Monday, January 2, 2012

Dud Pile

Winter has set in, as you know, and I'm dying to escape it, even if it's just in the pages of a book. Sadly, the books I have chosen lately were a pile of duds. So let's just dive in to the Finished Book Pile today and express our frustrations, OK?

This pile of duds included Dangerous Laughter, a collection of short stories by Stephen Millhauser. These are odd little stories. In one, a fad of laughter spreads through a group of young teens. Yep, that's what they get together to do, laugh until they grow hysterical and spent. In another story, a small town constructs an exact replica of itself somewhere on its own outskirts. Dozens of civic employees work constantly to keep up with all the small changes. If somebody moves a doily in the real town, a worker moves the same doily over in the replica town. Citizens of the real town visit the replica whenever they wish, wandering through the bedrooms of their neighbors' "houses."

Where does all this come from? The author, a professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, must be lost in some mighty strange thoughts as he moseys along on the sidewalks to and from campus. We've reviewed two other Millhauser book on this blog, Edwin Mullhouse (which was good in a quirky way) and Martin Dressler.

But maybe you like strange stories. I was not thrilled and, in fact, gave up near the end.

Next up, and another strange one, is The Hunters by Claire Messud. I've read and loved Messud before and, like Millhauser above, must have read her best stuff first. I certainly don't remember all the maddening, writerly affectations that I found in this book: In every sentence, she'd capture my interest, then take off, inserting new clauses between everything, side trips if you will, and by the time she returned to the main thrust of her sentence, it had grown as thick as a mega-burger, one of those things you can't get your mouth around.

This little book contained two novellas. The first was the story of a woman who escaped WWII and lived out her remaining years in Toronto. In the second, a New England professor (man or woman? Messud never tells us) stays in London for a summer, his/her peace disturbed by a pesky neighbor. The New York Times called it "Exceptional, a work of near-miraculous perfection." I call it "Huh?" Baffling, inconclusive, no pay-off.

My dear Claire M., I liked you so much in The Emperor's Children. What gives?

Finally, I embarked upon Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet and then un-embarked upon it. It was about . . . um . . . um . . . Sadly, nothing about this book stuck with me. There was a man in it, a proper sort of gentleman, toting his umbrella with him as he walked about in New York. There were his memories--some time in WWII as a Jewish refugee, some time in London. There were pages and pages of his philosophy.

So, a pile of books having failed to save me from winter's dullness, I tried inviting friends over instead. It worked much better, thank you. These particular friends told a pile of amusing stories, quite a few of them about a back-country ward where they used to live. Journal-worthy events happened every Sunday. "Yep, there was the time I had to break up a fistfight in Elder's Quorum."

We ate:

Sweet 'n Spicy Chicken

Dad's Favorite Salad

Buttery Rolls  (We've already featured this one, but it's worth a repeat).

White Cake with Raspberry Sauce (except we used strawberries, since John doesn't like raspberry seeds)

It was an easy and yummy dinner.

And I promise, the next pile of books will be better.

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