Book Review: Boys of Blur

18209370“When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame…”

Every now and again you get your hands on a book that feels older than it really is.  The pages are appley crisp, the publishing date not long past, but you’d swear there’s an old soul humming inside the polished dust jacket. I felt that way about N.D. Wilson’s first novel, Leepike Ridge, and I feel that way about his latest, Boys of Blur.

It takes a special kind of nerve to mix football, Beowulf, panthers, and grave-robbing into any kind of coherent narrative, let alone one with emotional tonnage, but NDW – like his father, never lacking in the Chutzpah Dept. – does both in Boys of Blur. It’s a parable and a romp. I do wish the Gren were allotted more “screen time”, and a few of the plot points could’ve used more time in the oven. Despite these faults, I liked the story enormously, and it grows on me even now, a week after finishing it. There’s something Wilson has always had going for him: staying power.

His writing, too. There are scenes rendered with such magic and perfection – boys gone rabbit-hunting through fiery cane fields, Charlie chasing a panther across a crowded football stadium – that they seem immediately aged, enduring as Tom Sawyer and whitewashing and fences.

I mentioned Beowulf. Wilson tips his helm more than once to that ancient saga, especially near the end. Boy, was that delicious.  “Thanks to my pops,” Wilson writes in the acknowledgements, “for first introducing me to Beowulf and the growling rhythms of Anglo-Saxon, and for his own brilliant verse rendering.”

I’ll drink to that. Pass the mead.

Seeds and Rot

“Your father made mistakes. We all do. But instead of working to set things right, he chose to protect those mistakes – he let them be. He even fed them, which made them so much worse. Mistakes don’t just hang on the wall like ugly pictures. Mistakes are seeds.” He thumped his chest. “In here. They grow. They take over. You make a mistake, you gotta make it right. Dig that seed out. Old Wiz used to say, ‘Fruit rots, wood rots, but lazy-ass boys rot the fastest.”

- N.D. Wilson, Boys of Blur (pp. 50-51)

“This City Can Be Hard…”

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From my review of Gone Baby Gone (2007):

“This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. ‘You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.’”

In a world of page-to-screen adaptions gone oh so wrong, Gone Baby Gone is proof of the good that can come from sticking close to the source material. With little deviation beyond the dictates of its own two hour running time, the film brings Dennis Lehane’s powerhouse novel to life with intelligence and grit to spare.

Book Review: Foucault’s Pendulum

foucaultspendulumLast week I did the unthinkable and put down a book I’d only half finished. Put it down, I say, with no intention of picking it back up again – a sign of readerly metamorphosis if there was one. Get Kafka on the phone pronto.

Foucault’s Pendulum is the book I could not bring myself to finish, and while I do regret having to shelve it, I’m happy to be rid of the thing. Eco’s writing is terrific, but he’s a smothersome storyteller with a fetish for excruciating detail – a tolerable idolatry so long as the story is going, you know, somewhere. Forty five chapters and three hundred pages in, the pendulum had hardly budged, and all the Templars and conspiracy theories in the world can’t save you then.

A few months ago, dropping any book halfway through would have been unconscionable, so what gives? Between work, planning, and other writing commitments, my reading time now is significantly less than it used to be. (This isn’t a complaint, just a bald fact.) I’m more jealous of that time as a result: less forgiving of books that seem to be wasting it, and unwilling to invest energy into that which is not enjoyable, or enlightening, or at the very least, interesting. Three strikes, and Foucault’s Pendulum was thrown out on its ear.

It’s not that I don’t like a good challenge. It’s not that my tastes beg for blazing guns, mad scientists, and rubber-melting car chases. When I read a story, however, I do expect to enjoy myself. Enjoyment isn’t everything, but it is something, particularly where a novel is concerned.

You know that feeling you get when you’re stranded in the middle of the ocean in a crappy inflatable with no rations left? No? Well, try to imagine it. No land in sight, no breeze, and a whole lotta sun. You start to go mad. You see things. You sink your teeth into a juicy chicken drumstick, and then realize it’s your arm.  You need to be rescued. Soon. Preferably before the sharks come or you dine on your own flesh.

Can you picture it? Feel it? Good. That was me reading Foucault’s Pendulum. That was me trying to cope with the stodgy characters, the Byzantine plot lines, the seemingly everlasting descriptions of occult rituals. It all seems like super important stuff, until you realize that what you mistook for intellectual sophistication is really just an elegant, overindulgent mind-fart.

There. I’ve said my piece.

Here I stand. I can do no other.

Carry on, Jeeves.

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