A Beautiful Truth (by Colin McAdam)

A Beautiful Truth
by Colin McAdam
Published by SOHO Press, September 17, 2013

SUMMARY
WHO: Louee, a chimpanzee…
WHAT: is adopted by a childless couple…
WHERE: in Vermont…
WHEN: in the early 1970s…
WHY: as a sort of surrogate son.
HOW: The couple anthropomorphize the primate and inadvertently inculcate a dual nature within Louee.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS BOOK:
+ Stylistically, A Beautiful Truth is interesting in its use of and reference to language: Dialogue is stripped of quotes and; Pronouns are not necessarily tethered to the subject in the topic sentence of a paragraph. The reader needs to linger a little over each sentence to catch the current of mood that will take him/her to the next point.
+ The novel raises some intriguing questions about the nature of primates and the fine line that may exist between humans and apes. The whole of the novel is cut with chapters from various chimps’ points of view, which are written in short truncated sentences; and while the humans’ chapters are more fully developed, the sentence structures themselves are not complex. The near stream of consciousness from both the human and the apes emphasizes the similarities between the primates.
+ Humans tend to project human meaning into other orders of animals, and Judy and Walt (the adopting couple) are no different. However, the actions described by the very words that emphasize commonalities, throw into sharp relief the wild nature of non-human animals. 
WHY YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE THIS BOOK:
 The reader needs to work a little to negotiate and hopscotch the atolls of mood and thought as presented as a result of the writing style, making the novel as a whole semantically challenging.

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SAVE THE CHIMPS: Half of the net profits from the book’s sales will benefit Save the Chimps, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world, providing home and care for 300+ chimps.

OTHER: I received a paperback ARC of A Beautiful Truth (by Colin McAdam) from a publishing industry professional and friend. The ARC was unsolicited but highly recommended by my friend. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. 

From the Land of the Moon

by Milena Agus; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions, January 2011

From the Land of the Moon is a novella about a Sardinian woman searching for love in the post-war years amongst the metaphorical and literal ruins of her life. The woman recognizes that her nature is perhaps flawed as true love seems to remain elusive. Her quest assumes at times, sad, pitiable, desperate and creative forms that echo the pathos of Anna Karenina and Madam Bovary. The woman moves about the Italian landscapes of Cagliari and Milan as the country rebuilds from the effects of Allied Bombing and Nazi retreat. The settings of the story provide the physical architecture of the woman’s efforts and parallels can be drawn between the reconstruction and her state of mind. The story is told from the point of view of the woman’s granddaughter after the woman, referred to as Grandmother, has passed away, providing a doubly unreliable narrative: The woman herself may have been insane and her story suffers from being two generations away from being immediately verified. From the Land of the Moon is poignant without being maudlin and, the letter which serves as the final chapter is a powerful denouement.

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From the Land of the Moon qualifies for the What’s in a Name? Challenge #5 hosted by @BethFishReads at http://www.BethFishReads. The title, From the Land of the Moon contains a word that is “something you’d see in the sky“: “Moon”




I borrowed a copy of From the Land of the Moon (by Milena Agus; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) form the Jackson County Library System in Southern Oregon. I receive no monies, goods and/or service in exchange for reviewing this product and/or mentioning any of the persons that are or may be implied in this post.

“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” — Stephen Stills


Nature Girl

Nature Girl

by Carl Hiaasen
narrated by Lee Adams
11.50 hours





What is it about Florida that inspires writers to create kooky characters? Is it the heat? Is Florida the unofficial sanctuary of eccentric people, both fictional and real? Perhaps the natural landscape throws human absurdities into sharp contrast. Maybe it’s Carl Hiaasen himself, who has created a world of quirkiness, that has given other authors implicit permission to set their respective eccentric characters in Florida. Hiaasen has been inculcating a world of idiosyncratic fictional personae for nearly a quarter of a century, set in the back waters of the peninsular state and, brings to mind other Floridian authors and humorists such as Elizabeth Stuckey-French (Mermaids on the Moon and The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady,) Paul Levine (the Solomon vs Lord series) and, Jeff Lindsay (the Dexter series.)
In Nature Girl, Hiaasen delivers, as expected, an offbeat cast of characters, including Honey Santana, a single mom who designs an elaborate payback for a telemarketer who not only calls her during her dinner hour, but who also calls her an offensive name. The vendetta serves as the main story line to which a number of farcical sub-plots become entangled – all threads coming to a denouement on the appropriately named Dismal Key in the Everglades.

But for all the experience Hiaasen has had in developing the funnily unconventional plots and casts of characters playing out their dramas in the Sunshine State, Nature Girl falls flat. The kookiness has become something of a Hiaasenian trope. Because comedy requires a straight man or at least a straight context with which to be most effective, the comic aspects of Nature Girl are all too familiar and, as a result Nature Girl just isn’t funny enough. When everything is depicted as absurd, nothing is.

Lee Adams delivered the material in a clean, clear, even pace. Her delineation of characters was well done, especially the role of Louis Piejack, a walking, rotting corpse of a man (both physically and morally) who stalks Honey. However, the novel seemed a bit overlong, never a good thing if the title is supposed to be light and breezy, which indicates that a faster pace and a better sense of comic timing is called for than what was delivered.


Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of this title from a public lending library.


This book qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Nature Girl is set near Everglades City in Florida.
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True Grit



True Grit

by Charles Portis
narrated by Donna Tartt
6.25 hours

The story is about a fourteen-year old girl who hires a federal marshal to pursue the murderer of her father into the Indian Country of Oklahoma. Strong-willed, self-righteous and determined not to be cheated of the fees she is willing to pay the marshal, Mattie Ross insists on joining Rooster Cogburn on the search. Cogburn is mercenary, hard drinking and, unscrupulous in his work ethics – at once displaying the “true grit” required to get the job done and causing uneasiness among those who are trying to re-establish and define law and order in the wake of the Civil War. The contract between Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn is complicated by the arrival of a vainglorious Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoeuf (pronounced “la beef”) who is himself searching for the same man as Mattie and Cogburn. He attaches himself to the posse and the story becomes as much about the dynamics between the three as it is about the actual manhunt. Set in the 1870s, its a Western that stirs the imagination as it is full of iconic images and scenes: whisky-swilling lawmen, a Bible quoting pill of a girl, gunfights and blazes of glory.

The narrator, Donna Tartt, is an author in her own right who *loves* this book, as averred in her short essay at the end of the audio. I’ll not fault her strong Mississippi accent; but she is not a narrator and brings no added value to the production. D.T. lacks the fluidity required to keep the story going, drawing attention to the “he saids” and deploying pauses that even the kindest listener could not interpret as a meaningful or dramatic. There are booth noises, an occasional mouth noise and, some of her words are clipped just a fraction of second too short. This is a quick and dirty production.


True Grit

directed by Henry Hathaway

starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glenn Campbell


The 1969 screenplay is truer to the original story up to a point but then Marguerite Roberts (screenwriter) blows the ending so badly it’s painful and, it negates the value of having adhered to the novel’s points previously. The ’69 movie ends much more upbeat than the novel and paves the way for a sequel. The whole of the movie is much brighter than the novel might suggest, reflecting the film-making sensibilities of the times. Dirt, drunkeness and even blood are more inferred than illustrated – giving the movie a “clean” and staged look. The actors perform self-consciously and none of the characters are fully realized. The delivery of the language is very modern in tone, characters sounding more like mid-twentieth century people than mid-nineteenth.


Recommendation: Read the book in print. The audio and the movies all fall short of Charles Portis’ writing.

Other Stuff: I purchased and dnloaded the audio edition of True Grit from weread4you.com The 1969 film adaptation was rented from iTunes and; I saw the 2010 film in the movie theater (Cinemark Tinseltown USA in Medford, OR.)

True Grit qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. True Grit is a short novel set in Western Arkansas and, Eastern Oklahoma in the Indian Territory/Choctaw Nation.



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Caribou Island

Caribou Island

by David Vann
narrated by Bronson Pinchot
8.1 hours




If books were colors, this book would be a dark inky blue. It would be the color of undercurrents that pull the listener inexorably towards the tragic moment. It would be the color of deep impenetrable forests and lakes that shoulder against daylight and keep secrets in their primordial being. It would be the color of a night sky in the north which hints at a little daylight within it still; but holds it captive, letting it know it can be easily swallowed up. So, yes, this is my metaphorical description of Caribou Island that lets you know that it is not a novel of hope and love or even happy endings.

What Caribou Island is, is a novel about a family on the Kenai Peninsula whose quotidian routines (begotten of never-ending regret and frustration) are disturbed as Gary, the patriarch of the family, decides to build a cabin in an even more remote area off of the peninsula. His wife, Irene, the unwilling accomplice in the ill-conceived plan, assumes her role of martyr on a scale not seen since the days of Greek Tragedy, suffering from inexplicable and severe headaches and, the conviction that her husband is taking steps to leave her. Gary and Irene’s daughter, Rhoda, is the Cassandra of this epic, eddying around in her parents’ wake as her perceptive concern blinds her to her own domestic situation. And then there is Mark, Rhoda’s brother, the erstwhile fisherman and career stoner, blithely unconcerned with the fates of those surrounding him.

David Vann’s writing is figuratively photo-realistic, portraying setting and characters vividly (mosquitoes, warts and all;) but you may have cause to want to expunge those images from your mind by the time the book has ended. It’s all a bit dark in timbre and the big scene is surreal and graphic (though no surprise to those familiar with David Vann’s previous work.) The setting may be gorgeous; but none of the people are likable and; there is nothing funny or happy about this story. Caribou Island is a tragedy set in modern context and as such the listener can expect to see an exposition of immutable fate and impotent people. There is no antidote in this story, no convincing argument that the events as they unfolded were not inevitable and no solace that the reader or listener is really inherently different from the characters in the book. There is little to take away from the story other than we may be living out our own modern tragedies.

Bronson Pinchot’s narration hits all the right notes, imbuing
each character with distinction and pathos. If I were to fault him for anything, it would be for the voice of Monique, a young seductress. Monique doesn’t sound natural, somehow at odds with the quality of the rest of the narration.


Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of this audiobook from Blackstone Audio, Inc. I selected this title for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge being hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey.

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The Lotus Eaters


The Lotus Eaters

By Tatjana Soli

narrated by Kirsten Potter

14.90 recorded hours

Blackstone Audio



Matterhorn (by Karl Marlantes) whetted my appetite for more novels about the Vietnam War. Previously a topic that did not particularly interest me, given that I’m not much for topics that happen in my own lifetime, the Vietnam War had made little impression upon my quotidian thoughts. That changed when Karl Marlantes managed to dump me in the middle of the jungle. So now, the Vietnam War has gotten into my head. Everyday I think about it. Sometimes it’s a small thought like when I see a Vietnam War Veteran’s license plate. Sometimes it’s a bigger thought like when journalists compare Iraq with Vietnam. But the point is, that the Vietnam War has become a part of my living history, my present, even though I was not there. The most natural way for me to feed my interests is to read. Fiction. Non-Fiction. It doesn’t matter because in reading more and more about any topic, what is true becomes evident and what isn’t falls away.

When Matterhorn was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, a companion review of The Lotus Eaters also appeared (read Danielle Trussoni’s review and Janet Maslin’s earlier review.) I was at first reluctant to pick up The Lotus Eaters because it didn’t sound gritty enough. It sounded more like a love story for women to read then a book that would transport me to the Vietnam War. I can’t pinpoint what changed my mind; but it may have been pure laziness. The company I work for produced the audio and so I could (and did) walk over to the warehouse and borrow a copy. And besides, there is a helicopter on the cover…

The story is about Helen, a girl who arrives in Vietnam as a novice photographer, ostensibly choosing Vietnam because she wants to discover more about the circumstances of her brother’s death as a soldier. It becomes clear however, that Helen’s own nature has led her there and, now that she is in Vietnam, is intrigued by the land and people. But the overarching theme of the novel is really the addictions that war junkies (the hard core soldiers, the correspondents and photographers who stay on and, the civilians who remain) both relish and suffer despite common sense and the relationships that would otherwise temper risky choices.

The book opens with the fall of Saigon. The listener becomes a voyeur of events that unfold during that day in April 1975 when the crush of people motivated by fear and desperation struggle to escape the approaching conquering armies. The listener follows Helen, the veteran female war photographer as she negotiates the physical and psychological detritus of the city. It becomes clear that this is not your musical, Miss Saigon. Images of the day imprint upon the mind’s eye as much as a newspaper photograph would, a clever literary technique given the protagonist’s profession. This photograph-as-prose approach is subtle in the beginning and more obvious later when certain scenes are literally framed.

Kirsten Potter’s voice is very cool, calm and detached and, appropriate for the novel. Her voice is clear and transparent enough to tell the story and very subtle changes in her tone convey a shift in mood and/or speaker and, accents are used sparingly. The listener is relegated to the third person omniscient POV from the onset of the book and remains there as the author intends. And therein lies my quibble. I don’t want distance from the events. I want to feel them. And I don’t. Still, the highly descriptive prose and the writing technique make this a worthwhile listen. Just don’t expect Matterhorn.

The Things They Carried

“I liked Matterhorn but Best Vietnam Novel Ever? I don’t think so”


In the above rather provocative tweet sent by a book blogger, a
link to a book review of Matterhorn (by Karl Marlantes) was attached. I dutifully clicked on the link and read a rave review about the book:

“It’s the best novel I have ever read about Vietnam, which is saying something as I loved Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried.”

– Michael Jones for The Huffington Post

Now, considering that it took me two weeks to “get out of the bush” after listening to Matterhorn (narrated by Bronson Pinchot,) I was ready to wholeheartedly agree; but then I realized Matterhorn is the only novel about Vietnam I have ever experienced, so what the heck do I know? Hence, I decided to read more novels about Vietnam. Fortuitously, while I was browsing the porch offerings at the Boothbay Library in Maine (any book = 25 cents!) I came across a copy of The Things They Carried and felt it was destiny that it should be the first book to read and compare with Matterhorn.

The Things They Carried
By Tim O’Brien

In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien writes about the truth of Vietnam, not necessarily what really happened in Vietnam; but stories that show the truth of Vietnam, especially its senselessness. The short story collection (loosely connected by recurring characters) is more about writing about Vietnam than it is about the actual experience of Vietnam. TTTC is metaliterature that allows the reader to intellectually grasp the meaninglessness of the Vietnam War without feeling it in our guts. The stories are illustrations and abstractions of what it was like for Tim O’Brien but the reader is removed from the immediacy of the action.

But maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, the text had no “voice” to shape it, give life to the nuances or the angst of the characters. And now the second fortuitous event occurs in my quest to discover a book that might possibly challenge Matterhorn as The Best Novel About Vietnam: audible.com had one of their member sales! I was able to snag a copy of The Things They Carried (narrated by Tom Stetschulte) rather inexpensively! YAY! My excitement was short-lived however.

The Things They Carried
By Tim O’Brien
Narrated by Tom Stetschulte

Recorded Books
7.00 hours

Tom Stetschulte did not seem particularly invested in the text, much less able to color the narrative needed to make the characters, including Tim O’Brien, “pop.” His voice did not exhibit a range much beyond his own more mature voice, so the 18 to 20-something-year-old characters lacked a certain vibrancy and specific characteristics, such as ethnicity. When writing or expressing universals, such as the senselessness of war, perhaps Tim O’Brien and Tom Stetschulte did not think this was important; but the Vietnam War needs the context of specifics to draw us into the time and place. To even begin to make sense of the incomprehensible, the reader/listener needs to be drawn in viscerally, tactilely, to engage as if he were actually present. From there, the mind might be able to grasp the scope of the war experience; but expecting a reader to process the war experience “top down,” i.e academically or intellectually without the feel of the war, is arguably impossible.

Robin Whitten, Founder and Editor of AudioFile Magazine (who, by the way, reviewed TTTC as narrated by Tom Stetschulte and gave it an Earphones Award – read the review here), called my attention to the podcasts that the National Endowment of the Arts produced as part of The Big Read. The NEA/Big Read produced a series of podcasts, each covering a title in their program, of which TTTC was one. I loved the podcast! It contained excerpts from an interview with the author, military vets and, actor Bradley Whitford reading from the book. There were even a couple of cool sound f/x (e.g. the sound of a chopper which moved from the left channel to the right and, a sound clip of The Rolling Stones.) I’m sure Robin Whitten thought that having the background material on TTTC would make me appreciate the novel more; but mostly I thought it was a shame I couldn’t get a recording of Bradley Whitford reading The Things They Carried! Bradley Whitford sounded like he had much more of an affinity for the text.

The Bottom Line:
The writing left me detached and the narration was uninspired.

Matterhorn = 1, Other Vietnam Novels = 0

Other Vietnam Novels TBR: The 13th Valley (by John M.Del Vecchio;) Dispatches (by Michael Herr;) The Lotus Eaters (by Tatjana Soli;) Fatal Light (by Richard Currey) and maybe Going After Cacciato (by Tim O’Brien.) If you have a recommendation for a book (fiction or non-fiction) about the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!