Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 13

Another round-up of these things.

The Season of the Witch by James Lee Herlihy

Status: Abandoned p. 55

I really wanted this, by noted author of Midnight Cowboy Herlihy, to be good, but it's just not.  I haven't read Cowboy, but as a concept it's brilliant, due to the contrast between the down-home cowboy and his New York environment, and the gap between what he thinks he'll end up doing and what he actually has to do.  Here, a suburban hippy teen goes to New York, accompanied by a gay friend hiding from the draft board (which I found odd as I thought pretending to be gay was considered an excellent way of avoiding the draft) and this is less interesting as a story than Cowboy, as she's exactly the sort of person you'd expect to be clogging up the East Village in the early '70s.  As for the main character of 'Witch', she is the most annoying, selfish, manipulative, control-freak masquerading as a free spirit you could ever hope to avoid meeting.  Now this is fine in itself, but I wasn't convinced Herlihy knew how unpleasant his protagonist was.  Anyway, there was no sign of a plot in sight, and with only an idiot for company, and the dreaded journal device employed, I decided this wasn't my scene.

Beat On a Damask Drum by Troy Kennedy Martin

Status: Abandoned p. 31

This early Vietnam War novel from 1959 is intriguing, in that it prefigures the central premise of Apocalypse Now, only with Martin Sheen as an attractive Hollywood movie actress and Marlon Brando as her childhood friend.  Also interesting is the way so many of the themes of later Vietnam stories are present - that this is a war like no other, with the Westerners struggling to get to grips with guerilla warfare and a sense that they have stumbled into something truly alien and un-graspable.  Also un-graspable, however, were the the interactions between the characters.  A French general seems weirdly interested in dictating exactly what sort of drink the actress can have with her meal.  Apparently aroused by this control freakery, and despite of there being no obvious sexual attraction between the two, she then sleeps with him.  Someone more interested in war novels than me should definitely read this, however, because there's something worth exploring here.

Downstairs at Ramsey's by James Leigh

Status: Completed

I didn't have high hopes for this, as quite frankly it looked fucking dreadful, but to my surprise it turned out to be one of the best books I've found in the Lost Book Library so far, and on the quality/obscurity graph it scores very highly indeed.  A retired thespian rents the downstairs of his Los Angeles home to a pair of swinging sixties bachelors who unexpectedly become legal guardians of a fourteen year old girl.  She has large breasts and so it all goes wrong.  The situation is depicted in a surprisingly un-lecherous manner, while Leigh's smooth prose goes down like a banana milkshake.  It's not a perfect novel - it hangs about at the end when it really needs a definite conclusion - and I wasn't entirely convinced by all the reactions to the girl's burgeoning sexuality. (Having said that, the Savile business has demonstrated that there were some very strange ideas about sex with minors floating about in the wake of the sexual revolution which we all had to have cultural amnesia about for several decades in order to stop us from going collectively mad.)  Nevertheless, it's a sparkling piece of work, and Leigh can really write, so it's a mystery why he has left so little of a trail.

Revelations by Phyllis Naylor

Status: Completed

A woman belonging to a fundamentalist church becomes the guardian of her deceased free-spirit brother's son (which makes it the second Lost Book in a row to begin with an unexpected guardianship).  Her nephew makes her question her faith, and soon she is breaking free of her church's strict teachings.  At first, the depiction of her repression seems a bit heavy-handed, and her likely way out of it somewhat predictable.  Soon, however, there are some serious curveballs being thrown in there, and the way in which her sexuality manifests itself is a big whoah! moment.  Written in the 'invisible' style that creative writing teachers the world over assure us is the best of all possible styles, this is a good, solid novel that you wouldn't really want to be better.

See the Kid Run by Bob Ottum

Status: Abandoned p. 98

This pulpy tale of knife-wielding New York wrong'uns started out magnificently, with a range of remarkable characters - a teenage thief who knows how to make himself invisible, his exploitative social worker trying to use him as material for her doctorate, a bin-scavenging woman armed with an imaginary icepick - but the whole thing is torpedoed by a ludicrously violent police officer, whose assault on an eleven year-old career criminal makes any suspension of disbelief impossible.  He's simply the wrong character for this story.  A shame, because stylistically and imaginatively, this was joyfully unusual.

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