I had a much longer introduction ready to go for this set of minireviews, but realized that it was longer than the minireviews. So I've ditched it for now. Basically, I took a look at why I had this sudden outburst of reading energy in January and bemoaned the fact that January is no more and that February will not be nearly as productive a month. Nor will March or April or the rest of the year for that matter.
Anyway, here's the latest batch of minireviews, finishing up January's reads and moving on to the first one of February. If you want to see the others, you can find all of the 2006 minireviews here.
by J. Robert Lennon
Novel; 319 pp.
I hate the broadly generic term dysfunctional family, mostly because I've yet to meet a functional one. But sometimes the term fits. Such is the case in J. Robert Lennon's novel, The Funnies, in which the dysfunction isn't that the Mix family is one amazingly screwed up unit--and they truly are--but it's the fact that Papa Mix has presented the family to the world in the form of a popular cartoon (think Family Circus) as the normal family and one that countless fans of the cartoon seem to at least want to relate to. When Papa Mix dies, middle son Tim, a failed artist who narrates the novel, inherits his father's cartoon. He has three months to learn the trade, to figure out how to deal with his own artistic idealism and this contradictory image of his family that has been the trademark of his father's work, or he gets nothing. I wouldn't call this Lennon's best effort. At times the story itself seems to drag, especially the long chapters with all of the details of Tim's apprenticeship. But some of the scenes and characters will stay with you for some time after you finish the book: It will be hard to forget the scene when Tim visits the town fair that honors his father's cartoon and he stumbles upon the teenagers who are dressed as his family and who have taken off their masks, hidden behind some shrubs so that they can enjoy some pot. And then there is Tim's younger brother Pierce who seems to suffer from every mental illness possible and who was shunned by the father to the point that he was completely left out of the cartoon. Luckily for us, Lennon gives us a vivid portrait of the whole family, including Pierce, all grown up, with all of their warts and suffering from all of the dysfunctions that make them real.
+ See also: J. Robert Lennon.com
The Polysyllabic Spree
by Nick Hornby
Essay Collection; 143 pp.
If you've been reading the Believer since it's inception, you've probably at least skimmed through a few of Nick Hornby's regular essays on his book buying and reading. The Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of fourteen months of these essays. Mostly, Hornby seems to write more about the books that he wants to read but can't find the time, but there are long passages on his love of Dickens and a rather hilarious essay in which Hornby imagines a series of boxing matches pitting books against other works of art, claiming that books would win most times. I admire the format of Hornby's columns, because like him I seem to be adding books at a pace too fast to keep up with and books tend to sit in my TBR pile until I either shelve them and regret the real possibly that I'll never get around to them. This isn't a book that I would suggest you rush out to buy. In fact, I got it free with my subscription to the Believer. It's a quick read and fairly entertaining, but it won't change the way you read or buy books. At least I hope it doesn't.
Jujitsu for Christ
by Jack Butler
Novel; 208 pp.
I guess it should speak volumes when none of the more popular book sellers offers up a cover image of this amazing novel. In fact, if you're looking for it, you'll have to go the route of the used book seller, because it's out of print. Anyway, I want to do something more than a minireview on Jujitsu of Christ; it deserves more. So I'll simply say that if I'm ever asked for a list of essential Southern fiction, this book will be right up at the top of the list, sitting alongside Faulkner and Hannah and O'Connor. If you want a taste of what this book is like, check out an excerpt that I posted a few weeks ago. And stay tuned for more on this novel. Better yet, go grab a copy and enjoy some damn fine writing.