Monday, May 25, 2015

Gravetapping: SNOWBOUND by Richard S. Wheeler

Posted: 24 May 2015 04:07 PM PDT

Gravetapping review by Ben Boulden

Richard S. Wheeler won a Spur Award for Best Western Short Novel for his 2010 novel Snowbound, and it was a well-earned, and deserving honor.Snowbound is less Western and more historical. It chronicles John C. Fremont’s ill-fated fourth expedition, which was ostensibly to find a railroad route across the Rocky Mountains at the 38th Parallel between St. Louis and San Francisco.

The expedition was privately funded by a group of St. Louis businessmen—with the support of Fremont’s senator father-in-law Thomas Benton—and while its claimed purpose was to find a railroad route its true purpose was to rehabilitate Fremont’s public reputation after his court-martial, and ultimate resignation from the United States Army. The route crossed the high and rugged spine of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where a railroad passage was unlikely at best, and, to prove something to his detractors, it was attempted in winter.

Snowbound is effectively told in an alternating first person narrative. The narrative perspective changes from chapter to chapter. It is told in the words of several characters, including Fremont, and several of the expedition members—Dr. Benjamin Kern, Alexis Godey, its lead scout Old Bill Williams, and others. It reads much like a diary—the dialogue is minimal, and the story is primarily told with the internal observations of the narrating characters. It is, through the horror of the failed expedition, a character study of John Charles Fremont. Fremont is presented as an enigma. He is narcissistic, admired—idolized, really—complicated, and, in the end, loathed by some.

The novel’s true power is its powerful description of the oppressive, brutal cold of the snowbound high Rockies, and the hardship of the expedition—

“We all looked pretty grim at times, with icicles dangling from our beards like chimes and ice collecting in our eyebrows and a rime of frost around our nostrils.”

“This was a tumble and rocky land, with giant gray outcrops, steep slopes, somber pine forests, groves of spidery cottonwoods and aspen, fierce, cruel creeks. And snow lazily smothered the country. It had caught and settled in every valley and dip, so that we were crossing spots that were ten or twenty feet deep, perilously working upslope in a tamped-down trench that reached our heads.”

“Somehow, we made camp and got fires going in protected snow pits where the wind would not snuff them. The snow had diminished, but the heavens scowled at us, and I had the sense we were trespassers, invaders of a place that was sacred to others, where no mortal should pass by.”  

The hero of the story is Alexis Godey, a former fur trapper and scout, who is Fremont’s second in command. He is developed as a quiet, competent, and ethical man. Godey was responsible for saving the bulk of the expedition’s men when he led the relief party—after reaching Taos with Fremont, and a few others—back into the Mountains to rescue those stranded by hunger and cold. While Godey is leading the relief party, Fremont recuperates in Taos planning the next leg of the expedition to California, and preemptively blaming the scout Old Bill Williams for the disastrous expedition.

Snowbound is a powerful novel of survival, and calamity. It is an introspective interpretation of one of the most eccentric and dishonest topographical expeditions of the Western United States. It is a beautifully rendered piece of literature that captures the stark beauty of winter on the high ranges, and both the hubris and nobility of men.     

Paul Simon will not care for this interview.

 Ed here: I was never a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan. And the times I saw them interviewed I liked them even less. Too much sophomoric posey like the Beatles at their worst in their work for one thing. And Garfunkel's sad insistence that Simon didn't have the right to go out on his own. There's a documentary about Simon producing his Broadway show that demonstrates to the point of hilarity how an ignorant egomaniac can destroy a show. Simon being the egomaniac of course.  

FromThe Telegraph UK  by  Nigel Farndale
for the entire interview go here

 But when I ask him to describe himself he says: “I’m a misanthrope.” There is something in that, given what he will go on to say about Paul Simon. But I would also add “eccentric”. Take his habit of listing on his website every book he has ever read. “You notice it’s heavy sh*t,’ he says. ‘It’s not fluff.”

Since Simon & Garfunkel split up in 1970, he has married twice and raised two sons, had a film career, walked across America and Europe – ”to get away from people” – and continued recording. Although his solo hits (Bright Eyes, I Only Have Eyes for You) were written by other people, and though Paul Simon wrote all the Simon & Garfunkel songs, he does write. Prose poems, mostly. In long hand. “I never bought a computer or a cell phone.” He also does a lot of mathematics, having read it as a student at Columbia. “I’m precise. I think in proportions. I play games with numbers and I proportionalise. I imagine we have now done 1/8th of our interview.” I check my watch.

 I ask about the Beatles, specifically George, who felt his talents were overshadowed. “George came up to me at a party once and said “my Paul is to me what your Paul is to you.” He meant that psychologically they had the same effect on us. The Pauls sidelined us. I think George felt suppressed by Paul and I think that’s what he saw with me and my Paul. Here’s the truth: McCartney was a helluva music man who gave the band its energy, but he also ran away with a lot of the glory.”
Shortly before they split up, Simon & Garfunkel released what was to become the (then) biggest selling album in history, Bridge Over Troubled Water.


Why did they walk away from that phenomenal success?
“It was very strange. Nothing I would have done. I want to open up about this. I don’t want to say any anti Paul Simon things, but it seems very perverse to not enjoy the glory and walk away from it instead. Crazy. What I would have done is take a rest from Paul, because he was getting on my nerves. The jokes had run dry. But a rest of a year was all I needed. I said: ‘I’m not married yet. I want to jump on a BMW motorbike and tour round Europe chasing ladies.’”
Paul Simon once said that it upset him that audiences thought Garfunkel had written his masterpiece, the song Bridge Over Troubled Water – because Garfunkel sang it as a solo, with piano accompaniment. “I saw that quote, too. But how many songs did I sing upfront and have a real tour de force of vocal? Does he resent that I had that one? I find that ungenerous.”
He’s a hard man to get the measure of, Art Garfunkel. On the one hand he still seems eaten up by bitterness about his divorce from Paul Simon, yet he also talks about his old friend (they were at school together) with deep affection. He can seem vainglorious, too, referring to his own “beautiful” voice and being a “helluva singer”, but egomania is not incompatible with self-doubt, or misanthropy. 
Actually, another question strikes me. I speculate about whether Paul Simon might have a Napoleon complex. Is there a height thing there, between them? “I think you’re on to something. I would say so, yes.” He adds that at school he felt sorry for Paul because of his height, and he offered him love and friendship as a compensation. “And that compensation gesture has created a monster. End of interview.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Excellent column on thrillers in today's ny times

Ed here: I'm unfamiliar with Finchway's novels but if they're half as good as his eloquent and knowing reviews they must be damned good.

There are a lot of ways for a novelist to create suspense, but also really only two: one a trick, one an art.
The trick is to keep a secret. Or many secrets, even. In Lee Child’s books, Jack Reacher always has a big mystery to crack, but there are a series of smaller mysteries in the meantime, too, a new one appearing as soon as the last is resolved. J. K. Rowling is another master of this technique — Who gave Harry that Firebolt? How is Rita Skeeter getting her info?

The art, meanwhile, the thing that makes “Pride and Prejudice” so superbly suspenseful, more suspenseful than the slickest spy novel, is to write stories in which characters must make decisions. “Breaking Bad” kept a few secrets from its audience, but for the most part it was fantastically adept at forcing Walter and Jesse into choice, into action. The same is true of “Freedom,” or “My Brilliant Friend,” or “Anna Karenina,” all novels that are hard to stop reading even when it seems as if it should be easy.

Both the pleasure and the limitation of many thrillers, like THE STRANGER (Dutton, $27.95), by Harlan Coben, is that they rely so heavily on that first kind of tension. Their fealty is always only to the next page, then the next, then the next, and so they’re wanton with our interest, constantly planning new seductions for it along the way. It makes them deeply immersive in the moment, but strangely evanescent: in other words, beach reads.

As far as beach reads go, though, Coben’s are among the best. In “The Stranger” he again takes a happy suburban family and destroys it, which, judging by his sales, is just the frisson that a lot of the members of those families are looking for. This time around his victim is Adam Price, a New Jersey lawyer; one evening, a man approaches Adam with the devastating news that his wife, Corinne, faked her last pregnancy, and worse still that their two sons may not be his.

Coben describes Adam’s search for the truth behind these allegations — and the identity of the person who made them — with masterly skill, springing surprises, raising stakes, seamlessly integrating other victims of the “stranger” into Adam’s tale. He’s also a smooth, funny writer. James Patterson chivies his reader along toward his next plot point, but Coben likes to pause and make the kind of ephemeral observation that Ian McEwan so accurately called “one of the writer’s great pleasures” — at a lacrosse game, for instance, Adam thinks of how “we pretend otherwise, but we watch only our own child,” or at another moment, contemplating tragedy, how “the world moves on, which is an outrage.”

Still, the real point is the chase. After Adam confronts her, Corinne leaves, and he tries with increasing desperation to pull her back, hoping to salvage their life together. The book’s denouement is enough to make you later to bed than you wanted. And yet throughout, both he and we are more happened-to than happening, waiting on those secrets. When they arrive, of course, they seem diminished in importance, and a day or two after I finished “The Stranger,” I found I had already forgotten many of its particulars. Coben, Child — they get accused of writing the same books over and over. But if each new book makes the reader amnesiac, does it matter?

Another new domestic novel, less mechanically proficient than “The Stranger” but more likely to linger in the reader’s mind, is THE DAYLIGHT MARRIAGE (Algonquin, $24.95), by Heidi Pitlor. It belongs to the booming microgenre of the missing wife, and in this case that’s Hannah Hall, whose husband, a climatologist named Lovell, becomes alarmed after she fails to pick up their kids at school one day.
There’s an enormous technical difficulty with this kind of book: The author must hold the husband in a state of weird suspension throughout, since he’s either (a) a murderer or (b) the victim of terrible circumstances. (Not surprisingly, it was Gillian Flynn who most adroitly solved this difficulty, just one of the innumerable brilliancies of “Gone Girl.”) At the same time, it’s a perfect microscope with which to examine the inexhaustible fascinations of marriage, and as Pitlor flashes between the day of Hannah’s disappearance and Lovell’s uneasy consideration of their past resentments, she finds a nice voice — thoughtful, lyrical, unforced.

Because of this, and because it’s a quick, light-footed read, “The Daylight Marriage” ends up just about surmounting its flaws of construction, even its unsatisfying solution. “Oh, my whole life feels like an epilogue right now,” Hannah says in the last fight she and Lovell have before she vanishes, and it’s ambiguous clues like this that keep the reader curious — and perhaps also clarify the popularity of this style of book. Culturally, we’re at a strange moment halfway between the old notions of what a woman’s life can be, and the new ones. Marriage, children, suburbia: Is escape from these things a dream, or a nightmare?

Coben and Pitlor both work within the textbook definition of the thriller, which is to take an ordinary life and turn it upside down.

for the rest go here:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The new issue of Black Static #46

For the extraordinary table of contents of #46 go here:

The title and strapline reference 'electronic voice phenomenon' (EVP), the noise found on recordings which some people interpret as the voices of ghosts. The film White Noise, starring Michael Keaton, could more accurately be called Black Static. What makes the title even more suitable is that 'Black Static' is also Paul Meloy's British Fantasy Award winning story from The Third Alternative.
"The most consistently excellent horror magazine published"
Ellen Datlow
The Third Alternative was never afraid to push the envelope, and nothing has changed in that regard. Black Static has earned much praise for its style, bravery, editorial and fiction content. Its stories are innovative and daring, never afraid to shock or disturb, yet always entertain.
"Black Static is a must-read for those who like their fiction contemporary and uncensored" 
Ed Gorman
The magazine publishes some of the finest Horror writers working today: Christopher Fowler, Afterlife creator/writer Stephen Volk, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, Tony Richards, Scott Nicholson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Cody Goodfellow, Mélanie Fazi, Matthew Holness (creator and star of TV’s Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clark, Graham Joyce, Gary McMahon, Alexander Glass, Joel Lane, to name just a few. Alongside these is a dazzling array of new talent such as Aliette de Bodard, Daniel Kaysen, V H Leslie, Priya Sharma, Ray Cluley, Alison Littlewood, James Cooper, Nina Allan, Eric Gregory and many more.

"The most disturbing images I’ve encountered this year or any other. For a different outlook and some quality writing, you should be subscribing" 

SF Revu

The Stacks: How America Fell for the Private Eye

The Stacks: How America Fell for the Private Eye

Ed here: Long, incisive and eloquent. Run it off and read it at your leisure.

This is reprinted from The Daily Beast

Ross Macdonald wrote his share of classic American detective stories. Here he takes a busman’s holiday and explores the origins of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and his own Lew Archer.

Ross Macdonald belongs on the Mount Rushmore of American mystery writers, alongside Edgar Allen Poe, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. He was also a connoisseur of the detective story, as he displays in this terrific 1965 Show magazine essay, “The Writer as Detective Hero,” one of a handful of nonfiction pieces that appear in a new Library of America anthology, Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s, edited by Tom Nolan. If you are a fan of mysteries, this collection is a must, another beautiful and meticulous Library of America volume. Reprinted here with permission, this is a master given by a peerless practitioner.
—Alex Belth
A producer who last year was toying with the idea of making a television series featuring my private detective Lew Archer asked me over lunch at Perino’s if Archer was based on any actual person. “Yes,” I said. “Myself.” He gave me a semi-pitying Hollywood look. I tried to explain that while I had known some excellent detectives and watched them work, Archer was created from the inside out. I wasn’t Archer, exactly, but Archer was me.
The conversation went downhill from there, as if I had made a damaging admission. But I believe most detective-story writers would give the same answer. A close paternal or fraternal relationship between writer and detective is a marked peculiarity of the form. Throughout its history, from Poe to Chandler and beyond, the detective hero has represented his creator and carried his values into action in society.
Poe, who invented the modern detective story, and his detective Dupin, are good examples. Poe’s was a first-rate but guilt-haunted mind painfully at odds with the realities of pre-Civil-War America. Dupin is a declassed aristocrat, as Poe’s heroes tend to be, an obvious equivalent for the artist-intellectual who has lost his place in society and his foothold in tradition. Dupin has no social life, only one friend. He is set apart from other people by his superiority of mind.
In his creation of Dupin, Poe was surely compensating for his failure to become what his extraordinary mental powers seemed to fit him for. He had dreamed of an intellectual hierarchy governing the cultural life of the nation, himself at its head. Dupin’s outwitting of an unscrupulous politician in “The Purloined Letter,” his “solution” of an actual New York case in “Marie Roget,” his repeated trumping of the cards held by the Prefect of Police, are Poe’s vicarious demonstrations of superiority to an indifferent society and its officials.
Of course Poe’s detective stories gave the writer, and give the reader, something deeper than such obvious satisfactions. He devised them as a means of exorcising or controlling guilt and horror. The late William Carlos Williams, in a profound essay, related Poe’s sense of guilt and horror to the terrible awareness of a hyper-conscious man standing naked and shivering on a new continent. The guilt was doubled by Poe’s anguished insight into the unconscious mind. It had to be controlled by some rational pattern, and the detective story, “the tale of ratiocination,” provided such a pattern.
The tale of the bloody murders in the Rue Morgue, Poe’s first detective story (1841), is a very hymn to analytic reason intended, as Poe wrote later, “to depict some very remarkable features in the mental character of my friend, the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin.” Dupin clearly represents the reason, which was Poe’s mainstay against the nightmare forces of the mind. These latter are acted out by the murderous ape: “Gnashing its teeth, and flashing fire from its eyes, it flew upon the body of the girl and embedded its fearful talons in her throat, retaining its grasp until she expired.”
Dupin’s reason masters the ape and explains the inexplicable—the wrecked apartment behind the locked door, the corpse of a young woman thrust up the chimney—but not without leaving a residue of horror. The nightmare can’t quite be explained away, and persists in the teeth of reason. An unstable balance between reason and more primitive human qualities is characteristic of the detective story. For both writer and reader it is an imaginative arena where such conflicts can be worked out safely, under artistic controls

for the rest go here: