Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 9, 2011

Sorry to be late. Water, water everywhere. When will it stop raining?

Next week, Brian Lindenmuth at SPINETINGLER will gather links. Thanks.

Patti Abbott, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

I first read DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT when it came out more than 25 years ago and my reading of it then and now are quite different. I found them quirky then. I find them sad now. As we grow older, things seem more set in stone and a dysfunctional family seems unlikely to change.

It is the most critically acclaimed and beloved of Tyler's books and is often compared to AS I LAY DYING.

All the members of the Tull family are dysfunctional. Beck, the father, deserts his family and for most of the book, we believe he is the primary cause of all their troubles. We don't understand why until the very end and share the frustrations and puzzlement of his wife, Pearl with his actions.

Pearl is run into the ground supporting her family and is seldom up to coping with them. Only a brave writer would give a woman so beset by financial problems such unlikable traits. She resorts to various verbal abuses that scar the children. Cody, the eldest, develops such severe hangups over his father's desertion and his mother's display of favoritism he becomes emotionally estranged from the family. His resentment of his younger brother and the action he takes to ameliorate his pain is painful to read. Jenny grows up scattered and remote despite her profession. Ezra, the most sympathetic character of the book and owner of the "Homesick Restaurant" shares this beaten down quality.

There are few acts of heroism in this book and, in fact, few big scenes. Its success can be pinned to the small accretion of details and words that give the Tull family life. You may not either like or dislike any character in this book, but you will believe they exist. And although you may not want to eat dinner with them, you can picture them in Baltimore even now.
Another writer for Barbara Fister's Challenge to highlight female authors.

Ed Gorman is the author or STRANGLEHOLD, A TICKET TO RIDE and a new Sam McCann book, BAD MOON RISING. You can find him here.

Zero Cool, Michael Crichton

At some point in his life--perhaps subconsciously--Michael Crichton set out to conquer the world. Not enough that he was becoming a doctor. He had to write pulp fiction while still in med school. And not enough that he write pulp fiction, he had to write bestsellers. And not enough that he write bestsellers, he had to put his imprint on Hollywood by creating some of the most enduring popcorn movies of all times. Poor guy.

But for all his triumphs, I still like his early work better somehow. I enjoy Westworld more than Jurassic Park (I even prefer the somwhat messy Looker to some of the Big pictures) and his John Lange pulp stuff more than any of his later books (though The Great Train Robbery, Rising Sun and Sphere still work fine for me).

So I had a great time with the Hard Case Crime reissue of the John Lange novel Zero Cool.

This time out our hero is a radiologist named Peter Ross who, who visiting Spain, manages to pick up a lot of women and a trio of nasty and mysterious men who want him to perform an autopsy on a dead man who turns out to have been a gangster.

You have to admit. This is a pretty unique set-up for a crime novel. Ross and his elegant lady are dragged across Europe looking for an invaluable artifact. Lange was already a master of pacing. Ross is never quite sure what is going on as two different factions need his help to find an invaluable object.

Lange has more fun with this one than his other early books. The dialogue is breezier, the villains are a notch or two up the vermin scale and some elements of the unending race through various countries has the feel of Hitchcock directing Cary Grant.

This is one of those little gems of pure pulp pleasure, long on plot twists and derring do, and honed to lean perfection by a major storyteller.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Glen Harper
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Doug Levin
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang


BV Lawson said...

Hi, Patti! I put up a FFB posting last night, but $#@%^! Typepad didn't post it at the of the page. Sigh. Anyway, I re-ordered the posts, so it's back at the top where it should be.

Todd Mason said...

Sounds like Crichton was anticipating Gregory McDonald...and I didn't realize how much Tyler was chronicling my parents' families (albeit both grandfathers died rather than more voluntarily leaving).

Todd Mason said...

Scott's link seems to be "colonized" by Bill's.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All our families, I'm afraid, Todd and thanks for watching my back.

J F Norris said...

Mine is up now. Did a series of books by Jack Mann (a.k.a. E. Chalres Vivian) this week.

Bouchercon next week! Looking forward to meeting you, Megan and the rest of the FFB gang who are attending.

Anonymous said...

I've been enjoying the John Lange books for the most part too, but I found THE LAST TOMB (originally EASY GO) about robbing a mummy's tomb in Egypt, to be dated and heavy going where it should have been light and fast. ZERO COOL and GRAVE DESCEND were much better.

I still haven't read that Tyler but RSN.

Jeff M.

Erik Donald France said...

I like Anne Tyler, even though, yes, prety sad stuff as far as family dynamics. But it's never too late until the end!

She used to bop around the Research Triangle area in North Carolina around that time. Maybe she still does?

Randy Johnson said...

Glen Harper seems to be linked to Margot Kinberg.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Thanks for including my post about Stanislaw Lem's The Investigation! I really appreciate it :-). And thanks also for reminding me of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I wanted to read that when it came out, but didn't....

Anonymous said...

P.S. It's true: somehow Glen's entry leads the reader to my blog. Is this the link you intended?

TomCat said...

I also have an entry for today's FFB: Bill Pronzini's Casefile.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I had nothing again the week. This was a particularly good batch of books. I do love Friday Forgotten Books!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hope all problems are straightened out. Problem with rushing, isn;t it?

Charles Gramlich said...

Zero cool was not a bad little book.

Gerard said...

Barbara Fister? GO GUSTIES!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Another great books weekend! I read DINNER AT THE... in college over two decades ago and remember hating Cody Tull like hell. How could he steal his brother's girl? You felt for Ezra even though he was pathetic. Anne Tyler could tell a story.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She was great for a long time but then....after Breathing Lessons, it seemed to end for me. Same thing happend with John Irving, Alice Munro and several others. Did I change, did they, or did the times.
Love Celestial Navigation, The Accidental Tourist, Searching for Caleb as well.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I've been reading John Irving for a while now. Out of the six books that I've read so far I couldn't figure THE 158-POUND MARRIAGE. Probably it's my lack of understanding. That apart I like the element of humour in all his novels.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I liked all of then through A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. But since then--not so much. That would be seven. Never made it through the rest.

Anonymous said...


Jeff M.