Friday, October 17, 2008

Lush Life

That's the title of Richard Price's new book that I've just finished listening to but it's also the finest descriptor I can think of for the past week! First of all, Don is home and second, Barack is up in the polls and acquitted himself beautifully in the debate Weds. evening. I even have it on good authority that Colin Powell will finally endorse Barack later today, perhaps on Meet the Press.
These wonderful things are all exterior happenings that greatly contribute to my quality of life, however, personally it has been a delightful week for me too, if I may say. Tuesday morning I met my incomparable supervisor at the county commissioners' meeting where I received accolades upon reaching my 15 year anniversary with the library system. How this could have come to pass is beyond my understanding. Anyone who knew me between 15 and 20 years ago, when I had 3 jobs and still didn't know where my next meal might come from, would never believe that my life would now be so wonderfully full and yes, lush.

Ann and I went to Mimi's for a sinful breakfast of hash, eggs and pumpkin pancakes and then I went along to work, a job I might add that seems new and fresh every single day - even on the bad ones! After a couple of hours, I was frantically called into the kitchen to assess a broken window (yes, I have the dubious honor of being the facilities manager at my library branch). My head was all over this, figuring out how the lawn mowing team must have shot a stone up at the window and that the repair costs wouldn't have to come out of our budget and yada, yada, yada, but, when I opened the door to the kitchen, there were my co-workers, the library director and his assistant and I realized that I was "queen for a day!" I had won the Shining Star of the Month award! I knew that I had been nominated and, quite honestly, I REALLY wanted to win! This is an award that's determined by representatives from all of the library branches and I'm honored to be up there on the rather stunning plaque with so many of my co-workers and previous winners, including that incomparable Ann, plus my friends Andrea, Betsy, and Laura. It may take another week before I get my head out of the clouds so bear with me.

And that takes me back to Richard Price whose Lush Life is anything but. Like my favorite gritty, noir authors, George Pelecanos and early Dennis Lehane, Price writes what I call, literary street lit. This is Donald Goines for the college degreed. The beauty of these writers is their ability to find nuance and subtlety in what some would say is just black and white crime. Their books remind me of the Greek tragedies, in that their victims and criminals are not simply good or bad people but rather people with whom the Fates are f.....g. They are black, white and Hispanic. They often happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ending seldom works out well.

The characters in Lush Life and in Pelecanos's The Turnaround, which I just started this week, are achingly human and, but for the grace of God or whatever power one believes in, could be you or me. Whether in NYC or DC you know these kids, the crew that gets off work at 2am and goes out for a few tall ones before heading home to their lonely walk-ups, or the teenager, Alex, whose girl is grounded for the night so he ends up in the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood looking for just a "little trouble."
The parents of these kids? Some are great, hard working, usually second generation immigrants, wondering where they went wrong. Others, not so much. The cops are tragic figures too, so tired of trying to save the few redeemables from the drug life, so exhausted from being called out to the same crimes on the same streets night after night, day after day. They've become so cynical that they've lost the ability to tell the innocent from the guilty. Maybe we're all guilty. Yes, these books are downers, no doubt about it. But they're so elegantly written and so realistic that it's almost a duty for those of us lucky enough to have been brought up in safe, small-town America, in nuclear (not to be confused with nucular) families, to read them and try to open our hearts to the kids who weren't so lucky. It might just influence our views of our criminal justice system and the young lives wasting away in lockups around the USA.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Two Gems

How pleased I was to hear from one of my faithful readers that she uses my blog to help customers with readers' advisory. Well, Infobabe, have I got two hot titles for you! As different as two novels could be but each outstanding in its own way.
First, Jeffery Deaver's The Broken Window could be one of his best yet in the Lincoln Rhyme series and it's so relevant, which is probably what makes it so frightening. It took me a long time to trust my credit card number to the Internet, not to mention making a FaceBook page and creating this blog. To read this sinister thriller about identity theft, ratcheted up to the nth degree, reinforces all the paranoia that one might ever have regarding privacy in the information age. As a matter of fact, I have it from a good source that Deaver himself was a victim of identity theft.
I shouldn't assume that you're all familiar with this long popular series featuring the very testy quadriplegic homicide detective, injured in the line of duty, and his lover, police officer and CSI specialist Amelia Sacks. I can't read any of these novels now without seeing Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in their roles in The Bone Collector. Confined to his bed, aided by the finest technology money can buy, Lincoln directs Sacks through crime scenes using her as his eyes and ears.
In this case, Lincoln's cousin Arthur, with whom he had an extremely close relationship growing up that was torn asunder by jealousy and conflict as they became adults, has been imprisoned for a murder he claims not to have committed. Lincoln and Sacks come to the conclusion that Arthur has been framed by a diabolically clever criminal mind capable of using the tools of data mining, RFID, (look out librarians!) and the Internet to manipulate information placing people and evidence where they might never have been.
Deaver is famous for throwing in a lot of red herrings to keep readers on their toes. Just when you think you have it all figured out a plot contrivance comes out of nowhere and you're all off track again. I've almost finished this book and three times I thought I had the mystery solved. I can't wait to drive somewhere just to find out "who done it."

America, America by Ethan Canin is a whole different animal. One of those wonderfully sprawling historical novels, kicked up a notch by the gorgeous language of Iowa Writers' Workshop professor Canin, this novel spans the last forty years. Told by now middle aged newspaper editor, Corey Sifter, raised by a loving lower middle class family in upstate New York, the story details the social and political climate of a generation.
While working summers for the wealthy Metarey family, Corey develops a special friendship with the scion of the family, his wife and their two daughters. Recognizing the potential in Corey, the Metareys sponsor his education at an exclusive private school ensuring that he'll get a college education.
The Metareys though, are old-time Democrats involved in the political machine that wants to push liberal Kennedyesque senator Henry Bonwiller into the presidency. Smoke filled, bourbon fueled back room machinations set the stage for Bonwiller's run while Corey is hired to be the "see nothing, hear nothing" gopher who would go to his grave with his secrets because of his loyalty to the Metareys. But Bonwiller's penchant for booze and women - sound familiar? - may override any good that he does for unions, education, ending the Vietnam war and strengthening the homefront.
America, America is a poignant, satisfying read that leaves me wondering, will we ever learn from our mistakes?