while i’ve been gone

In case you’re wondering, two kids is not two times one. I’ve checked the math. It’s more like three times one. Maybe even four times one. I know this for a fact because my time is gone. I’d sorrow over it, like the chalked outline of a departed corpse, but that takes three seconds too many. Instead let me tell you about the books I’ve read while I’ve been away, tending to a new job, a new squalling mouth, and a great big burly two-and-a-half year old boy who has become positively artistic in acting out in new creative ways. Enough. Books, books… The Leopard is a single-hit wonder by the gorgeously named Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It’s a fine piece of writing about the political and cultural changes in Sicily during the late 1800s. It should be read through the nose rather than with the eyes: “The garden …  was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of the myrtle….” Next is The Ox-Box Incident by the Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Its action centers on two drifters. One is thoughtful; the other, not so much. Both participate to a greater or lesser degree in lynching three innocent men. Clark knows how to pace a story, creating tension and pressure. There are only four or five incidents in the whole novel, depending on how you count them. Clark draws them out, slowly, patiently. Sweet agony! If there’s one book that aspiring novelists should read, Ox-Bow is the one. Bel Canto. True, it’s a little mawkish. A little implausible. But so many fine things make their appearance in Ann Patchett’s novel, things like food, music, and love. Mostly love. Especially as it pertains to the closing scene. Love as a kind of music shared by two people bound by a common pain. Read this novel. If you don’t like it, something is wrong with you — morally speaking. While we’re on the topic of love, I can’t quit Charles Portis. I’ve made short work of Norwood, True Grit, The Dog of the South, and Gringos. All of these novels are winners, but Portis achieves something really special in The Dog of the South, a novel about a crazy-ass oddball named Ray whose wife Norma runs off with Ray’s best friend. In a comic-bizarre odyssey, Ray chases them across the country and deep into the heart of Belize, where he has every intention of winning back his true love, a beat up old car the love-birds snatched for a joyride. That is all.

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15 Responses to while i’ve been gone

  1. Richard says:

    Didn’t peg you for a Bel Canto fan, Kevin, but I loved di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and am intrigued by your Clark and Portis recommendations. Not sure even you could convince me to give that Patchett a try, though, so something is probably wrong with me–morally speaking!

    • Ricard, I know! Not sure I would have either. Except that I have a a sappy romantic streak of sorts. I feel that Sweet Home Alabama was robbed at the 2002 Oscars, for instance. I might be joking. Please read The Dog of the South. Given your interest in geography and landscape, it’s a great great fit. Cheers.

  2. Dwight says:

    Having to restrain myself when people said “Two are easier than one”, I feel for you. Best wishes on that count.

    I have been wanting to read The Leopard for quite a while…like everything else, I’ll get to it some day. Thanks for the notes on the books, and good to see you ‘surface’!

    • Dwight, I was enjoying your blog last night and marvelling at your productivity. Really quite amazing. Take it easy. Oh, and by the by, I’m free for a beer. On me.

  3. Fredr says:

    Walter van Tilburg Clark’s _The Ox-Bow Incident_ is one of the great American novels. It should be required (not just recommended) reading for all students.

  4. That’s a true statement. I read it, you should know, because of your comments on it in the long ago. So you have only yourself to congratulate. Good to see here again. Cheers.

  5. Frances says:

    Fantastic that you admit to a sappy romantic streak. I like you even more now. Richard has a soft side too but has spent so much time bashing unicorn-loving YA readers that he can no longer claim his sweetness publicly.

    And you make me smell The Leopard. Seems a must read now.

  6. Nice to hear from you Kevin. I well remember the period of two young kids. EX-HAUST-ING. But that was when I started reading seriously again after a little hiatus (not that I ever stopped reading but it was more desultory for a while, less focussed). I think time became more precious so I started using it carefully.

    Anyhow, I’ve heard of The Ox-bow Incident. The way you’ve described it sounds like it’s right up my alley. As for Patchett, I read and enjoyed it because it’s nicely written and the whole music thing is great, but it’s not one of those books that stays seriously in your head.

    • Hi Sue, good to see you, too. You know, desultory reading has its charm, for sure. If I’m not enjoying a passage, I scan it quickly, something I’d never do if I were going for a deep dive. Do read Ox-Box; I’d read it again with you, for enjoyment and to see what you’d have to say about it. Cheers, Kevin

  7. nicole says:

    The Leopard is great. I feel like I’ve seen it come up here and there a couple times lately and I’m glad it looks like some folks are finding it.

    I’ve also been reading a lot of people enjoying Ann Patchett lately, of course because she’s got a brand new book out, but it’s been surprising me how much some people seem to like her. I also suffer a sappy romantic streak (and love unicorns), so maybe it’s not as far from my realm as I would have guessed.

  8. Colleen says:

    So glad you enjoyed The Leopard and Bel Canto, even if the latter is mawkish (god, what a delicious word; it’s so delicious, it seems like a compliment!). I will look for The Dog of the South.

  9. […] The Dog of the South by Charles Portis is an American odyssey rife with humor. Portis’ storytelling voice is his great, abiding gift to anyone who cares to read him. […]

  10. […] Vanity Fair. It’s uncovered some gems I wouldn’t have otherwise read like Embers and The Leopard. It provides a record of my thoughts and observations, and even a petty crime (1 and 2). And […]

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