• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,083,144 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

Under-appreciated Authors

btt button

This week’s question: Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of.

This is a tough call. After reading some of your very loquacious responses, it occurs to me that I am always stuck at a question that everybody embraces with ready solicitude. One efficient method to tackle the problem is to go through the entire list of book reviews and seek out the authors who are generally overlooked or under-appreciated.

1I cannot help the coincidence: some the authors I’ll name are gay writers. Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully about politics and day-to-day gay life. His debut The Swimming-Pool Library and Booker Prize-winning The Line of Beauty both embody a gloomy, sober, and functional underworld-full of life, purpose, and sexuality. None of Mikhail Bulgakov’s works, which are anti-Stalin polemics, were published during his lifetime; but this significant voice from the former Soviet Union is recognized and acclaimed by almost every Russian-speaking human being now. Although some readers regard John Banville as a mixed bag, his unreliable narration (and excessive use of obscure vocabulary) convinces me the measure of his force. Check out Shroud. The doubly minority-esque James Baldwin, African American and gay, is ridiculously under-read, under-appreciated, and overlooked. I recently re-read Giovanni’s Room My friend Rick has read a book by Magdalena J. Zaborowska that renders a multitextured reading of James Baldwin’s work in Istanbul. L.P. Hartley is almost unknown to most American readers until NYRB Classics re-published The Go-Between. He had led a very secluded life, avoided intimacy and didn’t have a partner. While he admitted his homosexuality, he tended his sickly mother, spent a lot of time in Venice, where he researched and wrote this novel. Dennis McFarland is adroit in staging family dramas and grappling with the dynamics of love and reminiscence in all their infinite depth and complexity. Re-discovery of Rebecca West is just overdue on behalf of the current generation.

[141] The Music Room – Dennis McFarland

“My grandfather crashed his plane into the side of a mountain and killed himself and my grandmother because he was drunk. My father drank himself to death at a point in life when most men are coming to their own. I just lost my only brother–I don’t know exactly why, but I see it as some kind of link in this chain. And now that Perry’s dead, I’ve finally started to believe something he’d been telling me these last few years, that I have a drinking problem of my own.” [248]

After her second marriage, Madeline decides to divorce Martin Lambert–a difficult decision that breathes relief in both of them, for they have succumbed to a stubborn disappointment that refused forgiveness, refused sexual and emotional healing. They were life fugitives of themselves when they met–that Madeline decided to marry Martin out of anger for her ex-lover did not bode well of the marriage. When the news of his brother’s suicide impinges him, he realizes that not only that he can’t erase memory and escape the resonant sway of the past, the tragedy forces him to replay sad memories of his affluent youth, when his parents were riding the high gay wave of their alcoholism, when their study and mindfulness for his baby brother had begun to wear off, when he had been inevitably turned into the nurse’s little judicious helper, attentive to Perry’s welfare.

Perry Lambert, who has fallen to his death from a midtown hotel, has always been Martin’s focus and legitimate link to his family. Besides sorrow and the haunted past is a poignant realization of a foregone era: It could no longer be true that his life began with Perry as he always believed, for what did that mean now that Perry, with whom he shared fond memories in their father’s music room, sometimes under the Steinway, and with whom in tow in Harvard studying music, was gone? As he slowly comes to terms with the aftermath of Perry’s suicide, he uncovers some grisly harbored family secret that has fettered his mother, whose drunkenness Martin fiercely blames for the blaze that erased more thoroughly his father’s life with him and Perry. The fire burned burned the forty-year-old grand piano and his entire music collection. Annihilation of all trace of father plunges the brothers into isolation that persists into their adult life.

“Sorrow’s arrival was not marked by tears but by clarity.” After the initial shock, the denial, and the sidestepping grief over survival of his wrecked marriage, Martin finally resigns to the truth that the reason for his brother’s suicide was not a single answer. But the nostalgic journey to his childhood, which McFarland has painted with a precision of language and devastating beauty, reconciles him to a future of understanding and hope. I’m not keen on his falling in love with Jane Owlcaster, Perry’s ex-girlfriend who is a music student; but this transient liaison makes the story all the more convincing and credible, because Martin is on a trance for uncovering the truth and events that led to the death of his brother. That he has been repressed by his father’s dying young and his failing music career growing up have finally dawned on him that it’s time to really make reconciliation to himself and his life.

Recently review: Letter From Point Clear by Dennis McFarland

[139] Letter From Point Clear – Dennis McFarland

“Over the weekend Morris had been preparing himself for the foray into Alabama, which, oversimplified, meat girding himself for inevitable brushes with racism, homophobia, unwholesome cuisine, and pandemic bad taste; it was purely mental exercise that seemed, mysteriously enough, to continue subconsciously even while he slept.” (72)

The Owen siblings had never been close to Roy Owen, who had never been sober for a single day in the 28 years after his wife bled to death giving birth to the youngest girl. This is especially true for Morris, whom Macy, the wry and ironic housekeeper, thinks he should not have been born into the house. The old man used to shoo him away like a cat. It’s been a year since all three of them–Ellen, Morris, and Bonnie–had reunited at their father’s funeral. Bonnie, who sported an unsuccessful career as an actress in New York City, moved back to the family mansion and took care of her father in his final days.

It occurs to Ellen that she hasn’t heard from her younger sister for months after the funeral and that makes the message the letter delivers all the more shocking: Bonnie has married a fundamentalist preacher whose parents prophetically named him Pastor. Pastor is a few years junior of Bonnie whom he has converted to the faith and rescues from drugs. Although he shows depth of his understanding of her lifelong trouble–which she sees as a train wreck–he cannot make sense of her not having Ellen and Morris at the wedding. The truth is, Bonnie hates herself for thinking of Morris, a 41-years-old professor, his being gay, as something to avoid and put off, and she reminds herself that Pastor’s primary message is love, and that whatever he believes about homosexuality would be filtered by that.

While there is nothing wrong with Bonnie getting married, the Massachusetts Owens are suspicious that their sister’s newfound love has as much to do with her financial resources as it does with true compatibility. Pricks their mind is the uneven division of Roy’s legacy, which they have not broached about in any occasion. Bonnie’s leaving her out of the wedding doesn’t so much provoke hurt feelings as it does a deep disappointment in Ellen, who has seen herself as reserving judgments of her. Senses a quibble in Bonnie that is other than her fear of Ellen and Morris’s reactions to the news, the Massachusetts Owens head to Alabama, believing they must extricate their troublesome sister from her latest mistake. To their surprise she is in love with the young charismatic preacher who now undertakes a campaign to save Morris from homosexuality, enlisting effort of one Bobby Delk, a church member who recently has a religious conversion to heterosexuality.

From here the novel withdraws into the emotional and psychological terrain of sibling relationships as interactions between them touch on the delicate matter of faith, forgiveness, prejudice, and sins. It’s eventually left up to Ellen, the big sister, who increasingly finds herself diffused across the prospect of rescuing everyone, including her troubled marriage with Dan, who acquiesces with bitterness to her selfish pursuit of a brief separation that spoils the summer. She also frets about Morris, who resorts to silly barb at the hint of any emotion discussion, and how Pastor’s manipulations, well-intentioned or not but wrongheaded for sure, might hurt him and how it might affect Bonnie’s marriage. Tension builds as these issues emerge in small talks. McFarland deftly resolves the conflicts pulsing subtly but insistently through the pages, which grapple with the dynamics of family love and reminiscence in all their infinite depth and complexity.