28 May 2016

The Harder They Come, by T. C. Boyle

The first part of this book takes place in Central America. Sten Stensen, a recently retired high-school principal and Vietnam veteran, and his wife Carolee, are on vacation in Costa Rica. They go with a group on what is to be a nature walk in the jungle, but a tragedy ensues during which Stensen kills a man with his bare hands.

I had a strong feeling that I had read this first part of the book before. It may have, for example, been printed in Harper's as a stand-alone story, or perhaps in their "Readings" section. It works as a short story, in my opinion.

The next parts are placed in Northern California, in an area that is much like Humboldt County, but I think somewhat fictionalized. Sten and Carolee return home, where their son Adam is progressively demonstrating that he is dangerously mentally ill. Adam's actions and how they affect his family and a young woman who befriends him are the framework for the rest of the book.

Violence is the overall theme of this novel. Adam sees himself as a sort of survivalist commando resisting forces that will imprison or limit him, and he is armed to the teeth. His delusions lead him to murder, and during most of the last part of the book he is eluding an increasingly larger manhunt.

Mental illness, apparently schizophrenia, is another important element in the plot. Adam is seriously deluded and certainly fulfills the "danger to himself and others" requirement, but as will happen, society has completely failed to diagnose, treat, or protect him -- or to protect others from him. The frustration of being the parent of a person in this situation is well illustrated in this book.

New York Times Review

after her, by Joyce Maynard

A serial killer stalks the trails around Mount Tamalpais. Two young girls, whose Dad is a Marin County detective, try to solve the mystery.

This is also, as the mystery goes on, the story of these two girls as they grow up, and the story of their parents as they grow apart.

It is a completely captivating book. All the cliches apply: can't put it down, page turner, etc.

My wife is responsible for putting these books in my hands, and I'm grateful.

Owning it All, by William Kittredge



A terrific and eminently readable collection of essays, mostly about the American West. Kittredge writes about southeastern Oregon, specifically the Malheur Lake area--coincidentally the area that was recently in the news due to the occupation of a federal building by some right-wing extremists. He also writes about Montana, especially Missoula and the nearby area.

This is not only nature and geography writing, though those topics are included. It is also concerned with the life of a writer becoming a writer, as he moves away from the life of a rancher to a life of letters. Kittredge has much to say about what humans have done to the once-pristine land of the West. He writes quite a bit about how agriculture transformed the Malheur area, how that has affected the bird life there.

The Good Daughters, by Joyce Maynard

Two girls are born on the same day in a small town in New Hampshire. This book follows their lives, and their families, as they grow up to be adults. Dana Dickerson's family consists of her brother, Ray; her father, George; and her mother, Valerie. George goes from one get-rich-quick scheme to another over the course of years. Valerie is distant from her family, an artist of some talent (she is a painter), who has little time for her children. George is always leaving for the next big thing.

Ruth Plank's family is quite different. She has four sisters. Her father, Edwin, is a farmer. They live on the farm that has been in his family for many generations. Her mother, Connie, is a hard-working farmer's wife with a strong religious faith.

The story is told in chapters labeled either "Ruth" or "Dana." Most of the time these simply alternate back and forth, in first-person narrative from each point of view.

This is another excellent and completely engrossing novel by Joyce Maynard. As the story of these two women unfolds, a great mystery is revealed, and not fully solved until nearly the last page.

12 May 2016

Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard

An escaped convict appeals for, and receives, help from a mentally-ill mother and her young son. A terrifically captivating read, very well done, very entertaining. Told from the point of view of the son.

Maynard is famous for having been the 19-year-old love interest of a much older J.D. Salinger.

The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankel

Troubled, and troubling. This is apparently the last Kurt Wallander novel. No, he doesn't get killed.

Wallander's daughter decides to have a child with a man named Hans. Wallander meets Hans's parents, and observes that his father is worried about something.

Soon, the father disappears, and the mystery begins.

This is not only a tale of police work in Sweden, but  one of international intrigue, and a query into what any of us can really know about any other, even those very close to us.