04 April 2012

So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell

Elegant, short, unexpected. I hadn't known that William Maxwell, one time editor of The New Yorker, was also a novelist.

The story is a complex boyhood memory, narrated by a man who lost his mother in childhood, and befriended the son of a man who murdered his wife's lover, and killed himself. Although this sounds gory and ghastly, the story is more about the textures and elements of life in Lincoln, Illinois, circa 1918. There is no mention of war, but the Flu epidemic plays a part: it is what claims the life of the protagonist's mother.

Probably the most interesting part, and the focus of this work, is the description and recounting of the relationships of the Smiths and the Wilsons, two tenant farmer families who live near to each other. Lloyd Wilson is a good friend and helper, always willing to lend a hand to Clarence Smith, but through a strange mixture of chemistry and circumstance, Lloyd falls in love with Mrs. Smith. The tragedy that ensues is laid out at the beginning of the novel, most of the rest of it details the movements and thoughts of the principal characters while all these events unfold.

I look forward to reading another of Maxwell's novels.

02 April 2012

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Christopher Hitchens on Stieg Larsson

The second in the famous, popular, and excellent trilogy by the late Mr. Larsson. What a legacy.

Strictly Speaking, by Edwin Newman

A short, somewhat humorous work on the deterioration of English usage in public writing and speaking.

Firewall, by Henning Mankel

Another audio book, another Kurt Wallander story. I'm afraid I'll probably give up on these now. This book was entertaining enough for the commute, but even delivered in this way I detected many plot defects and loose ends. Why was Tinas Faulk's body stolen, mutilated, and returned to the scene of his death? What about the injury to his head? Why was an electric relay placed in the morgue when his body was stolen; how was that theft committed, and by whom? There are more.

When a writer creates a novel, no matter how lowbrow his intentions, he or she should probably only include elements in the plot which are necessary to carry the plot forward. I understand that Mankel may be trying to be realistic, for in real police work there are certainly many red herrings and loose ends, but I fear that he has not done this effectively.

There is some decent suspense in the book. The story, which has at its center a plot to compromise computer systems around the world and thereby destroy the world's financial system, is technologically weak and -- viewed from the prospective of 2012 (the story takes place circa 1997) -- it was hard to take it seriously.

Driving is boring, so I did listen to the whole thing.