I'm trying to get things off of my list. Hopefully, I'll be able to put up a few more of these minireview sets before I pack my last box and head across the U.S. for North Carolina. If not, it might be a while before I catch up with what has been a productive few months of reading. For those of you just now finding Syntax of Things, I've made a promise to myself that I would give a brief recap of all of the books that I finish this year. If you want to see what's already been covered, you can find the minireviews for 2006 here.
Now for the latest batch:
The Living End
by Stanley Elkin
Novel; 144 pp.
I'm almost ashamed to admit that The Living End is the first Stanley Elkin book that I've read. After years of encouragement from a friend, I finally decided to give his writing a try. I'd been warned that Elkin can be difficult, that his books may require more attention than the typical Sunday afternoon during the NFL playoffs attention span that I often have this time of year. Nonetheless, and without much direction, I picked up The Living End on Super Bowl Sunday and ended up missing most of the first half of the game. I couldn't put it down. The book starts on earth, in the here and now, and follows the last months of liquor store owner Ellerbee through a series of events, seemingly innocent and harmless (he keeps his store open on Sundays), which will ultimately doom him to Hell. When he is shot during a robbery, the story shifts briefly--along with Ellerbee--to Heaven. Elkin's portrait of Paradise is stereotypical, even cliched, reminding both the reader and Ellerbee of jokes one often hears about people standing at the Pearly Gates. But that's about as comfortable as the reader will ever get. From Heaven, we are all doomed along with poor Ellerbee to a Hell that has to be read to be appreciated. Part Dante, part The Simpsons, Elkin's Hell will have you cringing one minute and laughing the next. After examing the plight of several doomed characters, Elkin provides us with an absolutely unforgettable ending. I won't give it away, but let's just say that God and Jesus don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on things, and eventually, God's wrath gets the best of everything.
+ See also, Elkin at Dalkey Archive's Center for Book Culture.
by Inman Majors
Novel; 292 pp.
With its protagonist being a divorced failure of a lawyer, the son of a fictional governor of Alabama, and the "worst child actor ever to have been thrown in front of a camera," I really wanted to like Inman Majors' novel Wonderdog. Unfortunately, the fact that it was set in my birth state didn't save the novel from slipping into what seemed to me to be often humorless slapstick. Majors isn't a bad writer; some of the scenes in the novel are well done and many of the characters and storylines were interesting enough for me to keep reading the book through to the end, but overall, the plot was too predictable and too much of it relied on the stereotypical.
Why New Orleans Matters
by Tom Piazza
Essay; 167 pp.
I know that some of the "should New Orleans be rebuilt" arguments have merit, but that doesn't mean that I agree with them and neither does Tom Piazza. In his book-lenght essay, Why New Orleans Matters, Piazza details what many of us who have spent more than a Mardi Gras week in the great city already know, that this great city which has given so much to this county and to the world--its music, its food, its energy--deserves to be restored, needs to be rebuilt, not only because we owe New Orleans a debt, which we do, but because New Orleans is a vital part of what we are as a country. Piazza wasn't born there, has lived there just a little over a decade, but he has been infected with all things New Orleans; it's in his blood and it shows on the pages of this book. Sure, some of this may be preaching to the choir. After all, most of us know about jazz and the creole cooking and Bourbon Street. Most people probably know about jazz funerals and the Garden District. But that's okay. At this vital point in our history when a city that does matter may never be the same again, we need to be reminded, and we need to be told that it's not just these things that matter, but it's the people responsible for them, the people behind the scenes who wash the dishes and make the beds but who throughout the history of that city have emerged from the menial tasks of their day jobs to make some of the most important contributions to our culture. And it's all of that that matters.