The
Vanished
Hands

Robert Wilson
(Harcourt)
"He forced his foot not to falter at the first man he saw as he walked through the gate..."

"Some of the bungalows ... had been torn down and rebuilt from scratch into palatial mansions..."

"She was tall and slender with a full bust, an unstarved bottom and the innate ability to give dull men extravagant imaginations. Only Falcón and Calderón had sufficient testosterone control to be able to look her in the eye, and that required concentration..."

"For a fraction of a second the invisible plates in the lithosphere of her face seemed to spasm..."

"All eyes fastened on to her rump, which shivered slightly under the white linen of her flared trousers. A thin red belt like a line of blood encircled her waist. She disappeared behind the wall. Male noises, which had been suspended under the bell jar of her glamour, resumed..."

"The lawyer didn't look as if he was used to having a hand placed on his chest by anybody but his wife in bed..."

"On the mid section of the sofa was a cordless phone, a box of chocolates with a half a tray uneaten..."

"The lawyer appeared in the doorway, his dark brown eyes set hard in his head..."

"He thought about gripping the judge's shoulder in comradely fashion but the bitterness of his disappointment filled his mouth with the taint of a bad olive..."

"Over the last few months of his therapy thoughts of her had subsided, but whenever her name came up there was an unmistakable leap in his stomach..."

"Vázquez appeared on his shoulder in the reflection of the glass."

Total number of pages in book: 360
Total number of pages read: 18


My Life in CIA
A Chronicle of 1973
Harry Matthews
(Dalkey Archive)
Harry Matthews is living in Paris at a time when most boring-looking, colorless Americans with no obvious means of support are assumed to be CIA agents. Rather than fight it, he decides to adapt the guise, just to see what will happened. He sets himself up as "international travel counsel." The name of his company is Locis Solis.

Soon enough his friends are gossiping about his supposed connections (or attacking him because of them). The Russian embassy summons him for interview, as does French counterintelligence. The question then pops up: when does a fake career become real? And when do the dangers of such a career begin to take over?

In the right hands, this preposterous turn of events would be fun, but Matthews is an indifferent if not diffident writer. My Life in CIA has the feel of something he whipped off over a boring weekend. He wants us to see him as a sophisticated boulevardier, but comes across more as a bafoué.

Names out of contemporary film, dance, theatre, poetry, culture --- Paul Taylor, Suor Angelica, La Scala, La Péri, Raymond Roussel, Swan Lake at the Louvre, La Grande Bouffre, --- are sprinkled around like truffles on the pâte. This is to assure us, presumably, that Matthews is a man of culture. At the same time, the story line is replete with orgies --- eating, drinking, sex --- so we'll know that he is no better than a simple dumb American businessman in Paris.

It's lazy writing, words spooled out by one who has long manufactured words for a living. Thus, what we get is a view of Paris without the background and care of a Janet Flanner, a Paris without the sweet, raucous wit of Henry Miller ... a Paris, instead, of and by and for a clod.

--- Lolita Lark

Number of pages in book = 197
Number of pages read = 118


The Heart Is
A Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers
Cherry Jones, Reader

(Recorded Books Unabridged)
I've been trying to get this baby out of the oven for about a month now, and I want to tell you I am quite sick of it, what with all the starts and stops on my file marked "mccullers-heart" in the heart. There comes a time where you just want to shoot the poor bastard.

The novel was written about the time in the south when others of us were coming of age under those same soporific southern summers. Most of the writing is placid, gentle, non-galvanizing, as non-directional as its setting. It is like life in the old-time south, a ramble. And oh does it meander.

They say it is Gothic Southern. If "gothic" is defined as going hither and yon like the Sewanee River, I can buy that. The characters come and go, not thinking of Michaelangelo, but, rather, about writing music, about the "Negro" question, about love and death, about history and the world and us. It is so hot, and we live in such a stifling place ... and not just because there is no air-conditioning. This was a leisure time for novel writing, so it too was a leisure time for novel-reading.

The sense of ennui extends to this very easy-going rendition by Cherry Jones. Ms. Jones has the appropriate soft southern accent, especially her almost perfect rendition of what some would think of as a "black" accent. (One minor character, Portia, she renders particularly well.)

§     §     §

One character, the deaf-mute Singer, appears to be a modern Christ: always listening, never judging, dying as a martyr (not for humanity but for the perfect friendship). Another, the black doctor Copeland, wants change for "my people." McCullers allows him speeches that do go on. And, there are the equally perfervid rants of Jake Blount, our local radical, who works as a roustabout, wants to improve the world for the laboring man, but only manages to drink himself into an inchoate lunacy. It is as if the storyteller cannot control the story nor the characters.

McCullers was twenty-two when she completed The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. With all its rambles, this alone is enough to make fools of those of us who have always wanted to write a novel, and, still, here at the midway point in our lives, are unable to come up with a chapter, much less a 500-page book. It makes one see red that someone could produce this, no matter how wordy, so early on in life.

Speaking of reds, McCullers was an end-of-the-thirties radical. Blount lectures us on the living conditions of the working stiff, the "$800-a-year income" of tenant farmers. The black doctor, Benedict Mady Copeland, names his oldest son "Hamilton," the second, "Karl Marx." He is embittered because, instead of growing up to be great black radical leaders for their people, the two of them become what he thinks of as weaklings: getting drunk on weekends, accepting the white order, not fighting the fight that, thirty years later, was to so change the south.

I suppose The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is an important document because it spoke frankly about racial injustice in the south at a time that most other writers ignored it, or left it behind in the woods of loblolly pine. But for the contemporary reader --- or, in this case, listener --- all we can do is wonder that someone in their late juvenile years was able to produce so much so quickly, get it published, and still more amazing, get it read.

--- Susan Whitfield