Archer Mayor’s Three Can Keep a Secret is, the press materials assure me, the 24th in a series of Joe Gunther mysteries. Holy cow! Publisher Macmillan/Tor’s blurb:
Joe Gunther and his team—the Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI)—are usually called in on major cases by local Vermont enforcement whenever they need expertise and back-up. But after the state is devastated by Hurricane Irene, the police from one end of the state are taxed to their limits, leaving Joe Gunther involved in an odd, seemingly unrelated series of cases. In the wake of the hurricane, a seventeen year old gravesite is exposed, revealing a coffin that had been filled with rocks instead of the expected remains.
At the same time, an old, retired state politician turns up dead at his high-end nursing home, in circumstances that leave investigators unsure that he wasn’t murdered. And a patient who calls herself The Governor has walked away from a state mental facility during the post-hurricane flood. It turns out that she was indeed once “Governor for a Day,” over forty years ago, but that she might have also been falsely committed and drugged to keep her from revealing something that she saw all those years ago. Amidst the turmoil and the disaster relief, it’s up to Joe Gunther and his team to learn what really happened with the two corpses—one missing—and what secret “The Governor” might have still locked in her brain that links them all.
Who are your favorite writers?
I don’t make lists or rank writers. I can only say which ones are relevant to me. Salinger holds my attention, Yates holds my attention. John O’Hara doesn’t, I don’t know why—it’s the same environment, but he doesn’t. Cheever holds my attention more than any other writer. He is in every aspect of Mad Men, starting with the fact that Don lives in Ossining on Bullet Park Road—the children are ignored, people have talents they can’t capitalize on, everyone is selfish to some degree or in some kind of delusion. I have to say, Cheever’s stories work like TV episodes, where you don’t get to repeat information about the characters. He grabs you from the beginning.
Poems have always held my attention, but they’re denser and smaller. It’s funny because poetry is considered harder to read. It wasn’t harder for me. Close reading, that is. Milton, Chaucer, Dante—I could handle those for some reason, but not fiction. From ninth grade on, I wrote poetry compulsively, and pushed myself to do iambic pentameter and rhymes because free verse was cheating—anybody could do that. But I was such a terrible student. I couldn’t sustain anything.
Fascinating interview with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner in The Paris Review. I would’ve predicted the Yates and the Cheever (and Updike too, whom he doesn’t name), but not the poetry (Weiner goes on to detail his years writing poetry). My wife and I have been, uh, binge watching I think is the phrase the kids are supposed to be saying, although I don’t think the kids say it, I think culture reporters made it up—anyway, my wife and I watched the first season of Mad Men this week (hadn’t watched nary a rerun since it aired). It holds up pretty well, despite some soapy moments, cliches, and broad strokes.
Linda Spalding’s novel The Purchase is new in trade paperback from Random House. Their blurb:
Pennsylvania, 1798. Daniel Dickinson, a devout Quaker, has just lost his wife. When he marries a fifteen-year-old Methodist orphan to help with his five small children, his fellow Quakers disown him for his impropriety. Forced out of the only community he’s ever known, Daniel moves his family to the Virginia frontier. He has in hand a few land warrants, with which he plans to establish his new homestead.
Although determined to hold to his Quaker belief in abolitionism, Daniel is now in a slave state, and he soon finds himself the owner of a young boy named Onesimus. This fatal purchase sets in motion a twisted chain of events that will forever change his children’s lives—and his own. An unforgettable story of sacrifice and redemption, The Purchase powerfully explores questions of fate, faith, loyalty, and conscience.
When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.
From Flannery O’Connor’s essay “Writing Short Stories.” Collected in Mystery and Manners.
Where To? A Hack Memoir is Dmitry Samarov’s sequel to Hack.
Publisher Curbside Splendor’s blurb:
Dmitry Samarov’s illustrated memoir captures encounters with drunken passengers, overbearing cops, unreasonable city bureaucracy, his fellow cabdrivers, a few potholes, and other unexpectedly beautiful moments. Accompanied by dozens of Samarov’s original artworks—composed during traffic jams, waits at the airport, and lulls in his shifts—the stories in Where To? provide a street-level view of America from the perspective of an immigrant painter driving a cab for money.
Hack started as a zine around 2000 as a way for me to make sense of my three years driving a cab in Boston (1993-1997). It was called Hack because the license to operate a taxi in Boston was called a Hackney Carriage License and they used to call cabbies hacks in the old days. It was my first attempt at writing outside of school homework assignments and there really wasn’t much writing, it was mostly pictures. Those pictures were a challenge too because, as I’ve said, I work primarily from direct observation and the only way to do these were from memory. These illustrations were made to work together with the words, not to stand on their own and that has continued to be the case through the whole history of Hack.
I started driving a taxi in Chicago in 2003 and revived Hack as a blog late in 2006. To my surprise, it got notice pretty quickly from some in the local press—Whet Moser, then of theChicago Reader especially—-and my high school pal John Hodgman mentioning it in a magazine didn’t hurt either. That got it noticed by a publicist at University of Chicago Press named Levi Stahl. He bought a copy of my self-published compilation (see the third one down) and eventually pitched Hack as a book to his employers. They published it in October 2011.
Wittgenstein Jr? A difficult novel to write, not least because it is my first attempt at pure fiction. I had the safeguard of basing it on the life of the real Wittgenstein, replaying it in a Cambridge University of the present. But I had to dream up characters, narrative incident, narrative colour… Above all, I had to find new rhythms of writing, which fit my version of Wittgenstein himself, and fit his students. Everything is about rhythm!
There’s high despair and low humour – a lot of humour. There’s romance. There’s paranoia. There’s utopianism: dreams of friendship, of politics, of meaning. There’s lyricism. There’s madness. There’s anti-Cambridge-dons invective. There’s dance. There are songs (all novels should have songs). There are long walks in the snow. Allusions to Paul, paraphrases of rabbinical commentaries on the Bible, quotes from Wallace Stevens, from Goethe, lines from Pretty Woman… Dramatic re-enactments of great philosophical deaths…
We could probably maybe add the novel to David Markson’s list from Vanishing Point: