Two terrific, and very different novels:
Denis Johnson captures the sweep of one man's life in the span of 116 pages.
This novella -- Train Dreams is so brief that it can't reasonably be called a novel -- is a remarkable performance and unlike almost any other book you care to name.
In telling the story of Robert Grainier, in the American West at the beginning of the 20th Century, Johnson ranges from the prosaic to the elegaic, from magical to dream-like to mundane.
It is a powerful and moving book that puts Johnson's considerable talents on full display.
Book 117: Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell
In Death of Kings we approach the end of Cornwell's Saxon Series. There are one, perhaps two books, remaining at most. I will be sad to see it go.
King Alfred has died. Uhtred, Cornwell's hero, anticipates a invasion by the land-hungry Danes in the wake of his death.
Yet the Danes are not the only obstacle confronting Uhtred. He must also overcome the suspicions of churchmen, who mistrust him because he is a pagan and because he embraces much of the Danish way of life.
But Uhtred's heart lies with Alfred's daughter and so he gives his loyalty to Alfred's son, Edward, who is now the king.
Uhtred must contrive to keep the Danes at bay until he convince Edwards of the merits of his arguments.
To do so, he relies on brains as well as brawn in Death of Kings. Cornwell writes as eloquently of political machinations as he does scenes of battle.
But it is the battle scenes in which Death of Kings soars. Men are tested in the brutal confines of the shield wall. Even as Uhtred receives a glimpse of his mortality, his arm and his heart remain strong, vital, and England remains free.