Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Recent Reading Round-Up

Quick note before offering some abbreviated thoughts on our recent reading: you can now subscribe to The Ape by email. There's a link over in the right hand column that says, coyly, "Subscribe the Reading Ape by Email." So there's one more option for our repeat offe...er...returning readers.

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

Showing your artistic influences plainly is a lose-lose proposition. If you succeed, you are an imitator: if you fail, your shortcomings are thrown into even greater relief. The three principal influences of Adam Ross’ Mr. Peanut figure prominently in the novel itself: the films of Alfred Hitchcock, the brain-twisting visual impossibilities of M.C. Escher, and the forensic conundrum of Dr. Samuel Sheppard, the man whose story inspired The Fugitive (both the TV series and the movie). Taken together, this pop-culture assemblage doesn’t in the end turn out to be much. David Pepin may or may not have murdered his wife. Same with Dr. Shepard. There are twists, refractions, and indeterminacies aplenty, but Mr. Peanut is more postmodern koan than it is captivating.

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover

This is the kind of book I love, but probably wouldn’t ever recommend to someone who isn’t, well, me. The Quickening is the story of a fraught friendship between two farm women during the first few decades of the 20th Century. Hoover writes the kind of restrained-but-full prose that characterizes so much fiction about farm life and I can’t get enough of it. The quiet fortitude, the daily desperation, and the small victories of these lives and times are all rendered so ably here that I can overlook the relative paucity of narrative interest. This is a portrait of a way of life more than a story. I loved it.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
An "accessible" Pynchon novel is like a "domesticated" howler monkey: crazy and fun, but you can’t be surprised when things get messy. Inherent Vice is the love child of Raymond Chandler and Tom Robbins: it has Chandler’s knack for writing inscrutable but compelling noir plots combined with Robbins indulgent, resplendent and absurd joie de vivre. Stir in a little of Pynchon’s special sauce (a surfeit of characters, symbols, and allusions) and you have a charming disaster.  Also, bananas make a metaphorical cameo that Pynchon fans are sure to enjoy, then head-scratch over.


  1. By "charming disaster", do you mean it sucked? And, yes, I still love that line about the domesticated howler monkey. Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow) is almost single-handedly responsible for my uptick in alcohol consumption over the last four months...

  2. I meant that it is a mess, but still kinda fun. Hard to categorize into the it sucked/it rocked binary. And yes, Gravity's Rainbow is a rough-go, though it's a trolley ride compared to Mason & Dixon and Against the Day.

  3. I've only read Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, and I'm a little bit scared to try any others of his...

  4. Dear Reading Ape,

    Based on your comments about The Quickening I think you might like The Wake of Forgiveness by Machart which is due out in October. It wasn't something I enjoyed very much, but it is certainly contains much of the "restrained but full prose" you spoke of. Along with some rather strange description of female hindquarters (I believe they were at least once described as "bouncing hams"). I'm sometimes interested in seeing intelligent reviews of books I hate, just so I can feel like _someone_ got something out of it.

  5. Yeah, I skipped the Pynchon bit because he scares the panties off me (and definitely not in a good way). His short story "Entropy" was enough to stick with me for eternity.

    On the other hand, yours is a far more lukewarm review of Mr. Peanut than I've seen elsewhere. I'm interested to see where I fall on the love/hate scale.

  6. Shannon- Totally understand. I've read most of Pynchon, and I can say that Inherent Vice is the most accessible. Though that's kinda like suggesting which ocean is easiest to swim across...

    Thanks for the rec--I will definitely look into it. And I feel the same way about reading reviews of books I didn't like. Truth be told, I like that better than reading about books I did like.

    Lukewarm is right. There are some pieces I liked, but I don't think it added up to much.

  7. Against the Day is HARDER than Gravity's Rainbow??? My God. So much of GR just doesn't make any damn sense - to my limited mind, apparently. I was gonna try AtD and Inherent Vice to reward myself with "easier" Pynchons after finishing GR. May have to scrap that plan....

  8. Greg-
    Against the Day harder than Gravity's Rainbow? Let me reconsider that statement for a minute.........................Ok, well Against the Day isn't as tough sledding from page to page as GR, but it's 400 pages longer. I read Gravity's Rainbow long ago and AtD more recently, and maybe my patience has just waned for giant books like this.
    If you want to try another Pynchon, Inherent Vice or The Crying of Lot 49 is a better warm up.

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  10. I just discovered your blog; it's great. I am so looking forward to Mr. Peanut.