- March 30, 2012
Jambalaya best describes this mix of Snapshots, a tasty concoction that ranges from Ralph Peters’ fictional rendering of the three-day battle at Gettysburg to the cultural battles depicted in Eleni Gage’s debut Other Waters.
Jambalaya best describes this mix of Snapshots, a tasty concoction that ranges from Ralph Peters’ fictional rendering of the three-day battle at Gettysburg to the cultural battles depicted in Eleni Gage’s debut Other Waters. Elizabeth Hand’s fast-moving crime story, Available Dark, “looks at the line between sadism and fashion photography and the relationship between psychosis and heavy metal.” If you prefer your intensity more intellectual than visceral, we offer Michael Houllebecq’s The Map and the Territory. Enjoy!
Cain at Gettysburg
by Ralph Peters
In these days of high-tech gadgets and instant messaging it seems impossible that two gigantic armies could lumber toward one another, both unaware of the other’s presence. Yet that is exactly what happened at the small crossroads town of Gettysburg in 1863, and what is told through the eyes of the officers and men who fought there, in Ralph Peters’ Cain at Gettysburg. With excruciatingly vivid scenes, Peters takes readers through the three-day battle, showing how the missteps and miscalculations of some, and the daring and audacity of others, contributed to the gut-wrenching struggle that played out in the town and surrounding countryside. From the first page, when a surprised General George Meade is given command of the Army of the Potomac, to the last, when the victorious general takes a triumphant ride in front of his men, Peters captivates with his prose, making readers yearn with the characters for better maps, more intelligence, improved weather conditions and just plain communication among commanders on the field. He tells it straight — the good, the bad and the ugly — providing a realistic and agonizing picture of war. The book’s unique insight into the mindset of those who took part in this epic struggle can likely be attributed to Peters’ own military career, and his meticulous research can be credited for providing an understanding of the jealousies, pretentiousness and personal rivalries of the combatants. This is not a story of gallant battle charges, but rather a tale of men of flesh and blood, with all of their human imperfections and unearthly courage. Cain at Gettysburg is a great contribution to Civil War fiction on the scale of The Killer Angels. Its impact and influence will no doubt continue long after the 150th-anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013.
Other Waters: A Novel
by Eleni N. Gage
St. Martin’s Press
Maya, an American-born Brahmin psychiatrist from a traditional Indian family, strives unhappily to reconcile her life in New York with her Indian heritage and her family’s expectations. After a series of incidents of bad luck, she returns to India and attempts to lift a curse put on her family by a former servant. Accompanied by a good and sensible friend, she revisits her extensive family at the wedding of her cousin and becomes involved in a new relationship. This is a debut novel. The author is obviously knowledgeable about being torn between two cultures and about India, but often forgets that the reader is not, failing to describe or identify unfamiliar words or objects. She captures the color, charm and chaos of India, but sometimes at the expense of the plot, which occasionally goes off in extraneous directions. She introduces several interesting characters, who yearn to be developed but are sacrificed on the altar of wordy introspection and angst. Through 340 pages I itched to tell Maya to get on with it. The author shows promise but needs a good editor, one who will tighten up the plot and take care of those interminably long sentences strung together with irritating semicolons.
~Susan Guthrie Knight
by Elizabeth Hand
Photographer Cassandra Neary has spent her adult life as a burned-out, drug-addicted underachiever, following the flash success of her one and only book, Dead Girls. After a dangerous attempt to “jump start the cold wreckage of her career,” she’s contacted by the owner of an Oslo nightclub, who flies her to Helsinki so she can authenticate a series of horrifying but technically brilliant images he is thinking about acquiring. Things get uglier as the fast-moving crime story moves from Finland to Iceland. Elizabeth Hand’s Reykjavik, post-financial crisis, is a kind of “sensory tabula rasa.” Cassandra realizes “what it must be like to sense the sky waiting outside the door, ready to crush you like a monstrous fist.” Available Dark is Elizabeth Hand at her best, exploring a twisted revival of Norse fantasy and legend. She looks at the line between sadism and fashion photography and the relationship between psychosis and heavy metal. I found the characters, the setting and overall concept here intensely unsettling. But I read it in a day, marveling at the descriptions, lingering, in spite of myself, over the dazzling prose.
~Amanda Holmes Duffy
The Map and the Territory
by Michel Houllebecq
Monsieur Houllebecq makes himself a supporting character in his novel, an examination of the life and art of his creation Jed Martin, a mildly autistic, television-watching photographer and painter, a man marked by unusual detachment from other people.. His first successful show is of photographs of road maps, but the maps go nowhere and the territory that that they should describe cannot be identified. Francophile American writer Paul Auster has more successfully played with issues of identity. With Houellebecq, most seems empty artifice, neither map nor territory achieves much clarity, and Martin’s character is not made three-dimensional. For me, the best part of this book is thinking about what else might have happened, rather than what actually does happen. The Epilogue appears more like chapters left unwritten. It is marred also by Houellebecq’s over-reliance on Wikipedia, which he notes in his Acknowledgements. Nor is he particularly perceptive or insightful about women. If you are familiar with Paris and the neighborhoods around it, or the art world contained in those spaces, you will probably feel an affinity for Houellebecq’s mise en scène. If you are impervious to product placement, Houellebecq will test you. Otherwise, a modestly entertaining book.