Books and Book Reviews: April 2005 Archives

Home is the Sailor Day Keene


Hard Case Crime is an imprint which is trying to revive the noir. They have published a couple of real 50's pieces and a larger number of modern-day homage to the genre. This novel by Day Keene is one of the original 50s pieces.

True to the genre, a not very bright male falls, hook, line, and sinker for a femme fatale who, if he had ever bothered to crack open a pulp paperback, he would have recognized from across the street. The whole novel is fairly predictable in its course and even in its denouement. What IS interesting about it is the handling of the noir themes and the leering pulp interest stemming from sexual themes.

The writing, overall, is fine. There are a few clinkers here and there, but for the most part the story chugs along just fine. There are some interesting details about San Diego and Tijuana of 50 years ago. But hard-core investigation or mystery is completely lacking.

For pure mind-free fun, this book was a blast. It's an evening's read, and an easy one at that. However, it really is more of a piece for connoisseurs of older mystery forms and might not have a large audience today. I hope so, because I'd like to see the series continue and I'd love to see the other pieces they revive.

Next stop Randy Wayne White's Captiva. I'll be reading a few of these as prep for my trip down to Naples. All of his mysteries are set in West Florida and have about them the air of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee without some of the weird sexual healing philosophy that tended to pervade those. I'll let you know as I finish, but so far, so good.

As to Home is the Sailor--Recommended with minor reservations.

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I don't much care for Philip Roth's work. Usually it is too obsessed with sex and with certain unsavory aspects of the human reproductive urge. And those elements occasionally intrude here. But intrude is the correct word--they show up, spend a sentence or two churning about, and vanish. They don't help the book along, but they also don't seriously damage it as they do in others of Roth's works.

This is a book about anti-Semitism. While set in the 1940s, it is about how easily hatred takes hold given a chance and how terrible it is to live in the shadow of that hatred. It isn't a cautionary tale, on the other hand, it is a kind of plea and warning.

We meet the Roth family--an extended family of Father, Mother, two sons and cousin Alvin. At the beginning of the book we are in the sunny reign of FDR (yes, I know, a supremely debatable point). And then along comes Lindbergh. Yes, Charles. Apparently a supreme isolationist and anti-Semite. And he wins the Republican nomination and he wins the presidency. And soon we have "Just Folks," a program designed to show the "emigrant" children (read "children of Jews") what real American life is all about. It separates these children from their parents and places them in "real" American homes to have breakfast of sausage and ham and bacon and dinner of pork chops, and further undermine whatever cultural identity they might have. And one of our protagonists is subsumed into this program and eventually spends time lecturing and telling others about it. He is eventually invited to the White House to meet von Ribbentrop. You get the drift. Basically, the whole family is under attack, and eventually the whole nation.

At the end of the book, Roth offers a reasonable "explanation" for all that has happened, and almost, almost lets Lindbergh off the hook. IF you buy the explanation. There is sufficient ambiguity that it is difficult to tell what story to follow.

The book is well constructed, AND, in a rare event for me engaged my emotions forcefully. When the elder son is rude to his parents because they won't allow him to continue to support the Nazi propaganda machine, I found myself wanting to take and shake some sense into the boy.

What I was very cognizant of throughout the reading is the "motivation" of the Jews who did not trust the Christian society around them. There was little enough cause to do so, and a great deal of reason not to. I was also cognizant of those same elements in society today.

A year ago there was much agonizing over the question of whether or not The Passion of the Christ were anti-Semitic. I happen to think the final product went out of its way to make certain that it did not appear so. So much so that the highly inflammatory line, "His blood be upon us and upon our children" never appears anywhere in the film. I think the concern was real, based in real fear, based in a memory of what has happened even in recent times.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well. Unfortunately, it is all too alive and well in certain strains of Catholic thought. While these people espouse certain intellectual abstractions, they do so largely in ignorance, I hope, of what terrible tragedy the charges of deicide have provoked throughout history. These charges are neither abstraction, nor merely intellectual or even deeply spiritual notions to be bandied about. They are a loaded gun pointed at an entire "race" of people. (I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of "races" as there is only one--defined by the species Homo sapiens sapiens, each one a child of God.) Anti-Semitism is the same ugliness that gives us Bosnia, Rwanda, and any other variety of "ethnic" cleansing. And it little matters whether is springs from intellectual abstractions or from the deepest emotions. It is a repulsive ideology that must be strenuously opposed wherever it rears its ugly head. We are not permitted this liberty of thought, and I am thankful for the Constitutional Right we are given that it might be freely expressed. I know immediately who I do not care to associate with.

Roth's book is an indictment of Anti-Semitism. It is an explanation for those of us who do not fully understand its implications as to why it stirs up immediate, strenuous reaction. If there were elements of Mr. Gibson's film that might have supported this strain of thought, it is good that they were excised--there is certainly enough remaining that we need not fear the loss of content. And it is to Mr. Gibson's credit that he went to such lengths to excise all that he could without destroying the reality of the Gospel story.

Roth's prose is unusually lively, unusually engaging, and unusually compelling in this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough, despite some momentary lapses. It is a book that everyone owes it to him or herself to read and to internalize. It is a book that helps to explain the dynamic that often mystifies or aggravates us. And ultimately, it is a gift to all of us. It says, "Never forget what can all-too easily happen."

Oh, and did I mention that it is by turns poignant and hysterically funny?--a Roth trademark played out superbly in this novel.

Highly recommended, indeed, required.

later It didn't occur to me when I first put this together, but what an act of grace that my book group should come to read this in time for discussion on the first day of Passover! I don't believe in coincidence, and yet, I did not plan this. We were supposed to meet last week and a scheduled Carmelite meeting time changed so I had to postpone the group. That is God's hand. What a nice reminder of His constant urging us toward Him.

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For Camille Paglia Fans


A Review of Break, Blow, Burn at Lofted Nest. Also be sure to read the most recent poetry entries. This site has really been inspiring and has gotten me back to regular writing. Off to a rocky start, but I'm pleased to be off at all.

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The Plot Against America Part I


I thought I'd give an interim report with the full thing perhaps tomorrow when I've finished the book.

I have to say this book came as a pleasant surprize. While it has all the Roth trademarks that I really despise, it also is more than merely compelling. It is riveting. Roth engages you in the emotions and the transformation of a family that occur as a result of the election of President Charles Lindbergh in 1940.

I cannot tell you how angry I get at some points in the writing and how aggravated I get with the blindness of some of the characters. It is wonderful to be so emotionally engaged throughout. Much of the time I read a book and then it's over and I have no real experience to report except some time passed. In this case I am learning far more than I really wanted to know about America's "hero" Charles Lindbergh. As it turns out in real life, he did somewhat redeem himself. Nevertheless, his thoroughly reprehensible politics only begin to scratch the surface. I have to investigate some information I have received about the railroading of Bruno Hauptmann--but let us say that the picture is not pleasant.

I'll say more tomorrow when I've reached the end of the book. But as of this point, with a few minor caveats, I would recommend this book, particularly to those who do not see what the big deal is about anti-semitism.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from April 2005.

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