The Lonely Witness, William Boyle … A fun trip in and around Brooklyn that brought back many memories, including a “go shit in your hat” by an elderly lady (that was Momma Stella’s favorite retort to pretty much anything I teased her about). The lonely witness is Amy Falconetti, a woman lost between the two lives she’s lived since her breakup with her partner, an actress from the same Brooklyn neighborhood now living in L.A. Amy witnessed one murder when she was younger, and when the stars align shortly after the start of this story, she witnesses another murder. She’s been doing good deeds as a Eucharistic Minister for the elderly in her neighborhood, a 180 on her old life as a party-loving bartender. She hasn’t given him up. In fact, she did worse after the witnessed murder—she took the knife and was with the victim, a guy she’s had an issue with earlier over his possible stealing from one of the elderly ladies Amy spends time with. Amy winds up stalking the killer until he recognizes her and a new dilemma presents itself. Two bolts from her past increase the drama: her long lost father shows up, a guy who abandoned her and her mother, and her old girlfriend, the L.A. actress. No spoilers here. Boyle is an excellent writer, and his knowledge of Brooklyn and a street life is obvious. Real good stuff from the author of Gravesend, his debut masterpiece.
Young God by Katherine Faw … I enjoyed this one even more than her second novel, which I read first (see below). Her style is staccato, narrative and dialogue, and the story moves quickly, yet is revealed with just enough spacing not to confuse. It compels instead, and you won’t want to put this one down. Nikki is 13 years old when we meet her, a point at which her mother commits suicide. She flees social services and finds her father, fresh out of the joint. Their relationship is raw, especially when Nikki learns her father has switched careers. He was once a fairly big cocaine dealer. Now he’s a pimp, with a sidetrack of dealing drugs and financing the buys by ripping off other dealers and pimps. When a new recruit to the world of pimping becomes a rape and murder victim of Coy (Nikki’s father), Nikki decides the black tar heroin business Coy has dipped his toes in is a business she needs to incorporate on her own. It’s a dark read, but if you’re into dark, this one is brilliant.
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan … A wonderful start to what I wanted to remain a wonderful novel. The historical aspect and information was brilliant. The mixture of two forms of corruption—political and organized crime, when neither had to fear social media—was also brilliant. The characters were terrific … and then something happened that killed it for me. I won’t provide spoilers, but I was not a happy camper by an author’s decision that made me question it for several days. Why ______? Why?
Bottom line: It didn’t work (for me). Others might disagree, but national book award finalist? Please. Award nominations are more a testament to the politics of the publishing industry than anything else.
Ultraluminous, Katherine Faw … Reviews of this book comprised of vignettes, some as short as a sentence or two, intrigued me. I was upset when I started reading, but found myself drawn in little by little. The protagonist is a heroin addict and expensive prostitute with a cache of big money clients as arrogant as one might think. One likes to smack her around. She takes it. Another wants to own her for a year. She considers it. Another wants to hang on but might be losing his extracurricular cash. Her non-customer is a former veteran of Afghanistan who keeps a real cache of weapons in a locker in his shitty room. Our protagonist goes with him for free. This one has a mind-blowing ending that enhanced the investment tenfold. Very worth the coin you’ll spend … and it proves there’s more than one way to write a book. Great stuff.
The Motel Life, Willy Vlautin … A moving piece of fiction that inspired this writer in many ways. Straight writing, a story within a series of stories. Vluatin takes us on this journey through Frank and his hard luck brother, Jerry Lee. Frank works when he can and drinks more often. He’s blood loyal to his brother, a general fuck-up but a good artist. When Jerry Lee kills a kid while driving drunk, he’s devastated and terrified of winding up in the joint. He’s lost a leg jumping from a train, an injury that gets worse with the constant on-the-run life they lead. Frank takes them out of town and on a motel life journey that includes babysitting Jerry Lee with stories with happy endings, no matter how absurd. Brilliant start to finish. Need anything more to read this book?
If Manhattan Beach was an award nominee, The Motel Life should’ve won.
In current events …
The End of the Holocaust Card … There were no rockets. No tunnels. No weapons outside of rocks, Molotov cocktails, and kites soaked in gasoline. What they faced were walls of razor wire and sniper rifles perched all along the wall and in towers, as well as drones dropping tear gas. The excuse that videos were “edited” and/or “spliced” no longer carried credibility. Neither did the never-ending excuse to maim and slaughter, the U.S. and Israeli word for the justification of war crimes, Hamas. These were Palestinian people protesting the insult of an embassy move by the United States, the longtime ally and accomplice of Israeli war crimes.
No, this time Israeli’s IDF was exposed for the murderous army they are. They killed an infant with tear gas, young teenagers with bullets, a legless man in a wheelchair (his legs below the knees lost from the last intifada). They shot a doctor aiding the wounded once in each leg. Some of the wounded and dead were shot in their backs.
No, there’s no excuse anymore. The holocaust Jews suffered during WWII, when the world watched too long before acting, is now being perpetrated in Gaza by Jews against the Palestinian people. There are no ovens, but there are firing squads and gas attacks, and an open air ghetto/prison where 97% of the water is poisoned.
The UN warns conditions in Gaza are deteriorating more rapidly than forecast and the narrow coastal strip has reached the point of being unlivable three years earlier than predicted.
What Norman Finklestein has been preaching forever has now been confirmed for all to see.
Here Finklestein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, refused to play the Holocaust card.
So “let the word go forth,” to quote an American president from the 1960s. Israel is engaging in crimes against humanity and no longer gets to use the holocaust as an excuse to commit genocide against the Palestinian people. It is committing genocide against the Palestinian people, and the United States is supporting that same genocide.
The holocaust card is now dead, unless you’re going to use it in defense of the people being exterminated today. As Finklestein says: “If you had any heart in you, you would be crying for the Palestinians …”
Further, calling critics of genocide and war crimes anti-Semitic holds the same credibility as calling the slaughter in Gaza last week “IDF restraint.”
Speaking of National Book awards and politics … Tom Waits … Step Right Up.