Jackie Corley is the editor of the zine Word Riot. Her stories have appeared in many online publications
The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski,
Before James Frey and J.T. LeRoy, there was another fabulist whosework has long been forgotten (except, maybe, by hardcore Peter Sellers fans -- seen 'Being There,' anyone?).
Jerzy Kosinski books are frequently bizarre and depraved--a kind of
sadism bootcamp for the reader. Kosinski shot to literary fame in the
1960s with The Painted Bird, which portrayed the life of young outcast
wandering around rural villages in Poland during World War II. While
published as a novel, Kosinski had suggested that many of the events
in the book were autobiographical. The Painted Bird drew wide acclaim
as one of the best in Holocaust literature.
The notoriety of The Painted Bird faded when Kosinski was accused of
plagiarism and of having used ghost writers in a 1982 Village Voice
article. The article also portrayed his experience as a Jew in Poland
during the war as vastly different from what was presented in The
While investigations into Kosinski's background pushed many of his
books off the shelves, The Painted Bird is still one holy helluva
mind-warping read. The horrors of the Holocaust are never directly
described in the novel, but the extreme violence and cruelty the young
'gypsy' encounters represents mankind at its most brutish and puts
into focus the more wide-scale horror engulfing Europe at the time.
You'll need a strong stomach to get through The Painted Bird, but it's
definitely a worthy read.
Robert Fate is the author of Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues and Baby Shark’s High Plain Redemption
Sunset and Sawdust, Joe R. Lansdale
It is difficult to believe that Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale could be a book considered by anyone as neglected, forgotten, or overlooked. Yet, I find myself asking why it has not gotten the attention it deserves. Booklist gave this extraordinary novel a starred review, in which they said, “Lansdale is a superb stylist and a first-rate storyteller, and his sandpaper wit never fails to scratch out a brand of humor that hovers somewhere between knee-slap funny and painfully revelatory.”
For my money, the opening pages of Sunset and Sawdust are as good as any book you want to name. Writers owe it to themselves to sit at the foot of the master with this delightful piece of country noir, and readers who have not discovered Joe Lansdale should do themselves a big favor, start their Lansdale education with this title and get prepared to read every book he has written.
Sincerely, Robert Fate
Lynne Patrick is managing editor of Crème de la Crime, a small independent publishing house specialising in debut crime fiction. Barbara Kingsolver is her antidote to the less savoury aspects of the day job.
Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Sometimes when a book receives huge acclaim from critics and readers alike, the next book by the same author loses out and fades away – often not because it’s lacking in quality, but simply because people are still talking about the successful one.
If I mention Barbara Kingsolver to my bookloving friends, the response is invariably The Poisonwood Bible.
Rarely, if ever, Prodigal Summer.
Yet Prodigal Summer has something just as important to say, and it says it every bit as beautifully, with at least as much richly observed detail, and in language that weaves and flows in a way which makes me gasp in admiration every time I stop to notice it.
Kingsolver could offer masterclasses in location, and how to create it in the reader’s mind. When I re-read Prodigal Summer - and it bears a lot of re-reading - I can smell and taste the feral Appalachian slopes and the lush farmland of the valleys. Her characters go right on living when the narrative ends; and the three storylines cross and link with a subtle and delicate touch. And that’s just the basics.
The real quality of the book lies in the wealth of detail: the scarlet underside of a grasshopper’s wing; the stained chair in the mountain cabin, which reappears as the one the farmer’s daughter in a different story strand left beside the road; the plight of Polish and Palestinian people caught in political crossfire. And in the way the Creationist view of history and proactive, high-input farming methods get a hearing despite the clear (and deftly, engagingly delivered) message in firm and reasoned support of the opposite philosophy.
Barbara Kingsolver always has something important to say, and she has a rare talent for making you want to listen. Prodigal Summer is a novel for our times. It shouldn’t be allowed to hide.
Roz Southey’s two historical crime novels, Broken Harmony and Chords and Discords, are published by Crème de la Crime. Her brand new website is at www.rozsouthey.co.uk
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, TOBIAS SMOLLETT
If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound a bundle of laughs, think again. This is an amusing romp through 18th century Britain by someone who was actually there.
Smollett’s hero is coachman to Squire Matthew Bramble as he rambles through England and Scotland in search of adventure. Smollett has carriage-loads of idiosyncratic characters – amongst them, Bramble’s elderly sister who still hasn’t given up hope of finding a husband, and his niece who has too great a fondness for actors. He sends them through an acutely observed landscape, filtered through a novelist’s imagination and exaggeration, certainly, but providing a vivid picture of British life at the time.
And a surprisingly modern picture it is at times. Smollett is scathing about the new building going on in Bath, condemning not just the pretentiousness of the designs, and the haphazard unplanned development but also the poor quality of materials: ‘They are built so slight, with the soft crumbling stone found in this neighbourhood, that I shall never sleep quietly in one of them.’ In London, he is appalled by the noise, the never-ending bustle, and the almost total absence of policing, which, he says, is owing to the insistence of Londoners that ‘all regulation is inconsistent with liberty, and every man ought to live in his own way, without restraint.’
There are glimpses of the social world, the coffee houses, country homes and commerce. To a musicologist like myself, his hints of the culture of the day are fascinating: his adventures with the less than intelligent waits (the town musicians) of Bath, for instance. His description of Tenducci, one of the castrati imported from Italy to grace the musical salons of the rich and fashionable, shows the ambivalence of many with regard to these singers. He adores the voice, which has him swooning with pleasure, but he cannot come to terms with the singer: ‘I heard the famous Tenducci, a thing from Italy,’ he says. ‘It looks for all the world like a man, though they say it is not.’
And at the end, there is a touch of poignancy as Matthew Bramble – believed to represent Smollett himself – tells his doctor that he intends to ‘renounce all sedentary amusements, particularly that of writing ...’ Smollett died almost immediately after the publication of the novel in 1771.
Jochem Steen, a Dutch writer, is the author of White Knight Syndrome and the proprietor of the blog, Sons of Spade.
PRETTY BALLERINA BY JOHN WESSEL
When I was asked to participate in the great Lost Book Project it didn’t take me much longer than 5 minutes to come up with a suitable book. There might have been several books I’ve really enjoyed over the years but few of them seem to have been forgotten. I toyed with featuring one of Charles Knief’s novels (anyone remember those?) but decided to go with one of John Wessel’s because his work influenced me the most.
His debut novel This Far, No Further is a great read but John really hit his stride in the second novel, Pretty Ballerina.
A girlfriend with tattoos who loves metal and who even wears black under the shower, references to the Smashing Pumpkins, Star Wars and B-movies it gives a contemporary edge to this novel that appealed to me a lot when it came out. Here was a PI that operated in my world, instead of a jazz-filled almost retro kind of one. This showed me what the PI novel could use to make it more interesting again while still being true to the genre. This led me (together with Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone) to write my first Noah Milano novel.
In this novel ex-con and unlicensed PI Harding (no first name, in the Spenser-tradition) is hired by Cassie Rayn to break into her old house. The house where her family was slaughtered by her own father. Her brother (probably) survived however, because he went missing before the tragedy occurred.
The lady also has quite a reputation as a former X-rated and B-movie actress, one of her older more adult offerings being sought out by collectors worldwide. This gives us quite a bit of comic relief and adds a nice degree of atmospheric sleaze to the story.
A lot of the characters are as funny and colourful as those in a Tarantino-movie and serve up some great lines. We’ve got a Vietnamese tough guy with a cowboy-fixation, a Pool King with a hankering for old porn, a killer who wears a necklace of ears.
While those characters might have turned this into a comedy, the moody sarcasm of Harding (for instance when he talks about a neighbourhood where the personnel lies in bed thinking about killing their bosses) and dark past of Cassie make this a pretty dark novel.
During his investigations Harding encounters some really psycho villains (as mentioned above) but manages to uncover the dark secrets of Cassie’s past like a true detective should.
John Wessel showed me how to make a wisecracking PI stand out from the crowd without crazy gimmicks and putting him right into the Now.
Since his third novel that came out in 2002 I haven’t heard from Mr. Wessel but would love to interview him for www.sonsofspade.tk. So if anyone out there knows how to reach him, let me know.
Some more forgotten books to peruse: As always some will appear later in the day. (Or not at all perhaps).
Terrie F. Moran