Books 4/27/06

How is it that I always seem to have to catch up? I’ve read a bunch of books in the last couple days, so here goes.

Adverbs by Daniel Handler:
Oh how I love Daniel Handler. He rarely goes wrong, but I was concerned after his last grown-up novel that I’d just be a fan of his kids work from then on out. But Adverbs is magnificent. It’s a series of connected short stories about love, each titled with an adverb that captures the feel of the love described within. The characters in the different stories have the same names, so you’re free to choose if the Lila whose co-worker at the theater loves her while she loves Keith is the same Lila who is later loved by Alison, who is later married to Adrian but considers an affair with Keith, who may or may not be the same Keith as at the beginning. There’s about seven other people to keep track of as well, but it all works together to form an over-arching story that is beautifully done. It reminded me somewhat of Kundra’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I haven’t analyzed that similarity too much yet.

My favorite story out of the bunch is “soundly”, the story of Alison and Lila, friends since childhood, as they sit in a diner while Lila dies. They’ve left the hospital where Lila has been staying, victim of an unusual and incurable intestinal problem. They meet a woman with the seeming ability to make wishes come true, and the wish is uttered that miraculously someone will be found with an intact intestinal area that can be transplanted into Lila, giving her a little bit more time on Earth. The pager beeps, Alison and Lila rush to get back to the hospital, and I won’t say what happens next. But the heartbreaking love that’s expressed in this story took my breath away. More than the love expressed in the other stories, which all have an element of spontaneity and rashness in the love, this is the story of a love that has been cultivated over years and experiences, the kind of love that only grows stronger for the pain and the joy it causes. I give you a few of the last paragraphs:

“Then we’ll stay up all night,” I said, “You’ll stay up all night with me. We’ve done it before, lots of times. I love you so soundly, and I will do anything to drag you forward. You’re mine Lila. You’re my star quarterback.”

“I f*cking hate football,” Lila sobbed. “Blow up the game for me when I’m gone.”

“I won’t do a thing,” I said. “Without you I’m not moving.” Through the front window was another cliche, rain raging in while the women inside wept like girls. The traffic screamed its emergency all around us, but we could do this thing on our own. She was all the world’s money, and I would spend it with her, my sharpest friend who changed the tide, my only comfort from the brutal gamble of the world and the wicked ways of men. I grabbed her hands and clasped them together over her scar into a position of strength, like a prayer we wouldn’t be caught dead saying, Gather around us, heroic women of Haddam. Gather around us and put us under your silken wings. We are here, we are here, we are here, won’t someone take us across the sound together.

Groucho Marx, Secret Agent by Ron Goulart:
This one was better than the last, more coherent, and quite enjoyable. The story centers on a director who passes out after being spoken to by someone in a Grim Reaper costume at a Halloween party, and then dies later that night. The police, movie studio and FBI all say it’s suicide, but the man’s wife believes otherwise, so Groucho and Frank take on the case. There are spies and espionage and secret messages; overall very entertaining. I was disappointed in the lack of the word avuncular (see previous posts on Goulart’s other books), and aggravated by the copious overuse of the word plump yet again, but overall I liked it.

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss:
There are some books that just glow when you look at them, and there’s no choice, you have to take them home. Such was the case with this book, which sat waiting on one of the new arrivals shelves at the library the last time I went in. It was on the last shelf I looked at, after I’d already decided not to take anymore books, but the font of the title on the spine drew me in, and I’m so glad. The main character’s name is Lucifer Box, and he’s a hedonistic, debaucherous (is that even a word?) spy and sometimes assassin, working for the Queen at the turn of the century. The adventure begins when a couple of scientists go missing, followed by the disappearance of one of the Queen’s spies. Everything seems to lead to Italy, so off Lucifer goes in pursuit. It’s a fun, intelligently witty book; the author has written for TV’s League of Gentlemen and the new Dr. Who series. There’s a sequel coming out later this year, and I can’t wait.

On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson:
I’ve wanted to read this since it came out, and only now got around to it. It’s a series of essays about different facets of Jackson, from how his troubled youth set him up psychologically to become who he has, to how his plastic surgery transcends gender-crossing into something altogether different. The essays are well written and insightful, honestly considering Jackson in the culture he was formed by and then went on to influence. Jefferson never stoops to gossip, sticking to a sociological approach to the King of Pop.

Now I’m reading Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes, a somewhat mystery with characters transparently based on Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. It’s good so far.

One random trend I’ve noted in the last books I’ve read is that the previous readers of each took it upon themselves to correct typos in the books. That just struck me as odd- that each of the last 3 books I’ve read all had written in corrections. Anyway.

Current total: 35
Just finished: On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson
Currently reading: Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes

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