BookBin2013: Ether


My final read from our recent journey was Ben Ehrenreich’s Ether, another City Lights acquisition. Here, first, is the description from the back cover:

A bearded man in a badly soiled suit known only as The Stranger wanders an apocalyptic landscape on the fringes of a dying metropolis, looking for a way to “get back on top.” Thwarted and rejected at every turn by old friends and strangers alike—even by the author of this novel, whom he visits repeatedly in unsuccessful attempts to determine his own narrative—his impotence and rage are expressed in acts of seemingly senseless violence. The various characters he encounters on his journey—a pack of sadistic boys, skinheads who beat him senseless, a deaf-mute woman who tries to heal him, a sidewalk preacher, and a deranged man who identifies him as The One—avoid or abuse him, or attempt to follow him.

Combine this description with a review that likened this book to “a David Lynch movie transcribed by Pierre Reverdy” and I simply could not resist adding this to the pile I was collecting on this particular visit to City Lights. I am ever so delighted that I did.

What I found in Ehrenreich’s tale was beautiful, brutal prose flitting along the edges of evanescent terrain oftentimes explored by two of my favorite modern writers, Alan Lightman and Paul Auster. In fact, several aspects of Ether reminded me of Auster’s Man in the Dark while others were evocative of Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.

Ehrenreich doesn’t quite have the same linguistic polish as Lightman or Auster, but his writing style is strong, fluid, and clean. His characters are real and yet removed from reality, possessing intricacies of personality and intent housed within the simplicity of Ehrenreich’s carefully constructed prose. Even the most peripheral characters bring some element of import and intrigue to this puzzling pseudo-apocalyptic tale.

As an open-ended mystery with nothing more at times than the framework of a plot upon which we are left to build using our own personal extrapolations, Ehrenreich has given readers a curious world of darkness suffused with random moments of humanity that vacillate from grotesque to whimsical to achingly fragile.

Final Verdict: Another keeper, denizens. Oh yes, another keeper. This is only Ehrenreich’s second novel, but I am definitely interested in reading his first offering as well as in seeing where else he will be taking us in future endeavors.

BookBin2012: Reunion

I came here to write a review of another book I recently finished, but soon realized that I never completed my round of reviews from my last library trip. My mother was right: I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached.

Ah well. Better late than never, right?

I alluded to this book in my review of Alan Lightman’s Ghost: A Novel. Even though my initial excitement regarding Lightman diminished slightly from Einstein’s Dreams to Ghost, I was still enamored enough of his style and the way his mind processed ideas that I wanted to read more. Reunion was the only other Lightman novel in stock at the local library, so I quickly added it to my stack.

Yet again, I find myself visiting the concept/complaint of the “well-worn trope.” There is no new thing under the sun and certain stories have been and will continue to be retold until the end of existence itself. One of these stories is that of time travel, of returning to a place, a person, a moment in our pasts and…what? Changing it? Reliving it? Erasing it? Cherishing it?

In Reunion, Lightman takes his protagonist—Charles, a divorced literature professor with a “comfortable” but unremarkable life—to his 30th college reunion. From this setting, Charles stumbles backward through the spiral of time, to a point near the end of his college days that obviously still held depth and meaning and passion for him.

This is a “lost love” story, replete with regret and the remnants of a once unquenchable fire, revealed through what I continue to love most about Lightman: his clean, graceful prose. Is it a successful translation of this particular trope? Yes, for the most part. Lightman is a clever author and his perspectives are oftentimes just different enough to distinguish his take from the myriad others available to readers.

However, there persists that niggling notion that this is a story that we of the science fiction-minded have visited so many times that it must be an extraordinary take to make a proper impact upon us. Is this such a take? It is beautiful. It is engaging. It is not wildly original. It’s a comfortable visit with an eloquent and engaging friend. Their story is familiar, but you still enjoy hearing it told in their delightful way.

Final Verdict: My third visit with Lightman has convinced me that he is a steady storyteller of exceptional compositional skill. Were this a less-traveled trope, I might desire to add this to my library. However, I don’t feel a burning need to revisit Reunion any time soon. Perhaps this will change…in 30 years or so 😉

BookBin2012: Ghost: A Novel

I actually have a few recently finished books waiting in the wings for their big blog review debut. I’m hoping that now that my schedule is slowly clearing itself, I’ll have a little more time to work on them.

Hopefully not too much time though. Ahem.

Now, on to the first review. I read Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams last year and loved it so much that I knew I wanted to read more by this author. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when I discovered two more of his books at my local library.

The first of these two books that I read was Lightman’s 2007 offering, Ghost: A Novel. The story follows protagonist David Kurtzweil, a former bank employee who, after being laid off, finds new employment at a funeral home. As one can easily deduce from the title, David has an inexplicable encounter of a possibly paranormal variety while at his new place of employment.

Actually, one of the things that I loved most about this book was that Lightman doesn’t at first reveal what David saw. He keeps David’s experience a mystery, alluding to it, circumnavigating it, flirting with it…but never quite meeting it face-to-face. It takes a delicate touch to be able to write a novel called Ghost without actually discussing…the ghost.

Unfortunately, Lightman does finally reveal what David witnessed, and I have to admit, it was a bit of a letdown to me. I think it’s because I was hoping that Lightman would simply not reveal what David saw. I think the further along the story progressed and the longer Lightman remained vague, the more I was convinced that the novel could only possibly work if the reveal never occurred. Perhaps that was my own failing as a reader. I don’t know.

I do know that Lightman once again enraptured me with his clean, elegant prose. His style is stark and simple, extremely reminiscent of Hemingway in many ways.

Unlike Einstein’s Dreams, this novel is a little less stream-of-consciousness, far more regimented, and a lot longer. Perhaps a bit too long. I found myself growing weary of some of the plot twists toward the end, but, again, this might be a reflection of my response to the reveal that I had hoped would never arrive.

Final Verdict: I don’t know whether or not I would ever want to re-read this book. While I very much enjoyed the experience on a holistic level, the devil is, indeed, in the details…and the few negatives that I have detailed in this review are enough to convince me not to purchase a copy, but to keep this in mind for a future library revisit.

I still think that Lightman is very much worth reading. I still treasure the experience of reading Einstein’s Dreams, and I promise that the next Lightman book that I review here will be a much more ebullient posting than this one.

BookBin2011: Einstein’s Dreams

Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams actually came to my attention by way of a recommendation from another literary talent who has appeared in my BookBin series before (Loba has Internet PersonalitiesTM with very cool friends). As I hold Ms. Solow’s opinions in high regard, I made sure to secure my own copy of Einstein’s Dreams as soon as I could. I also made sure to shift it somewhere near the top of my piles of “books that need reading.”

It only took me slightly more than a year to get to this one. I do believe that might be a record for me.

Lightman’s novel is stunning in its beauty, striking in the simplicity and elegance of its prose. He captures the complexities of time with an enviable and engaging textual sparseness—and in so doing, proves unequivocally that science is an art unto itself.

This book is fewer than 200 pages, yet took me longer to read than many significantly longer books. I would finish a chapter and then immediately read it again. This became my standard operating procedure for almost every chapter. Lightman’s prose is such that you get only a glimpse into the various worlds he chooses to show you, but each time you take a peak, you see something different, something new.

I’d actually rather not say any more about this novel. It’s best experienced on your own rather than through my description of it. I have to say, though, I imagine it must spark some interesting conversations whenever it appears on a course syllabus. This is just the kind of text I would have loved to have discussed during my studies.

Final Verdict: Yet another one to remain in my library.