Heavenly Pulp

It’s become a habit, a sleazy late-night habit, when the stars are out and the ladies are tucked away between chenille and damask sheets. But then we’re not dealing with ladies here are we? Broads, dames, happy cha-cha marimba girls in twirling sequined dresses and little else if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Pulp.

What with a tsunami of ancient pulp novels and short stories being reissued as ebooks, I’m discovering authors and characters I’ve never heard of, brave adventurers I crave to read about again and again. This is not frilly prose filled with multisyllabic words such as “anglepoise” or “asymptomatic” but rapid-fire, clipped writing featuring gats and hooch and stiffs.

Over the past few months, I’ve read little other than pulp and blogged about the same. One of my discoveries this month was Super-Detective Jim Anthony. Let me say that delicious name again: Super-Detective Jim Anthony. Written in the 1940’s before the U.S. entered World War II, Anthony is often described as a Doc Savage clone (no time to go into Savage today), sharing similar characteristics and cohorts. He is a perfect physical specimen, superior athlete, supergenius, inventor, engineer, chemist, and on and on. No time for ladies, duty calls! In Dealer in Death, Anthony must defeat the ultravillain Rado Ruric who is trying to bring down the U.S. in a bloody revolution. If you can imagine a Flash Gordon serial as a novel then you understand the concept.

As with many stories from this time period there are racial stereotypes that we no longer consider acceptable. And of course, women are, well, window dressing, underlings, dames, broads … Well, you get the picture. Dickens it ain’t, but I thoroughly enjoyed Super-Detective Jim Anthony (I could not resist saying it again) and his gang as they saved our beloved nation.

The library does not have a lot of pulp titles as they are long out-of-print, but you can find a few collections of short stories, as well as a book filled with pulp author profiles. Here are some titles worth (wait for it) checking out.

Pulp ActionThe Mammoth Book of Pulp Action ed. by Maxim Jakubowski
A collection of crime stories written in the 1930’s and beyond, this book features pulp authors such as Erle Stanley Gardner, David Goodis, Hugh B. Cave, Lawrence Block, Frederic Brown, John D. MacDonald and Ed Gorman.


Paperback Confidential
Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era by Brian Ritt
This title contains profiles of important pulp authors including Gil Brewer, Paul Cain, Lester Dent, Brett Halliday, Orrie Hitt, Elisabeth Saxnay Holding, Day Keene, Richard S. Prather, Harry Whittington and Cornell Woolrich.

 

Hard-boiledHard-boiled: an Anthology of American Crime Stories ed. by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian
An anthology of crime stories written from the 1920’s to the 1990’s by Raoul Whitfield, Frederick Nebel, James M. Cain, Chester Himes, Leigh Brackett, Jim Thompson and others.

 

Perhaps it’s hard to compare beautiful prose to pulp writing, but it’s the very hit-or-miss quality of metaphors and similes, the unlikely turns of phrase, the clichés, the “churn-it-out-if-you-wanna-get-paid” quality that makes pulp stories endearing to me. The stories in these anthologies are a good starting point, so find authors that grab your roving eye and then explore their writing further. Strangely, these long out-of-print tales are getting easier and easier to find.

And who can resist writing like this, a statement made by Dolores, the woman in love with … Super-Detective Jim Anthony?

 “Jim, don’t you realize that a killer as shrewd as that might have deliberately switched cars, knowing of your gelatine process?”

That, my friends, is pulp.

Heartwood Favorites – 14 from ’14

Below you’ll find the list of books published this year that I most enjoyed.

Heartwood readers know that my main reading interest is older international literary fiction, but I also read new releases, as well as some non-fiction and poetry. Additionally, the old and the new come together when foreign books that were published years ago finally get their first (or a new) English translation.

What I most admire about the books below is what makes them so difficult to write about – their dexterous and creative way with words; their narrative idiosyncrasies, interiority, and perspicacity; the frequent interweaving of other cultural material (especially literature and art); a sense of place uniquely realized and expressed. These books offer fascinating, richly satisfying pleasures to the reader, but consternation to the list-maker who wishes to convey the essence of these reading experiences.

So rather than write my own capsule summaries, I’m simply listing the titles. But you can read summaries or brief reviews in the library catalog by clicking on the titles. For most of the books I’ve also linked to longer reviews from a variety of sources, and for two of them I’ve linked to reviews I did manage to write earlier this year.

I liked most everything I read that was published this year – a rare and happy situation –but these were the cream of the crop. If you like good writing I think you’ll find something here to enjoy.

Fiction

BridgeBridge
by Robert Thomas
BOA Editions   156 pgs.
read more: Bookslut, Kirkus, author website

 


Hotel AndromedaHotel Andromeda
by Gabriel Josipovici
Carcanet   139 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

 

HarlequinsHarlequin’s Millions   (orig. pub. 1981)
by Bohumil Hrabal
trans. Stacey Knecht
Archipelago Books   312 pgs.
read more: Tweed’s, WaPo, Words without Borders
see also: Heartwood on Hrabal’s I Served the King of England

Pushkin HillsPushkin Hills   (orig. pub. 1983)
by Sergei Dovlatov
trans. Katherine Dovlatov
Counterpoint Press   161 pgs.
Heartwood review

 

ProfessorThe Professor and the Siren   (orig. pub. 1986)
by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
trans. Stephen Twilley
New York Review Books   69 pgs.
read more: Complete ReviewParis Review
see also: Heartwood review of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard

ConversationsConversations   (orig. pub. 2007)
by César Aira
trans. Katherine Silver
New Directions   88 pgs.
read more: Three Percent, Entropy, Public Books

 

Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
Grove Press   291 pgs.
read more: LA TimesBoston Globe, WaPo, SFGate 

 

 

Unclassifiable Comic Book / Fiction / Non-Fiction Hybrid

FantomasFantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires   (orig. pub. 1975)
by Julio Cortázar
trans. David Kurnick
Semiotext(e)   87 pgs.
read more: Complete Review, MIT Press, Three Percent
see also: Heartwood review of Cortázar’s Hopscotch

 

Non-Fiction

Place in the CountryA Place in the Country: On Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Robert Walser, and Others   (orig. pub. 1998)
by W.G. Sebald
trans. Jo Catling
Random House   208 pgs.
read more: NY Times, The Spectator, LA Review of Books, Slate             

Collection of SandCollection of Sand   (orig. pub. 1984)
by Italo Calvino
trans. Martin McLaughlin
Mariner Books   209 pgs.
read more: The Guardian, The Independent, Bookanista 

 

SidewalksSidewalks
by Valeria Luiselli
trans. Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press   110 pgs.
read more: Asymptote, LA Review of Books, Music & Literature

 

Geek SublimeGeek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
by Vikram Chandra
Graywolf Press   236 pgs.
read more: NY Times, New Republic, Complete Review

 

 

Poetry

CaribouCaribou
by Charles Wright
Farrar, Strauss, Giroux   82 pgs.
read more: World Literature Today, NPR, TweetSpeak

 

 

Moon Before MorningThe Moon Before Morning
by W.S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press   121 pgs.
read more: The Rumpus, Poets@Work, The Wichita Eagle

 

 

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Seriesly

One thing that I spend far too much time thinking about is the psychology of television. For example, TV watchers can be more attracted to television programs than to interacting with real live people. And, watchers tend to like specific shows and to watch those shows repeatedly. So my inquiring mind wonders, Why?

In the past, I was one of those TV watchers. Perhaps this is why I’m fascinated by the topic. And one thing I figured out all by myself is that the characters on a particular show become like friends or family. And yes, I know this sounds pathetic. I particularly remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show 5 nights a week from start to finish in college, and when the series ended, even though I’d seen the entire run when it originally was on, I was very sad. My friends were gone.

As I said, pathetic.

But what this shows is that people like familiarity, characters they know. And obviously this translates into books as well as television. I am stunned by the number of series that are currently being written. It seems to me (without actually researching this) that in the past most books were standalones, and now most are part of a series. And one can see in the library how popular these series are.

2014 will be remembered as the year that I read series. Or at least parts of series. Focusing mainly on mysteries and detective pulps, I have spent 365 glorious days (pro-rated) with my literary friends and family. And today I share some of those series with you.

Meg LanslowMeg Langslow mysteries by Donna Adams.
Meg is a blacksmith in Caerphilly, Virginia. Her quirky family includes a professor husband, computer whiz brother, doctor/animal activist/mystery enthusiast father and renowned biologist grandfather. As with most cozy mysteries, an inordinate amount of murders happen in her small town, and Meg becomes the local crime solver. This series is a cut above most cozy mysteries.

Perry MasonPerry Mason mysteries/court dramas by Erle Stanley Gardner.
“The DA was Burger, the cop was Tragg, Della was the secretary, Drake sat on the desk with Perry…” ~ lyrics that The Blues Brothers set to the Perry Mason theme

Mason, one of the best lawyers in the country, is also a fair crime solver. While these stories are not filled with much character development, we still grow close to Perry and the gang. And Erle Stanley could write one mean story I must say.

Richard JuryRichard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes.
Jury is a British police inspector or superintendent or whatever British coppers are called. His partner in crime, Sergeant Wiggins, is a professional hypochondriac. His non-professional crime fighting brother-in-arms is Melrose Plant, a filthy rich earl who cares nothing for money and has renounced his title. Plant’s village of Long Piddleton is filled with quirky characters and murders. But Jury is based in London, so the whole of England is fair game in this wonderful, and often dark, series.

Scotland YardScotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian.
This wonderful series looks at the infancy of crime solving in Scotland Yard. A very small number of detectives, with limited tried-and-tested crime solving techniques, are responsible for all of the murders in London, a huge amount to be sure. Fortunately, they have a Sherlock-like doctor who helps them along the way.

Spellmans

 

The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz.
A quirky, dysfunctional family of detectives. Imagine working in close quarters with your parents and/or siblings.

 

AntiquesAntiques mysteries by Barbara Allan.
Small town, mother and daughter antique sellers, both with psychological issues. Many murders, both mother and daughter narrate, interrupting each other in the narratives to make corrections. Cute and funny.

 

Travis McGeeTravis McGee, detective of a sort, by John D. MacDonald.
McGee does not call himself a detective, more of a person who helps others find things. He lives on a houseboat in Florida and would just as soon spend a lazy day in the sun as work. He is hard edged, but not without sympathy, and lands his share of the ladies. Excellent hard-boiled writing.

And this is just scratching the surface of my 2014 series. Here are a few other series you can find in the library that might be of interest.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Joanna Brady mysteries by J. A. Jance
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
Horatio Hornblower by C. S. Forester
All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket

Of course the list goes on and on. The only thing left is to ask, what’s your favorite series?

Into The Grey by Celine Kiernan

intothegreyI wanted to have a twin when I was little. Even last week I was thinking to myself: ‘You know who would get that joke I just told?  My twin.’ If she got stuck with a needle I’d feel it too. If my heart was breaking and I was choking on the pieces I’d have her with me, hurting just as much and helping me plan revenge on the person who tore my heart into bits. But then I thought: ‘Is it really a good idea having two of me stumbling through the world?’

No.

In Celine Kiernan’s YA novel Into the Grey, it’s 1974 and Patrick’s grandmother has burned the house down. Not on purpose. She’s got dementia but back in 1974 they called it senility or having a fit as in ‘Granny put her bra on the outside of her blouse today.’ The short stories and novel Pat had been working on? Gone. Dom’s drawings and sketches? Gone. Their mom and dad hate each other and now that their house has burned down, they hate each other more. The family couch surfs for a couple of weeks before going to a seaside cottage they rent once a year while on holiday.

Patrick and Dom think they’ll die from boredom, surrounded by a closed fairgrounds and the sea. It’s beyond cruel to have a fairground within walking distance only to find that it’s closed for the season. Nothing to look at but tourist shops, the sea, pubs, the sea. What’s that over there? Oh yeah. The sea. One day the boys are out for a walk when they see an old man being ejected from a bar. He’s singing an English tune in an Irish pub. Not a good idea. He gets thrown out of the pub with a warning: “If you come in here again singing your old army songs and wearing your old army poppy, I will have you disappeared.”

Pat and Dom watch the old drunk reel around. The man’s not only close to black out drunk but he seems almost…haunted. And he is. The old man walks into the sea to drown himself. Pat and Dom go in after him, nearly drowning themselves. They manage to get him to the shore and get help from a woman in a small shop. She tells them the old man’s name is James.

So, finding a majorly depressed old drunk who was a soldier in WWI  is kinda on the weird scale of things. But Pat begins to have vivid dreams that aren’t his own, nightmare images of muddy trenches. Dom begins to have nightmares too, only he becomes a ghost of himself. Something wanted Dom and Dom was wide open for a spirit to slip in. Dom says his name is Francis and that Patrick is named Lorry. One night Patrick wakes up in the bottom bunk and sees a small pale hand gripping the sides of Dom’s upper bunk.  It’s a boy. “Maybe ten years old.  White face.  Dark, dark eyes, underscored with deep lines, surrounded by purple shadows.”  I saw that creepy little kid from The Grudge when I read the description of the small boy.

Soon Dom is lost to Patrick and Patrick thinks Dom’s soul has flown the coop never to be seen or felt again. Francis, a soldier from WWI, has hijacked his body and isn’t going to give it up.

I don’t do spoilers. I won’t ruin a book for anyone.  Unless I hate them. Then I will blast the entire plot on a boom box and hold it over my head at my enemy’s house a la John Cusack in that one movie that I can’t remember the name of but I remember being annoyed by the movie but confused because I really liked John Cusack. What was I saying?  Celine Kiernan has written a seemingly simple young adult novel about the relationship between siblings. It’s not a simple book at all. It reads like a fast paced thriller but it’s about what you would do for your brother or sister, how far would you go to keep them safe and sound. Evidently, battling for your sibling’s soul is pretty high on the list of “Hey, brat. I rescued you from purgatory. Now gimme your fries.”

Bad Good Guys

Based on a scientific analysis conducted by consulting my own opinion, I have determined that protagonists are typically good guys or heroes.

Except when they aren’t.

It’s easy enough to like a likable character (Einstein wrote a paper on this), but less easy to like a jerk. Why would you want to read an entire book about someone unsympathetic or nasty? Creating compelling stories where the reader cares about a psychopath or a twit is a challenging undertaking.

I seem to have run across my fair share of such stories of late, and here are a few unlikable people you might like to meet.

Spellman FilesThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
This book is the first in a series about a family of detectives, the Spellmans. Izzy, the middle daughter, is the protagonist, a self-destructive, defiant, irritable and sarcastic example of humanity. David, her eldest sibling, is annoyingly perfect in every way which simply highlights Izzy’s shortcomings. Their parents, in misguided attempts to reign in Izzy’s destructiveness, resort to techniques (i.e. planting listening devices in her bedroom) which are not found among Dr. Spock’s parenting tips. The only person unaffected by the family’s general craziness is Izzy’s much younger sister Rae. And in this highly dysfunctional family, Izzy is the queen of maladjustment, seemingly lacking in all virtuous qualities.

The narrative ricochets through time, starting in the present with Izzy at age 28 and Rae missing. The author admirably fills in backstory in a non-linear fashion as we learn family history and the events leading up to Rae’s disappearance. Izzy matures along the way but never really becomes a likable character.

Yet I still found the book hard to put down. This family might be crazy, but they’re interesting and the drama around finding Rae, which stretches through most of the book as the narrative jumps around in time, is compelling. Author Lisa Lutz makes me want to read about her unpleasant hero.

fast-one-1952Fast One by Paul Cain
This little-known gem, written in 1932 and currently on-order at EPL, was referred to by Raymond Chandler as “… [representing] some kind of highpoint in the ultra hardboiled manner!”  What Ray meant is that the writing style is extremely choppy and pared down. There is dialogue and action, action and dialogue, but very little description. Although you learn about the characters, it is through (wait for it) dialogue and action only.

Our protagonist, Gerry Kells, is a man who is ostensibly a detective, but who in the past had intimate connections with the slimy underbelly of society. As this story of crime lords vying for control of Los Angeles unfolds, Kells throws his hat in the ring and rapidly shifts from a seemingly good guy to a really bad guy. It’s difficult to say much more without giving the story away, but suffice it to say that Kells is perhaps the least sympathetic protagonist you’ll ever meet. Yet once again I couldn’t put the book down until the end.

You can listen to some of Cain’s other writings in The Black Mask Audio Magazine Volume 1.

Black Mask

Shovel ReadyShovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
A final example is found in Spademan, a former sanitation worker living in a near-future New York City that has been devastated by a nuclear bomb. Most survivors leave the city, but those who stay behind do whatever it takes to stay alive. Spademan becomes a guy-with-a-box-cutter-for-hire. Perhaps it’s harder to define hero and anti-hero in this world where the concepts of right and wrong no longer rigidly apply, but a guy killing people with a box cutter for money is not someone you’d bring home to meet your Meemaw. Moving amongst poor people living in tent cities and rich people plugged into a happier virtual world, Spademan searches for his latest target, a famous televangelist’s daughter. While hunting he falls in love with her and transcends the role of assassin, but never fear, there is still plenty of brutality and violence.

Books are filled with other great anti-heroes such as Dexter and Serge Storms, and what fascinates me is that we want to read about these people. So, “Bravo!” to their authors for creating stories where we readers connect with these undesirable types. If only I could feel so well-disposed towards their real-life counterparts.

Heartwood 4:6 – Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

Pushkin HIllsIn Sergei Dovlatov’s entertaining Pushkin Hills, Boris Alikhanov is a struggling writer who takes a job as a tour guide at Pushkin’s estate. The book begins with his journey there and his interactions with the other guides and cultural functionaries. He gets settled into a squalid room with a raging alcoholic known as Misha for a landlord (whose drunken babblings include some great non sequiturs and neologisms). Boris learns what he has to in order to give tours and he seems to enjoy it, despite having to put up with ignorant tourists. He stays away from offers to go out for a drink, remarking that it’s easy for him to say no to the first one but once he starts he’s like a train without brakes.

Boris has a wife, he’s semi-separated from, who wants to emigrate to America with their daughter, but he doesn’t want to leave Russia, saying it would be a disaster for an author to be removed from speakers of his native tongue. You get the idea that Boris doesn’t write much but he has managed to publish a number of pieces in literary magazines and they have caught the eyes of Soviet censors. The news of his wife’s emigration plan causes Boris to fall off the wagon in a big way, and his spontaneous candor in a phone conversation with her after she has left the country raises the question of whether or not they will ever be getting together as a family again (yet he seems like a guy whose various transgressions are frequently forgiven).

This is a stylish and snappy piece of writing that surprises the reader with unexpected turns and an episodic storyline. Dovlatov is fond of witty dialogue and of aphorisms, such as “You want justice? Relax, that fruit doesn’t grow here.” There’s something both straightforward and enigmatic in his concise sentences. He leaves you wanting more – in a good way – and he tempts you to reread him for the pleasure of his prose, in this case, capably translated by his daughter Katherine. This is a short, comic, satisfying novel that should appeal to most readers.

__________

Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Review of Books, says in Russia Dovlatov “went from being a writer known to very few to a household name and, finally, to the status of a classic. Dovlatov is to Russian vernacular what Casablanca and Mark Twain are to American speech.”

Spot-Lit for November 2014

Spot-Lit

Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.