Category Archives: Approved Authors: 2008

Approved authors 8

It’s taking longer than I expected, but I’m talking about some of the books I’ve read and appreciated the most this past year. The majority were published in 2008 and a few were written by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but they’re here because I enjoyed them and I think you will, too.

LUSH LIFE by Richard Price, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

Richard Price’s novel Lush Life opens with a “quality of life” police patrol, operating undercover in a converted taxi, monitoring traffic entering Manhattan from the Williamsburg Bridge and picking targets on the principle that anyone who obeys traffic regulations must be trying to avoid police attention:

The Quality of Life Task Force: four sweatshirts in a bogus taxi set up on the corner of Clinton Street alongside the Williamsburg Bridge off-ramp to profile the incoming salmon run; their mantra: Dope, guns, overtime; their motto: Everyone’s got something to lose.

“Is dead tonight.”

The four car-stops so far this evening have been washouts: three municipals — a postal inspector, a transit clerk, and a garbageman, all city employees off-limits — and one guy who did have a six-inch blade under his seat, but no spring-release.

A station wagon coming off the bridge pulls abreast of them at the Delancey Street light, the driver a tall, gray, long-nosed man sporting a tweed jacket and Cuffney cap.

“The Quiet Man,” Geohagan murmurs.

“That’ll do, pig,” Scharf adds.

Lugo, Daley, Geohagan, Scharf; Bayside, New Dorp, Freeport, Pelham Bay, all in their thirties, which, at this late hour, made them some of the oldest white men on the Lower East Side.

Forty minutes without a nibble …

Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, crêperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, lush-lifecorner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People’s Park, corner. Tyson mural, Celia Cruz mural, Lady Di mural, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner. And then finally, on a sooty stretch of Eldridge, something with potential: a weary-faced Fujianese in a thin Members Only windbreaker, cigarette hanging, plastic bags dangling from crooked fingers like full waterbuckets, trudging up the dark, narrow street followed by a limping black kid half a block behind.

“What do you think?” Lugo taking a poll via the rearview. “Hunting for his Chinaman?”

“That’s who I’d do,” Scharf says.

“Guy looks beat. Probably just finished up his week.”

“That’d be a nice score too. Payday Friday, pulled your eighty-four hours, walking home with what, four? Four fifty?”

“Could be his whole roll on him if he doesn’t use banks.”

“C’mon, kid” — the taxi lagging behind its prey, all three parties in a half-block stagger — “it doesn’t get better than this.”

“Actually, Benny Yee in Community Outreach? He says the Fooks finally know not to do that anymore, keep it all on them.”

“Yeah, OK, they don’t do that anymore.”

“Should we tell the kid? He probably hasn’t even heard of Benny Yee.”

“I don’t want to come between a young man and his dreams,” Lugo says.

“There he goes, there he goes …”

“Forget it, he just made us,” Daley says as the kid abruptly loses his limp and turns east, back towards the projects, or the subways, or, like them, to simply take five, then get back in the game.
Right turn after right turn after right, so many that when they finally pull someone over, and they will, it’ll take a minute to get their legs under them, to stop leaning into their steps; so many right turns that at three in the morning, six beers deep at Grouchie’s, everybody silently, angrily watching the one lucky bastard getting a lap ride in a banquette by the bathrooms, they’ll be canting to the right at the bar, then, later in bed, twitching to the right in their dreams.

At the corner of Houston and Chrystie, a cherry-red Denali pulls up alongside them, three overdressed women in the backseat, the driver alone up front and wearing sunglasses.

The passenger-side window glides down. “Officers, where the Howard Johnson hotel at around here …”

“Straight ahead three blocks on the far corner,” Lugo offers.

“Thank you.”

“What’s with the midnight shades?” Daley asks from the shotgun seat, leaning forward past Lugo to make eye contact.

“I got photosensitivity,” the guy answers, tapping his frames.

The window glides back up and he shoots east on Houston.

“Did he call us officers?”

“It’s that stupid flattop of yours.”

“It’s that fuckin’ tractor hat of yours.”

“I gots photosensitivity …”

A moment later they’re rolling past the Howard Johnson’s themselves, watching as the guy from the Denali makes like a coachman, holding the door for all the ladies filing out from the backseat.

“Huggy Bear,” Lugo mumbles.

“Who the fuck puts a Howard Johnson’s down here?” Scharf gestures to the seedy-looking chain hotel, its neighbors an ancient knishery and a Seventh-Day Adventist church whose aluminum cross is superimposed over a stone-carved Star of David. “What was the thinking behind that.”

“Twenty-eight flavors,” Lugo says. “My dad used to take me every Sunday after my game.”

“You’re talking the ice cream parlor,” Scharf says, “that’s different.”

“I never had a dad,” says Geohagan.

“You want one of mine?” Daley turns in his seat. “I had three.”

“I can only dream of a dad who’d take me to a Howard Johnson’s after my game.”

“Hey, Sonny.” Lugo catches Geohagan’s eye in the rearview. “Later tonight, you want to have a catch with me?”

“Sure, mister.”

“Pokey as fuck out here, huh?” says Daley.

“That’s because it’s your turn to collar,” Lugo says, waving off some drunk who thinks he’s just flagged down a taxi.

“Somebody up there hates me.”

“Hang on …” Scharf abruptly perks up, his head on a swivel. “That there looks good. High beams going west, four bodies.”

“Going west?” Lugo floors it in heavy traffic. “Think thin, girls,” as he takes the driver-side wheels up onto the concrete divider to get past a real cab waiting for the light, then whips into a U-turn to get abreast of the target car, peering in. “Females, two mommies, two kids,” passing them, hungrier now, all of them, then Scharf ahoying once again: “Green Honda, going east.”

“Now east, he says.” Lugo does another 180 and pulls behind the Honda.

“What do we got …”

“Two males in the front.”

“What do we got …”

“Neon trim on the plate.”

“Tinted windows.”

“Right rear taillight.”

“Front passenger just stuffed something under the seat.”

“Thank you.” Lugo hits the misery lights, climbs up the Honda’s back, the driver taking half a block to pull over.

Daley and Lugo slowly walk up on either side of the car, cross-beam the front seats.

The driver, a young green-eyed Latino, rolls down his window. “Officer, what I do?”

Lugo rests his crossed arms on the open window as if it’s a backyard fence. “License and registration, please?”

“For real, what I do?”

“You always drive like that?” His voice almost gentle.

“Like what?”

“Signaling lane changes, all road-courteous and shit.”

“Excuse me?”

“C’mon, nobody does that unless they’re nervous about something.”

“Well I was.”

“Nervous?”

“You was following me.”

“A cab was following you?”

“Yeah, OK, a cab.” Passing over his papers. “All serious, Officer, and no disrespect intended, maybe I can learn something here, but what did I do?”

“Primary, you have neon trim on your plates.”

“Hey, I didn’t put it there. This my sister’s whip.”

“Secondary, your windows are too dark.”

“I told her about that.”

“Tertiary, you crossed a solid yellow.”

“To get around a double-parked car.”

“Quadrary, you’re sitting by a hydrant.”

“That’s ’cause you just pulled me over.”

Lugo takes a moment to assess the level of mouth he’s getting.

As a rule he is soft-spoken, leaning in to the driver’s window to conversate, to explain, his expression baggy with patience, going eye to eye as if to make sure what he’s explicating here is being digested, seemingly deaf to the obligatory sputtering, the misdemeanors of verbal abuse, but … if the driver says that one thing, goes one word over some invisible line, then without any change of expression, without any warning signs except maybe a slow straightening up, a sad/disgusted looking off, he steps back, reaches for the door handle, and the world as they knew it, is no more.

But this kid isn’t too bad.

“This is for your own benefit. Get out of the car, please?”

As Lugo escorts the driver to the rear bumpers, Daley leans into the shotgun-seat window and tilts his chin at the passenger, this second kid sitting there affecting comatosity, heavy-lidded under a too big baseball cap and staring straight ahead as if they were still driving somewhere.

“So what’s your story?” Daley says, opening the passenger door, offering this one some sidewalk too, as Geohagan, all tatted out in Celtic braids, knots, and crosses leans in to search the glove compartment, the cup caddy, the tape storage bin, Scharf taking the rear seats.

Back at the rear bumpers, the driver stands in a scarecrow looking off soul-eyed as Lugo, squinting through his own cigarette smoke, fingerwalks his pockets, coming up with a fat roll of twenties.

“This a lot of cheddar, cuz,” counting it, then stuffing it in the kid’s shirt pocket before continuing the patdown.

“Yeah, well, that’s my college tuition money.”

“What the fuck college takes cash?” Lugo laughs, then finished, gestures to the bumper. “Have a seat.”

“Burke Technical in the Bronx? It’s new.”

“And they take cash?”

“Money’s money.”

“True dat.” Lugo shrugs, just waiting out the car search. “So what’s your major?”

“Furniture management?”

“You ever been locked up before?”

“C’mon, man, my uncle’s like a detective in the Bronx.”

“Like a detective?”

“No. A detective. He just retired.”

“Oh yeah? What precinct?”

“I don’t know per se. The Sixty-ninth?”

“The fighting Sixty-ninth,” Geohagan calls out, feeling under the passenger seat now.

“There is no Sixty-ninth,” Lugo says, flicking his butt into the gutter.

“Sixty-something. I said I wasn’t sure.”

“What’s his name.”

“Rodriguez?”

“Rodriguez in the Bronx? That narrows it down. What’s his first name?”

“Narcisso?”

“Don’t know him.”

“Had a big retirement party?”

“Sorry.”

“I been thinking of trying out for the Police Academy myself.”

“Oh yeah? That’s great.”

“Donnie.” Geohagan backs out of the passenger door, holds up a Zip-loc of weed.

“Because we need more [expletive] smokehounds.”

The kid closes his eyes, tilts his chin to the stars, to the moon over Delancey.

“His or yours.” Lugo gestures to the other kid on the sidewalk, face still blank as a mask, his pockets strewn over the car hood. “Somebody needs to say or you both go.”

“Mine,” the driver finally mutters.

“Turn around, please?”

“Oh man, you gonna lock me up for that?”

“Hey, two seconds ago you stepped up like a man. Stay with that.”

Lugo cuffs him then turns him forward again, holding him at arm’s length as if to assess his outfit for the evening. “Anything else in there? Tell us now or we’ll rip that [expletive] to shreds.”

“Damn, man, I barely had that.”

“All right then, just relax,” guiding him back down to the bumper as the search continues nonetheless.

The kid looks off, shakes his head, mutters, “Sorry ass.”

“Excuse me?”

“Nah, I’m just saying” — pursing his mouth in self-disgust — “not about you.”

Geohagan comes back with the baggie, hands it over.

“OK, look.” Lugo lights another cigarette, takes a long first drag. “This? We could give a fuck. We’re out here on a higher calling.” He nods at a passing patrol car, something the driver said making him laugh. “You know what I’m saying?”

“More serious shit?”

“There you go.”

“That’s all I got.”

“I’m not taking about what you got. I’m talking about what you know.”

“What I know?”

“You know what I’m saying.”

They both turn and look off in the direction of the East River, two guys having a moment, one with his hands behind his back.

Finally, the kid exhales heavily. “Well, I can tell you where a weed spot is.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Lugo rears back. “I’ll tell you where a weed spot is. I’ll tell you where fifty is. I can get you better [expletive] than this for half what you paid seven days a week with blindfolds on.”

The kid sighs, tries not to look at the barely curious locals coming out of the Banco de Ponce ATM center and the Dunkin’ Donuts, the college kids hopping in and out of taxis.

“C’mon. Do right by me, I’ll do right by you.” Lugo absently tosses the baggie from hand to hand, drops it, picks it up.

“Do right like how?”

“I want a gun.”

“A what? I don’t know a gun.”

“You don’t have to know a gun. But you know someone who knows someone, right?”

“Aw, man …”

“For starters, you know who you bought this shit from, right?”

“I don’t know any guns, man. You got forty dollars a weed there. I paid for it with my own money, ’cause it helps me relax, helps me party. Everybody I know is like, go to work, go to school, get high. That’s it.”

“Huh … so like, there’s no one you could call, say, ‘Yo, I just got jacked in the PJs. I need me a onetime whistle, can I meet you at such and such?'”

“A whistle?”

Lugo makes a finger gun.

“You mean a hammer?”

“A hammer, a whistle …” Lugo turns away and tightens his ponytail.

“Pfff …” The kid looks off, then, “I know a knife.”

Lugo laughs. “My mother has a knife.”

“This one’s used.”

“Forget it.” Then, chin-tilting to the other kid: “What about your sidekick there.”

“My cousin? He’s like half-retarded.”

“How about the other half?”

“Aw, c’mon.” The driver lolls his head like a cow.

Another patrol car rolls up, this one to pick up the prisoner.

“All right, just think about it, OK?” Lugo says. “I’ll see you back in holding in a few hours.”

“What about my car?”

“Gilbert Grape there, he’s got a license?”

“His brother does.”

“Well then tell him to call his brother and get his ass down here before you wind up towed.”

“Damn.” Then calling out: “Raymond! You hear that?”

The cousin nods but makes no move to retrieve his cell phone from the car hood.

“So you never answered my question,” Lugo says, skull-steering him into the rear of the cruiser. “You ever been locked up before?”

The kid turns his head away, murmurs something.

“It’s OK, you can tell me.”

“I said, ‘Yes.'”

“For?”

The kid shrugs, embarrassed, says, “This.”

“Yeah? Around here?”

“Uh-huh.”

“How long back?”

“On Christmas Eve.”

“On Christmas Eve for this?” Lugo winces. “That is cold. Who the hell would … You remember who collared you?”

“Uh-huh,” the kid mutters, then looks Lugo in the face. “You.”

Readers who know Richard Price as a writer and occasional actor on the HBO series The Wire may conclude that Lush Life reflects that background, but the truth is that Price has been building his novels on a foundation of crime since Clockers, the 1992 epic that arrested his career spiral from wunderkind to has-been, and his ear for dialogue and skill at close sociological observation were evident in The Wanderers, the 1974 debut that earned him the wunderkind title. So you could say Richard Price had already earned his spot on The Wire, before the series was even a gleam on his computer screen.

Lush Life is ostensibly about the investigation of a robbery that turns into a murder, but the real subject is the weave of ethnic, class and economic cross-currents on the Lower East Side. The change of scene from the urban New Jersey setting of Clockers, Freedomland and Samaritan is welcome; Samaritan felt as though Price had not so much written a novel as bulldozed a mass of research along a vaguely mapped-out storyline. That same sense of notebook-dumping is also present to a lesser extent in Lush Life, but whenever the mass of accumulated observations threatens to weigh him down, Price leaps over it with a crackling stretch of dialogue or brilliantly rendered scene.

And yet, as much as I enjoyed the book, Lush Life left me with the same feeling I had after reading The Breaks: that Price has reached another artistic crossroads, and it will be very interesting to see where he goes next.

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Approved authors 7

It’s taking longer than I expected, but I’m talking about some of the books I’ve read and appreciated the most this past year. The majority were published in 2008 and a few were written by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but they’re here because I enjoyed them and I think you will, too.

INCOGNEGRO by Mat Johnson, Vertigo, 2008.

Incognegro is not simply the most exciting thriller I read in 2008, it’s also one of the best historical tales and a pretty intriguing mystery to boot — a place where where themes leading back to Ralph Ellison, James M. Cain, Erskine Caldwell, Richard Wright and Raymond Chandler merge, entwine and draw together into a clean, satisfying narrative knot. And because it arrives in the form of a boldly drawn graphic novel, you don’t even have to wonder what the film version would look like. It’s already there on the page.

mat-johnsonJohnson’s story, chiefly set in the Depression-era American South, centers on Zane Pinchback, an African-American writer for a newspaper modeled on the New York Amsterdam News. Pinchback is so light-skinned that he can pass for white, enabling him to travel undercover and write stories exposing lynchings under the nom de voyage Incognegro. (Johnson bases this partly on the exploits of Walter White, whose autobiography A Man Called White is one of the overlooked classics of American literature.) After one too many close calls with murderous rustics, Pinchback is ready to pack it in, start writing under his own name and take his place among the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, but a murder case with a personal connection draws him to Mississippi for another Incognegro assignment, this time burdened with an equally ambitious but far less clever companion whose blundering threatens to land them in serious trouble. It also draws the attention of a Ku Klux Klan official who is determined to unmask the Incognegro and make him the guest of honor at an extra-special necktie party.

Since Incognegro is a graphic novel, I can’t offer any standout passages, but this sample page (which shows Pinchback trying to rescue a young black man while presenting himself as a member of the Klan) should give you a taste, as well as an example of Warren Pleece’s dramatic artwork:

incognegro

Johnson’s story is loaded with insider details on Klan lingo and practices, such as dropping AYAK and AKIA — codes for “Are you a Klansman?” and “A Klansman I am” — into conversation. Johnson keeps ringing new changes on the themes of identity and racial roles, bringing it all to a head with a honey of a twist ending.

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Approved authors 6

I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this past year. Most of the books were published in 2008. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

AZORES: POEMS, by David Yezzi, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2008.

TRITINA FOR SUSANNAH

The water off these rocks is green and cold.

The sandless coast takes the tide in its mouth,

as a wolf brings down a deer or lifts its child.

I walked this bay before you were my child.

Your fingers stinging brightly in the cold,

I take each one and warm it in my mouth.

Though I’ve known this shore for years, my mouth

holds no charms of use to you, my child.

You will have to learn the words to ward off cold

and know them cold, child, in your open mouth.

azoresDavid Yezzi’s third collection, Azores, is the book of poetry that I returned to most often in 2008. Poems, like songs, should have little knots in them that take time to undo, and Yezzi’s deceptively plainspoken style often concerns itself with the troubled, conflicted emotions of everyday life. Yezzi’s poetry in general, and Azores in particular, often has a strong erotic undercurrent, which suits his focus on the gap between regulated behavior and ungovernable private feelings. But Yezzi’s sophistication encompasses the mixed feelings of a parent contemplating the troubles lying in store for a child (as in the poem above), or a man wondering if his inability to feel anything for the sudden death of another reflects something deeper and emptier about himself:

THE CALL

The call comes and you’re out. When you retrieve

the message and return the call, you learn

that someone you knew distantly has died.

His bereaved partner takes you through the news.

She wants to tell you personally how

he fought and, then, how suddenly he went.

She’s stunned, and you feel horrible for her,

though somewhat dazed, since he was not a friend,

just someone you saw once or twice a year,

and who, in truth, always produced a shudder:

you confess that you never liked him much,

not to her, of course, but silently to yourself.

You feel ashamed, or rather think the word

ashamed, and hurry off the line. That’s when

the image of him appears more vividly,

with nicotine-stained fingertips and hair

like desert weeds fetched up on chicken wire,

the rapacious way he always buttonholed

you at a launch, his breath blowsy with wine.

Well, that will never happen again:

one less acquaintance who stops to say hello,

apparently happy at the sight of you.

So why then this surprising queasiness,

not of repulsion but of something like remorse,

that comes on you without your guessing it,

till the thing that nagged you most – his laugh, perhaps –

becomes the very music that you miss,

or think you do, of want to, now he’s gone.

Yezzi’s first two collections, Sad is Eros and The Hidden Model, are on my 2009 reading list. If they’re the same level of quality as Azores, I expect Yezzi will be on next year’s Appr0ved Authors list as well.

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Approved authors 5

Between now and New Years Day I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

NOW YOU SEE IT . . . STORIES FROM COKESVILLE, PA., by Bathsheba Monk, Picador, 2006.

bathshebamonkIn “Congratulations, Goldie Katowitz,” one of the 17 linked stories in Bathsheba Monk‘s first book, a young woman who has always imagined herself a writer begins to wonder if she can really pull it off. “It was true. Every time I tried to imagine the lives of people I knew, it was like creating fanciful, useless additions to structures that couldn’t support them. The whole thing crumbled.”

This is not a problem for Bathsheba Monk:

My parents had bought a detached home with three bedrooms on the north side of town three years ago: Frankie because he wanted more children; Connie to leave gritty downtown Cokesville behind. “You may have to work in ther mill,” Connie had told him, “but we don’t have to live in it.” The house was in a block of homes originally built for managers in the mill, but they had deserted them for the new development homes being built in the suburbs. The house needed some work, mostly cosmetic. Any repairs that had to be done, she had promised Frankie, she would learn how to do herself.

It pleased my mother no end that our neighbor in the house next door was a doctor, albeit one who had lost his admitting privileges to St. Luke’s, the local hospital, and who, I realize now, was an alcoholic. But still, a doctor! We were living with rich people. Behind our back fence was an old strip mine. Occasionally, it was still detonated to dislodge coal; and when that happened, the crab apples fell out of our trees and the holy statues on the dressers jumped. But Connie thought it was a natural setting, almost bucolic. “At least we don’t have to look at the smoke from the blast furnaces,” she said. Connie began drinking her morning coffee on the back porch, looking at the strip mine but seeing only the white birch trees and huckleberry bushes that grew through the slag. She was happy, I think. At least she smiled. She stopped smiling when the steelworkers’ union went on strike. She was not going to lose her beautiful home. She would go to work to save it herself.

“Well, I’m gonna try it, no matter what. Babba will have to help around here during the day,” Connie said to Frankie.

“Yeah, sure. Babba.”

They said some other things loudly, and soon, from my perch on the windowsill on the second floor, I heard the porch door slam and saw my father walk over to the bench in the backyard and put his beer down. He took his wooden clarinet out of its blue fur-lined case, screwed it together, wet his reed, and began to play. My father played with a local group, Jolly Joe Timmer’s Polka Band, for weddings and dances at the church, but when he was by himself in the garden, he played a different kind of music, and the songs he made up — wistful voyages up and down the scales — had no names.

That evening he sent seductive notes into the twilight to do his bidding, like Pan in the primeval forest. And soon my mother came out and sat beside him on the bench. I stood up on the windowsill and stretched, holding on to a limb of the big maple tree whose giant branches embraced my room.

“Annie?”

I turned around to see Babba in my doorway. She sat down on my bed.

“Come in. Let’s read a story.”

I remember a drawing class in which the teacher spoke of using the light and shadings around an object to define that object, rather than simply drawing an outline and filling in the details. Now You See It . . . brings that teachers advice to mind.  Bathsheba Monk tells us about Annie Kusiak by shading in her coal-grimed hometown, her busy cast of relatives and friends, and the ways people find to escape their fates or, more often, sabotage themselves in the attempt. I had to will myself not to read all these short, salty stories in one sitting, but parcel them out and savor them a few at a time. The author has a novel coming out soon, and I look forward to reading that one, too.

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Approved authors 4

Between now and New Years Day I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

LET ME IN/LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.

If Patricia Highsmith had set out to write a straight-up, balls-to-the-wall horror novel, the result probably would have been a lot like Let Me In, Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 debut:

letmeinHakan had found a good place to stand watch, a place with a clear view of the path in both directions. Further in among the trees he had found a protected hollow with a tree in the middle and there he had left the bag of equipment. He had slipped the little halothane gas canister into a holster under his coat.

Now all he had to do was wait.

Once I also wanted to grow up

To know as much as Father and Mother . . .

He hadn’t heard anyone sing that song since he was in school. Was it Alice Tegner? Think of all the wonderful songs that had disappeared, that no one sang anymore. Think of all the wonderful things that had disappeared, for that matter.

No respect for beauty — that was characteristic of today’s society. The work of the great masters were at most employed as ironic references, or in advertising. Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” where you see a pair of jeans in place of the spark.

The whole point of the picture, at least as he saw it, was that these two monumental bodies each came to an end in two index fingers that almost, but not quite touched. There was a space between them a millimeter or so wide. And in this space: life. The sculptural enormity and richness of detail of this picture was simply a frame, a backdrop, to emphasize the crucial void in its center. The point of emptiness that contained everything.

And in its place, someone had superimposed a pair of jeans.

Someone was coming up the path. He crouched down with the sound of his heart beating in his ears.No. An older man with a dog. Two wrongs from the outset. First a dog he would have to silence, then poor quality.

A lot of screams for so little wool, said the man who sheared the pig.

He looked at his watch. In less than two hours it would be dark. If no one suitable came aling in the next hour he would have to settle for whatever was available. Had to be back home before it got dark.

The man said something. Had he seen him? No, he was talking to the dog.

“Does that feel better, sweetpea? You really had to go, didn’t you. When we get home daddy will give you some liverwurst. A nice thick slice of liverwurst for daddy’s good little girl.”

The halothane container pressed against Hakan’s chest as he leaned his head into his hands and sighed. Poor bastard. All these pathetic lonely people in a world without beauty.

He shovered. The wind had grown cold over the course of the afternoon, and he wondered if he should take out the rain jacket he had stowed away in his bag as protection against the wind. It would restorct his movement and make him clumsy where he needed to be quick. And it could heighten peoples’ suspicions.

Two young women in their twenties walked by. No, he couldn’t handle two. He caught fragments of their conversation.

“. . . she’s going to keep it now . . .”

“. . . is a total ape. He has to realize that he . . .”

“. . . her fault because . . . not taking the pill . . .”

“But he, like, has to . . .”

“. . . you image?. . . him as a dad . . .”

lettherightA girlfriend who was pregnant. A young man who wasn’t going to take responsibility. that’s how it was. Happened all the time. No one thought of anything but themselves. My happiness, my future was the only thing you heard. Real love was to offer your life at the feet of another, and that’s what people today are incapable of.

The cold was eating its way into his limbs; he was going to b clumsy now, raincoat or no raincoat. He out his hand inside his coat and pressed the trigger on the canister. A hissing noise. It was working. He let go of the trigger.

He jumped in place and slapped his arms to get warm. please let someone come. Someone who was alone. He looked at his watch. Half an hour to go. Let someone come. For life’s sake, for love.

That last line is more than just an example of a predatory delusional system at work: Let Me In is, among other things, a book about love and devotion, as well as the bonds forged among outcasts and damaged people. That emotional authority gives weight to the story, as does Lindqvist’s disciplined approach. There is only one supernatural element in Let Me In, and the story’s horrors are all the more effective for the way Lindqvist sets them against the gray walls of a particularly depressing city housing complex outside Stockholm.

The recent film adaptation of Lindqvist’s novel, retitled Let the Right One In, was a sensation on this year’s festival circuit and received a brief theatrical run preparatory to a DVD release early next year. I’ll certainly want to see the film, but you shouldn’t miss reading the book first if you want to discover one of the most original horror novels to come along in years. You should certainly avoid reading any of the publicity, because as the passage above shows, Lindqvist very expertly raises certain expectations, then gleefully yanks the rug out from under those expectations. I haven’t been this impressed by a horror writer since I read Clive Barker back in the Eighties, but Lindqvist’s approach is much less flashy — and, in its subdued way, far more effective.

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Approved authors 3

There are still some shopping days left before Christmas, so I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

in-hoboken-revisedIN HOBOKEN, by Christian Bauman, Melville House, 2008.

I have relatives who remember Hoboken in the days when its riverfront bristled with docks, the Clam Broth House was a sawdust-on-the-floor joint with a separate eating area for women, and you simply didn’t venture east of Washington Street unless you were a cop, a stevedore, or someone in search of trouble. When I lived in Jersey City in the late 1980s, Hoboken was yupping up rapidly but still had the bruises from its postwar decline: a scary housing project; an abandoned hulk of a building near Observer Highway that had once housed a craphouse supermarket where the baggers panhandled you as the cashier counted out your change; crumbling brownstones in need of a big cash infusion. Now, of course, the brownstones are worth millions of dollars, the docks have been replaced with an esplanade, the Clam Broth House exists only as a hand-shaped sign, and the abandoned supermarket houses a Barnes & Noble and a CVS drug store.

One of the constants in Hoboken’s story has been the great music club Maxwell’s, which has been known for years — barring a brief, unfortunate period when some new owners tried to make it into a brew pub — as a place where you could see tomorrow’s great bands today. Before the city went high-rent, Hoboken was a place where musicians could find affordable digs and access to Manhattan via the PATH.

Christian Bauman uses that music scene as the backdrop for his third novel, In Hoboken, published earlier this year. Bauman’s perspective is not that of an appreciator, but a participant:

For fifteen years, songwriters — folk, pop, rock, whatever — had been coming to Geoff’s apartment on Tuesday nights. From the amateur to the obscure to the famous, all were usually welcome. You played your newest song and the group critiqued. Fiercely critiqued. When Thatcher was seventeen, a senior in high school — and still unknown to Mason as Randolph’s son — he’d been in a trio with James and another kid from their town, a tall, muscular Greek kid a year older named King Papas. The trio took the bus from Gary Ridge into the city one night to play the open mike at Cornelia Street Cafe. Three kids from the same Jersey town into acoustic music, in 1987 — not common. A guy who looked like a vacationing dentist came up after they’d played and took Thatcher aside. He’d introduced himself as Nate Goldman. “I’m a manager.”

“I know who you are,” Thatcher has said, heart rate accelerating. Goldman was a legend, an old-school legend, who’d started his career while still in college, in the 1940s, following Pete Seeger around like a puppy dog and offering a management contract to every Communist folksinger and black blues belter Seeger turned him on to. Goldman’s day had essentially passed, but his management stable — his Talent — was still impressive.

“Yeah, well — I can’t manage you three kids so don’t piss your lederhosen.” Goldman had grabbed a card from his pocket and a pen and scrawled something on the back. “You know who Geoff Mason is, smartypants? Yeah?” He gave Thatcher the card. “Here’s his address. You guys — whichever of you guys writes the words — you go to his place Tuesday night, any Tuesday night, and tell him I sent you. You can’t sing for shit but you got some good words.”

James was at Rutgers within a few months, but Thatcher and King Papas made Geoff’s apartment a religion. Thatcher ended up in the army, and Papas ended up in Boston, but there was a time they never missed a Tuesday night. In the four years Thatcher was in the army he never came back, even when he was on leave. He visited Geoff if he was home, and wrote often, but never came by on Tuesdays.

“So why don’t you come?” Geoff said again. “Bring both those songs.”

“Okay, maybe.”

“It’ not a death sentence. Do what you will.” Mason reached for the bottle on the floor, filled his glass and then filled Thatcher’s. Thatcher took a long drink of the wine.

“You know what it is?” Thatcher said. “I just — I just don’t have a connection with those people anymore.”

“What people? Which?”

“The people who come here. The New Yorkers.”

“You mean your friends?”

Thatcher rolled his eyes. “Some of them. My friends are in Jersey.”

“So why don’t you like New York writers? Because they only write about life as a New York writer?”

Thatcher rolled his eyes again.

“Yes, well.” Mason tapped the stem of his wineglass with his fingernail. “We’re not as elitist as you think, and you’re not as worldly and of-the-people as you imagine. Just come on Tuesday and sing your proletarian drivel.”

Bauman’s first two novels, The Ice Beneath You and Voodoo Lounge, drew heavily on his military background; In Hoboken reflects his continuing career as a road-tested folk musician. The title is a semi-homage to Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and In Hoboken, with its large cast of musicians and artists trying to make their way in a world that has few places for them will introduce you to a time and a place that’s equally exotic.

And yeah, Bauman blurbed my book. What of it? The man’s got Robert Stone, Hubert Selby Jr. and Neal Pollack singing his praises — you think he needs a leg up from me?

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Approved authors 2

For the next week or so I’ll be offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

yourhatemail1YOUR HATE MAIL WILL BE GRADED: A DECADE OF WHATEVER, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi, Subterranean Press.

On occasion people ask me what, exactly, it is I have against Christianity, inasmuch as I seem to rail against it quite a bit. My general response is: I have nothing against Christianity. I wish more Christians practiced it. The famous bumper sticker says “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but I often wonder just how often they check in with Christ about that last one. I look at the picture I included with the last entry, the one with the kid protesting the gay marriages in San Francisco, wearing the shirt that has “homo” written on it with a circle and slash through the word, and I try to find some of Christ’s teachings in that. As you might imagine, I’m finding very little.

If that kid were hit by a bus and got to meet Christ shortly thereafter, I do imagine the conversation would be a sorrowful one, as the homo-negating young man would have to try to reconcile his shirt with the admonition to love others as one loves one’s self. I would imagine at the end of that conversation, the young man would be looking to see if Christ were holding a lever, and if there were a trap door under the young man’s feet.

On occasion people ask me why I blog, inasmuch as it is writing for free and I am a professional writer with bills to pay. My general response is: I have exactly 20 reasons for blogging. Reasons 1 through 18 are that I enjoy it, but the other two are professional: I want to give people a way to reach me, and I want people who might otherwise never read my book to get a taste of my writing and — please! — be inspired to buy it and — please! — whatever other books I publish, assuming we have some semblance of a publishing industry in the coming year.

John Scalzi blogs for pretty much the same reasons, as I understand from reading his posts, and it works. His blog Whatever is one of my daily Internet stops, and because of it  I’ve read and enjoyed his novel Old Man’s War, his no-nonsense book on the writing life (You Aren’t Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop) and now Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a collection of posts from the decade-old blog. He’s a very entertaining writer and Internet raconteur, which is enough to interest any reader, but he’s also a role model for making the Web into an adjunct of the literary life, which should interest any writer as well.

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Approved authors 1

For the next week or so I’ll be offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

kristykiernan4MATTERS OF FAITH by Kristy Kiernan, Berkley Books, 2008.

The turning points in my life have always arrived disguised as daily life. I never get the opportunity or have the sixth sense to stop and examine them, to time-stamp them on my soul, to whisper to myself that this, this thing, this simple boat ride in the Everglades, this phone ringing, this drive home twenty minutes late, was the thing that might do me in.

They never appear important enough to stop the things I’m already doing — like sparring with my husband over the developing nothingness of our marriage, like mixing the right amount of red into a fire sky painting, like sitting down at my computer and reading an e-mail from my son.

“He’s coming home for spring break,” I called down to Cal through the open window, scanning Marshall’s message for more information. “And he’s bringing someone with him.”

“I can’t hear you,” Cal yelled back, the hollow, river rush of water beating against the house for a moment. I read the rest of the e-mail, committing the pertinent facts to memory as a flutter in my stomach began to make itself known, before I headed downstairs andout the kitchen door. The edge of the screen caught the back of my heel before I could get out of its way.

Cal, shirtless and browned, his shorts riding low enough to expose a strip of white skin, squinted at mne as he hosed off two bright blue coolers. “What’s up?”

“Marshall’s coming home for spring break,” I repeated, surveying the sparkle of fish scales caught in the crisp grass at the sides of the driveway like diamonds in straw. “And he’s bringing company.”

“The Dalai Lama?” Cal asked, flipping a cooler over and sending a rush of tepid water over my bare feet.

“A girl,” I said, and was rewarded for my timing with a squiret of water up my calves. Cal turned to me in surprise, a smile flashing quick and white across his face. I grinned back, raising my eyebrows, a joke, half-formed, about to spill out, before I remembered that we weren’t joking much these days.

“Really? A girl?”

“Ada,” I said, the unfamiliar name hard on my tongue, a good complement wrapped in the downy softness of Marshall. “She’s pre-law.”

“What else is she?” Cal asked, turning back to his coolers.

“He didn’t say.”

“That’s new. And you didn’t ask?”

I didn’t answer the criticism, not nearly as subtle as his word ssuggested. The method our son took to find himself was a never-ending fracture, but it was a method I was open-minded enough to indulge, and one Cal barely abided. The possibilities of Ada’s religious affiliation skated through my mind as I watched him move on to the next cooler, sluicing the remains of his second fishing tour of the day across the drive.

“What should I do about the sleeping arrangements?” I asked.

“Put her in your office and let them sneak around.”

“Nice. I’ll ask Marshall. Good trip today?”

He shrugged and flipped the second cooler over before turning the hose on himself, talking behind the water cascading down through his hair and across his face. “Couple of idiots from Minnesota. Talked about ice fishing the whole time. They want to go out tomorrow, but they wouldn’t put on any sunscreen, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got the day off.”

His words dimmed out, as Cal’s stories about paper-white Yankees were destined to after twenty years of marriage. I imagine he barely heard my talk about warping Upson board or paint loss on a Highwayman painting these days.

I envisioned a girl named Ada. She would be sturdy, blonde, and no taller than I. Trying to fit Marshall beside this Ada in my imagination was harder work. He’d never brought a girl home before.

Boys, there’d always been boys. Interesting boys he sought out when he was tired of being Jewish, or Buddhist, or Methodist. Earnest-looking boys who wore various amulets and indicators of their faith, who Marshall engaged in fascinating theological discussions over dinner. Fascinating to me, anyway. Cal, his fire-and-brimstone minister father never far from his mind, would leave the table, taking his plate to the living room, where he’d turn up the television loud enough that those of us left in the dining room would fall silent, intent on our food.

I was proud of Marshall. He was curious, about this world and the possibility of the next. Curiosity was an admirable trait, one my own parents cultivated in me. Meghan, our daughter, was as curious as Marshall and I were about the world. And she was due home any second.

This opening is a really good, efficient bit of scene setting. After only three pages, we know everything we need to know about the family situation and the tense, fraying marriage, and we’ve been shown some of the larger issues that will drive the story. Starting with something as simple and homey as a child with severe food allergies, Kiernan creates a tightly structured, engrossing drama about the limits of forgiveness and religious faith.

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