A Prayer for Owen Meany
The new film "Simon Birch," based on John Irving's 1989 best seller, A Prayer for Owen Meany is drawing much praise from critics and audiences alike. Mark Steven Johnson, author of the two Grumpy Old Men films, is making his directing debut with "Simon Birch." Johnson, who also wrote the "Simon Birch" script, doesn't slavishly follow Irving's plot. Besides changing the title, he's altered a few other elements. About "Simon Birch," Johnson says, "Sixty to seventy percent of the book is still there," despite his removal of all the references to the Viet Nam war. Check it out. Read A Prayer for Owen Meany. Then see "Simon Birch," and decide for yourself what all the movie critics are raving about, and what readers have known for years.~B.B.
Rebuilding The Indian: A Memoir
Perhaps the subtitle of this book should have been expanded from "A Memoir" to "A Memoir of an Aging Baby Boomer," for all of the angst and confusion surrounding many of the nation's 50-somethings finds full voice here. Rebuilding the Indian is the memoir of a 50-year old failed academic, frustrated novelist, once-divorced father who has relocated to Missoula, Montana where he practices the craft of tree surgeon while awaiting the birth of a new child with a new wife. The author finds new meaning in this dizzy life by restoring a classic motorcycle of the '40s, an Indian Chief.
Readers will see many similarities between this book and the famous 1970s paean to the open road and inner feelings, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. While the new book is thankfully not as didactic as the former, that same joyous ode to biking, to being "part of the scenery" that auto drivers only look at, is apparent throughout. When Haefele finds that slivers of a flattened beer can are excellent handlebar shims, the similarity is a bit too close.
That the book is set in Montana is not accidental. Where else but in this state of cowboys, ranchers, grizzly bears, tax evaders, bikers, and other assorted weird characters, a state where regional pride peaks when Dan Rather intones, "And also from Montana this evening..." could a middle age New Age hippie live one step ahead of the demands of everyday life?
The reader will notice eerie parallels between the sequential rebirth of the Indian and the birth of Haefele's new daughter, Phoebe, as well as his reconciliation with the two now-grown children of his former marriage. The bike becomes the tonic for all of life's shortcomings, both present and past.
Haefele's constant sniveling about the exorbitant costs of restoring a 50-year old muscle bike, the unavailability of original parts, the off-center paranoia of his friend Chaz, and his estrangement from his father and his son overburden the reader with gushy debris. A fully-equipped Indian Chief tips the scales at about 700 pounds. It has been said that an Indian overturned in a barrow ditch presents the owner with an opportunity to open a roadside diner. Perhaps Haefele's editor should have lightened the load?
Such shortcomings notwithstanding, the author has a gift for language and description, and he is deserving of future attention when his forthcoming novel appears.
© by David Sinclair
Due to the overwhelming public interest in all things related to the Clinton investigation, we have decided to make several titles available to you. We recognize there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this subject, but decided because of its historical significance, it was important to present the material without further comment.~B.B.
Lasso The Wind: Away to the New West
This volume of essays and personal narratives is the latest offering from Timothy Egan, the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the "New York Times." Egan, a third generation westerner and current resident of Seattle, is the author of two previous books, The Good Rain and Breaking Blue.
The author refers to the "New West" as those states west of the 100th meridian, including New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and all states further west. The overlaying theme of the essays is Egan's sorrow and anger at the seemingly endless development that has characterized the region for the past fifty years. The loss of natural habitat for western wildlife results in limited diversity and population of animal species, and the trend can only worsen unless development is controlled. Tales of wild animals emerging in freshly-paved suburban neighborhoods abound throughout the west, and either the human or animal population must suffer.
Egan divides the work into individual essays, each of which explores in narrative fashion a specific state, or a state of mind, in the new West. He visits the Sky City of Acoma atop a New Mexican mesa, perhaps the oldest inhabited city in America, as well as Lake Havasu City in Arizona, freshly born from the diversion of the Colorado River and the relocation of London Bridge, a city with no past, and indeterminate future. He hikes into the Gila Mountains of southwestern New Mexico in search of a maverick cattle rancher who defies the federal government by running thousands of head on government lands he refuses to lease. Fly rod in one hand and notebook in the other, Egan roams the rivers of the Bitterroot Mountains, still finding isolated spots where nature's beauty is untouched by civilization.
Various chapters describe the attempts that man has made to tame and control the west, beginning with fencing in the nineteenth century and continuing in ever-increasing folly to the recent Central Arizona Project, a massive diversion of the waters of the Colorado to the thirsty suburbs of Phoenix. After years of political controversy and billions in taxpayer dollars, this cement-lined canal now delivers water too expensive for the local landowners to buy, while surrendering more to evaporation along its journey than it deposits in the Arizona reservoirs.
Lasso the Wind is a thought-provoking book. Egan's tone sometimes belies his bitterness at the despoiling of the west. But his self-righteousness is tempered by the reader's understanding that the author's argument is valid.
© 1998 by David Sinclair
The Magnetic Poetry, Book of Poetry
Robert Hass, the former Poet Laureate, says, "Magnetic Poetry is one-man Scrabble and the prize is insight." He is so right, but it's more than that. Hass doesn't mention how much fun it is! Here's what you get with The Magnetic Poetry, Book of Poetry: a collection of clever and insightful verse on a variety of subjects (all composed with Magnetic poetry sets), a Poetry Primer, one hundred magnetic starter words, and a magnetic poetry board, built right into the book!
In the Poetry Primer, you get a quick overview of the absolute basics of poetry and lots of creative exercises. But not to worry; there aren't any rules. You just do it. Check out the samples, too. They are effervescent, startling, hilarious, and illustrate life's little quirks. Topics range from Nature and Love to Maxims and Daily Life. You'll read a variety of poems bursting with wordplay. Of course, I had to rip out the little magnetic words and start playing immediately. What more could you ask for? Creative writing class was never this much fun!
Here's my first magnetic poem:
Cityjazz, Blue Notes
See what I mean? It's fun and a great gift!
© 1998 by Barbara Benepe
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Straight Man is Richard Russo's latest since Nobody's Fool, which was made into the movie of the same name. Its protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the chairman (temporary) of the English department at a small, mediocre university in Pennsylvania. The faculty of his department would be outclassed by some local suburban writers groups. There is much in the story that is familiar to those of us on the fringe of the writing subculture: the unfinished novel in the bottom drawer of the desk, or the successful poems written fifteen years ago, offered as proof of talent that hasn't manifested itself since.
The writing, or not writing, or wanting to write, and talking about writing and teaching writing, simply provide a background for the lives of the people in the story while they carry on the important business of having relationships. Those relationships - old, new, strong, fragile, friendly, hostile, healthy, decaying, potential, and more, are the real subject of the novel. Its plot revolves around the department's annual funding crisis, when the relationships among its members are intensified and tested. The chairman (temporary) observes and participates in the relating, attempts to defend his department against budget cuts, and devises a unique funding proposal. All the while he provides insightful humorous commentary on life and writing.
It's a relatively wholesome book. There is little violence. Two ducks are murdered, but that happens offstage, and the assault with the spiral bound notebook is minor. There is some gratuitous nudity, and graphic urination, but no actual sex. The good guys win, even though William Henry Devereaux, Jr. wets his pants. (I'm not saying that ducks are bad guys. They just aren't characters in this story.)
I loved it.
© 1998 by Grant Coomer
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy's 1992 National Book Award winning novel was not what I had anticipated. A long time horse lover, I checked out the back cover blurb from Newsweek: "[it] transcends the bounds of its genre with rambunctious, high-spirited, bottomless inventiveness." Sounded interesting and a good book to add to my, as yet, small pile of literary fiction. Digging out my dusty cowboy boots, I was set for a modern-day western of three young men taking a ride into Mexico. I was prepared for lots of horse sweat, some coming-of age scenes and back country descriptions of Mexico. The New York Times Book Review promised McCarthy's work "repays the tight focus of his attention with its finely wrought craftsmanship." I assumed this meant my English teacher's definition of craftsmanship.
Hardly. By the end of nineteen pages, I was fed up. No punctuation.
Sentences rolled along clause after clause rolling and no commas no apostrophes didnt use any dont even try to understand why this writing was blowing through my mind with all those strings of words and nothing to tie them down to with some sentences going on and on like that Everready Bunny giving a reader no pause to breathe goin on half a page sentences.[Editor's Note: Whew!]
I was disgusted with those eastern reviewers. Where's the craftsmanship? Reading this book was exhausting! It kept me all too aware that I was sitting in a chair staring at white paper pages with black ink letters that wouldn't follow sportsman-like rules.
Okay, enough of that...you know there's more....I got caught.
Long about page sixty-five or so, I got into the middle of his story and I forgot to stop at each lack of punctuation and I began to READ. By the end of the book, I was shaking my head at how well McCarthy's writing worked. His style put me into the dream-like running of movement and it put my senses into the grit and glory of life.
So I suggest you find a way to stay with this horse. It definitely isn't at all pretty. Hang on and ride to these closing sentences: "He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among the dry bracken and horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come."
This is Volume 1 of The Border Trilogy. I'll be back for more. I'm glad I can dig out my boots and bedroll to travel the western landscape through McCarthy's eyes. And, I'll remember to leave my "infernal editor" tied up securely, back in the stable.
© 1998 by Laura Snyder