Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Fesperman, McMurtry and sportswriting in The New Yorker

Book 71: Layover in Dubai by Dan Fesperman

It's an entertaining book, but Dan Fesperman's Layover in Dubai is nonetheless a book that relies far too much on convention and cliche.

The recipe is a familiar one: take one innocent, drop him into a pot of boiling trouble and watch him not only escape the boiling pot, but succeed admirably by bringing a quintet of bad guys to justice.

You've read it before. We all have. In this case, the innocent is Sam Keller, an auditor for an international pharmaceutical company. Sam's asked to do a favor of the company's head of security; a favor that begins by extending a six-hour layover into a couple of days. Before you know it, Sam's on the lam, wanted by his company, the corrupt Emirati police and a couple of hulking Russian no-goodniks.

Sam's only ally is the one non-corrupt man on the Emirati police force who -- yes, it's true -- has a lovely daughter who defies Muslim convention, along with her mother and father.

What lifts Layover in Dubai above the run-of-the-mill thriller is Fesperman's detailed description of Dubai. It's not a place I want to visit, except from the safe confines of Fesperman's novel.

Book 72: The Only Game In Town, Sportswriting from The New Yorker, edited by David Remnick

I suppose that if you weren't a sports fan you might make a case against The Only Game In Town. Then again, the writing is so crisp, so vivid and just so damn wonderful that I don't think a case can be made against the anthology at all. Instead, I'd argue that it shows once again how great writing can (and does) make any topic fascinating.

In compiling such an anthology, Remnick has had a rich treasure trove to plunder. Here's John Cheever, Calvin Trillin, Dan DeLillo, Susan Orlean (with an all too short article), John McPhee, Malcolm Gladwell and . . . that's only a fraction of the writers.

Shaq is here. Tiger Woods, too, and Lance Armstrong.

The Only Game in Town
shines because of both the writers and the written about.

My favorite piece, and one that I estimate I've read a dozen times, and would gladly read a dozen more, is The Web of the Game by Roger Angell. Angell sits in the stands with Smokey Joe Wood while watching a baseball game between Yale and St. John's. The game is notable because Wood is in the stands and Ron Darling and Frank Viola are on the mound for Yale and St. John's respectively.

My suggestion is buy this book now and set it in the shelf for the coming winter. When winter arrives, I prescribe a story a day.

Book 73: Hollywood by Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry's a clever man as evidenced by his multiple careers as rare book dealer, novelist and screenwriter.

He's written about each in a series of memoirs -- Books, Literary Life and now Hollywood. Yes, that's correct. Three memoirs when one would have done the trick.

All are rather light; each even given to the occasional one paragraph chapter. McMurtry notes, coyly I thought, in Hollywood that readers have complained about the brevity of the chapters in the previous two books.

My sense is that McMurtry believes he'll generate a little more coin for himself through the sale of three memoirs rather than one. Perhaps so. I certainly bought all three.

More power to him. There's the occasional entertaining anecdote, but no more than that. Really, Larry, you could have done better by yourself.

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