I haven't finished reading this National Book Award fiction finalist yet and among the competing novels is Home by one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, but I may stick my neck out here and predict that The End is The One.
The lyrical style of this book which describes very concrete things and people and events is lovely. Salvatore Scibona has absorbed his Joyce and knows his Virginia Woolf but he has used their techniques to create a profoundly American book. Although this is a historical novel it is in no way nostalgic. The prose and narrative structure is purely 21st century.
The book covers the events of a single day, 15 August 1953, in an Italian neighborhood in Ohio called Elephant Park. The focus begins with the major protagonist, an Italian immigrant, Rocco LaGrassa, a man so dedicated to good bread that "He might have enjoyed a sausage sandwich and some peppers, but the buns these people were using were beneath the honor of the swine that had died to stuff them."
The following chapters move from one character to another and from one time to another, sometimes moving back to 1913, or 1915, or 1928. As I say, I haven't finished reading The End but I'm dazzled by Scibona's skill and sensitivity.
There is an increasing nervousness in the US about the ability of average voters to understand the many and complex issues that they are voting on when they choose a candidate. Too much emphasis, it is felt, is placed on the question, "which man would you like to share a beer with," rather than "which man can be expected to handle well the economy, foreign affairs, health insurance problems, the approaching crisis in Social Security and Medicare, and the defense of our homeland in the face of terrorist threats."
Just How Stupid Are We? points out that to make informed decisions we need to be informed. And instead we have statistics that tell us that the average voter gets most of his or her information about the candidate and issues from . . . political advertisements. Some get all of their information from ads.
The coverage of serious issues on TV news, even cable, can be appallingly superficial, and much of it is biased. The only place to get truly objective information about US politics and policies in from the Economist and some other British papers. Readership of newspapers is, as we know, way down, not that it was all that high to start with. And it is the youngest voters who know the least. There is a disturbing tendency for voters to be proud of not knowing about important issues.
It has been said that war is God's way of teaching Americans geography. This is no way to run a country.
As the author says,
"What it means in a democracy to have so few understand how our government works, who pays taxes, and how they are spent we do not care to inquire about too deeply. If we did, what troublesome debates we would have to have. We would have to consider the possibility that polls are meaningless since the polled often lack a sound basis upon which to make their choices. . . . We would have to consider requiring voters to pass a basic civics test before allowing them to cast a ballot. . . . And we would have to say to the politicians who insist on telling us The People are wise and true that they are full of it and should cease forthwith from insulting our intelligence with empty democratic gestures."
Rick Shenkman, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (2008) 210 pages. 5 / 5 stars.
Nature's first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
I'm back to talk again about about How Fiction Works, the recent book by James Wood. Powell's, the Portland, Oregon, bookstore, chose a Virginia Quarterly Review essay on the book by University of Virginia professor Sydney Blair for its Review-a-Day.
Blair's is a review to match this remarkable book. She brings to our attention many of the important and sometimes amusing bits that make Wood's book not just a must-read but also a must-own.
James Wood, How Fiction Works (2008) pages. 5 / 5 stars.
My sister has a friend who buys all the latest mysteries. Every couple of months she hands over to Sandy a grocery bag full of mass market paperbacks. Since Sandy feels no need to read a mystery series in order she chooses her reading by closing her eyes and reaching into the bag. She recently came up with The Bone Garden, which she recommended strongly.
Why I had never heard of Tess Gerritsen before my sister told me about her last week I can't imagine. The woman can really write and her plot in The Bone Garden was brilliant. The two plots in the book take place more than 100 years apart but the author slowly angles them to converge at the end of the book.
In about 2006 Julia has bought herself a house in the suburbs of Boston. As she works in the overgrown yard in hopes of creating a garden she digs up the bones of a woman who was buried in the first half of the 19th century. Who can she be? Julia's search for information about the bones in her garden leads her to a relative of the last owner of her house who has an enormous collection of family letters, newspaper clippings, and other papers.
The second plot begins in the 1830s at the Massachusetts General Hospital where a country boy, Marshall Norris, has made his way into medical school against great odds. He forms a tentative friendship with three Harvard men in his class, and especially with Oliver Wendell Holmes (senior, the poet and physician.) When three horrendous murders occur near the hospital and suspicion falls on Norris, he and Holmes, with the help of a young Irish girl, must figure out who the murderer is.
All this is described carefully and gracefully by Gerritsen. The book is a stand-alone - not part of a series.
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (2007) 370 pages. 4.5 / 5 stars