The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer
This is not really a novel. It is more a documentary of the execution
of Gary Gilmore in Utah in 1977. It is almost 1000 pages, so consider it
exhaustive. It is interesting, in that it is all character
development and little plot. What struck me the most was how cruddy Gilmore
and his associates were. They barely worked, they lived in slums and drank, or
took drugs, all the time. It is a subculture that I have little contact with.
Mailer makes it very real.
A Confederation of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I am not sure what to think of this book. It is well written and I think
it is supposed to be funny. But I could not get into it. The jacket blurb reads,
"a Don Quiote of the French Quarter". I think it would be better as a movie.
If you like New Orleans, check this out.
Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
These are books 3 and 4 out of a four book story arc. The series is the life story
of a Midwest basketball player and the foibles of his marriage. The writing is good
and Updike deserves the Pulitzer, but it wanders. These are the opposite of a short
story where every word counts. I read all four books eventually, but got bored and did not
finish to the end of book 2. If you like your books wordy and philosophical,
you will like these. The character development over the seris is, however, very good.
It is Updike after all.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A good book, but be warned, it is 'lit-er-a-choor'. Walker employs
some literary devices to push the narrative. Some of the symbology went
over my head, as I discovered when I read the analysis later.
Read this for school, or to be well read.
Ironweed by William Kennedy
For a book written in 1984, it was very old fashioned. It is a
story of a alcoholic bum in depression and his trials with his family.
I found the book hard to read. Well, maybe not hard to read, but
I was impatient with the story. Increasingly as I get older, I have
less interest in the employ of literary or stylistic tricks to make a book
stand out. In this case, a book written in the '80s that reads like a book
written in the '40s. Read Honey in the Horn and this one back to back.
Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
This is a straight forward story of two American academics traveling to London
and having romanic involvements. The two are only peripherally connected. This was
a well written novel with average plot and character developoment. It would be
interesting to see what the other nominiees were that year that such and average book
won the prize. Overal, a good read, but not outstanding.
Constrast this with the two finalists next year, Anne Tyler with Accidental
Tourist, and Continental Drift by Russel Banks, either of which would have topped Lurie.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
A sweeping story set in post Civil War Texas along the Mexican border.
A fat book, there is even a sequel if you haven't gotten enough of Call and McCrae.
I saw the movie first and couldn't read the book without seeing Duval and Jones as
Gus and Call. But unusual for me, the casting enhanced the enjoyment of the book.
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
Another 'great American novel'. Faulkner could have written this one.
I found it a surprisingly dated book for having a publishing date of 1986.
But that was probably what he was going for. YMMV.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Ooof! I had a hard time with this one. It is very stream-of-conciousness and allegory.
It is set in just post civil war south and tells the story of an African American family.
The style is very Gabrial Garcia Marquez, so if you like super natural themes and fractured
timelines, this might be for you. It has some heavy material, though, so not suitable for younger children.
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
No tricks or pretension here, just a gently amusing story about
an older married couple. Tyler is a good story teller and you will find a lot that rings true
about the way she writes about husband/wife, parent/child, and in-law relationships. One of the
funniest parts of the book is how the husband unconciously reveals his inner thoughts by whistling
pop tunes. During one argument, he starts whistling Patsy Cline's "Crazy" without knowing it, and
it takes the wife a few minutes before she yells, "Hey!". I laughed out loud.
What a variety this decade! With Mailer on one end and Morrison on the other, the 80s
were a decade of variety. I think that whereas the 70s were a transition decade for American
social behavior and mores, the 80s is the hinge decade for the American novel.
Morrison would never have made it on the shortlist in the 60s; and wait til you get a
look at Robert Olen Butlers work. After 1980, the possibilities really open up.