Sunday, April 24, 2011

Red Harvest

I seem to be on a roll lately...at least comparatively.

Every now and then, I get a hankering for a detective novel. Detective novels and spy novels seem to be my go-to "easy read" - really, the only kind of easy read I bother with.

So, in my recent reading slump, I've been looking for anything I can sink my teeth into. In such slumps, I have two choices - keep reading something, which generally means the light stuff. Or else delve into something extremely contemplative and deep. Not Finnegan's Wake, but something French or Eastern European. In this particular slump, I just don't have the patience for the contemplative and deep. So, fluff it is. Enter the detective novel.

Red Harvest has been on my TBR list for a bit. Something about the title was intriguing, and I suppose I was hoping the protangonist would be picking up communists. It started out with a communist - or at least a labor organizer (what's the difference, right? j/k), but that plot line didn't get very far. I think the "red" referred to all the blood. Because there was an awful lot of dead people.

Generally I did not like RH as much as I recall liking The Maltese Falcon (or did I only like that because it gave me time to think about Humphrey Bogart?), nor as much as I liked some of the works by Chandler and others that I’ve read in the past. Red Harvest was too complicated – too man similar characters shifting loyalties, such that in the I end I couldn’t tell you who killed whom. It also felt a bit amateurish - it was Hammett's first novel, so hopefully that is his excuse. I finished the book about a week and a half ago and I don't even remember any of the character's names. I tried to follow it up with Hammett's The Glass Key, but quickly realized I had had enough for now.

Whatever it was about the novel, though, it seems to have worked as a tonic for my non-reading disease. I think I've been cured!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Breath, Eyes, Memory

When spring comes along - or at least when spring is expected to come along, since here on the East Coast it still seems a long way away - I want to read "hot" books. By hot, I mean books about Africa, the South, the Caribbean. I suspect that that was one component of my Shipping News problem. It was a great January book, which was when I started it. But by March, I didn't want to be reading about Newfoundland. I want to be transported to some place warm.

I had found Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory a few years ago at a library sale, and I'm not entirely sure why I was compelled to get it. Maybe because I knew it would be a good Spring book someday. The novel was easy to read, quick moving, and despite my reading desert, I was able to finish it in about a week. It felt, in some way, exactly what I needed to kick-start my reading again. But on the other hand, that's what I thought about The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and that didn't get me very far.

Regarding the novel, I was at first a little taken aback by the simplicity and straight-forwardness of the language; later I saw BEM characterized as a young adult novel, which made sense, though I'm not sure if it really is a YA or not. The story was also all over the place, covering miles and miles of ground, and I do not mean just spatially but time and subject matter. Some of the elements, such as Sophie's bulimia seem to come out of nowhere, and do not partiuclarly lend anything to the novel as a whole, other than to drive home the mental destruction that the characters face due to the actions of one another. But, in a poorly written novel, these things would bother me. Here, they didn't, which speaks somewhat to Danticat's success.

I'm not sure what else to say about it...this isn't a novel that inspired a long post, or an analysis of any points in particular. No deep thoughts here on my part.

I also want to thank those of you who posted or e-mailed specifically in response to my Shipping News post. Don't worry - I'm not reading because I'm depressed (actually that causes me to read more), it's because I'm busy with work and family, as well as occupied with other pursuits. Reading time has been cut down significantly, and since in the last six months I haven't been able to attach myself to a book, the little time that I am able to find gets used by something more attention-grabbing. Last weekend, though, I think I might have found my cure - a used bookstore has opened up in town! I picked up Pat Barker's Regeneration and have stuck to it thus far. I also got some Dashiell Hammet books from the library, and have been reading Red Harvest to my son at night. Perhaps not the best subject matter for a bed-time story, but it certainly seems to put him to sleep!