The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry– review on Goodreads

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1989, I’m sitting in a car in a shopping mall parking lot, waiting for a friend to get off work. I’m 17, reading the last 10 pages or so of Fried Green Tomatoes, crying my eyes out. Fast forward to a few days ago, me sitting my home offices, reading the last few pages of Pilgrimage, and for the first time in 23 years, crying my eyes out again. A moving story, touching, gentle, subtle, simple.

I came to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry via the 2012 Booker Prize longlist, and maybe I was on the rebound from reading a rather difficult book before, but I thoroughly enjoyed almost every page of this one. Here’s a man who, on a whim, decides to walk nonstop from the bottom of England to the top. An old man, retired, who never made much of himself except that his life could have been a whole lot worse, and there’s triumph in not succumbing to one’s circumstance. Through the course of the walk he doesn’t overcome personal tragedies as much as he finally addresses old injuries, breaking himself down emotionally so that he can heal up again.

Rachel Joyce isn’t the first author to write a story about somebody taking along walk. There’s Lawrence Block’s Random Walk, and of course Stephen King’s Long Walk, and I’m sure many others. I was also reminded of the cross-country running section of Forrest Gump, and the young man’s self-imposed austerity in Into the Wild. There’s something very compelling about this urge to just start walking, and let everything else disappear behind you. More than once I thought about a man I met in Sonora, CA, who owned a used bookstore and who, himself, had once walked across the United States.

As I said, the book is subtle, building up to reveal Harold’s past slowly, and along the way the simple descriptions of his daily progress don’t get too bogged down in the mileage. And Joyce does an excellent job of showing how one person, doing something as simple as walking, can have a profound effect on so many others.

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A Hint of Fall on the Wind

poetry by Jason Edwards

Stepped outside last night in a pair of summer shorts

And a shirt with a reference to something Hawaiian on it

That was a size too small in June, 300 miles ago.

I’ve had a busy summer. I’ve enjoyed the weather.

Say Seattle, and people think rain, but

Seattle hasn’t been Seattle for a while now,

Like it always is from the end of July until

September. There was a hint of fall on the wind,

A taste of red leaves and that purple the sky gets

When the days are more orange than yellow,

Night time pines bathed in TV blues from windows

Where football’s on and so are the new sit-coms.

My toes curled up inside my flip flops.

A spider’s web dismantled itself on the breeze,

Since all the spiders are coming inside now.

But we don’t have enough flies. Or time, because

Things are going to slow down for a bit, last for

A few rounds of forever before next summer comes.

Skios—Review on Goodreads

Skios: A NovelSkios: A Novel by Michael Frayn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here’s a fun, fast farce for you to read on a plane or a boat or a train, in a deck chair, or sprawled on your couch while the last of the summer breezes plays with your living room curtains. But maybe not curled up in your sweater and socks by a fire, cup of hot tea or cocoa nearby. Skios is more of a mai-tai or rum tiki kind of novel. It’s set on a fictional Greek island, you see, complete with accented natives, bubble-headed white people, a good looking ne’erdowell and a chubby, gruff old lecturer.

In other words, not a book for plumbing the depths of character development, or to peek a pique at the human condition. It was only after I read it that I discovered author Michael Frayn is a playwright, and a writer of farces, and this novel falls right into that niche as neatly as its characters fall into the absurdity of their assumptions.

Skios is a sort of a Comedy of Errors, but only sort of, as the situation is perpetuated not my mistaken identity and confusion so much as willful misrepresentation and ill-placed certainty. Coincidences stack on top of coincidences, near-misses abound, all of it heading towards an inevitable conclusion that, in the end, we’re saved from by some rather convenient deus ex machina.

But I guess that sort of thing is allowed in a farce. I guess if one’s going to take up the debris left behind by Comedy of Errors or even The Importance of Being Earnest, one’s allowed to make it all silly, then violently sweep away the anticipated conclusion. And I do mean violently.

Look for the movie based on this book at some point, starring whatever post-SNL (or the British equivalent) actor looking to bridge from comedy to something taken slightly more seriously. Look for Tom Stoppard to come in and do an emergency re-write, “saving” the story by actually giving it an ending. Look for the bartender when you’re half-way through the book, because even though it’s silly, you won’t want to put it down, but you will want another mai-tai.

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Communion Town—review on Goodreads

Communion TownCommunion Town by Sam Thompson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am giving Communion Town two stars for the simple reason that I did not enjoy it much. I can’t say that it is a good book, and I don’t want to be guilty of pandering to a kind of hive-intelligentsia just because it was chosen for the 2012 Booker long list. Let these ratings stand for how one liked the book, not how one assumes it will be received by literary critics. I’ve never read anything else by this author, and freely admit that maybe I just didn’t “get it.”

Ten stories, apparently, and according to some blurb somewhere, all of them about the same city. I guess. I didn’t feel any kind of cohesiveness between the stories at all. If this was a fictional town, I didn’t get any sense of its character. If it’s supposed to be a fictionalization of a real city, I have no idea which city. And, again, maybe that’s just me—I’m sure someone has written books about New York and London and Paris and LA and Tokyo. This was none of those.

The truth is I got stuck on one of the stories, and it took me a lot longer to read this than it should have. It was all so very atmospheric without having any atmosphere. So much descriptive meditation, with nothing described. And odd bits tossed in, unexplained and unexplored and even unexploited.

Which is why I’m giving it two stars, because normally, I just love a well-crafted sentence. Maybe these were supposed to be that, but I kept falling asleep. I found myself not picking up the book when I did have time, but choosing to do other things. Honestly, the only reason I finished is because I’ve committed myself to reading all the long list books this year.

Don’t get me wrong—bits of it were good. I liked the one about the city of the mind and the almost cartoonish detectives. The one about the semi-invalid woman had potential, and the one about the serial killer and the abattoir. That all sounds like juicy stuff, right? But like I said, unexplained and unexploited.

Maybe it’s time for me to admit I’m no literarian myself, and that I just like a good story. If that’s so, then, two stars for Communion Town, as there’s really no story there at all.

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