The Death of Artemio Cruz

The Death of Artemio CruzOpening with its narrator on his deathbed acquainting the reader with  graphic details of various medical instrumentations invading his body is quite a jolting start.   Flashbacks provide the story of his life from 1889 to 1959 interspersing past and present to keep the reader aware of his impending death.

Surrounded by his family who hope to extract details of his will, his confidante who hopes to conceal incriminating business deals and a priest who hopes to procure a deathbed confession, this dying man is at the center of a veritable three-ring circus.

Artemio Cruz, the novel’s namesake recounts his life as he lies dying and does so without whitewashing the events.  Whether recalling his part in the Mexican revolution, his role as a congressman or his many love affairs, he does so without apology for the man he was and the man he became.

This is a man who would undoubtably fascinate me.  Love that he wrote the old-fashioned way; with pen and paper san typewriter (surely no fan of the latest technological advances).  Perhaps we could sail to Cuba where he’d share tales of his life.

My rating for The Death of Artemio Cruz  is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Closing Time by Joseph Heller

Closing TimeI fear I may have lost my reading mojo…I wanted to love this Catch 22 sequel, but am so sorry to report that I did not.  There were moments where Heller’s wry humor sent me into twittering fits and his ability to portray the absurdities of life once again prevailed.

Heller reintroduces many of his Catch 22 characters where we learn about their lives as men facing aging and for many, illness.  More of  their youth is also revealed in flashbacks.

Set in New York in the early 1990’s, Yossarian returns (from Catch 22( and figures prominently throughout.  He realizes he has sold out to the man he so abhorred in his youth yet can’t quite bring himself to becoming a martyr to make his point.

The novel alternated between nostalgic ramblings and far-fetched governmental plots, making it unclear as to which direction things were heading.  Mixing the two was difficult to take in.

This is a man I’d love to sidle up to closely with an open ear for all the sarcastic and dry comments he’d likely make in most any situation.  That some may not appreciate his absurd view of American government and corporations is truly sad commentary on mass apathy prevalent today.  Love that he didn’t care about some of his literary gaffes, like he probably didn’t care about those who may not have been in on his many jokes.  Also loved his Vonnegut references.  What’s occurred in the 20 years since this was published would provide Heller with ample material for another fine work.

My rating for Closing Time is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Carlos Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio CruzThe Death of Artemio Cruz

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A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

A Severed Head

Having thoroughly enjoyed Murdoch’s Under the Net, I was expecting another grand slam, but, alas, it was not to be.  Its satirical take on wealthy Londoners sexcapades in the 1960’s  just missed the mark and instead left behind unsympathetic characters whose fates were of no concern to this reader.

Perhaps too much time on one’s hands can lead one down the road of immorality.  Such is this case here with adultery, incest, suicide with a dash of psychoanalysis, shopping and, of course, drinking.

Martin Lynch-Gibbons, the central character, is so self-absorbed that he fails to see the signs of his wife’s affairs (yes, plural) and while keeping his own mistress, fails to acknowledge his own missteps until he is found out.  He falls for the sister of his wife’s lover who is a creepy wannabe sexual enigma.  This guy needs a good slap of reality to wake  him out of his apathetic coma.

Martin’s wife, Antonia, is an annoying woman who justifies her own behavior, likely arisen from her own ennui.  An affair with her psychoanalyst and brother-in-law aren’t enough to keep her happy so she decides to dump the doc and keep the husband and his brother.  Too many spoilers?  I’m doing you a favor so you won’t have to read it through…

Honor Klein, sister to Antonia’s psychoanalyst, is a conniving sexual predator who likes to sleep with her brother and doesn’t mind getting smacked around.  Ughh…this one made my skin crawl, like however many shades of grey (no, didn’t read em).

Quotes:

In almost every marriage there is a selfish and an unselfish partner.

Violence, except on the screen, is always pathetic, ludicrous, and beastly.

Conversations relating to the sexual revolution would be off-limits for my meeting with Ms. Murdoch.  Instead, I’d turn to her view on communism and ask how she viewed today’s world.

My rating for A Severed Head is a 6 out of 10.

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Next up, Joseph Heller’s Closing TimeClosing Time

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Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Good Morning MidnightAnother soul wrenching tale from Jean Rhys delivers the goods with such forthrightness that there’s no mistaking the intended tone right from the start.  No apologies here, so expect souls to be bared with no dignity intact.

Flashing back, we learn how a middle-aged woman has ended up in a shabby hotel in Paris attempting to drink her sorrows away with little success.

Sasha Jansen has turned to alcohol to numb the pain of her empty and passing life.  She frequents bars and spends time with other lost souls, none finding the key to happiness.  An early marriage to a neer do well has left her bitter and hopeless in love and financial woes have her at the mercy of what few friends remain to help support her.  A very sad woman who not many would want to spend time with.

Rene, a gigolo Sasha meets has the looks and charms to keep him in business.  He is fascinated with Sasha and tries to decide if perusing her would result in any financial gain.  He too is a sad person numbing himself with scheming.  Someone else to avoid.

A young Ukrainian, Nicolas Delmar, seems to enjoy Sasha’s company and philosophize on life’s quandaries.  He may have an ulterior motive and may also be another lost should searching for nirvana.

Quotes:

If you’ve got to walk around by yourself, it’s easier when the lamps are lit.

This is another lavatory that I know very well, another of the well-known mirrors…But it’s not as bad as it might be.  This is just the interval when drink makes you look nice, before it makes you look awful.  

What to discuss with Ms. Rhys…that could require lightly treading.  Not sure if a Pernod or absinthe would be appropriate so perhaps instead I’d suggest a short stroll and pray she’d open up about her troubled life and wonderful talents.

My rating for Good Morning, Midnight is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Iris Murdoch’s A Severed HeadA Severed Head

 

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The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Three MusketeersAnother book I was not looking forward to and its 700 pages were enough to discourage its perusal, HOWEVER, I loved this book so much I decided to malinger along with it and enjoy it during the sultry summer days and nights.  I wanted to ingest this work slowly and savor each word.  I imagined living back in the 1800’s and reading it in its original serial format.  What a thrill that must have been for those readers awaiting each chapter.  Let’s just say that taking my time with this book (where I usually attempt to read a book per week) was my way of trying to travel back in time.

The Three Musketeers is a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion, and would be more aptly titled The Four Musketeers, The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan, The Three Musketeers and their Bosom Buddy….aargh.  I suppose after 170 years, a new title is out of the question.

Dumas manages to merge 16th century history, swashbuckling, intrigue, romance and adventure with such finesse that leaves the reader wanting more, yet not desiring its conclusion.  Of course, there are the three musketeers and their pal who somehow manage to shine even when they are insulting their servants or disrespecting the hallowed Cardinal.

D’Artagnan is a 20-year-old Gascon who ventures to Paris with his sights set on becoming a musketeer.  He proves his mettle early on and befriends the three musketeers who quickly transform to a foursome.  Early on, he encounters a beautiful and mysterious woman who is one he hoped to have never seen.  He falls in love with Mme. Bonacieux, but theirs is a tragic love story.  This is someone to have on your side.

Milady is the femme fatale who seems to leave her evil marks among many.  She is vengeful and unforgiving and her vengeance knows no mercy.  She uses her beauty to lure her victims, like a black widow, she weaves and twists her unsuspecting lure into traps to which there is no escape.  Stay away, far, far away from the likes of she.

The sinister Cardinal Richelieu is quite unnerving.  Manipulating the king, he does all he can to become the most powerful figure in France, even consorting with Milady.  His cunning and shrewd schemes usually put him ahead of those who see who he truly is.  Ventrebleu, do not even make eye contact with this one.

Athos, handsome, taciturn and mysterious.

Aramis, stoic, religious and brilliant.

Porthos, haughty, vain and resourceful.

Quotes:

A rogue does not laugh in the same way that an honest man does; a hypocrite does not shed the tears of a man of good faith.  All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.

Besides, we feel always a sort of mental superiority over those whose lives we know better than they suppose.  

“People in general,” he said, “only ask advice not to follow it; or if they do follow it, it is for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it.” 

Of course, the first question I would pose to M. Dumas would be why this title.  I’d love to ask him what he enjoyed reading since its said to be his source of training as a writer.  I am quite sure there would be much to glean from this fascinating man.

My rating for The Three Musketeers is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, MidnightGood Morning Midnight

 

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Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

Waiting for the BarbariansSomething about this book was mesmerizing, yet I can’t declare it to be one of the best works I’ve encountered.  I just wanted to take my time with it and allow each word to be absorbed and it took time and concentration to get through.  In the end, I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t thrilled either.

A complacent magistrate living in a fictional South African colony has his world turned upside down when the Civil Guard pays a visit and are none too pleased with how he’s running things. Still not ready to open his eyes, a sadistic warrant officer finally gets his attention when he sets in motion a horrific campaign of terror.

The unnamed Magistrate is a middle-aged man whose nonchalance has allowed for a somewhat peaceful existence.  Blind to the suffering so near to him, he carries on with his comforts with little thought to those around him.  His sexual needs are met by a local prostitute and a recently kidnapped ‘barbarian’ that he truly believes he is helping.

The girl, again another unnamed character is a surviving ‘barbarian’ kidnapped and tortured in front of her father who is then killed.  She is taken in by the Magistrate and sleeps with him and then works in the kitchen by day.  She claims to be blind and says little more about her abuse, yet when the time comes to return to her roots, her decision is swift.

Warrant Officer Mandel is a stereotypical sadist who creates unthinkable tortures and seems to be completely unaffected by his acts.  He shows no emotion and seems to fit the mold for a man in such a position.

This would be a difficult meeting to arrange since rumors abound of Mr. Coetzee’s reclusiveness.  Since this portion of my review is always presented as an assumed meeting with each author, living or not, I’ll once again feign agreement by the author.  Perhaps I’d discover if there is truth to his methods or rigor and strict discipline with regards to his writing.  What I’d love to hear about would be his experience in Austin and the factors leading to his emigration to Australia.

My rating for Waiting for the Barbarians is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers

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The Reivers by William Faulkner

The ReiversSo sad that this last work of Faulkner’s was not the gem I longed for.  I even had doubts about the authenticity of The Reivers during my read.   Perhaps I was distracted while simultaneously perusing Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, a fabulous  gift from my sister.

A turn of the century road trip gone awry when an odd trio
‘reiv’ a car and head to Memphis, each with their own agenda.  What should have been comical was not and the characters were either dull or stereotyped.

Perhaps it would be best to discuss Mr. Faulkner’s earlier works while we enjoyed a chat.  Perhaps he’d share what inspired him since he didn’t seem to prescribe to any tried and true writer’s techniques.

My rating for The Reivers is a 6 out of 10.

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Next up, J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the BarbariansWaiting for the Barbarians

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