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The Redneck Riviera
The Redneck Riviera
by Richard N. Côté
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Redneck Riviera--Myrtle Beach version, September 2, 2013
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This review is from: The Redneck Riviera (Paperback)
My motivation for reading "Redneck Riviera" was purely research. I had contacted the author, Richard, Cote, last April on the recommendation of a helpful gentleman at the College of Charleston Bookstore on one of my visits there. I was looking for assistance finding a South Carolina based content editor to help me with "finding the right low-country voice" for the mystery I am writing. Mr. Cote recommended himself as a "cultural consultant," but since I stalled on my own writing--life events have had a way of interfering--I have yet to take him up on it. Nonetheless, I got affirmation to my own research from Mr. Cote's book on a number of details about the Grand Strand and various characters living the sleazier side of life that greater Myrtle Beach offers, a valuable thing to my way of thinking. His discussion of local meth production was interesting, but after watching every episode of Breaking Bad, I felt a little overindulged. (And unlike strippers and strip clubs, it's not a subject I'm delving into.)

The book is dedicated "to every mother who is willing to risk everything--even her own life--to save a loved on who is headed down the path of self-destruction." It deals with a thirty-six year-old divorced mother, Dolly Devereaux, with an enabling drug using ex-husband; her mother, Anne, with her own demons; and a rebellious daughter, April, who escapes to her meth-dealing boyfriend and his "family" upon turning eighteen. So--we have three generations of poverty, dysfunction, struggle, and poor life choices with Dolly working two jobs trying to hold her life together and find a man with money to help her escape.

Research aside, and with the above as premise, what I got from reading the book, was a compelling story, well-developed characters, concise writing (including filler is a trap that writer's often fall into--the stuff I want to skip), plenty of tension, and enough humor to offset focusing on the degrading life that all three of these women endured. It's a quick easy read and I highly recommend it, assuming the subject matter is of interest.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2013 4:50 PM PDT

To Wander the Labyrinth
To Wander the Labyrinth
by Brian Peters
Edition: Paperback
15 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very different thriller, August 2, 2012
One of the great things about this book is that early on, the reader realizes the the protagonist of the story tortures people. This is not your typical main character of a novel. His name is Clay and he is an interrogator for the "agency," a part of a totalitarian government that appears to be the United States at some future time, mainly because the characters speak "American." It's a place where people that disagree with the state disappear, where dead bodies are thrown in trucks and discarded, never to be heard from again. The author, Brian Peters, doesn't clarify where or when this is, or whether it is a right-wing or left-wing dystopian world, but history tells us with great clarity that totalitarianism can come from both ends of the spectrum, so it hardly matters. When people are treated as property in service of the state, and anyone who disagrees is the enemy, to be dealt with by any means necessary, you've got totalitarianism.

Also interesting is that the victim in this chapter-less book, Maya, becomes the main character that could possibly bring redemption to Clay, a man with serious "issues," a man whose humanity is in question. How could he not have issues, given his personal history? After all, he wrote the book on the best methods to secure needed information--in Maya's case, "data" of unknown content, but obviously significant in the suspenseful story that unfolds. Over time, we get a sense of the deep psychological damage done to Clay, by his chosen profession.

There are minor characters revealed, but we never know much about them, only that which helps move the story along.

The book is only two-hundred thirty-eight pages long and it is crisp writing, sparse in details, and with sharp dialog--a quick read. The title is an excellent choice, and its sparseness is what I liked about the book. The author treats the reader as an adult and allows one to fill in the pieces that aren't use one's imagination. And I thought the ending was as it should have been. For a quick suspenseful and very different novel, Brian Peters' first novel is worth a look.

Fighting Bob Shuler of Los Angeles
Fighting Bob Shuler of Los Angeles
by Robert Shuler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $39.99
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography, May 28, 2012
This is an excellent biography of a remarkable man who had great influence in Los Angeles politics during the `20s through the 40's. It was written by Robert P. Shuler III, the grandson of the subject (a fifth-generation Methodist minister), and in the interest of full disclosure, a friend of mine for close to thirty years. I'd often heard about "Fighting" Bob Shuler, but not to the level of detail in this wonderful 469 page book.

Bob Shuler was raised in the South, knew his calling early in life, and became a minister. He was attached to several churches throughout the South, and then was sent to Los Angeles. What he found was a small church (in terms of active members) and a terribly corrupt city. He was a contemporary of Aimee Semple McPherson, the infamous Pentecostal minister during that period. Over time, "Fighting" Bob Shuler grew the Trinity Methodist Church (now a parking lot near Staples Center) to five thousand members, he had a magazine distributed to thousands where he published his opinion pieces skewering those that needed it, and he had his own radio station that reached six-hundred thousand people at its height. The bio traces his humble beginnings, his religious experiences, and his growing theology which could be best described as orthodox Wesleyan Methodism, although one could also say he was "fundamentalist."

His fervor in attacking vices, corruption, injustices by the powerful, and the growing influence of "modernism" on the Methodist church, meant that he made enemies--lots of them. And he named names! He was hated by most politicians for he got some of them sent to jail, the police department, because he got chiefs fired, the district attorney's office, the courts, all the Hearst newspapers, Hollywood, and the mob. William Randolph Hearst wanted to destroy him, sending investigators out to dig up dirt on Bob Shuler. They could never find any. His life was threatened, his church bombed, and he spent fourteen days in jail, part of a twenty day sentence for contempt of court, but they let him out early because he was having too good a time making friends with the prisoners and he was using his plight as a backdrop for further attacks on the established order. He also had enemies within the church--the progressives, with their watered down theology--an internecine war that continues today, though weakly. The book covers numerous examples of religious and political battles in detail including the Julian Oil Scandal, which was on par with the Bernie Madoff debacle of recent vintage.

For those interested in a man that was energetic, relentless in his pursuits, an excellent writer, humorous, and theologically grounded in Wesleyan traditions, fighting those forces that always need fought, this is a thorough and well-written biography. My friend, Bob Shuler III, did a nice job telling the story of his grandfather's exciting life.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 27, 2012 6:12 PM PDT

To Kill a Mockingbird, 50th Anniversary Edition
To Kill a Mockingbird, 50th Anniversary Edition
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
72 used & new from $7.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars goodness ultimately overcomes evil, but always at a cost., March 21, 2012
I know more than one person who considers To Kill a Mockingbird their favorite book. My friend Bob cherishes his first edition and speaks glowingly of the time when the author signed his copy. Ms. Lee, who grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, was a young child during the famous Scottsboro, Alabama Case (nine black men were accused of raping two white women). This apparently had a significant influence on her as she wrote the book in the late 1950's. It was published at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and two years later was made into an Academy Award winning film with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

It's an endearing story told through the eyes of a nine year old girl, Scout, and it meant several things to me:

It affirms that goodness ultimately overcomes evil, but always at a cost.
It condemns racial prejudices--as well as the fear and prejudices directed toward the Boo Radley's of the world (who in the end becomes the protector and a symbol of goodness).
Innocents can and do suffer from man's stupidity, e.g. Tom Robinson. The title is really about innocence, as Miss Maudie explains: " Mockingbird's don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
It reinforced a personal belief--that people are not basically good--a worldview leading to the assumption that everything bad a person does, is society's fault. I believe that people are born innocent and we grow up absorbing, learning, and understanding that good and evil are a part of us, if we ever grow up to maturity, that is. What Atticus Finch teaches his children is to understand that evil is a part of the world and we should treat people with empathy, as though we were "walking in their shoes." His understanding and treatment of crass old Mrs. Dubose was a lesson in patient understanding--her life was mixed with great courage yet she was openly racist, which Atticus abhorred. Like most, she was a person blended with both good and bad qualities of personality.
I found it interesting that, in the end, the protection afforded by Boo Radley was built on a lie of what happened on that dark path from the school pageant to home. It raises unanswered questions....
I read in an old magazine that Harper Lee lives half her time in New York and half in Alabama. She is no recluse--she can be seen in shops and restaurants--but she rarely gives interviews and most people wouldn't recognize her if they saw her. She has always lived a normal and comfortable life, not the life of a celebrity author. To Kill a Mockingbird is her only published book and one gets the sense that she doesn't really care--she said everything she had to say about life in her one great book. I think I would like this woman.

Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.77
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a profound study of moral confusion, March 21, 2012
This review is from: Heart of Darkness (Paperback)
First of all, I cannot imagine anyone, let alone four people as in this story, being able to listen to Marlow's telling of this adventure in one sitting without ever engaging in conversation. At the minimum, one would think that one of them would at least ask a question. If this seems an unfair criticism, I'll just say that I don't personally know anyone who could resist interrupting him. It's a compelling tale; then why no response from those hearing it? Without response, how could anyone go on and on as Marlow does? On this second question--after thinking about it--I've known a few people who could go "on and on" to the point where the listener falls into a glassy-eyed stupor, whose primary desire is to exit. But I remain convinced that most people would find a way to break up the windbag's speech.

In the introduction of John O'Hara's 1953 Modern Library addition of Appointment in Samarra, he noted his discovery from Lardner that "if you wrote down speech as it is spoken truly, you produce true characters, and the opposite is also true; if your characters don't talk like people they aren't good characters." Marlow does not talk like "people." O'Hara also said that writing good dialog is "almost totally lacking in the British." This book is a good example of not even attempting good dialog. (Conrad was actually Polish but learned English in his early 20's and became a British subject at age 29.)

Some have said that this classic novella of an excursion up the Congo River needs to be read more than once to fully appreciate its true meanings--they're deeply embedded--very deep. Oh? Is that the reader's problem or the writer's fault? I realize that this is like the sophomoric criticism of studying Shakespeare--one has to understand the time and place the work was written. Okay...let me just say that I prefer reading good literature where people behave, think, and sound like people. Perhaps at my advanced age I've become conditioned to the crisp dialog of Elmore Leonard, and others like him, to fully appreciate Joseph Conrad.

My annoyance at Conrad's style aside, this is a book worth reading. I am told when initially published, the critics did not at all see it as controversial. It condemned adventuring, the taking advantage of the opportunities presented by imperialism, or it was a sentimental reinforcement of Victorian values. Only later was it seen as a more profound study of moral confusion, doubt and the hypocrisy of imperialism. Men, not just Kurtz, behaved badly in Heart of Darkness. Some say it's the natural result when people operate outside any social or moral constraint, especially when greed and the desire for power have totally corrupted them.

Heart of Darkness is quite an indictment of colonialism and European behavior in carrying it out. It's full of cruelties, casually referenced, and meaningless acts--such as the French ship shooting their big guns into the jungle, not knowing what, if anything, they were shooting at. It's full of symbolism (e.g. fog), mystery, unanswered questions, folly, and absurdity.

I particularly liked the ending when Marlow visited Kurtz's naive intended. Instead of telling her, his true last words, "the horror, the horror," Marlow told the prissy Victorian bride-to-be who "knew Kurtz best" as an admirable man, that her name was the last thing on his mind. This lie symbolizes all that is right with Heart of Darkness.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.30
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, imaginative novel, March 20, 2012
This review is from: Life of Pi (Paperback)
Highly recommended by a friend, Life of Pi is a breezy fun read, full of adventure and rich descriptions of wild animals. (I'm assuming well-researched.) It's the story of a sensitive 16-year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India who dabbles in Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. He finds good in each of them seeing them as not mutually exclusive. His three mentors see it otherwise and are convinced of his undying devotion to each by virtue of their assumptions, not by anything Pi has said. (Perhaps this is a bit disingenuous. Pi always told the truth to each religious leader but not the whole truth of his experimentations; he saw no need to). They are shocked to learn that he has been trying the other religions on for size and argue amongst themselves over Pi's loyalties.

The story then changes direction. The family decides to move to Canada, taking the whole family and their zoo. But the Japanese freighter on which they're traveling, wrecks and sinks (we know not how) and Pi ends up on a lifeboat with a hyena, a seasick orangutan, a wounded zebra and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The hyena, zebra and orangutan ultimately don't fare so well. Fortunately, the boat has enough supplies for 26 people and Pi industriously figures out how to stay alive for 227 days adrift on the Pacific Ocean with a 450-pound tiger. Some great thinking here--Pi has to feed Richard Parker, keep him alive, because he is physically unable to kill him and he doesn't dare let him get hungry or young Pi becomes lunch. There is an exciting respite on a floating island full of meerkats but it's all a harrowing experience with Pi detailing his thoughts and his plans, occasionally muddled by hallucinations. (Meerkats are South African varmints that look like a cross between a mongoose and a prairie dog. I saw some at the Toledo, Ohio zoo just prior to reading the book. There was a sign that said, "Meerkats are not prairie dogs.")

The ending is where the point of this romp is brought home. Pi, saved on the coast of Mexico, tells the Japanese owners of the ship what happened. They think he's lying or crazy so he tells them a completely different version of the wreck and his wild journey across the sea. Pi is saying to them, pick the story you like best, whatever helps bring it to closure, whatever works for your happiness. The reader is thus forced to question the events and their ultimate meaning. Get it? The truth and meaning of any story is open to question.

Early in the novel, a character calls it "a story that will make you believe in God." I don't think so. I don't believe it would be enough to change the mind of any solid atheist secure in his or her position. This is more for the mercurial spiritualist who has an affinity for syncretism. Philosophically, this is another effort to advance the theme of religious relativity. The individual defines what is truth, defines God--whatever floats your boat.

From the perspective of reading it as an entertaining novel, I found it well written and wonderfully imaginative. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's one of those books I couldn't put down.

Appointment in Samarra (Vintage Classics)
Appointment in Samarra (Vintage Classics)
by John O'Hara
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from $0.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A memorable read, March 20, 2012
It's been perhaps 45 years since I've even thought about John O'Hara's books let alone read him. I had never read this one, but in an act of pure spontaneity, I picked up a ratty old copy at the city library while browsing through the stacks. Oh, what joys we can find purely by accident!

This one apparently became an instant best seller in 1934 but not necessarily a critical success. Hemingway praised it but other notables thought it so-so and it did not win any prizes. Mr. O'Hara thought it tied for second best of his novels but he gave no other details.

I thought it an enjoyable read, with interesting characters, some of which were well developed; and there were clearly passions displayed, plausibly constructed. I loved some of the ideas and phrasings, worthy of expanded thought: In reference to Caroline, "...the Bryn Mawr manner; which means quick maturity and an everlasting tendency to enthusiasms." I think I know women like that...and such qualities aren't exclusive to Bryn Mawr. Julian English pondering his problems: "But the trouble with making yourself feel better by thinking of bad things that other people have done is that you are the only one who is rounding up the stray bad things." How true! Caroline again: "She knew she never would do that, but one part of her threatened another part of her with it." Julian again, thinking: "When was the last time there had been a change in himself? He thought and thought, rejecting items that were not change but only removal or adornment."

Regarding the title, "Appointment in Samarra" refers to a little fable, thousands of years old, called "Death Speaks" that W. Somerset Maugham put to paper. O'Hara liked it. And it "fitted nicely into the inevitability of Julian English's death."

The Dharma Bums (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
The Dharma Bums (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.94
142 used & new from $3.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zest for life; striving for understanding of the world, March 20, 2012
The Dharma Bums was published in 1958, a year after Kerouac's more famous novel, On the Road. I read them both in the 1960's and remember his free-flowing writing style and his general enthusiasm but with On the Road I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. It may have been a seminal work but being original doesn't necessarily mean it is engaging. Lacking confidence, I assumed it was my fault. I read it again in the mid 1980's and, with confidence, understood less "what all the fuss was about." I recalled that I had liked The Dharma Bums better--way back then--but I couldn't remember why. So after forty some years, I revisited it.

The Dharma Bums is less about the Beat generation (as in On the Road) and more about a couple young men, Ray and Japhy, in search of Truth through Zen Buddhism. This was based on the real-life Kerouac and pal poet Gary Snyder, who apparently had a large influence on Kerouac's Buddhist journey. There is a lot more praying, meditation, and celibacy going on here than wild living, although Ray did like his port wine. I found Kerouac's zest for life innocent and life affirming, his striving for understanding of the world similar to other men's striving. He was thirty-six at the time but he sounded younger and wiser.

The essence of the book is told in one paragraph, well into the book: "[S]ee the whole thing is a world of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of `em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures...." One might accuse Kerouac of being a prophet back in 1958; or lacking a divine source, at least a soothsayer, predicting the Hippy movement and "flower children."

I enjoyed the great hike into the Sierras, the descriptions of Marin County, the name dropping of locations--North Beach, Oakland and Berkeley--the trips for skid row coffee, shopping at Goodwill and the Salvation Army, hopping trains, hitchhiking home to North Carolina for Christmas, living lean in comfortable shacks, and the summer of self-discovery on fire watch at Desolation Peak in Washington. I particularly liked reading the bit about the cheap bus ride from smoggy LA to Riverside, with its fresh clean air! "I was exulted to see a beautiful dry river bottom with white sand and just a trickle river in the middle as we rolled over the bridge into Riverside." He camped among the thickets, "a kind of bamboo," on the river bottom in a nice open spot "except for the roar of trucks on the river bridge." In the 1960's, this had no meaning to me. But I now know the bridge because I lived in Riverside, CA for twenty-five years. It's on Mission Inn Blvd. and it's the same place where the homeless camp today.

Kerouac floats between sadness, "Are we fallen angels who didn't want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved?"--to moments of humorous joy--"But let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious."

I now know why I liked this book all those years ago. I read it at a time when being a hobo was an option, when riding a freight train was a considered choice, when the song lyric "I've got plenty of nothin and nothin's plenty for me," from Porgy and Bess, held an attraction. I had a romanticized notion that happiness was to be found in a vow of poverty and adventurous exploration, mixing my Jack London, Hemmingway and Robert Rurak with the Beat writers. My "Desolation Peak" experience was in 1963, a summer at 9000 feet, in Fish Lake Utah, spending my nights in my sleeping bag on a cot in a rustic old lodge, my days doing the work of common men, my free time fishing, exploring, messing with the Mormon girls, and killing jackrabbits. At the end of the summer, I hitchhiked to LA with a change of underwear plus four cans of Coors beer rolled up in my sleeping bag then hitched all the back to Ohio arriving two days before the beginning of my senior year in college. It was the most difficult semester of my prosaic college life. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to climb mountains, sail the oceans, see the world, witness nature at its wildest, experience the freedom of unlimited options. A sense of responsibility and a cute cheerleader helped me change my mind--the cheerleader more than the sense of responsibility. (I had also concluded that I liked girls who shaved their legs and smelled good. One might suggest that this was a sign of intelligence. I know it had nothing to do with intelligence).

Accusing Kerouac of naivety would be a valid criticism of his thinking. The world wasn't (and isn't) ready to "wake up" as he suggests, but I admire his optimism: "You and I ain't out to bust anybody's skull, or cut someone's throat in an economic way, we've dedicated ourselves to prayer for all sentient beings and when we're strong enough we'll really be able to do it, too, like the old saints. Who knows, the world might wake up and burst out into a beautiful flower of Dharma everywhere." I recently read a definition of the pursuit of happiness from Charles Colson. (What? You've got to be kidding! Chuck Colson and Jack Kerouac in the same paragraph?) Colson said it was "the freedom to make our best efforts toward a virtuous life." Kerouac may have been misguided, self-destructive and a sleazeball of the highest order--I don't really know--but in this book, he sounded like an eager man in the pursuit of happiness. His final plea at the end of the book is poignant: "God, I love you...Take care of us all, one way or the other."

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-defined characters; vivid descriptions, March 20, 2012
Robert Penn Warren, America's first Poet Laureate, won a Pulitzer Prize for this 600- page novel, considered by many as one of the greatest works by any American author. Set in the 1930's, it traces the rise and fall of a dictatorial demagogue loosely based on Huey "Kingfish" Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1931. Long was loved by his supporters and hated by his detractors and ultimately assassinated in 1935 after he announced his run for the Democratic nomination for presidency against FDR. Warren was a professor at LSU during Long's rise in politics.

What I actually read was the 2001 version taken from Warren's original manuscript, held at Yale University. Noel Polk, a professor of literature from the University of Southern Mississippi, "restored" the author's unedited version. There is debate among literary experts regarding Polk's version. And Warren agreed, in fact, participated in the editorial changes back then--he never indicated dissatisfaction with the 1946 publication. The true work, perhaps, is the published version, approved by Warren, vs. the Polk version. Polk claimed that the editorial decisions of 1945-1946 tampered with authenticity and bastardized Warren's first creative words. Well, I'll just leave that argument to the pundits. The restored "Willie Talos" version is what I found at the library, so it's what I read. And it was fantastic, as I'm sure the 1946 "Willie Stark" version is, since it's the one that has been critically acclaimed for over fifty years.

I won't retell the story. It's long, complex, filled with multiple themes--and while Willie may seem to be the protagonist, the book is ultimately about Jack Burden, gopher for Governor Willie Talos. Just who is the protagonist is perhaps an interesting question for literary students (or old guys who like books). Does Willie or Jack drive the action? Regardless, one must conclude that Jack is the voice of Robert Penn Warren; and it's Jack's voice that is predominant. Jack is intelligent, from a southern genteel upbringing, but he seems to go through the motions, living in the Boss's world of dirty politics and increasing corruption. He just takes orders, appears to lack personal ambition, and is an observer of his world. Jack's got a sardonic wit. He's a realist but inside, he seems to question his own human nature. He's not a particularly happy person.

This book is filled with fascinating well-defined characters, richly described--even the minor ones. While it was difficult to be sympathetic with any of them, I could identify with pieces of them, became familiar with them and wanted to learn more about them. A couple times, it struck me that Warren went a bit over-the-top with detail, like his description of Anne Stanton's laugh; it was so ornate, I concluded that only Pulitzer Prize winners must think like that! I particularly like the Cass Mastern episode. Jack did extensive historical research digging into the motives of this Civil War relative. Just why did Cass try so hard to find Phebe, the sold slave? Jack never finds out and in frustration, dropped his PHD work. Penn's writing style, his descriptions, his word choices and sentences, his steady use of creative similes grabbed me. Examples:

Jack: "She kept on looking at me, not saying anything, with that look which always said, `You've got something I want, something I need, something, I've got to have,' and said too, `I've got something for you, I won't tell you what, not yet, but I've got something for you, too.' The hollow in the cheeks: the hungry business. The glittering eyes: the promising business. And both at the same time. It was quite a trick." (Italics mine)

Jack in an argument: "and the absorbent silence sucked up words like blotting paper."

Willie: "Folks, there's going to be a leetle mite of trouble back in town. Between me and the Legislature-full of hyena-headed, feist-faced, belly-dragging sons of slack-gutted she-wolves." (It's the voice of a creative cracker. While I'd love to be able say such a thing to somebody sometime, it wouldn't be me).

" the ocean chewing its gums."

Jack, cynicism on taking the state bar exam: "But maybe it had taken too long. If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and the only thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting. In the end, they just ask those crappy little questions."

Jack, frustrated with Willie's early speeches on the tax program: "Yeah... I heard the speech. But they don't give a damn about that... so it's up to you to give `em something to stir `em up and make `em feel alive again... Tell `em anything. But for Sweet Jesus' sake don't try to improve their minds."

I can partly relate to Jack's sensibilities: "At the hotel I ate a sandwich and went up to my room, and got the fan turned on and a pitcher of ice water sent up and took off my shoes and shirt and propped myself in a chair with a good book. There is nothing like a good book to put you to sleep with the illusion that life is rich and meaningful." (But to me, good books do make life rich and meaningful.)

Jack: "There is a kind of snobbery of failure. It's a club, it's old school... and there is no nasty supercilious twist to a mouth like the twist a drunk gets when he hangs over the bar beside an old pal who has turned out to be a big-shot and who hasn't changed a bit..."

Jack: "`It's a nice night,'I said in, I confess, the voice one reserves for small children, old ladies with ear-trumpets, and idiots."

Jack, with the goods on his old mentor Judge Irwin: "So I had it after all the months. For nothing is lost, nothing is ever lost. There is always the clue, the cancelled check, the smear of lipstick, the footprint in the canna bed, the condom on the park path, the twitch in the old wound, the baby shoes dipped in bronze, the taint in the blood stream. And all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. And we love the truth."

I loved the philosophical meanderings built into Warren's developing story:

Jack Burden: "The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge he has got or because of the knowledge he hasn't got and which if he had, would save him."

An example of Willie's belief that everyone is bad and the moral man makes goodness out of badness: "... the trouble with Governors is they think they got to keep their dignity. But listen here, there ain't anything worth doing a man can do and keep his dignity."

Jack: "One feels incredulity at opening the breaking of a habit, but horror at the violation of a principle. Therefore what virtue and honor I had known in the past had been an accident of habit and not the fruit of will. Or can virtue be the fruit of human will? The thought is pride."

Jack: " any relationship a relationship in time and only in time? I eat a persimmon and the teeth of a tinker in Tibet are put on edge." (Or I buy a shirt at Dillard's department store and somebody in China gets to eat, but not very much).

Jack, at Willie's request (or order), asking Adam to be director of the new hospital: " But I let my voice trail off, watching him shake his head again and smile now with a smile which did not forgive me but humbly asked me to forgive him for not being like me, for not being like everybody else, for not being like the world." And more with Adam in the same conversation: "Listen pal, there was a man named Dante, who said that the truly proud man who knew his own worth did never commit the sin of envy, for he could believe that there was no one for him to envy. He might just as well have said that the proud man who knew his own worth would not be susceptible to flattery, for he would believe that there was nothing anybody else could tell him about his own worth he didn't already know. No, you couldn't be flattered."

On Jack's melancholy trip to the West coast, and back: " can go back in great spirits, for you will have learned two very great truths. First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime for which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West, after all. If you believe the dream you dream when you go there."

Or... just great writing:

An angry Sadie Burke: "...with her black chopped-off hair wild and her face like a riddled plaster-of-paris mask of Medusa except for the hot bituminous eyes, which were in full blaze with a bellows pumping the flame." (Italics mine)

Jack, at the place where he got the proof about Judge Irwin taking a bribe, describing a scene that made me feel like I was there: "There was Miss Lily Mae Littlepaugh, whom, after five weeks, I tracked down to a dark, foul, fox-smelling lair in a rooming house on the edge of the slums in Memphis. She was a gaunt old woman, wearing black spotted and stained with old food, almost past the pretense of gentility, blinking slowly at me from weak red eyes set in the age-crusted face, sitting there in the near dark room, exuding her old-fox smell, which mixed with the smell of oriental incense and candle wax... And in that room. Before it, on the table, a candle burned fatly as though fed not merely from the wax but from the substance of the greasy air." (Italics mine)

And finally, near the end, this:

"The creation of man whom God in his foreknowledge knew doomed to sin was the awful index of God's omnipotence. For it would have been a thing of trifling and contemptible ease for Perfection to create more perfection. To do so would, to speak truth, be not creation but extension. Separateness is identity and the only way for God to create, truly create, man was to make him separate from God himself, and to be separate from God was to be sinful. The creation of evil is therefore the index of God's glory and his power. That had to be so that the creation of good might be the index of man's glory and power. But by God's help. By his help and in His wisdom." (Hmmm... I'll have to think about that).

A good book, to me, has to have interesting believable characters, a setting (or settings) that can been pictured, writing so vivid that it makes me want to write down the words, steal them for future use. I want it to make me think, and it must be a well-plotted, plausible story where things happen and lives change. Reading All the King's Men was a wonderful excursion. I'll probably read the "Willie Stark" version some day.

Puerto Vallarta Squeeze
Puerto Vallarta Squeeze
by Robert James Waller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.99
643 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good trashy book for aging men--a prayer to the god of indolence, March 20, 2012
I recently heard a speech by a literary man who has been in the book industry for over thirty years. He said that publishers love good books that sell...and bad books that sell. The only real criteria is that they sell. He made reference to Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County, which was reviled by the cultured despisers but sold millions of copies--an example of the "bad" but highly successful book. Although I saw the movie, I never read The Bridges of Madison County. I did read Waller's Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend, which was unmemorable. One could safely say that Waller isn't in the league of Steinbeck (not many are), but I surely did enjoy Puerto Vallarta Squeeze. Goodness, I read it in 1995 and again in 2003. The 2004 movie was unfortunately, quite mediocre. I love this little tale. It made me think of my adolescent fantasy relating to the Walter Huston character in the movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, where near the end, Howard the old man, is dead broke but happy, knowing his final days will be spent in a small peasant village being attended to by two lovely Mexican maidens. In the same mold, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze could be called a really good trashy book for aging men--a prayer to the god of indolence.

The book is about a middle-aged novelist, Danny Pastor, who can't seem to write, lazing around Puerto Vallarta with a pretty young maiden with sort of a heart of gold, named Luz Maria. Luz wears a t-shirt showing two half limes on her breasts and the words Puerto Vallarta Squeeze. They like a place called Mamma Mia's and spend their evenings listening to
Willie and Lobo (who I happen to have seen live. I also own some of their CD's--flamenco guitar and a violin--gypsy boogaloo music). Stuff hits the fan when Danny accidentally sees a killing by an ex-government agent and ends up with the shooter, Luz and himself running for el Norte in an old beat-up Ford Bronco named Vito.

I enjoyed the banter, like when the shooter and Danny are complaining about Americans, born in luxury's cradle, "escaping" to Mexico looking for the "meaning of life" then complaining even more about the sanitation setup. Or when they discussed the ethics of bullfights and hunting and slaughterhouses. Or their discussion of the machismo philosophy of Mexican men regarding their wives: "If they are pregnant, they will not wonder" and the fear of a wife learning the erotic arts: "she might like it too much." Such matters are reserved for mistresses and bad women, not wives. I liked the author's delving into the psychological makeup of an assassin. It' a breezy read.

This little adventure twists and turns, it's fast-paced, with smart dialog, humor, and a wild ending--and it's easy to get sucked into believing that it would have been fun to have been there (except for the dying part).

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