The Moviegoer ~ by Walker Percy

There is a LOT going on in this novel – mostly the angst and alienation of mid-20th century men,  but there’s also the old South of New Orleans,  Christianity (Catholicism),  movies,  women,  fishing,  making money,  Mardi Gras,  families,  mental and physical illness,  death,  etc.  Mostly it’s a search for identity by someone who refuses to be “identified”  or maybe who identifies with everybody/thing.

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The Moviegoer
by Walker Percy
1961-  254 pages
read by Christopher Hurt  6h 35m
rating:  10   /  classic US
(read and listened)
** CHAPTER NOTES ** 
*******

I read Percy’s book,  The Second Coming many years ago and wanted to read The Moviegoer ever since.   I was so engrossed this time I even took chapter notes.  Still,  I had to go back and reread those parts where I thought something had changed in the characters.

Basically this is the story of eight days in a young man’s life.  He’s an unmarried, and financially successful businessman and the days are those preceding Mardi Gras as well as his 30th birthday.     Jack (Binx) Bolling is on  “search”  for the reality of being human,  but at same time seems like he’s trying to avoid it.

Jack is our first-person hero,  a veteran of the Korean War with a war injury,  his father is deceased and his mother remarried and now has several more children.   Binx lives in one neighborhood of New Orleans while his Aunt Emily, her husband and Emily’s step-daughter Kate,  live in another, more fashionable section.  Binx is a nice guy – a gentleman of sorts,  of his own times, maybe.  But he is truly rootless and doesn’t know what he wants to be or to do.

He likes to go to movies quite a lot,  he turns his secretaries into lovers , and drives his little red sports car to the coast.  And he’s always thinking  –  he has a “search” going on.   His search is for meaning in what seems like a meaningless world.  Movies have more meaning – they’re more real.   And he’s looking for his authentic self – the real Binx Bolling, by using his detached observations.

The story opens over Mardi Gras time in New Orleans which is not a good setting in which to find reality but that’s really not the point although it adds to quite a lot of it.

His cousin-by-marriage,  the beautiful but seriously insecure (or depressed or whatever)  Kate Cutrer, needs some real help.   Her step-mother, Aunt Emily,  wants Binx to at least take an interest – perhaps marry Kate.   The two are birds of a feather in some ways – both are bright and beautiful,  rebels against the traditions of the place and times,  and both somewhat screwed up.  Binx can talk to Kate and she’ll listen (usually).  She is under a doctor’s care for her condition.

Binx is escaping emotional connections by observing rather than interacting with his environment – he lives aways away from his family and has serial secretaries.  He lives in a boarding house and tends to use public transportation in town.  He can certainly afford his own home considering he’s making $30,000 in about 1960. (And what cost $30,000 in 1958 would cost $246,981.92  in 2016.  But he’s rootless – has no religion,  no political persuasion,  no career he’s proud of (he sells stocks and bonds).  He likes making money but doesn’t feel it’s terribly “meaningful.”

He is attached to the sounds and smells and people of New Orleans and protests greatly when his uncle sends him to Chicago during Carnival.   He’s has problems with virtually every other part of his identity.

Kate has been depressed since her fiancé died several years prior.  She’s now engaged to a nice enough guy named Walter,  but it’s not doing her much good.

Binx also has a step-brother named Lonnie who is very ill.  It seems as though the only people Binx really interacts with are Kate and Lonnie.

Binx has two alternatives – one,  the very material Southern tradition of his Aunt Emily,   or two,  the Catholicism of his mother.    Percy was a converted Catholic as well as an existentialist –

When I first read the ending from the vantage point of a cynical 21st century reader I thought – “Yeah,  how long will that last?”   Reading the book from the pov of Walker Percy I think a happy ending is what is intended.

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Hold Tight ~ by Harlan Coben

I’ve read a number of Coban’s books (8 I think) and the ones narrated by Scott Brick are almost over-the-top with suspense what with Coban’s storytelling talents and Brick’s ability to make any string of words sound suspenseful, but they’re usually fun.

In this one from 2008 (which makes it a bit dated in terms of the technology involved) the interwoven threads revolve around children and families and what parents will almost always do to protect them.   The story opens with the vicious murder of a woman whose body is then left in the back alley of a red-light district – she’s dressed the part of a hooker.  The cops won’t suspect who she really is.
holdtight
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Hold Tight

by Harlan Coben
2008 / 444 pages
read by Scott Brick 12h 3m
rating:  A   / crime-suspense
*******

Next we get a scene switch to the comfortable home of Dr Mike Baye, his wife Tia (an attorney), and their children Adam and Jill,  ages 16 and 10 respectively.   Adam’s friend Spenser has recently committed suicide so Mike and Tia are worried about Adam.  They put a tracker on his computer.

Then there are the parents of the boy who died.  His parents are filled with incredible grief – Betsy Hill can’t/won’t get over it.   Other scenarios include a girl and her single father – the girl has been dissed by a teacher at school;  the teacher’s wife and family;  a very ill young boy whose parents are seeking an organ donor for him;   another dead woman and her family;  the murderers and their problems;  the cops who are looking for the murderers;  a teen-age hang-out and its proprietors.

For a crime writer who uses quite a lot of violence, Coben creates some really good characters,  but there are so many of them they’re  hard to keep straight.  On the other hand, by the time I did get them straight, I I didn’t want the story to end.   Also he takes on some themes in his writing – the interwoven threads are connected by children and their parents who desire to protect them.

And with all the intertwined plot threads the tension stays way up and there are some real corkscrew twists all the way to the end.

I guess it may not be his best novel but it’s a goodie.

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Beyond Belief ~ by Elaine Pagels

I’ve been meaning to get to this book for a long time.  I’ve read quite a lot of books which deal with the history of  Christianity because it’s so fascinating from an historical point of view – especially early Christianity and the formation of the Church and establishment of the Bible as it is plus the Protestant Reformation and its many ramifications.

Early Christianity can be quite a muddle but … I usually read Bart Ehrman or Karen Anderson (linked on this site)  or  Diarmaid MacCulloch  and other religions, too,  but I’ve read a Pagels or two as well.  Pagels is some kind of Protestant (maybe “gnostic”),   while Ehrman and Anderson don’t seem to be anything particular and their writings geared toward the historical.

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Beyond Belief
by Elaine Pagels
2003 / 272 pages
read by Cassandra Campbell – 6h 9m
rating: 8 / nonfiction history of Christianity
(read and listened)
*******

The book concerns the way the Biblical Canon –  especially the Gospels – were chosen to be the front-and-center writings of the New Testament.

The Gospels according to Matthew Mark and Luke were not problematical at all.  But John’s account was far more controversial.  The problem was the Gospel of Thomas which was available until some time after 325 AD. His ideas clashed dramatically with those of John.     Actually,   it may be as much about a man namedIrenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul,  as it is about Thomas or John because Irenaeus and his followers supported John over Thomas and realized an “official” collection of the writings as a whole, of those available,  needed to be established.  The bulk of the book concerns how Thomas got left out of the Gospels in favor of John.  (And then the documents were hidden for a couple thousand years.)

There’s a certain amount of background which discusses the Didache, one of the very first documents which outlines the basic principles of Christianity,  ethics, the Lord’s Prayer, a few sacraments, and the organization.  This was available prior to most other writings.

But there were lots and lots of writings and Irenaeus  thought one solid system for Christianity was needed –    a Bible (meaning Bibliotech).   He disliked the ideas of Thomas and emphasized the ideas of John so he villainized the Thomasites and sanctified the Johannites (and Paul).    John’s message became orthodox and the other writers (Phillip and Valentinius and others –  many more than just Thomas) were banished,  only to become found and recognized in 1945 and later.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library

Pagels writes very nicely but the book is quite dense so at 3/4 through I thought – I need the Kindle version here! lol!  Dear Reader,   I started over with the more immersive and enhanced experience of “read and listen”  where I can go back and relisten to passages,  note how names are spelled,  Google for more info,  check the Notes sections,  etc.

I got so entranced I made CHAPTER NOTES

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American Nations ~ by Colin Woodward

I’d been seeing this around and put it on my wish list so I nominated it for the All-Nonfiction reading group and it got selected.   I was glad and looking forward to reading it.   As usual, though,  I put off reading until closer to the date of the discussion – Oct. 1.

First,   according to Woodward in the Introduction,  “Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth,” and  “All of these centuries-oldcultures are still with us today and have spread their people, ideas, and influence across mutually exclusive bands of the continent.  There isn’t and never has been one America,  but rather several Americas” (pp 75-76)

According to Woodward,  the United States is comprised of eleven distinct different nations which have their own history and cultural identities (language, religion, ethnic origin, history) religious and political ideas, even  if they don’t have their own “states.”  The traits of these nations are outlined In the excellent Introduction:

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American Nations:  A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodward
 2011 / 384 pages
read by Walter Dixon –  12h 52m
rating: 9.5
(read and listened) 
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  • Yankeedom
  • New Netherlands
  • The Midlands
  • Tidewater
  • Greater Appalachia
  • The Deep South
  • New France
  • El Norte
  • The Left Coast
  • The Far West
  • First Nations

Each of these nations has a chapter or two (founding and spread)  but presented in chronological order of European settlement interspersed with major historical developments such as the “Six Wars of Liberation” and “Immigration and Identity.”

There is a superb article and map at:
http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html

I didn’t quite finish the chapter summaries,  but I got all but Part IV:  (see: https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/092017-2/american-nations/american-nations-notes/

 

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St Urbain’s Horseman ~ by Mordecai Richler

I had mixed feelings about reading this book –  on the one hand I looked forward to reading it because I so enjoyed Richter’s Solomon Gursky Was Here a few years ago.  On the other hand,  St Urbain’s was first published in 1971 and I’ve had problems with other novels of that era.    That said – it’s the book chosen for the October discussion in theBooker Prize group so …

Urbain
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St Urbain’s Horseman
by Mordecai Richler
1971 / 502 pages
read by Robert MacNeil 13h 36m
rating –  7 –   1970s lit    (I loved the ending)
******* 

Main premise:   What’s a good upright middle-age and upper middle-class Jewish guy to do when his buddies from the hood seem to all be taking advantage of the new sexual freedoms and getting it on with whichever young thing has big boobs and a pair of legs?   Ach –

But I started and sure enough – by Chapter 3  I was tuning out  the 1970s sexist lingo.  I had to read through a couple of reviews to see if I’d continue.   I did,  but it was out of loyalty to the group and the fact I’d actually bought the book rather than any interest.

Our angst-filled protagonist,  Jake Hersch,  is a 36-year old man,  married with children,  from Montreal,  but living in London where he works as a director/producer in the film and television industry.  The years were contemporary with the publishing –  the very late 1960s , maybe 1971 – the times they were a changing with sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. And poor Jake wants in on the action but … he’s got principles and  old Jewish ties.

Jake is a moral man, in love with his wife and very much a part of his own generation. He feels like he was born too late to be a part of the WWII generation and too early for the day’s hipsters.   He’s squished into the middle,  wanting the sex and freedom of the young folks –  but the security of wife and family.   He wants his family honor as well.  He’s deeply envious of the lifestyle a few of his friends seem to be pursuing.  Still,  he’s not certain he wants to (or can)  let go of the values he was raised with.

So his problem is really existential – how to be manly and free without losing your ideals  in 1971?    I see the satire, but it’s dated  in the same way Playboy bunnies are dated.   And the book just goes on and on and on to where Jakes seems to get a bit angry and somewhat mean-spirited in places.

** But that’s the point –  Richler is saying that this “new age” (of hip, slick and cool – of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll)   is vulgar and ugly.  For a reader who experienced something different in 1971 that’s a huge turn-off.   Jake wants to be able to fight this nonsense the same way his cousin Joey fights for truth and justice re the Nazis and the Spanish Civil War.  (But in reality,  Joey is not pure either.)

When the story opens Jake is involved in a court case due to the shenanigans of a con-artist he’s befriended named Harry Stein.

I think I was supposed to hold Jake Hersch in some respect and sympathy – I didn’t quite get there even though he didn’t actually participate in the wrong-doings of his friends.  I felt kind of sorry for him – the way I feel sorry for the characters of Graham Greene and their religion vs sex themes.    I don’ t think Richler or Jake is very clear about why Jake does not succumb.

Much of the story is made up of a series of backflashes to when he was growing up  in  lower class Montreal with his little Jewish gang of buddies.  The stories then move to later in his life.  Sometimes they deal with what his older cousin Joey might be doing – Joey is Jake’s deeply flawed personal hero and the eponymous “horseman.”   But his heroics  are all in Jake’s imagination.  He’s supposedly chasing Joseph Mengele in Israel among other places.  – (Living in days of old imo.)

Some of Jake’s friends are sexist to the point of misogyny and this novel is supposedly “realistic.”   The women are generally true to an outline of young,  long-legged, sex-objects with important breasts, etc.  who throw their panties around and are generally the object of the men’s desires.   There are some places where the narrative is just plain gross talking about defecation and nose buggers and other matters.   Only Nancy,  Jake’s wife,  is a “nice lady” and that comes across as being about as life-like as cardboard.

Richler writes nicely although so much is “tough-cool”  slangy dialogue it feels like a 1940s novel.  Published 15 years later,  Solomon Gursky Was Here had far more appeal,  It was funnier.  This seems like a specific coming-of-age story while Solomon Gursky was more of a generational saga.

Richler and Timothy Leary – in Google Books:
http://tinyurl.com/y94yc4gy

There also seems to be some anti-Semitism  in that although yes,  Richler is Jewish but the book is plumb full of Jewish “jokes” and pointed satire which doesn’t really sound right – it’s off in some way even if Richler says it’s satire and no one is safe.   Might be a sign of the times a’changing and what was ok,  is now not.

And this was on the same shortlist as Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor.  (sigh)  Fwiw,   V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State was the winner of the prize that year.   (I need to read that.)
Wikipedia list

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/scl/article/view/7928/8985

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/29/AR2006032902528.html

http://www.robertfulford.com/2007-09-18-richler.html

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/IFR/article/viewFile/13162/14245

 

Richler prefaces St. Urbain’s Horseman with a quotation from Auden which suggests that he does not wish to be read as a mere entertainer, a fanciful farceur. Auden’s lines evoke a mood of cosmic despair illumined only by a rare “affirming flame.” What is there in the Horseman that would justify us regarding it as such a flame? Certainly the despair that we find there is serious enough; the world around Jake Hersh is sordid and vile. Jake himself despairs and lapses into neuroticism and paranoia as he struggles to defend the few liberal ideals he has salvaged from his war with an insane world. Confusedly he holds to his notions of artistic integrity and family loyalty, and worries ineffectually about social injustice and the starving millions. His is hardly a great flame, for he is not meant as a hero, but rather as someone who is representative of the helplessness of so many of his readers, who long for a saner world but don’t see how to go about attaining it. And so Jake clings to his comic-book fantasy of the horseman as righter of all wrongs and at the very end of a novel, which had begun farcically, we understand his need for this romantic escapism and dismayed by the injustice that has been done him, we are overwhelmed by tragic pity.

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The Traitor’s Story ~ by Kevin Wignall

It was really all because of Finn Harrington messy past life as a spy that Hailey Portman, a bright and well behaved 15-year old and Finn’s neighbor,  went missing.   She had been gone from her home in Geneva for several days when her very worried parents,  feeling it was more than what the police called a “simple runaway,”  contacted Finn to see if he could help.   By this time in his life Finn had created a new life as a writer of popular history books.  But Hailey’s mother was friends with Finn’s partner,  Adrienne and who had mentioned that Finn had some kind of spying experience and was “very smart.”

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The Traitor’s Story
by Kevin Wignall
2016 / 384 pages
read by Simon Vance 10h 2m
rating:  A+ 
*******

Finn’s interest is piqued by the fact that it really doesn’t look like Hailey was abducted,  but rather,  she carefully and deliberately planned her own disappearance.  Yes,  a runaway,  but to Finn,  with some possibly more sinister ramifi-cations. –  First,  he’s got reason to be nervous about his own security and,  second,  he’s possibly a bit paranoid.   There may be people still after him and he doesn’t like these kinds of situations.

So we naturally have the backstory of Finn’s experience in the spy biz – what got him in trouble six years prior,  and why he’s now trying to lay low.  The thread dealing with his past pops in every once in awhile to add some texture and the requisite background.

Jonas,  Hailey’s incredibly smart friend and neighbor,  provides quite a lot of information and Finn puts a lot of it together with his own suspicions.  It seems the teenagers have hacked the computer network of yet another neighbor named Gibson who was,  indeed,  keeping an eye on Finn for other people and that thread leads to some very interesting shenanigans.

http://lizlovesbooks.com/lizlovesbooks/the-traitors-story-kevin-wignall-interview-and-review/

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In the Waning Light ~ by Loreth Anne White

I should never have even bothered.  Even if it was on sale.  Even if it was recommended by a friend (and got on my wish list).   Even if it did get good reviews.   The premise sounded good –  true crime writer investigates the crime in her own background.   Alas,  I knew it was “romantic suspense”  after only about 30 minutes.   Sigh.   And then I saw it on the reviews.  Sigh.  But I persevered because it sounded promising.   –  yes and no.

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In the Waning Light
by Loreth Anne White
2015/ 432 pages
read by Tanya Eby 13h 28m
Rating:  C–  (too much romance)
*******

Meg Brogan, our protagonist,  writes very popular true crime books,  but after a TV interviewer challenges her to write about the murder of her sister which put her own father in jail she finally succumbs and begins her own search for truth.

Working out of a shabby camper (her office) in the yard of her old fire-damaged and abandoned family home,  Meg revisits the summer of 1995 (?)   when her teenage sister went missing.  The Brogans are a nice family who live in a nice enough suburban home,  Sherry was getting ready to go to Stanford but was having a last summer fling in spite of the bad weather.  The sisters were supposed to have gone to the movies, but no one had seen them for hours.   A search is on.   Thirteen-year old Megan was last seen, alone,  by Blake Sutton,  who has a crush on her,  taking the boat out into the bay in spite of the weather.  She returned safely.   Sherry was found raped and dead.   Now,  18 years later, Megan is investigating what happened to Sherry although her father went to prison for the murder of her rapist and he died two years prior.

Through interviews and document searches Megan teases out most of the truth – and the chase at the end solidifies it all.  The reader knows a bit of what is going on because some scenes are between the conspirators.  And then Meg thinks she’s starting to remember something.  Blake is willing to help as is her aunt who now lives in assisted living ever since the house burned.

All those years ago,  Sherry was supposedly raped by Tyson Mack and Meg’s father blew up at the idea and in a rage shot Tyson –  Dad died in prison.   That’s the story.  That’s the lie.  There are a lot of secrets.   But her mother,  according to Aunt Edith,  never did believe her husband did it and she kept notes found after the fire.   Meg finds the notes and starts digging – there’s a lot of animosity in town about her digging around in the past.  There are certain people who seriously need to keep it all covered up.  And it gets complicated.  Mom committed suicide in the aftermath.  But don’t believe everything is as it looks.

It’s a pretty good story,  albeit padded with romance and repetition,  and White keeps the tension up nicely.  Still the romance stuff interferes from time to time –  and it gets graphic (sigh).   Fortunately I was able to ignore it, as much as possible, for the sake of the crime story.

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