Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Novels Recently Read, Novels Acquired Today
I have finished re-reading Gore Vidal's Burr, Lincoln and 1876, which I took on after reading The Education of Henry Adams. Both of them write very well, and they know whereof they write. They also share a loathing for President Grant that will not allow him to have done a thing right. There's never mention of his attempts to follow Lincoln's Reconstruction plans, particularly for integrating the free black population into the economic and political life of the nation, nothing about how he attempted to reform the scandal and corruption that was the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- rather they focus on the corruption scandal involving the wife of one of his cabinet members, who had some kind of shenanigan deal with a reservation store merchant. That sort of thing. I have to dig down and find out more about this antipathy for Grant by those who would seem to have on surface provided him more support. But they hate him, and portray him as being hated by the voters too -- which doesn't fit in with other things I've read about how Grant was regarded by non-politicians. There's a scene in 1876 that breaks your heart -- and I'm thinking that Vidal was exercising whole cloth his privilege as a novelist to make up stuff, while Adams in his Education was writing neither history nor fiction, but fashioning his persona for the ages.
Novels acquired today -- a nice haul!
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor, an historical novel published last year in the UK, and last month here -- I have been waiting for a long time to get hold of a copy since reading about it in the UK reviews -- it was nominated for the Man Booker prize; from the Kirkus review:
[ " Taylor reinvents the Victorian novel, basing his narrative loosely on W.P. Frith’s massive satirical portrait of mid-19th-century English life of the same name. " ]
It's also been billed as a Victorian era mystery. Now I'll find out for myself. Perfect subway reading.
The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar (2011) -- this has one of the best titles ever, which I just stumbled upon today out of nowhere, having heard nothing about it before; from the LA Times review:
[ " One of Tobar's conceits in this portion of the novel, and it really works, is to invite his readers to consider Los Angeles as though it were fabulous and exotic — which, of course, it is. His travelers stumble around this unfamiliar place like a lost band of Marco Polos. Later, 11-year-old Brandon recounts the adventure through the filter of all the hundreds of fantasy novels he's read. "We were looking for Grandpa's house, because Araceli said we should look for him. But we found this other place instead, where there are houses like jails I guess …. and other things I thought only existed in books. But they were real."
By then Brandon is telling his tale to a gape-mouthed audience composed not just of his parents but also of cops, lawyers, a psychologist and a formidable young woman from child protective services — for when Scott and Maureen finally got it together to come home, they found the house empty, called the police and accused Araceli of kidnapping. The truth of what happened is already disappearing beneath layers of invention, much as history itself accretes and gathers upon any patch of ground, even in an environment as ostensibly new as SoCal. " ]
Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2011). Dpc and the Earps. My constant interest in the history of the Western as fictional history has had this one in mind since it was published.