March 22, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 22 March 2012

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Q Road, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Q Road
By Bonnie Jo Campbell
Scribner

American Salvage
By Bonnie Jo Campbell
Wayne State University Press

I recently found myself with the opportunity to interview revered author Bonnie Jo Campbell for the CCLaP Podcast; and so before doing so, I thought it would be beneficial to read her two most popular books besides the one I've already read (2011's Once Upon a River, that is, considered by many to be a frontrunner for this year's Pulitzer). And indeed, it turned out to be quite important that I read her 1999 breakout novel Q Road before talking with her, because it turns out to be a clever sort of prequel/sequel to the Once Upon a River title we'll mainly be discussing; set on the cusp of the new millennium, it tells the story of the "last hurrah" of sorts for a rural farmland area just outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan before finally succumbing to the capitalist steamroller of exurban subdivisions, chain restaurants and pristine golf courses, an Altmanesque interrelated ensemble character piece in which one of the characters (teenage tomboy and child bride Rachel Crane) just happens to be the daughter of the main character of Once Upon a River (the even more hardcore tomboy Margo Crane), only with the newer novel set in the older 1970s and examining Margo's own teenage years as a tight-lipped, sharpshooting pregnant runaway.

And in fact you can look at all three of these books in much the same light (including the slim 2009 story collection American Salvage, the third title in this list); they are all episodic in nature, take a sympathetic and nonjudgemental look at the kinds of characters we would traditionally call dumb white trash, yet can frequently reach a level of poetic harshness and violence akin to a Sam Shepard play, stories that don't excuse the behavior of the meth addicts, racists and uneducated hillbillies that populate her universe but that don't dismiss such characters either, an attitude that I'm sure at least partly stems from Campbell's own background as a willful tomboy in this exact kind of rural Michigan environment (but more on that in the finished podcast episode, coming next week). Powerful and unflinching, yet beautiful and easily readable, it's no surprise after reading these three books that Campbell would have the kind of intensely passionate fanbase that she does, as well as racking up such academic tentpoles as a Pushcart Prize, Eudora Welty Prize, National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination; and I wholeheartedly recommend them all to a general audience.

Out of 10:
Q Road: 9.4
American Salvage: 9.0

Eyeballs Growing All Over Me...Again, by Tony Rauch

Eyeballs Growing All Over Me...Again
By Tony Rauch
Eraserhead Press

I never quite know what to say whenever a book like Tony Rauch's Eyeballs Growing All Over Me...Again comes in, because it seems that there are so many things stacked against its chances of being memorable; it's a collection of unrelated stories to begin with, never a good thing as far as trying to be distinctive, not just a genre book (horror) but filled with very typical genre tropes, with only workmanlike dialogue and plots that seem to come and go before they've even had a chance to sink in. So in other words, not a bad book, but certainly a very typical mediocre one; and that's how the majority of the books that are sent to me end up being, which I suppose is why such books virtually define the term "middle of the road." If you're a horror or bizarro fan with a large sense of curiosity, definitely I encourage you to pick up a copy, although otherwise you can pretty safely skip it.

Out of 10: 7.5

Being and Homelessness, by John H. Sibley

Being and Homelessness: Notes from an Underground Artist
By John H. Sibley
Wordsworth Greenwich Press

If John Sibley's name sounds familiar, it's because he's the author of the over-the-top urban post-apocalyptic actioner Bodyslick, which I named a top Guilty Pleasure here in 2011; but it turns out that Sibley himself has had an even more sobering and fascinating life out in the real world, becoming homeless twice in recent decades even while pursuing higher-education options in creative fields. And now he has a memoir out about his experiences, On Being and Homelessness; and while I'm forced to admit that it wasn't my particular cup of tea (I don't have much of an interest in the subject to begin with, disagree with Sibley regarding some of the political issues involved, and also found his writing style to be overly rambling and unfocused much of the time), let me also say that this is an unusually well-done book for this kind of topic and author background, and that those who have a greater natural interest than I in the intersection of art, philosophy and social welfare will undoubtedly find this a fascinating and worthwhile read. A meandering title that often makes its points in a roundabout way, some are bound to find this a clever and unique approach to the entire subject of "the homeless," while others are bound to tire of it quickly; this should all be kept in mind before picking it up yourself.

Out of 10: 7.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:53 PM, March 22, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |