Tag Archives: Minnesota

Heaven Help Us All

the heavens may fall

The Heavens May Fall: A Novel by Allen Eskins (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 270 pages)

Relative newcomer Allen Eskins has come into his own with The Heavens Must Fall.  It is the third in a series of books that take place in Minnesota, following his highly acclaimed debut, The Life We Bury, and the follow up, The Guise of Another.  In Heavens, detective Max Rupert takes a more prominent role.

Eskins writes lines for Rupert with complete ease.  The other main characters, partner Niki Vang and defense attorney Broady Sanden, are well defined and the pacing of the story is perfect.  The dialogue between and among the characters is natural and feels real.  Nothing is forced and the reader is eager to find out what will happen next.

Jennavieve Pruitt is murdered, presumably by her husband, Ben, a former law partner of Sanden.  But is he guilty or is the District Attorney rushing for a conviction to further his pursuit of a judgeship?  Rupert and Vang are meticulous in their investigation; however, Sanden is steadfast in his defense of Pruitt, his former partner.

In the meantime, the mystery of Rupert’s wife’s death/murder, which haunts the detective from the outset, teases and unexpectedly comes closer to being solved.  Max’s moral center drives this book, and – with a twist or two, the ending satisfies.  All of this fairly screams for a fourth book.  Based on the positive quality of Heavens, this series is far from being tired or retired.

A future romance is not out of the question as Max avenges his wife’s death.  It would not be a stretch to assume that Sanden and the current D.A./future judge, Frank Dovey, will play a role somehow as Rupert’s adventures continue.  Eskens is worth paying attention to, and Rupert is prominent as a fictional, favorite crime fighting hero.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the superintendent of a public school district north of Chicago. He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

 

 

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The North Country

Jack Pine: A Northwoods Mystery (Koehler Books, $15.99, 300 pages)

Jack Pine

Hazelgrove Pulls Off Another High Quality Tale In An Unlikely Setting

Jack Pine is an inferior pine that has been relegated to Indian cultivation. When an Indian moves from suspect to witness in a rape, Jack Pine takes off, and Deputy Sheriff Rueger London follows his intuition, defies authority, falls in love, and eventually supports his status as the moral conscience of an entire region, the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which border Canada.

The story includes the contemporary themes of man versus environment, second chances, good versus evil, etc., and manages to defy convention or stereotype because author William Hazelgrove has a unique ability to construct characters that the reader cares about.

Rueger must relive his past in order to imagine a future. An unlikely, and, in retrospect, welcome visitor inject life into a man who has been pretending and going through the motions for years. In order to be true to himself and fair to one who has challenged his imagination, Rueger puts his reputation on the line, only to face the indignation of the community and an equally uncertain future.

Jack Pine banner

Hazelgrove is at his best when he takes on the theme of suburban angst, as he does in Rocket Man and Real Santa, but his storytelling translates well to the hinterlands because he is, at heart, a storyteller. Jack Pine is not merely a whodunit or a love story, nor is it subject to the confines of time and/or place. It is about people, and Mr. Hazelgrove is awfully darn good at getting the essence of all of our collective and individual strengths and weaknesses.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of the Elmhurst (Illinois) Community Unit School District 205, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Positively 4th Street

Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan by David Dalton (Hyperion, $26.99, 383 pages)

“Hibbing, Minnesota, is the site of the biggest man-made hole in the world, an existential allegory if there ever was one…  Hibbing cannibalized itself…  If the biggest hole in the world had an effect on (Dylan), why hadn’t it shown up in any of his songs?   Or has it?   Is that what he’s been doing, filling it up?”  

David Dalton’s overly-psychedelic look at Bob Dylan never comes close to telling the reader who “the real” Dylan is.   There are a number of problems with this account, the chief one being that, instead of de-mythologizing the legend and presenting a human being, Dalton regurgitates every myth in circulation and then proceeds to create additional ones.   The all-too-clever Gonzo-journalism style, 45 years or so out-of-date, is often painful to read, as when Dalton writes about “…the hallucinatory negativity of Blonde on Blonde.”   Really?   (What album was he listening to?)

It gets worse, as when Dalton refers to Hank Williams, one of young Bob’s first idols, as “the hillbilly Shakespeare” (groan).   Although Dalton may now and then redeem himself (like when he notes that Dylan looks at America with an immigrant’s eye), the sometimes-fascinating portions of this work are fully overwhelmed by its dreadful aspects.   It may appeal to some – such as those who love middle-school style humor – but the writer tries much too hard to be as hip as Dylan’s old album liner notes.   Not recommended for hardcore Dylan fans, although some quirky readers who like humor and sarcasm presented in the guise of serious musical criticism may be inexplicably drawn to it.

All in all, this is Positively 4th Street.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note:  As an example of Dalton’s excessively strange style of covering Dylan’s recording career, he comes up with eight so-called reasons why Dylan’s two-record set Self-Portrait was relatively unsuccessful.   He cites as reason 5 the fact that someone failed to tell the Byrds that they were scheduled to play on the album, and so they “flew home.”   This is not factual nor is it funny.

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Wild Thing

Wild Thing: A Novel by Josh Bazell (Reagan, Arthur Books, $25.99, 400 pages)

Eagerly awaited by fans of Beat the Reaper, Josh Bazell’s caustic, damaged, mob hit man-turned-doctor is back – still running from the mob and marked for death.   This time, hiding out as Lionel Azimuth, a physician on a cruise ship, he’s tapped by a reclusive billionaire for a mercenary mission in the wilds of Minnesota.

Wild Thing is funny – loaded with footnotes in which the scientist in Dr. Azimuth documents his sources and explains his assumptions.   It’s also profane and raw, and the sexual tension between Azimuth and Violet, the beautiful paleontologist he accompanies on the junket to validate or debunk stories of a man-eating Loch Ness-type beast, is only partially due to his overly obvious attraction to her and to air so thick with pheromones that it crunches.   The flame is also fanned by their easy banter, which swings from Greek history to Scooby-Doo.

“How many people have you killed?” she asks, after he finally decides to trust her enough to reveal his past.

“I don’t know.   Around twenty.”

“You don’t know?” she asks.

“There were some situations where some of them might have lived.”

Azimuth is a hulking man whose physical size adds a layer of monstrousness that belies the funny, intelligent, sensitive man that he is at heart.   But Wild Thing has a tough act to follow.   Beat the Reaper, Bazell’s bestselling first novel, put the same protagonist (aka Pietro Brwna/Peter Brown) in the struggle that defines him: the quest to come to grips with the violent events that orphaned him both physically and emotionally.   Although the tension between good and evil is still present, the demons Azimuth faces in the sequel are cartoonish and played for laughs.

Post-traumatic stress disorder nightmares?   LSD-enhanced monsters?   Sarah Palin in a speaking role?   Bring on, as Azimuth would say.   But the despair that made him so compelling in Beat the Reaper – a brooding, misunderstood, pragmatically lethal Shrek who kills to stay alive – is missing in Wild Thing.

Wild Thing, an entertaining romp through contemporary U.S. politics and evolutionary zoology, is well recommended.   But if you haven’t read either of Bazell’s books yet, save Beat the Reaper for last.   That’s the one that will leave you wanting more.

Kimberly Caldwell

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   Wild Thing was released on February 8, 2012.

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Mr. Tambourine Man

Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (Public Affairs; $29.95; 481 pages)

“You have to pay to get out of going through these things twice.”   Bob Dylan

In 1985, rock critic Greil Marcus was asked to review the book A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan by Wilfred Meller, and his review began with these words:  “This is a confused and confusing book about a confused and confusing figure: Bob Dylan, born 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, as Robert Alan Zimmerman.”   Well, back at you, Greil, as those would be the perfect words to describe this $30 collection of essays, previously published and unpublished.   They all deal in some way – and some barely – with the subject of Bob Dylan.   It might be said that Marcus’ essays on the man are dazed and confused.

It’s a bit shocking that Marcus does not come even close to enlightening the reader about Dylan the musician or the man.   That’s shocking because just last year, he released a brilliant tome about Van Morrison (reviewed on this site on August 26, 2010), When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.   There, Marcus seemed to capture both Van’s heart and his soul, and it made the reader want to run to play his or her Morrison CDs.   He was spot on there; here, no way.

Marcus seems confused because there are four Bob Dylans:  the genius songwriter (“Like A Rolling Stone,” “Visions of Johanna”); the oh-so-casual writer of throw-away songs (“Watching the River Flow,” “Rainy Day Women No.s 12 & 35 [Everybody Must Get Stoned]”);  the overly serious, angry and controlling musician (where there are similarities to Morrison); and the Joker, whose every action and comment is a complete put-on.   Because Marcus cannot reconcile these four personalities in one person, he appears continually lost as to what’s going on with Mr. Hughes in his Dylan shoes.   Sometimes he loves Dylan, sometimes he’s disappointed by him, sometimes he blasts him, but mostly he’s watching the parade go by and  wondering about the meaning of it all.

As an example, he prints a section of the interview that Dylan gave to Playboy magazine back in 1966.   The entire interview is a big joke – although it was lost to the magazine’s editors – and none of it is real.   But Marcus has no comment on it.

One problem is that to properly understand and analyze Dylan, one must have a breadth of background as big and wide as Dylan’s.   Such is not the case in this compilation…  At one point Marcus does note that Dylan has relied on religious writings as the inspiration for many of his songs (the same is true of philosophers, not just prophets), but he does not supply any actual references.   It’s a shame and one has to wonder if Marcus cribbed that point from another writer.

The writing is dull and flat and lacks the excitement of, say, a Lester Bangs or a John Mendelsohn.   And yet when Van Morrison appears on the scene, as when Marcus writes of The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, the writing is suddenly sparkling – until Morrison leaves the stage, and it returns to being flat.   So it seems that Marcus simply gets Morrison in a way that will never apply to Dylan.

“Along with a lot of other things, becoming a Bob Dylan fan made me a writer.   I was never interested in figuring out what the songs meant.”

As you can see from this quotation, you’re not going to get much from Greil Marcus that’s going to help you understand Bob Dylan’s songs…  Except…  Except that he includes an almost-perfect review of Dylan’s singular 10-song masterpiece Blood on the Tracks.   Which, as the Chuck Berry song says, goes to show you never can tell.

Marcus was quite tough in that ’85 review of Wilfred Meller’s book:  “Meller’s language collapses along with his conceptual apparatus.”   That sounds very harsh and professorial, does it not?   Getting back to Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, I’ll just say that there’s far less here than one would expect from a writer who wrote the liner notes to one of Bob Dylan’s major albums.   Making your way through all of this is like going on an Easter egg hunt where no one finds any of the eggs.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein (Harper; $27.99; 512 pages)

Bob Dylan is a performing artist – a traveling bluesman, a modern-day minstrel – and the best way to try to access his art is to see him perform live.   Reading the lyrics, even listening to the records just does not do the man justice.   In The Ballad of Bob Dylan, Daniel Mark Epstein does what few have been able to do at all, much less do well – capture that spirit and, in doing so, somehow manages to get closer to the essence of an American icon.

Epstein explores Mr. Dylan through the lens of four concerts spanning 46 (yes, you read it correctly, 46!) years.   Beginning with the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., December 14, 1963; moving to Madison Square Garden, 1974; then to Tanglewood, 1997; and, finally, ending with Aberdeen, 2009, the author invites the reader into the endless iterations and reincarnations of the man who, by Dylan’s account “doesn’t do folk-rock” and is “just a guitar player.”   Epstein tells of a Hibbing, Minnesota, Jewish boy obsessed with American roots music.   He explores the inner workings of a young man who locks himself in his room listening to far away radio stations – a teenager enamored with Little Richard and Buddy Holly.

Epstein takes the reader on an improbable journey in which this same person, later in his life, converts to Christianity and – for nearly three years from 1979-1981 – almost exclusively performs music from his three religious albums, regularly using the stage as a pulpit.   Epstein describes a man so distraught that in 1987, after years of going through the motions and hiding behind back-up singers, concludes that retirement from live performances is his only option.

At this point, Epstein alludes to a turning point in Dylan’s career familiar to many of his fans.   On October 5, 1987, in Locarno, Switzerland, Dylan, petrified, needing to take the stage on the verge of a panic attack, indicated that he heard a voice, and a revelation occurred to him.   “I’m determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not.   And all of a  sudden everything just exploded in every which way.   After that is when I sort of knew:  I’ve got to go out and play these songs.   That’s just what I must do.”

This moment is likely the birth of what has become known as “The Never Ending Tour”, a tour that Dylan claims has ended, but to which the author refers in an effort to describe Dylan’s continual need to perform well over 100 shows per year.   Epstein describes Tanglewood as the 880th show of the tour.   Specifics aside, Dylan has kept up this pace ever since.   He has played in front of a couple of thousand people or less; he has played to sold-out arenas; he has played summer shows in amphitheaters to crowds of 20,000-plus; he has played ballparks and college campuses; he has played in front of crowds that have enthusiastically embraced him, as well as several who have walked out on him.   But keep playing, he has.

As Epstein relates, Dylan wanted to take his music to a new audience without preconceived ideas of what it was supposed to sound like.   In so doing, Dylan essentially recreates his music on a nightly basis.

Moving from concert to concert, Epstein recounts various stages of Dylan’s career.   Many of these stories can be found elsewhere.   However, the perspective is unique, and there’s ample and interesting new ground.   The best example of this is Chapter 12, in which the author goes to great lengths describing the impact drummer David Kemper had on the band during his 509 shows (1996-2001).   It is probably no coincidence that this is the era in which Dylan reconnected with the masses.

Another interesting tidbit is Epstein’s account of when Larry Campbell replaced John Jackson on lead guitar.   Upon arrival, Campbell had to learn Dylan’s songbook, yet during the rehearsals prior to his first tour, the band almost exclusively played covers from the traditional American songbook.   Rarely did they ever rehearse anything.   Dylan wanted things raw and spontaneous and created an environment to ensure it.

There are a great many other nuggets in this book, and Epstein’s bright ability to capture the essence of Dylan’s commitment to performing live is unique.   Paul Williams wrote three books entitled Bob Dylan Performing Artist, which consider work from different eras of Dylan’s career, but Esptein – for reasons that will become apparent to the reader – does a better job than most at providing the context of why this discussion is worth having in the first place.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is the author of a novel about baseball, family and Bob Dylan entitled Life and Life Only.   He has seen Bob Dylan perform live twenty-nine (yes, 29!) times over the years and decades; however, Mr. Moyer has never played his drums for Mr. Dylan.


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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein.

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