Category Archives: Adult Fiction

My Rating:
5.0 rating

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

I read this book many years ago during a militant pro-environment, animal rights phase of my life. Much older now I decided to pick it up again and see if I feel the same way about now as I did back then. I can’t say that I do in exactly the same way, but I admit it did stir the desire I think everyone has, to get a hold of some cause and devote to it so totally that almost any action taken on its behalf is seems justified.

The “Money Wrench Gang,” was written by Edward Abbey, a noted militant environmentalist with anarchical leanings, in 1975, and is credited by some as the inspiration for the Earth First movement which gained a foothold in the 1980s. It follows the adventures of four restless, environmentally minded eccentrics; a mildly Libertarian surgeon and his nurse/girlfriend/companion, a Jack Mormon river guide with three wives, and a slovenly, profane former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran with the all time great character name of George Washington Hayduke.

Brought together on a guided river tour, the four bemoan a system that is increasingly destroying the remaining untouched open spaces in the American West. They decide the only way to halt its degradation is by hitting those who profit from it where they hurt – their pocket books.

Dubbing themselves the Monkey Wrench Gang, they embark on a campaign of direct action, destroying the implements used by the system to effect environmental destruction – road construction equipment, power lines, railways etc. All the while they manage to stay a step ahead of some of the cartoonishly funny law enforcement personnel looking to catch them. They eventually escalate their attacks in a way that has profound effects for their future and for their ability to keep up their campaign.

And that is as far as I go so as not to spoil it for folks who have not read it.

Abbey’s writing style is by turns straight forward and insistent, allegorical, and at times, particularly when describing the environment the Monkey Wrench Gang is trying to save, quite lyrical. The book is often humorous and ribald, even as it tries to make a serious point. The characters are colorful, bigger than life ,and boldly drawn by Abbey, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Still, the overall effect is really inspiring. And, it is never boring.

I am older now, and no longer see things as black and white (though the Age of Trump is sorely testing me there), so I don’t think tactics such as these are useful in real life. But damn, sometimes I really wish they were.

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My Rating:
4.0 rating

Harlem



I really don’t know the best way to write about this book. As usual I don’t want to give away to many plot details for those that have not yet read it. In addition, it takes place in an environment that is completely foreign to my experience. I will do my best.

A Rage in Harlem takes place as you would expect, in Harlem in the 1950s. It is part mystery, part detective story, part black comedy and part farce. It centers around a character named Jackson who is a bit of a rube, and who despite the nastiness around him and a willingness to bend the law to get what he wants, is generally a decent person with simple motivations. He is an employee of a funeral home, but desiring more money to support his girlfriend, Imabelle who he loves, and about whom he harbors no doubts as to her sincerity in her feelings towards him, Jackson agrees to put his life savings into a scheme to raise ten dollar bills into one-hundred dollar bills. From there things go down hill for him.

After the failure of his counterfeiting scheme Jackson moves from disastrous decision to disastrous decision that only makes his situation worse. He robs his boss, steals a hearse, enlists the help of his junkie twin brother who impersonates a nun to make money, has two cops on his tail with the very cool names of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones (protagonists in later books by Himes). seeks absolution from a preacher friend, and finds out Imabelle has been involved in a scheme of her own that Jackson was a pawn in.Yet no matter what happens to him, and no matter how far he sinks,  Jackson never loses the certainty that Imabelle is in love with him and that somehow everything will work out. The story takes improbable twists and turns, is interspersed with brutal violence, darkly funny observations of life in Harlem and of the types of personalities that live there.

In the end, Jackson and Imabelle…well…I will leave that to you to find out…don’t want to give away any important plot details.

As a story I really quite enjoyed this book. But, as someone raised in a lily white suburb of Minneapolis the culture of 1950s Harlem is completely foreign to me, so different than anything I ever experienced in my own life, that I cannot help but think I am missing a whole subtext to this book that goes deeper than just the plot. I have to believe there is a social message Himes is trying to get across that I just am not able to tease out of the story. I am really  afraid I am missing something important here.

It could be about race, but there were very few white characters in the book. One did get the sense from Himes’ descriptions of some of the locales in the story that there was an implicit negative comparison with white neighborhoods, and resentment at the way society had restrained black progress…particularly economic progress. I’m not sure, it is entirely possible this feeling of mine is just latent, liberal white guilt. In any case, I will spend more time trying to understand this aspect of the book as I would like to read his other works, but want to get the most out of them.

Oh well…I have finished the book but still feel like I have work to do to completely understand it. I actually listened to the audio version of this. It was read by Samuel L. Jackson who really made it a pleasure. He is very good at character vocalizations such that each personality was informed, at least a little bit, by his performance. His vocal characterization of a white police detective was particularly funny, only because it was coming from Samuel L. Jackson.

Highly recommended!

 

 

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My Rating:
4.0 rating

Gilead

Beautifully written with compelling characters and effectively situated in a time and place easy to envision, Gilead still felt very ephemeral for me. By the end I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to have gotten from it, or even what the author was trying to get across. The book is an epistolary, essentially a series of interconnected letters, written by John Ames, a 77 year old preacher in the fictional small town of Gilead, IA, to his 7 year old son. Ames has a weak heart and doesn’t expect to live long, so he decided to write to his son with ruminations on his family including his abolitionist grandfather and atheist brother, his second marriage to a much younger woman, his view of life, death, religion, his ministry, and about the family of his best friend, another preacher named Boughton and his son John Ames Boughton who reappears after being away for many years.

The most compelling parts of this book for me were the sections dealing with Rev. Ames’s family history. His grandfather, also a preacher, was a rabid abolitionist and collaborator with John Brown and others during the time before the Civil War when the fight over whether Kansas would be a slave or free state was occurring. Known as “bleeding Kansas” this time saw a number of atrocities committed by both sides trying to assert control in the state. The implication in this story is that Ames’s grandfather was involved in these atrocities which placed a strain on his relationship with his son trying to reconcile what must have been a disconcerting juxtaposition of his father as a preacher, with the violence he apparently committed. Placing the narrative in relation to an historic event like this, one  that dovetails with the religious ruminations of Ames, is very effective.

Setting the book in the Midwest during the 1950s had some resonance for me as well. Much of the book is devoted to the history of the town of Gilead. Having grown up in nearby Minnesota, much of it reminded me of the small towns I have visited tracking down my own family’s history. Descriptions of the people, the geography, and what daily life was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries felt familiar to me, though of course I didn’t experience them first hand.

The major issue I had with the book was its overall theological theme. I think the author was trying to explore the deeper questions of existence, life after death, the nature of grace and forgiveness and the notion that our five senses cannot possibly comprehend all that exists. The implication the author wants us to conclude therefore, is that one has to have faith that an eventual revelation of this wonder would be made known to us by a higher power (God). Put into modern day terms Ames would be considered a relatively liberal Christian, willing to take seriously the opinions of atheists and others who did not subscribe to his beliefs. I did appreciate this. However, I have always believed that religion, no matter how deeply felt, cannot help but limit ones world view. No matter how one tries to interpret it, the documents and traditions of religious belief will always put a limit on the scope of knowledge – and limit the interpretation of discovery. Freeing ones mind from religious restrictions for me opens up many more possibilities for comprehending the universe than any belief system can possibly provoke. As Carl Sagan famously said, “We all have a thirst for wonder. It’s a deeply human quality. Science and religion are both bound up with it…you don’t have to make stories up, you don’t have to exaggerate. There’s wonder and awe enough in the real world. Nature’s a lot better at inventing wonders than we are.

So, as Ames tried to wend his way toward finding the answers to questions he was asking through the use of scripture and the interpretive work of others, it seemed like he was looking for gaps that might let him expand his view, when to me freeing himself of those texts altogether would have enabled him to do so more quickly and more effectively. By the end I was not really sure if he had elevated his understanding or not. I found this somewhat frustrating, though I recognize I come from a place in terms of faith that most who have read this book probably do not.

I can see why this novel has received so much praise, it really is compelling writing. So despite the let down I felt at the end I would still recommend it very highly!

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Bucket Source (Pulitzer Prize Winner – Fiction, 2005 | National Book Critics Circle Award, 2005)
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My Rating:
3.0 rating

breathing

This is definitely not a book I would normally have picked out for myself. And while it was very well written and kept my attention throughout, in the end I found it kind of disappointing. I kept waiting for something to really engage me and in the end nothing ever did.

I can see why this was so popular when it came out. It is easy to read. The average person, especially those like myself that are approaching middle age and are going to more funerals than weddings, can definitely relate to the way the two main characters view their lives. I am finding as I get older regrets over paths not followed occupy my thoughts more and more, and that is well reflected in this book. I know it sounds trite but in the end the book is about relationships; between husband and wife, parents and siblings, friends and coworkers. I recognized very clearly the nature of all of these as I have experienced them at one time or another. So in those terms the book hit its mark. However, it didn’t go much beyond that.

First, some parts were simply not believable. The author spends a great deal of time making what I have described above very relatable, yet in order to illustrate those she  puts the characters in very unbelievable situations., situations I can honestly say I have never been in and in which I am certain the average person has probably never been either. So there was a real disconnect there in my mind.

Second, the characters seemed to display the exact same character flaws their entire lives, like they are just incapable of learning from past mistakes. It became frustrating to read, and made the book pretty predictable in places.

Lastly, and this is a  function of the time in which it was written, but so much of what happens in the story is the result of the characters not being able to quickly communicate with each other. I can’t help but think that had this same story taken place in 2014 it would have lasted all of ten pages as virtually every crisis could have been  resolved with a quick cell phone call.

Overall quite enjoyable but not overwhelmingly interesting, which given the acclaim (and awards) it has received, is a minority opinion.

 

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Bucket Source (Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction)
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My Rating:
5.0 rating

7354

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx is a book I had never heard of until I started my Bucket List project. However, everyone I talked to about it seems to have read it. This realization reaffirms the necessity of my taking on this reading project. As with the other works of fiction I have read recently I am not going to go into a whole lot of detail as there may be a very few of you that has not read it.

In a nutshell, after a rough start I ended up really enjoying this book quite a bit.

The main problem I had at the beginning was the writing style. A lot of short clipped sentences with no transition between them caught me off guard at first. In some cases years in the life of the main character are related in less than 20 words. After a few chapters however I  found myself getting used to the style, and by the end really enjoying how it made the story flow. Had I read Sophie’s Choice after this book rather than just before, I am certain I would have found the writing style in that work ponderous by comparison.

In the end this is a lovely story of a man, generally a failure, who finds himself and his niche in life by moving to Newfoundland – the ancestral home of his family. There he finds his place in life living among a very quirky and eclectic group of people.

The author stated in an interview the inspiration for this work was a book about knots…specicially knots used by those whose livelihood is based on the sea. Most chapters start with a brief description of a knot and its purpose; that description becomes the theme for what happens to the characters during its course. A very cool way to tell the story  of the main character – Quoyle – whose name is a form of the word coil; an integral part of all of the knots described in the book.

If it sounds on the surface like this book recounts a sort of bland, feel good, “back to my roots” type story free from the tragedy and depravity that is endemic to our species, fear not…. Murder, rape, accidental death, crime and punishment are all a part of the story. Yet, by the end I think you will find yourself uplifted.

Highly Recommended!!

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Bucket Source (National Book Award Winner)
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My Rating:
5.0 rating

sophies choice

I’m not going to write much of a review here as I don’t want to ruin the book for the (very) few folks who haven’t read it. I will say it is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Styron expertly weaves different strands of the story into a whole more efficiently and seamlessly than almost anyone I can think of.

The message of the book is not particularly subtle, nor should it be given the subject matter. It almost requires you to realize within the first few pages what he is getting at in order to understand and appreciate the rest of the story. So don’t go looking for a lot of hidden meaning. If you received an adequate history education in high school, and paid attention during sections on the Holocaust and the Civil War, you won’t have any trouble.  However, if you  are one of those folks who were taught the Civil War was not about slavery, but about state’s rights or northern aggression, or some other lost cause nonsense, then you may find yourself wondering what the heck Styron is getting at.

The only complaint I have, and I hesitate to mention it, is the way sex was portrayed in the book. First, there is a lot of it. I have no trouble with that. But the way Styron writes these scenes, I just could not help but think I was reading the script from a pornographic movie with pretensions of seriousness. Some of it was laugh out loud weird.

Also, after reading the book I decided to watch the movie. Bad, bad, bad…but a topic for another day!

 

 

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Bucket Source (National Book Award Winner)
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My Rating:
4.0 rating

Shining

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I don’t read many books in the horror/supernatural genre. The reason for that is I simply do not believe in supernatural occurrences, ghosts etc. I am a skeptic (in the best sense of that word). I have to believe that something is at least plausible before I can enjoy it. Or, the world constructed has to be so divorced from the world we live in that I can construct a whole new reality in my mind that allows me to “turn off” my skepticism. This is why I can enjoy the Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. Those works don’t even pretend to take place in a world we are familiar with.

It did take a while but I was finally able to disassociate my normal skepticism from the story I was reading –  to the point I could really enjoy this book. And, as I was deep into it I realized that everything that happened in the book could potentially be explained without resorting to the supernatural.

Without revealing too much for those that have not read it, The Shining deals with a family (father, mother, son), who move to an isolated Colorado resort where the father will act as the winter caretaker. The premise is the characters and the hotel itself have back stories that begin to manifest themselves in some very horrible ways. Eventually the hotel takes over the mind of the father who it convinces must kill his family in order to complete his reintegration with the hotel. The son has a special ability called “the shine” that allows him to see into the minds of others, and to experience past events. In many ways he is the central character of the book, it is he who sees that horrible things will happen before anyone else is aware something is wrong, it is he who realizes the hotel itself is attempting to control them, and it is he who is ultimately responsible for saving he and his mother’s lives.

I began to realize though, as I got deeper into the book, that everything described  is from the perspective of one of these three characters. Everything that happened to them was experienced by them alone (with one exception…the in season cook who also has “the shine”). It is entirely plausible that everything described could be the result of a psychosis that affected them as they became more isolated in the hotel. One of the lingering mysteries for me is whether the supernatural was “real” (within the parameters of this world), or were simply created in the minds of three people sinking deeper into mental illness..

I won’t go further so as not to ruin it for those that have not read it…but I found it to be a very deeply layered book, with complex and interlocking story lines that really made it a pleasure to read!!!

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Bucket Source (Amazon.com list of 100 books to read before you die)
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My Rating:
5.0 rating

WutheringHeights

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Wuthering Heights is often derided as “Chick Lit,” a work that mostly appeals to women and barely a step above dime store romance novels. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was stunned actually at how deep and dark this book was. Emily Bronte challenges virtually every norm of Victorian England, including gender roles, class, wealth, and decorum. I can really see why it caused such an uproar when it was published.

No character in the book was painted in black or white..they all had flaws, they all acted despicably, and they all had redeeming qualities. Within ten pages of the end of the book I was ready to classify the main character, Heathcliff, as an irredeemably evil personage. The last ten pages changed all that.

What a great book….all the more so because I had low expectations of it when I started. I love being surprised!

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Bucket Source (World Library list of 100 greatest books of all time)
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My Rating:
4.0 rating

AnimalFarm

Future Review

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Bucket Source (Hugo Award for Best Novella)
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My Rating:
5.0 rating

mockingbird

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Bucket Source (Amazon.com list of 100 books to read before you die | Pultizer Prize for Fiction Winner)
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Current Bucket Status

Currently Reading: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Current Audio Book: The Free State of Jones by Victoria Bynum

On Deck: Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood

In the Bullpen: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson

Last Read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


From Bucket Authors


New Bucket Books

An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

The Case Against the Supreme Court by Erwin Chemerinsky

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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