Choosing A Book
The wife and kids being out of town until next Monday (or Tuesday? I forget), I have a wonderful opportunity to read a good book.
I just finished reading a really lousy book: Self Storage by Gayle Brandeis. The summary inside the dust jacket made it sound interesting, so even though the author has previously won some award called “The Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change” – whatever that means, it can’t be good – I decided to give it a try. Bad move. Fiction written with the express purpose of “social change” is almost always going to blow as fiction for the simple reason that the plot and characters will be constrained by whatever the author’s social vision happens to be. They’re forced into a pre-determined mold, rather than being allowed to grow and develop on their own. Such was the case here, as most of the cast were stereotypes and were used to portray one side or the other of what the author sees as black and white issues. It did not help that the lead character in this book is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever encountered. She was basically an eighth grade boy in an adult woman’s body. I lost count of how many different people titillated her. Even a vegetable got her libido going at one point, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it sucked.
So, tonight I went to Big Book Store in search of some good fiction.
I first picked up something called Moon Pies and Movie Stars. I like Moon Pies. It looked interesting, described as:
Ruby Kincaid can’t believe the way her life is going. While running her late husband’s bowling alley, she is also taking care of her wayward daughter’s two small children. When she sees her daughter, Violet, on television in a Milk Maid commercial, Ruby decides she has no choice but to go to California and bring her daughter back home to Texas. What transpires is a road trip in a metal Winnebago across the desert and four states with Imogene, Violet’s starstruck mother-in-law; Loralva, Ruby’s sexy, game-show-crazy sister; and Ruby’s two rambunctious grandkids. This is no easy journey as they get on each other’s last nerve dealing with a broken air conditioner, biker gangs, a trip to the Price Is Right, and a grandson busy dissecting roadkill.
I almost decided on that one, until seeing that the author lives in . . . California. Sorry, I’m not reading a book about Texans written by a Californian. The only thing worse than fiction that’s consciously about a cause is fiction that’s consciously about a region. Especially when the author is not even from the region.
The next two were books by two of my favorite authors. Wendell Berry’s latest, Andy Catlett: Early Travels; and one of Larry Brown’s first, Big Bad Love. I decided against them for similar reasons. Berry is getting pretty old; he may not be writing that many more books. So once I read this one, that could be the last time I read a Wendell Berry novel for the first time. Larry Brown wasn’t old, but he is dead, and Big Bad Love is the only book of his that I have not read. So I’ll wait a bit longer.
Next are the two finalists: Scott Smith’s The Ruins and The Long Run by Leo Furey. I’ve wanted to read the former ever since I finished Smith’s only other book: A Simple Plan. As I mentioned here, that may have been the most fascinating and disturbing book I have ever read. But the draw was also the repellant. I’m not sure if I’m ready for another experience like that, especially not when I’m home by myself. It’ll probably give me bad dreams. As for The Long Run, the intial description sounded rather blah, a book about a bunch of kids in an orphanage. Oh, how original. But upon closer inspection, it looked better, and after reading the first two chapters, I was thisclose to buying it.
So what did I pick? The Ruins. In the end, it came down to that awful word “unputdownable.” There it was in the dustjacket, and that was my experience with a Simple Plan. And if that is the case with this book, then this week is probably the ideal time to read it, as I can give it all my attention. The Long Run looked good, but I could probably read it in small installments. The Ruins will require long sittings. Sure it’s intense, but if I get too upset, I’ll just let the dog sleep in the bed.