Okay, not really. Among the giant stack I took with us for 12 days, none of them were actually Bahamian, but they were books I read in the Bahamas and about four of them that I finished got left behind on Harbour Island. Not only has it been quite a while since I blogged, but it has been even longer since I actually wrote about books I’ve read.
My stack. I read five and a half of them. I’ll let you do the process of elimination to see which ones I didn’t get to.
The Last Days of America by Paul Erdman
This is a book I picked up at the Book Thing in Baltimore where all the books are free. I tend to find lots of Helen MacInnes and other spy/political thrillers there. I didn’t know anything about Paul Erdman but since they are free, I could afford to make a mistake. I was not disappointed. I think the author had a weird political axe to grind that I couldn’t entirely figure out. He seems to have disliked Reagan as much as he disliked Carter.
The action takes place in about 1985, but the book was published in 1981, so the geo-political and economic situation were different then reality, were sometimes wildy off, sometimes wildly prescient, and always entertaining. Predicting the dip in Apple’s fortunes after its initial success was prescient, but assuming its demise was the part was wildly off. Another bit that was disappointingly off was that he envisioned Reagan as a one-term president.
It is against this Reagan-less Cold War that Erdman weaves his tale of a missile manufacturer who tries to bribe NATO better than Boeing and General Dynamics but then ends up in a weird deal that has West Germany re-arming so they can be the dominant force in Europe. This in itself is prescient in a way, fears of a strong Germany played out when Thatcher and Mitterand opposed a reunified Germany in 89/90, but Erdman was wrong when he thought the reunification would a result in the entirety of Germany joining the Soviet-bloc. And the book kind of ends there, with the U.S. too weak to put any kind of effective political or military pressure to achieve a better outcome. If I had read this book prior to 2016, it would have seemed laughably impossible. Now, after four years of you know who, the reemergence of fascistic sympathies around the world, and Boris the idiot in charge of the UK, geopolitical chaos seems more likely than not.
I really enjoyed this book and plan to look out for more of his work.
Marion Fay by Anthony Trollope
Months ahead of this trip I was hankering for a chunky Trollope, but kept telling myself to wait for vacation. This is the story of a brother and sister each falling for lovers (in the Trollopian sense) well below their class. For anyone with working knowledge of Trollope you know the general back and forth that happens before this one wraps up. Although I enjoyed this fairly well, for those of you who haven’t read Trollope, I’m don’t think I would start here. Start with Rachel Ray or The Warden or The Eustace Diamonds. It may not have been my favorite Trollope, but it still did a great job scratching my Trollope itch.
Passport to Panic by Eric Ambler and Charles Rhodda
I recently read a memoir by Eric Ambler where he mentions how most of his collaborations with Charles Rhodda under the pen name Eliot Reed where much more Rhodda than Ambler. I don’t remember if this was one of those, but it does feel a bit like Ambler-lite. However, it is still a delight to read with all the things I like about a vintage political thriller–voyages, telegrams, newspapers, and very little violence. Man goes to South America to find out what’s up with his non-communicative brother only to find his brother in a coma with the situation being managed by his brother’s, hitherto unknown, supposed brother-in-law. Intrigue ensues.
A great vacation read. But, if you haven’t read Ambler, go for his named work before you start to look for these Eliot Reed titles. Save those for when you discover you love Ambler and are worried about running out of the real stuff.
Man Overboard by Monica Dickens
British naval officer in the 1950s finds himself forcibly retired as the Royal Navy continues its post-war force reductions. Although 35-year-old Charles was a captain, and is looking forward to having a shot at the private sector he soon realizes he isn’t trained to really do anything. He is also a widower with a, I want to say 11-year-old daughter. Early in the book, while still in the Navy, he starts dating a television star and one is led to believe that the whole book is going to be about him juggling his status with the vagaries of his diva girlfriend. But about halfway through the book Dickens seems to have decided that that wasn’t as interesting as Charles himself. This is where I think things became more like the kind of book I wanted to read. I enjoyed the ladies at an employment agency who kind of adopt him. I loved his mother-in-law and his daughter. I really liked how a decades-old fascination with a house and family he sees from the train window turns into reality. And I was really excited when he becomes bursar at a boys school and really starts to stir things up.
Ultimately enjoyable, but there are better Monica Dickens novels out there.
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
This is the “half book” of the six and half that I read on vacation. I still haven’t finished it and vacation ends today. However, I will indeed finish it. So far I am loving it. The main character is a temporary employee and everything kind of hangs off the notion of temporary. There is some really brilliant writing in this and it gives me a similar vibe as The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris–two books I absolutely love.
So far I love this book. An absolute delight.
Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay
Focused on a young violinist, I was really looking forward to this one. But alas, it was not to be. I realized I was in for a formulaic rollercoaster ride by an MFA-author. You know the type. I left it behind in the resort library without reading beyond page 40.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
If you haven’t read Lonesome Dove, forget what you think you know about these 858 pages and give it a go. If you’re like me, you’re no fan of Westerns, but you can suspend your general disinterest when something good comes along (like John Williams’s brilliant book Butcher’s Crossing). And this is good. Very good.
It is an epic tale of two former Texas Rangers who lead a group of cowboys, gamblers, hands, a prostitute, a cookie, two pigs, and about 3,000 head of cattle on a drive from the Texas borderlands up to Montana. Among the very harsh physical realities and stunted intellectual development of most of the characters, there is so much pain and beauty.
Once you get into the swing of this one, it is hard to put down. On one day of vacation I read over 400 pages and couldn’t wait until the next day when I could pick it up again. There is much that is problematic for our 2022 sensibilities, and I can see it pushing buttons, it pushed some of mine, but if you accept it for what it is, it’s worth the trip.