Tag Archives: Book of Genesis

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (Picador, $17.00, 576 pages)

Corrections Franzen

“I’m going back to New York City/I do believe I’ve had enough….” Bob Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

I received this book as a gift from my son, which is why I proceeded to read an author I had not previously sampled. It’s a unique gift when an avid reader discovers a writer that, for lack of a better term, “lights them up.” Some novels are decent, enjoyable for certain audiences of a certain time; quaint, funny, guilty pleasures. But one occasionally comes across an author who can just plain write the hell out of a story. Jonathan Franzen is one of these gifted writers. His National Book Award (2001) winning work, The Corrections, is as fine a contemporary novel as I have encountered.

(I don’t know why I did this – because I never do – and it isn’t fair. But as I was reading the book, I could not resist the urge to compare Franzen to another accomplished author whose work I have read, Philip Roth. Roth is brilliant when he’s good, occasionally doles out some nonsense for his readers to deal with, and appears to possess a certain love-hate relationship with writing.)

Emid Lambert has been the caretaker of her ailing husband Alfred, a sympathetic victim of Parkinson’s disease. Her only desire is to enjoy one last Christmas get together with all of her children at her home in the fictitious community of St. Jude. Lambert’s perception of what constitutes the “perfect family” – considering the badly flawed personalities of her children – is comical at times; but it’s presented in a prescient way. Talk about humanity and life on a page!

Chip is an intellectual with tremendous promise as a college professor who loses it all because he cannot keep his zipper shut (ever hear that one before?). He’s so obsessed with getting his screenplay accepted, he actually abandons his parents – who have traveled across the country to see him – without warning, leaving them for his sister Denise to attend to. She is a brilliant cook who apparently has been sexually confused for most of her life, and a lesbian affair ruins her meteoric rise to stardom. Just when you want to like Denise, she comes across as some bizarre combination of helpless, frigid and psychopathic.

Gary, who lives the suburban dream to his great financial resources, corrals a middle school boy’s vision of perfection (a combination Barbie doll, cheerleader and model), Caroline. Who could ask for more? He is initially a sympathetic figure, with his wife appearing to be a highly manipulative woman, until it becomes obvious that he could be the most self-centered individual in the rather strange family!

It is a bit more than implausible that Chip somehow disappears with a Lithuanian revolutionary. Each child’s story is told in succession rather than interwoven, and this leads to characters being abandoned for lengthy portions of the almost 600 page story. It’s not completely clear why Denise’s relationship must be explored in great detail to advance the story and satisfy the reader. What is clear is that in the end, Enid sort of gets her wish fulfilled. Be careful what you wish for.

Franzen seems to have over-written the story in order to fill the expectations for a lengthy, classic, modern novel. So I would not consider this to be a “perfect” book. But is it a good read? Absolutely!

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

Mr. Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky

Live by Night: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins, $16.99, 401 pages)

Well, I’ve walked two hundred miles, look me over / It’s the end of the chase and the moon is high / It won’t matter who loves who / You’ll love me or I’ll love you / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling from the sky…. Bob Dylan

Lehane Live By Night (nook book)

Joe Caughlin, son of a Boston cop, is a bad guy with heart and a conscience. The complex creation of this man’s thoughts, feelings and actions is a true work of art.

The recent death of James Gondolfini might make this assertion seem cliché. The media coverage of his passing makes it appear as if this reviewer is the only person alive who’s never seen an episode of The Sopranos. So, that being said, the following commentary on Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night is based solely on the merits of the book with no bias toward the gangster genre.

One can look to the Book of Genesis for the age-old theme of male judgment being compromised by the affinity for a woman. From the opening paragraph of the book: “And it occurred to him (Joe) that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life — good or bad — had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.”

Indeed, Joe is taken by Emma, and she takes him for what she can, eventually leading to a heist gone bad, a lifelong feud with rival Albert White, incarceration, and the subsequent fight for survival that sets into motion a rum-running dynasty in Tampa with its own set of decisions and moral dilemmas that lead to additional near-misses, relationships, and death — lots of it.

During Joe’s stint in prison, Lehane creates a magical telling of the love between a father and son. When Joe decides not to execute the daughter of Tampa police chief Irv Figgens, Lehane masterfully depicts the inner workings of Joe’s conscience. When Joe and Graciela fall in love, create a life, and conceive of a child, the longing for a connection to a world larger than self even in the midst of chaos becomes simplistically self-evident.

And, oh yes, there is Emma. The Emma’s of the world do haunt forever. She will have a say in the outcome of the story, you can be sure of that.

When Joe crosses the imagined boundary from outlaw to gangster, the reader gets a glimpse of the notion that morality exists even where evil is pervasive. There are lines of acceptability drawn in the deep recesses of everyone’s mind. When one chooses to live by the rules of night, the gray area of love, loyalty and human empathy are interpreted individually and on a moment-by-moment basis. Perhaps this is no different that those who accept convention and live by day. But, Joe cannot resist the urge to live in the realm of night, and he is simply too good a bad guy to conquer it.

Any person interested in the difference between a crime novel and literature need only to pick up Live by Night to learn the answer.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Live by Night was released as a trade paper book on May 14, 2013.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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