. There is nothing more tragic than misguided trust laced with preconceived notions about another individual. Reminiscent of House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III Tortilla Curtain is the story of two couples hopelessly fated to forever misjudge and distrust each other. The color of their skin provides a blinder for each pair. While how they react to their blindness differs from person to person their prejudices identically driven. Delaney Mossbacher and his second wife, Kyra, are a well-to-do couple living in the newly gated community of Arroyo Blanco. They worry about coyotes taking their family pets and the real estate market (Kyra is a successful realtor). Below them, scraping out an existence in the dessert are Candido Rincon and his wife, America, two illegal immigrants from Mexico. They worry about where they will get their next meal and when they will be sent back across the border. Two totally different worlds living within yards of one another. Inevitably the two will collide with disastrous results.

Favorite line: “He took the phone off the hook, pulled the shades and crept into the womb of language” (p 32). I wish I had more time to do just that.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Growing Writers” (p 107).


Soloist

Salzman, Mark. The Soloist. New York: Random House, 1994.

I hated to put this book down. I started off reading it at the same time as two other books (which shall remain nameless), but soon I found myself favoring The Soloist over the other two. Which, when you think about it, isn’t a very smart move because when I finished The Soloist I was left with the lesser liked books.
Lesson learned. There is a reason why dessert is served at the end of the meal – save the best for last. It tastes sweeter that way. That goes for books as well, especially The Soloist. I can’t wait to read Salzman’s other books.

In a nutshell The Soloist is about a man who is struggling with who he was as a child in relation to who he has become as an adult. As a child Renne Sundheimer was a prodigy who mastered the cello and thrilled audiences world-wide. As an adult, having mysteriously lost his talent, Renne has become a cello teacher for a university in Southern California. His life revolves around the music he used to make until two completely different events happen. First, Renne is summoned to jury duty where he hears a case involving a murdered Buddhist monk. Second, Renne finds himself the tutor of another cello prodigy, a nine-year old Korean boy. In both situations Renne started out an unwilling participant. He was convinced he didn’t want to serve on a jury and planned to profess an undue hardship. He was also convinced he didn’t want to give private lessons to an introverted Korean boy. In both cases he fails to extract himself from involvement and ultimately ends up changing his life.

Favorite lines: “Human beings are primates, and primates weren’t designed to tie themselves up into knots and hold still (p 99). I’m not sure how my yoga friends would take to this comment, but I found it funny.
And the last lines of the book are perfect, “I don’t think about the past as much as I used to, and I hardly ever think further than a semester ahead. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, though. I’m starting to think that the larger picture is overrated” (p 284). Precisely.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Mark Salzman: Too Good to Miss” (p 194).

Off topic comment: When Pearl introduces Salzman in her second Lust book she mentions not going to readings given by authors she likes. She is always afraid of not liking the person behind the words, or thinking of the author’s voice when reading his or her newest offering. I’m like that with music. Once I see the musician I can’t get their image out of my head and sometimes, often, it skews the music.


Tiepolo’s Hound

Walcott, Derek. Tiepolo’s Hound. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

At first glance Tiepolo’s Hound is pretty deceiving. It looks like a simple poem with gorgeous pictures. Upon closer inspection Tiepolo’s Hound becomes more complicated. One narrative becomes two. Aside from Camille Pissaro’s desire to leave St. Thomas to follow his artistic dreams, the author describes his own journey to rediscover the details of a venetian painting. The dual narration tangles the storyline and leads to an anti-climatic ending to an otherwise fascinating journey. The vivid imagery of the sights, sounds and smells of St. Thomas make the poem beautiful. The colorful descriptions of the surrounding landscapes are what successfully capture the reader’s attention and hold it until the end.

Favorite descriptor: “thunderhead cumuli grumbling with rain” (p 10)
Favorite line: “I felt my heart halt” (p 7).

Favorite aspect of the book: so many references to the sea. For example ~ blue gusting harbor, wide water, cobalt bay, quiet seas, wooden waves, furrowing whitecaps, soundless spray, sea-gnarled islets, etc, etc. Simply beautiful.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).