Two Novels, No John Wayne

If you’re from my generation, you grew up with the American heroics epitomized by John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima. As a very young man my two favorite books were Battle Cry by Leon Uris and Valhalla by Jere Peacock. This idealist propaganda approach was effectively destroyed by exposure to the journalistic approach to the obscenity of the Vietnam War. Blame television. Add to this the Stanley Kubrick film—Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb—and generally I avoided war stories in text or film for the next fifty years.

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Memento Mori

imgres.jpgMuriel Spark has been on my reading list since The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but this is only the second novel of hers that I have read.

Memento Mori is a reminder that everyone dies eventually. Spark’s novel is about old people in homes and hospitals who are well-aged and prone to die, often unexpectedly. Following these geriatric lives and deaths are two people: One is regularly telephoning the old folks and reminding them that they will not escape death; the other is a man who is documenting the personal aging process experienced by these examples of geriatric decline. In the end the many forms of death that take the characters away are enumerated and ironically all the years of carefully constructed documentation are lost to a material equivalent of physical death.

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Cut You Up In Little Pieces

images.jpgYou are probably aware that the murder capitol of the world is Cabot Cove. Ever since The Manchurian Candidate I have cast a jaundiced eye at Angela Landsbury and the pokey gendarmes of Maine. But that was just fun entertainment (meaning there wasn’t a lot of blood and gore) and Cabot Cove has easily been replaced by the unnamed town in Japan frequented by Goth chicks and body parts stapled to a tree.

While seeking to throw some variety into my reading, I came across a recent volume titled Goth: A Novel of Horror by Otsuichi. I’ve got a soft spot in my scary parts for Japanese horror and this one seemed ideal for a midnight snack. It all takes place in a small corner of Japan where severed hands are buried in the backyard like kimchi and an occasional ear or nipple stapled to the side of a telephone pole is not an unusual sight. But after a half-dozen of these bloody dismemberments and three or four instances of being buried alive on the side of the potting shed, one does wonder why there are no traditional murders in this town: shootings, knifings, nunchuckings, poisonings.

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