Thursday, April 16, 2009

Erdrich, Pearl, Mosley and Patchett dominate my April reading

46. The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks. Fiction, 4-2, pp. 257
47. Child 44, Tom Rob Smith. Fiction, 4-6, pp. 436
48. The Red Convertible, Louise Erdrich. Stories, 4-7, pp. 494
49. Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng. Fiction, 4-8, pp. 255
50. A Cool Head, Ian Rankin. Fiction, 4-9, pp. 107
51. Franklin and Winston, Jon Meacham. Biography, 4-10, pp. 370
52. The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett. Fiction, 4-12, pp. 336
53. The Last Dickens, Matthew Pearl. Fiction, 4-15, pp. 383
54. The Long Fall, Walter Mosley. Mystery, 4-16, pp. 306

Here's my reading list for the first half of April. First, the books I thought exceptional: Louise Erdrich's short story collection, The Red Convertible; Ann Patchett's first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars; the newest biblio-mystery from Matthew Pearl, The Last Dickens; and The Long Fall by Walter Mosley.

Erdrich is an accomplished writer in a variety of genres, principally the novel and poetry. Her short fiction has been largely overlooked, but, I think, no longer, for in story after story in this impressive collection the reader cannot help but acknowledge her skill with the short form. The Red Convertible also provides valuable insight into Erdrich's technique as a writer for much of this material was later worked and re-worked into her novels.

The Patron Saint of Liars is Patchett's first book; many notable books, including Bel Canto, followed. It's an impressive debut and an exceptional book.

Matthew Pearl's literary career is founded on the biblio-mystery. First, Dante and then Poe and now Charles Dickens. Pearl hits his stride with The Last Dickens, which focuses on the possibility that Dickens actually completed the missing final half of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Long Fall is a departure for Mosley. It is set in New York not L.A. and introduces a new character, private eye, Leonid McGill. It's fresh and captivating and Mosley's best work in years.

Also worth reading: A Cool Head by Ian Rankin. Part of the Quick Reads series on offer in the U.K. it is a quick, but enjoyable for all that. I also liked Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter, the story of a community rocked by a devastating school bus crash. It wasn't great, but it was good.

I was greatly disappointed in Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Much is being made of this tale of a serial killer in Stalin's Russia. I don't understand why. The killer and the motives behind his acts are preposterous and the chain of events that lead to his discovery improbable. Coincidence is the writer's best friend.

Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng received much critical acclaim. I kept thinking I should like it more than I did. It is well written, but I found it opaque. I hate to put anyone else off this book. I do believe it will find its audience; just not me.

Only one work of non-fiction: Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham is an account of the friendship between FDR and Churchill. It's not great -- Meacham's recent biography of Andrew Jackson is better -- but it is solid work and well worth reading.

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