The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

TheBlackDahliaI’m glad I was not familiar with the infamous murder mystery of the 1940’s as it may have swayed my reading.  More so that I saved the epilogue for last, as that surely would have changed by point of view.

The hard-boiled writing style of The Black Dahlia elicits images of many a film noir from the books time period.  Based on the factual unsolved gruesome murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, the book takes some poetic liberties and served as a personal journey for its author.

Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert is a former boxer who joins the LAPD and becomes obsessed with the Black Dahlia murder.  His quest for answers takes him into underground bars, corrupt police stations and the arms of two women who know more than they’re willing to share about the case.

Partner to Bucky, Lee Blanchard also obsesses over the unsolved murder.  His obsession, however, is to assuage his guilt over the disappearance of his little sister when he was a teen.  Use of benzedrine fuels his erratic behavior and propels him down a path of disaster.  This was the character who earned my wholehearted sympathy.

Kay Lake, adored by both Lee and Bucky never quite reveals herself and leaves the reader wondering whether she is sincere or  a schemer.

With stars in her young eyes, Elizabeth Short came to California with hopes of becoming a famous actress.  Her dreams were never realized and her grisly death brought the fame no one deserves.

Were I to enjoy some time with Mr. Ellroy, I would hope to have him confirm that he’d slayed the dragons of his childhood through the cathartic writing process.  I’d give a go of emulating some of the hard-boiled lingo, but would probably only make a fool of myself.

My rating for The Black Dahlia is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations…GreatExpectations


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The Sea by John Banville

The SeaAfter slogging through Burroughs bombastic novel, I longed for a work that would deliver me back to the joy of reading and The Sea did just that.

A man deals with grief by returning to the haunts of his childhood and reveals how he has and has not grown from days past.  Interspersed between the recent past, the long ago past and the current day, Mr. Banville takes us along as we follow the steps and missteps of Max Morden as he tries and often fails, to reach a level of self-awareness.

Landlady at The Cedars, a vacation destination from Max’s childhood, Miss Vavasour is at times aloof while also seeming perceptive.  We learn she and Max have much in common.

Max Morden could not be described as a grieving widow, although he is, as his thoughts and actions are mostly self-serving, as most humans are.  It is only that he is not quite so good at concealing that truth.

A Cedars tenant, Colonel Blunden, is a sad man seeming to await the end of his life without filling his final years with any joy or fuss.  Not someone to spend time with if in a blue mood.

Max’s first love, Chloe Grace, is a privileged and bored girl who runs hot and cold with her treatment of her young beau.  Her selfishness and brazenness eventually lead to her ruin and sadly takes others along for the descent.


What a little vessel of sadness we are, sailing in this muffled silence through the autumn dark. 

Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it. 

We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations. 

I had that sense of anxious euphoria, of happy, helpless toppling, which the one who knows he will have to do the loving always feels, at the precipitous outset.  For even at such a tender age I knew that there is always a lover and a loved, and knew which one, in this case, I would be.

I felt an extraneous kindredship to Mr. Banville after reading the following, and won’t bore anyone with why.

I have always suffered from what I think must be an overly acute awareness of the mingled aromas that emanate from the human concourse.

Perhaps I would embarrass myself with Mr. Banville by such boldness, but I believe he’d be perhaps awkward at the onset, but brilliant and witty at the finale of our tete-a-tete.

My rating for The Sea is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia…TheBlackDahlia

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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Naked LunchThis was another eagerly anticipated read due to its renown.  Unfortunately, like many other much hyped works, this was an extreme disappointment.  Actually more than a disappointment and more of an astonishment that it is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.

As I explained to someone recently, it was like reading Joyce on acid with fewer pages.  This as it turned out, was even more painful than Joyce.  Turning its last page was relief beyond words.

Perhaps it is akin to the drunk who believes in his ability to perform fantastic feats only to awake with inexplicable cuts and bruises and no memory of their origin or the ecstasy user who saw nothing but beauty by night and who awakes, eventually, to the somber grayness of the day.

Pshaw to you naysayers for this is my opinion only and you are entitled to yours.

There were numerous characters; Lee (Burroughs alter), Dr. Benway, Joselito, Clarence, Iris, etc.  All equally repugnant and unsympathetic.

If I were to sit down with Mr. Burroughs, I’d probably choose the elder and hope he’d admit that this work were certainly not his best.  And yes, I am well aware of his passing in 1997, but this is my blog schtick where I imagine a face to face with the author.

My rating for Naked Lunch is a 1 out of 10.

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Next up, John Banville’s The Sea…The Sea

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Atonement by Ian McEwan

AtonementIs it ever too late to atone for one’s sins?  Apparently so is the message delivered in the aptly name Atonement.

Briony Tallis, an indulged and privileged 13-year-old girl sees what she wants to and doesn’t exactly tell it like it was.  As her version expands, she is too far in to stop the bleeding and the results have a lifetime of consequences.

Briony spends her entire adulthood attempting to right a wrong, yet her life and hopes do not have the happy endings she longed for.  Her young and inexperienced imagination and flair for the dramatic result in tragedy for innocent young lovers.

The injured party, Robbie Turner is the son of the housekeeper for the wealthy Tallis family.  His short-lived romance with Briony’s sister, Cecelia leaves him with only memories as he is sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit.  His short reprieve comes in 1940 as he serves with the British army to fight in France.

Cousin to Briony, Lola Quincy, is equally complicit as she has an opportunity, early on, to set the record straight, but for unknown reasons, fails to speak up.  A beautifully elegant wife to the true heathen, Paul Marshall, she seems unaffected by the devastation she and her cousin have wreaked upon Robbie.  Not someone I’d care to spend any time with.

The Tallis matriarch, Emily, is mostly bedridden with migraines, yet seems to rally when a crisis unfolds.  She seemed to be a woman who found herself with a family near adulthood who she no longer knew and didn’t care to spend time with.

While I would certainly like to ask Mr. McEwan about his writing processes, I would most certainly not ask him anything about his ex-wife.

My rating for Atonement is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch…Naked Lunch

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David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

DavidCopperfieldThis read should not have taken me so long, so I again am concerned with my lack of reading mojo especially as it concerns the esteemed Mr. Dickens.  Another masterpiece fell unto me yet I approached with trepidation based upon its sheer volume.

The adult David Copperfield looks back on his life and tells his life’s tale of woe and survival in this amazing masterpiece.  David loses his father six months before his birth and his mother remarries a wicked man and later dies during childbirth as does her newborn.  Abused by his stepfather, he is forced into extreme conditions as a child laborer.  He eventually tracks down an estranged aunt who takes him in and provides the only stability he’s ever known.  David still deals with adversity, but with a little wisdom, manages to overcome.

David learns early the art of self-reliance yet struggles with seeing people’s true colors.  Like most of Dickens’ character, David has his imperfections, but his travails give him the fortitude to deal with all life hands him.

David’s aunt, Betsy Trotwood is a seemingly hardened woman, but her true heart reveals itself when she takes David under her wing.  She is a fierce protector of those she cares for and is not easily intimidated by anyone who threatens those she loves.

The smooth talking James Steerforth is a master manipulator who enjoys the control he has over those close to him.  His charm, impulsivity and lack of conscience puts him in a class of sociopaths in my book.

The ever ‘umble Uriah Heep manages to insert himself wherever he is not wanted.  He also has a keen knack for getting others to reveal information they should be keeping to themselves.

I would pray Mr. Dickens would not look into my soul for he has the keen knack of seeing the frailty and ugliness in all mankind.  Perhaps I could distract him with questions around his writing processes and how he continually produced such voluminous works.

My rating for David Copperfield is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Ian McEwan’s Atonement…Atonement

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Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaI’ll open with alarm at the realization that I have not posted since March 14, 2017.  Egads, I’ll never attain my goal at this rate and once again, question the feasibility of such a task.  I will carry on with the hopes that the impending  drop in temperature will settle me down without the allure of the much cherished out-of-doors activities.

It took a concerted effort to remove the images of the Abbot and Costello version before sitting down to this long anticipated read.  At the extreme other end of the spectrum, I have to admit this is the first book that actually gave me nightmares.  There were certainly no guffaws spewing from this reader’s mouth.

Presented in a series of journals and articles, Dracula is both horror and thriller and transports us from Transylvania to England and back to Transylvania with heart pounding anticipation of what’s around the corner, and it isn’t at all pretty.

In the 1890’s, a recently qualified solicitor is sent to Transylvania by his new employer to conduct real estate transactions.  He is at first charmed by his client, but quickly realizes the Count will surely dispose of him once his usefulness is exhausted.  Barely escaping Castle Dracula, the young solicitor returns to England and engages friends and colleagues in hunting down the evil vampire and his unholy scheme.

Jonathan Harker, the initially naive solicitor, involves friends and his fiance in his plan to thwart the Count’s evil doings and to exact revenge against him for holding him prisoner in his castle.  Extremely focused and brave, this is someone I’d want on my side.

Harker’s fiance, Mina Murray, is at first utilized for her transcribing abilities, but quickly becomes a pivotal player in plans to destroy Dracula.  Clever and fearless, she is also devoted to all those around her.

Count Dracula plans his eternal life on earth through the blood of the living.  He is conniving and able to avoid detection with his unearthly ability to transform himself when escape is necessary.  I’d certainly avoid eye contact with the likes of this fiend.

Mina’s best friend, Lucy Westenra, is young and  beautiful and falls victim to the Count which outrages the band of vampire hunters and adds the fuel that will bring down the nefarious evildoer.

A meeting with Mr. Stoker would be marvelous.  Skilled not only in writing, but sketching, athletics and mathematics, there would be no lulls in our conversation.  While not familiar with his other works, I hope to enjoy more of him, possibly with Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, a posthumous short story collection from 1914.

My rating for Dracula is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield…DavidCopperfield

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth


An athletic superstar, beloved by all, is living the American dream until his reality becomes a nightmare he cannot awake from.

Seymour the Swede, Levov grows up in Newark, New Jersey,  an all-star athlete, admired by all, with the exception of his brother.  He possesses the likability we all dream of with an ease that only makes him all the more winsome.  Even as a Jewish Marine in the 1950’s, he faces little intolerance as his good-naturedness carries him through.  He marries Miss New Jersey, takes over his family’s glove factory and settles into the American pastoral.  The dream shatters when his 15-year-old daughter turns to anarchy in what she believes is the most appropriate response to the war in Vietnam.

The book’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman is the instrument for the unfolding of Roth’s novel who has always admired the Swede.  He meets with him briefly for dinner and when attending his 45th High School reunion learns he has died and what led to his undoing.

The Swede’s wife, and former Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer does not, literally, wear her crown with pride.   Moving to a rural town seems to allow her to avoid answering the questions related to her stint as beauty queen, yet her resentment of some snobbish neighbors make her questions her acceptance there.

Meredith “Merry” Levov seems troubled from her start.  A Colicky baby becomes a prepubescent stutterer who becomes the FBI’s most wanted.  We never get to know Merry and that is what unnerves this reader.

I would love to meet Mr. Roth and enjoy a glass of Sangria with some Paella in one of Newark’s many fine Portuguese restaurants.  After regaling me with all tales Down Neck, I’d reach across the table and beg him to answer all things unanswered from American Pastoral.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know it was intentional, but why not indulge me.  I would end our tete a tete  with a toast to this marvel for his recent lambasting of the man I will never acknowledge as POTUS.


And since we don’t just forget things because they don’t matter but also forget things because they matter too much–because each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthine windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint–it’s no wonder that the shards of reality one person will cherish as a biography can seem to someone else who, say , happened to have some ten thousand dinners at the very same kitchen table, to be a willful excursion into mythomania.  

That can happen when people die–the argument with them drops away and people so flawed while they were drawing breath that at times they were all but unbearable now assert themselves in the most appealing way, and what was least to your liking the day before yesterday becomes in the limousine behind the hearse a cause not only for sympathetic amusement but for admiration.  

Here is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible.  But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen?  Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering?  Nobody.  The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy–that is every mans’ tragedy.

Now, when she did not realize people were watching her, tears would rise in her eyes, eyes bearing that look both long accustomed to living with pain and startled to have been in so much pain so long.  

My rating for American Pastoral is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula…Dracula

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