Sunday, July 25, 2010

Game Change

Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
John Heileman, Mark Halperin

I have to be just a bit suspicious because this book confirms all of my own impressions of the candidates in the 2008 Presidential election, which I garnered from watching their antics on television. Are the Clintons as strange as they appear to be? Is Sarah Palin, in real life, so much like her portrayal by Tina Fey? Is John McCain really as reckless as he seems? Is Joe Biden genuinely a lovable, stumbling pompous ass? Does Obama actually walk on water? According to Game Change, yes. After doing countless hours of interviews with campaign staff, family members, fellow media folks and such of the principles as made themselves available, Heilman and Halperin have confirmed all of the stereotypes that developed in the media about the candidates, with the addition of some juicy inside stories, never before revealed.

I usually don't read political campaign books or candidate memoirs but I made an exception for Game Change because I heard the authors being interviewed on NPR. John Heilman and Mark Halperin are engaging personalities who know how to tell a story. They make the inside dirt on the 2008 campaign sound very interesting indeed.

One of the most interesting things revealed in the book is the state of disorganization, nay chaos, within both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns. I could not have imagined that Hillary Clinton would tolerate the level of infighting, backbiting and intrigue that went on in her campaign, referred to as "Hillaryland" by the authors. According to the book she practically encouraged this self destructive behavior among her staff. McCain, on the other hand, hired seasoned advisers and then refused to listen to their advice, again, according to the authors.  The book makes a good case that McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate at the last possible moment, only because his experts finally convinced him that choosing Joe Lieberman would cause a rebellion among the Republican faithful.

Barack Obama appears to be a calm and unflappable in Game Change as he does on TV, except that he is often quoted as dropping f-bombs to emphasize many of his points. Actually, so are Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This leads me to the conclusion that the political class in America needs to read more literature in order to build a greater vocabulary of colorful language.

Keywords: politics, 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

Stieg Larsson

The last book in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy is a full out thriller from the first sentence. It begins in the emergency room with Salander and her father, Alexander Zalachenko, who were both critically injured while trying to kill each other at the end of the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire. It ends in a grimy abandoned factory with a confrontation between Salander and her brother, the giant, Ronald Niedermann. The action never stops until the end of the final page. Larsson packs more plot twists into this final volume than in either of the two previous books.

I found myself wholly engrossed in the lives of the characters in this series. They are interesting and fairly well rounded, although Salander, herself, is more than a bit odd.  She shows symptoms of asperger's syndrome, or perhaps a bit farther down the autism spectrum, is withdrawn and uncommunicative and prone to violence. At the same time she is into casual sex with people of any gender and likes to wear black leather and display her tattoos. I like her a lot as a fictional character, I wouldn't want her to show up at my house.

There a a couple of loose ends that Larsson never addresses. One is the relationship between Salander and Niedermann. He is a German, neither Swedish like Salander, nor Russian, like her father and, I believe, was presented in the second book, as the apparent heir to Zalachenco's  criminal empire, like a son but not actually one. Unless I missed something, there was not physical relationship with either Zalachenco or Lisbeth Salander's mother, yet in this final book, Salander believes, but never reveals to anyone, that he is her brother. Secondly, Salander has a twin sister, who is mentioned several times throughout the series, yet this sister never appears, nor is she particularly important in advancing the plot. Checkov's gun on the wall principle would dictate that the sister should not be in the book at all.

Please, please, please read the three books in order, starting with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or you will find yourself irretrievably lost. No attempt is made to help the reader catch up with the action. Larsson wrote the books assuming that they would be read in series.

Parents should be aware that there is a considerable amount of violence,  kinky sex and use of four letter vocabulary in this series of books. Teen readers will love it for those reasons if for nothing else.

This post is in . . .


Book Review Blog Carnival


keywords: thriller, crime fiction, Stieg Larsson

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving

This is a big, sprawling, undisciplined seeming novel by the author of The World According to Garp, which follows the lives of a lumber camp cook and his son, a famous author of literary novels. It starts near, but at, the beginning and skips around to various parts of the central characters' lives, in no easily discernible order. It is a bit disconcerting at first.
The reason the book skips around in time like Billy Pilgrim is that, unbeknownst to the reader until very late in the book, all or part of what you are reading is actually the text of a novel being written by Daniel Baciagulpo, AKA Danny Angel, the famous writer, who is not John Irving. It is tempting to attribute this to the influence of Kurt Vonnegut.

Irving writes about writers writing in a more subtle and less obnoxious way than John Barth has done in his last forty eleven books. Irving's fictional author, at least, has a name, and a pen name, and spends an seemingly inordinate number of hours rewriting.  He is human, insecure, unsure of himself and - oh yeah - on the run from a homicidal maniac.

Some, but not the most outlandish, details in the book are similar to events in Irving's life. Both attended Philips Exeter Academy, both were students of Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Writers Workshop, both taught at Mount Holyoke College. I doubt that John Irving ever killed his father's Indian lover with a frying pan at the age of twelve, though.

One of the themes that runs through the book is the difference between using detail from real life and writing autobiographical novels. Neither Last Night in Twisted River nor any of the fictional fiction written by Danny Angel and described in the book is autobiographical. Both use stuff from real life, transformed into imaginary scenes with fictional characters. Danny Angel has the advantage, though because, being fictional, he has had many outlandish things happen in his life, or maybe he just made those things up. Since you may actually have been reading his novel all along, you'll never really know.

This post is in the 48th

Book Review Blog Carnival


Keywords: novel, fiction, literary fiction, John Irving