Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Fiction It is more than 30 years since I first read this book, yet I still remember the feelings, the location of where and when I read it. Rabbit, Run was quite a revelation to readers in those days. One of the first non-pornographic books to use the F-word, the C-word, and to give detailed descriptions of sex; not just the details, but brought it down to earth, into practical realms. It was not the “swearing” that made Rabbit, Run popular, it was the descriptive passages, the conflict, the foolish actions of the characters that caught our attention. It is not a story of people from Wall St, the FBI, or Harvard. It is a story of ordinary people — just like those who live in your street. You might not like them, but they are real people. The story is set in 1959 in Pennsylvania. The protagonist, “Rabbit” Harry Angstrom, is not particularly likeable, nor is his wife Janice. This is not a story about heroes, but about defective humans. In the first few pages we find Janice, pregnant, sitting at home watching The Mickey Mouse Club, drinking, smoking, with the house in a state of disorder. Their toddler,… Continue reading

The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me, True Crime by Ann Rule Ann Rule began volunteer work at the suicide Crisis Centre after her brother committed suicide. She felt guilt over his death and wanted to do something to help suicidal people. She answered the phone at night and into the early hours of the morning. There were only two people on the night shift, herself and a polite, friendly, empathetic young man who talked people out of suicide. His name was Ted Bundy, probably the worst serial killer in American history. As they worked through the nights, side by side, they became firm friends, despite the fact that Ann Rule was 10 years older, had four children, and was married. Ted was a student at the University of Washington, a psychology major, and an honour student. During quiet nights, they shared aspects of their lives as friends do. No one saw Ted Bundy as a threat, as a killer. What they saw was a charming, intelligent, helpful, friendly young man, universally called “good looking”. In 1971 Ann was a single mother of four, aged 35 years, struggling with a divorce and a sick husband. She had briefly been a police officer, but… Continue reading

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo

BOOK, I know why the caged bird sings

                Book review, Marcus Clark This is an autobiographical account of a young black girl growing up in the American South during the 1930s and 40s. Maya lived with her grandmother for some years. During this time the grandmother owned a grocery shop for blacks. Not only ran it, but made it profitable even during the depression. They were not rich by white standards, but were close to it by black standards. During the depression the grandmother lent money to a white dentist, which allowed him to keep his practice. But ten years later he refused to treat Maya, saying, “. . . I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” Maya, who relates the events in a style like a novel, was highly intelligent, reading classics before she was ten years old. When she transferred to a school in San Francisco she jumped a whole academic year. She frequently uses descriptive expressions: “He was choosing words the way people hunt for shells.” Her story is one of hardship, poverty, violence. Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend when eight years old. When the abuse… Continue reading

What I lived for

Joyce carol oates

Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates photo: Larry D. Moore This is a long book, 600 pages of smallish type. Too long, I would say. There are perhaps too many asides, too much remembering, that deter me from a second reading. But make no mistake, this book is great. While I was reading it I kept thinking what other books were in this style: John Dos Passos,  came to mind.   It is a tough book, a man’s book, it out Herod’s Herod: it is written from a male perspective, better than almost any other male writer. This is just staggering; I often wondered if it were not some trick, is Joyce a man, writing as a woman. No woman has ever written a novel like this before, gotten into a man’s skin. Never. Not too many men can.   For me, this book had a number of similarities with John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest . The way it covers so much of American life, society, business, sex, life in general. But Updike’s excellent book is superior, more direct, better fitted together, sweeter, covering more ground. But What I Lived For is up there with the best of the novels. It… Continue reading