Tag Archives: The Who

White Room

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier (Henry Holt & Co.; $25.00; 304 pages)

“…my house, my home, had become something deep and comforting to me, far beyond what I’d ever expected to find or feel in an unprofessional world, or a world outside of ideas, of letters and literature.”

“…most men tend to live one-dimensional lives…”

Have you ever watched one of those home improvement shows on a channel like HGTV where you patiently wait through the whole show for the big reveal at the end – and then the end is a disappointment?   That’s kind of the way I felt about reading this book, which I wanted to like more than I did.   There was just less here than I expected to find.

This is basically the story of a romance between an academic homeowner, Joy Harkness, and a handyman-carpenter by the name of Ted Hennessey.   Joy leaves the politics of Columbia University to teach in an innovative new program at Amherst College in Massachusetts.   She has plenty of money so she buys her first real home, which is a run-down Victorian.   Of course, it needs to be run-down in order for Teddy to enter the picture.

It was the character of Teddy Hennessey that just did not add up for me and made the read slower than it should have been.   When we first encounter Teddy, he’s the handyman who listens to The Who cassettes all day on his boom box.   That’s when he’s not reciting the poetry of Yeats, from memory no less.   Now, really, what are the chances of hiring a handyman like that?   Well, virtually none in the real world.   Highly improbable to say the least.

“I’ll always be her child!” he snarled.

Oh, but then we think that maybe Teddy’s a closet intellectual who is just dying for the chance to go to college, something that Joy can help him with, right?   No, it turns out that Teddy is afraid of going to school because then he’d have to leave his sainted mother who has him wrapped around her finger like a 9-year-old.   So we’re left with a man-child who is simply not likeable (at least I can’t think of any male I know who would feel any sympathy for him).   Why the once-married, yet independent, Joy is attracted to the wuss that is Teddy is a sheer mystery.

Since the romance between Teddy and Joy appears to be doomed – he, by the way, calls her “man” – Joy develops an attraction to her abode.   This is merely a comforting, if hardly an earth shattering, premise on which to build a novel…

“I turned and noticed, as I climbed up the steps to the porch, that my house looked warm and welcoming.   The rooms were lit, glowing from within; the colors they reflected were soft and inviting.   There was life in this house, and I was part of it.”

There was also a lot of crying in this book.   “Tears ran down my face and puddle around my nose before soaking the pillow.   I didn’t know why I was crying…”   “I’ve cried more this year than in the past twenty combined.”   “(I) cried until I didn’t think there could possibly be any liquid left in my body.”   I’m not sure why the otherwise solid – and growingly feminist – protagonist needs to experience such intense crying jags, another confusing factor.

One more confusing thing concerns a major scene in the book.   Joy’s married-but-separated friend Donna is savagely attacked by her former husband.   Donna’s ex uses a golf club to beat her nearly to death; pieces of her scalp are found on the club by the police.   Donna apparently has several broken bones in her face and is in critical condition.   She is rushed to the hospital for life-saving surgery and facial reconstruction.   A number of characters in this story act commendably, taking care of Donna’s children during the time that she’s away.   Eventually, Donna returns home on Valentine’s Day and the very thing the reader wants to know goes hauntingly unanswered – what does her face look like?   (It’s as if the character departs as a human but returns as a ghost.)

On the plus side, there’s some nice humor:  “I went into the dressing room and emerged from the curtain in outfit after outfit, like a puppet in a Punch and Judy show.”   But as for the ending of this story, it just seemed to me to run out of steam rather than conclude in a definitive (and logical) way.

Some will be attracted to this book because of its promise of a type of late-in-life feminism, or the notion that someone can, in a sense, partner with one’s surroundings.   Both are promising and positive notions but they did not eliminate a sense of hollowness.   Still Diane Meier has a nice, entertaining writing style; she’s a smoother version of Anna Quindlen.

“I had no story, or, at least, none that I could see.   But my vantage point was, perhaps, too close to the shore to see that I had, at last, begun to swim toward my own life.”

For the right reader, there may be lessons here that will assist in commencing a journey of self-examination and discovery; for that it is never, ever, too late.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Silence is Golden

The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise by Garret Keizer (Public Affairs, $27.95, 385 pages)

“Lou Reed’s (music) is not noise; Gregorian Chant piercing my bathroom wall is.”

This is a highly entertaining and sometimes annoying survey account of noise around the world and its impact on humans.   Garret Keizer occasionally cites relevant points, such as that one’s reaction to noise is often tied to personal factors.   If I’m married to a professional pilot, the noise from the nearby airport does not bother me the way it troubles my neighbors.   (Human transportation remains the number one noisemaker around the world.)   He also notes, importantly, that we do not become “used to” noise, and that its damage to our ears is all too permanent.

But Keizer also includes considerable material of little relevance that seems to be an attempt to justify his travels around the globe in the guise of doing research for this book.   Is he serious about discussing the noise made by foreign sex workers?   Keizer also makes one whopper of a questionable pronouncement, which is that noise is something imposed on us against our will.   If we enjoy something, such as rock music, it is not noise.   Nonsense.   I love Live at Leeds by The Who but played at any volume it remains noise, even if a joyful one.

This compilation of random thoughts and scientifically based findings on noise is interesting but meandering.   The editor was missing in action.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Everything Really Does Matter!

OK, so how is this for a unique plot line?   A person is born and given the special knowledge that the world will come to an end in his 36th year of life on Earth; he has the ability to tell strangers about specific and dramatic events in their pasts; and he is among a handful of the smartest people on the planet!   Whoa, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The telling of this novel by writer Ron Currie, Jr. (God Is Dead) – who was working as a short-order cook two years ago – is just as good as the premise.   Currie has a style that calls forth science-fiction, yet it is straightforward and easy to read.   What I do not agree with are the unfortunate comparisons that have been made between Currie and Kurt Vonnegut.   To read Vonnegut you must completely suspend your belief in what is real and possible – he creates a completely artificial world.   Currie’s world is quite real, except for the main character who is the only person with the potential to save a doomed planet.

Currie has other surprises up his sleeve, such as fooling you when you think you’re at what has to be the end of the tale; he suddenly reprises the story in such a unique way that you’ll wonder why no one else has thought of doing it.   I kept thinking of bands, like the Beatles, the Who and the Small Faces, who loved to close their songs with fake endings, only to come back with the real closer.

Everything Matters!  is so completely one-of-a-kind that I cannot disclose anything else about the story line without ruining it for future readers.   I’ll just say that this is absolutely the best book I’ve read since the early 70’s!   At the end, you’ll feel better about yourself and the planet…   You’ll feel proud to be a human being.Everything Matters (large)

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Rocket Man (a book review)

Rocket_Man_2“It’s just my job five days a week…”   Like the disoriented astronaut in Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s song “Rocket Man,” the forty-plus-year-old mortgage broker Dale Hammer finds himself disoriented in his own suddenly harsh suburban life.   Hammer is a former one-hit novelist who has managed to become materialistically comfortable.   But when he moves his family to a big house in the suburbs of Chicago, the pin is pulled on the grenade that may obliterate his comfortable life.

So, yet another novel about suburban angst?   True, this hardly sounds like a promising premise, but author William (Bill) Hazelgrove is a skilled comedic writer making the first half of Rocket Man a quick read.   While things in his life are falling apart, Hammer has a chance for redemption.   He’s tapped to be the organizer of “Rocket Day” for his son’s troop of sixty Boy Scouts.

In order to succeed in his mission as the appointed Rocket Man Hammer will have to concentrate on some serious science and details while he fights with his homeowner’s association, faces criminal charges, houses his penniless father, and tries to decipher whether his wife is divorcing him or simply having an affair.

How does it end up?   You will need to read this novel to find out; however, this reviewer suggests that you listen to The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again when you get to the last half of the last chapter.   Once finished, you may well look forward to ordering the next serio-comic tale from Hazelgrove.

Pantonne Press, $19.95, 378 pages

Note:   Thank you to Pantonne Press for the review copy.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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