When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison by Greil Marcus (Public Affairs, 208 pages, $25.95)
“To this day it gives me pain to hear it. Pain is the wrong word – I’m so moved by it.” Lewis Merenstein, producer of Astral Weeks
Greil Marcus has provided the world with a love letter – one addressed to Van Morrison. Anyone who’s heard Van Morrison’s music is likely to admire this book. It’s one of the few nonfiction books in which the Prologue and Introduction do not serve as unnecessary baggage, Marcus taking us back to the world of a very young Morrison with Them.
Rough God (the title taken from a line of poetry by Yeats) is a series of essays on the artist as a young and very mature man rather than a conventionally structured biography. The entire point of the book, however, is to pay tribute to Morrison’s now 41-year-old masterpiece, Astral Weeks. The producer of the record said that just 30 seconds into recording the album, “My whole being was vibrating.” Marcus delves deeply into what Lester Bangs called the “mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.”
If you’ve never quite understood the meaning of Astral Weeks, Marcus translates it and makes it clear. This in itself is worth the price of admission, as if one were unlocking the core of Pet Sounds or Rubber Soul. This work also examines some of Morrison’s lesser known recordings. Like his song “Domino,” it’s joyful noise.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.
These days there are many books advertised as “laugh out load” funny (the back cover of Breakfast with Buddha makes this claim), which simply fail to meet that promise. “Slightly amusing” would be the most favorable term this reader would come up with for this intended-to-be-funny tale of an intended-to-be-life-changing trip. The storyline is quite similar to that of Greetings from Somewhere Else by Monica McInerney, in which a person must take a long journey to settle a family’s affairs after someone has died. But where McInerney’s tale was charming, Roland Merullo’s story seems forced.
In Somewhere Else, the main character was traveling to a tumbledown bed and breakfast outside of Belfast, Ireland; in Breakfast, we’re asked to join in a six-day ride along from New York to North Dakota. Fun? Well, not so much.
Merullo is known for subtly inserting “spiritual lessons” within everyday narratives, but without the humor, this seemed like Bob Greene-light (with apologies to Mr. Greene). If you’ve ever stood in a restaurant’s kitchen while food was being prepared, you know that it takes the magic out of the dining experience. Reading this novel was like standing in a writer’s kitchen.
Algonquin, $13.95, 334 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Revew. A trade paperback review copy was provided by the publisher.
There are films, fun films, that have a just-right attitude and tone (Four Weddings and a Funeral comes to mind), so that the time spent watching just seems to fly by. This is the written equivalent of that type of film, a 415-page novel that reads fast and reads fun. It’s also loaded with enough realistic people – not faux characters – that the reader wants to know the most important thing… What happens next?
Some would probably view this as either a “woman’s book” or chick lit. Maybe it is a Bridget Jones-style book, although I honestly wouldn’t know; the main character’s perspective never gets in the way of the all too human story. The story is about Lainey Byrne, a Type A personality, who works like mad in a P.R. firm in Australia, often literally placing her chef boyfriend on the back burner. A death in the family and a medical crisis make it imperative that she meet the terms of a late aunt’s will (so that the property formerly owned by the aunt can be sold). This will require that a member of Lainey’s family live in and manage a broken-down B&B outside of Belfast, Ireland. Lainey, who desperately needs to control everything and everyone in the world, is left with the assignment.
This is not Under the Tuscan Sun. Instead it’s A Year Outside of Belfast in an Almost Bankrupt Bed and Breakfast! A year in which Lainey learns valuable lessons about stepping back now and then and letting events run their course; about understanding that other people have their own instincts and sense of timing; about the fact that true love is not fantasy.
Very, very well done!
Thanks to Kathleen at Random House/Ballantine and Abby at Library Thing for supplying the review copy!