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Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …
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Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

Kind One by Laird Hunt

As a fan of Laird Hunt, I perhaps should have seen the misdirection coming. The tagline on the front cover, "An Unforgettable Tale of Slavery in the American South," and the first paragraph, a dreamlike reminiscence of bed-time tales after working in the fields (I presumed cotton fields although admit in retrospect it was as likely a regular agricultural affair), set me off on the expectation of a tale of Colour and the unfortunate plight of a stooped and wise matriarch in the employ of a wicked plantation owner. Or something similar. 

Instead, something else. Instead, a vignette of the loss of a daughter in a freshly dug well. Instead, no-one mentions the colour of anyone's skin until the dénouement, the chapters where a mulatto boy goes in search of the mother who died giving birth to him. Instead, we have a tale of domestic slavery, of the abuse of a man of his child-wife, and of the daughters he had by another woman, a man who was intent on marrying his cousin until h…

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.

For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal

Having finished within days of each other the two svelte novels Closely Observed Trains and Too Loud A Solitude, two novels which take up positions one and two on my list of favourite European novels of all time, I quickly resolved to pepper the next few months with more Hrabalobština and I purchased with intent to binge I Served The King Of England (superb!), Dancing Lessons For The Advanced in Age, and In-House Weddings, along with this double-header of stand-alone but linked novellas. For whatever reason, twelve years passed between the first of this short list and this last book.

Twelve years!

I find it difficult to describe, but much like when I think about the mid-Western novels of Percival Everett, or more recently the two Laird Hunt books Indiana, Indiana and Kind One, I experience a creeping horror and fascination born of a complete disconnect between myself and the characters of the novel, and am subject to a squally sense of pathos which can at any moment send my mood off int…

Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow by Andrew Fish

It's hard and perhaps ungrateful to be critical of a book for which I paid nothing. It's also hard to work up the enthusiasm to read it. However, I was looking guiltily back through my e-reader library at all the wonderful free classic books I'd never read, not really fancying Aritsotle's Poetics or Beyond Good and Evil, when I remembered this.

And it was nothing like I'd imagined.

For some reason, the word golden had conjured some kind of mathematical construct, perhaps an unconscious association with Fibonacci, and I was sort-of expecting some kind of Beautiful Mind pastiche. What I got instead was a poor man's Doctor Who episode, without any of the BBC NOW-orchestrated dramatic tension, and a dim-watted lightbulb of an idea given life by a self-confessed fan of the author of The Meaning of Liff. I can't say it warrants a mention in the same sentence.

Alright, there are moments of snigger-worthy comedy, I seem to remember (but can find no evidence thereof cu…