“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez
A simple, well-written, and passionate story about Central and South American immigrants adjusting to a new life in the USA. The family characters are vivid and likeable, and the conditions and human dramas in their new less-than-desirable home in Wilmington, Delaware make it a page-turner. There is fiery romance and pending tragedy between Maribel and Mayor, which is the heart of the book. There is a lot to be learned here by gringo readers.
“Waveland” by Frederick Barthelme
Down and out, a book of three or four people still hanging in there in coastal Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Being mean, being sweet, being survivors. It’s Vaughn the architect’s story, simple yet complex (owing to his constant soulful introspection). Once again, like in his classic novel “Tracer,” we see a man who is separated and dashing proceed in his everyday life with a new girlfriend, who somehow/someway is tolerant of Vaughn’s getting back together with his ex-wife. All three end up in one house at one time, in a Tennessee Williams sort of crucible, making for a survival of a different kind. I didn’t like the three characters that much to fall in love with the book, and the dynamics came across like something I’d already read before. Still, I remain a big Rick Barthelme fan. Not many out there are writing from their heart and soul about everyday American men. He does it with truth, fairness, and guts.
“The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
I’ve been trying to read this book for years and in March made it farther than I have before, which is still less than 25% in. Ellison’s writing is true to the times, in the sense that it’s wordy, strident with complaint, indulgent in artsy be-bop, and filled with tangents, a style largely unagreeable to today’s more impatient “give it to me stoic and straight” readers. I wondered early about the influence of marijuana in the author’s self-edits. Who can contest decades of critics and readers who have proclaimed this a great novel? It assuredly is, but it’s one I cant seem to settle into and press relentlessly ahead in the pages. I wish I could appreciate it for all its worth, and eventually will try again.
Pensive, outside the Elbo Room in Lauderdale, decades after College Spring-Breaks of Yore.