Looking for Jack Kerouac

The last line of the last book I’ve read in 2014 is probably my favorite last line of the year:

Breathing in the cool salty air in a place I was just starting to know, I was instantly carried back to a summer day in Indiana, playing baseball with my brother in our neighbor’s backyard:  the crack of the bat, the ball rising against the blue sky, and me already running, arm raised and reaching, so sure where it would land that I could already feel it slap against my glove.

18528310

As with most last lines, reading the entire book gives much more insight into it’s meaning and I highly recommend reading Barbara Shoup’s novel Looking for Jack Kerouac.

The year is 1964 and Paul Carpetti stumbles upon a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in a Greenwich Village bookstore on his Senior trip to New York City before graduating high school.  Reading the novel provides the catalyst for Paul and his friend, Duke Walczak, to embark on their own road trip from Gary, Indiana to St. Petersburg, Florida in search of the real Jack Kerouac.

Once they discover and meet Kerouac, as with anyone who is put on a proverbial pedestal, he turns out to be vastly different from their expectations.  Paul, the narrator and protagonist, understands how this could happen.  Duke, who is arrogant and idealistic, seems to think it’s Kerouac’s fault for not living up to Duke’s expectations.  Duke takes off to California leaving Paul to discover both a new family, a new understanding of himself and a new way of grappling with losses back home.

Shoup beautifully incorporates literature, baseball and coming-of-age into a wonderful little story.  Paul’s confusion over and ultimate discovery of who he is and who he might be stays in the forefront of the story.  Baseball and Kerouac, while important to the plot and Paul’s journey, play out in the background as two of several ways in which Paul is pulled forward with his life.

I’ve always thought that fictionalizing a real person is walking a fine line for an author, but Shoup walks that line very well. The book reminds me some of W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.  J. D. Salinger is fictionalized in that novel which also involves baseball.

As a kid in the 1970’s, I made the road trip with my family numerous times from Dayton, Ohio to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  I have vivid memories of seeing numerous billboards along the way, one of them advertising the Weeki Wachi mermaids at Mermaid Springs.  I had a difficult time not laughing when Paul and Duke hitch a ride with one of the “mermaids” and end up at Mermaid Springs during off hours.

This novel made a great end to my reading for 2014.

Happy New Year!

Advertisements

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

18209360

In 2014, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County selected local author Kate Hattemer’s debut novel The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy for their On The Same Page program, a yearly opportunity for the community to read the same book. This actually took place back in the fall so I realize I’m a little late, but as the saying goes “better late than never”.

I admit I am a little older than what might be considered the target audience for this novel; however, I think the Library knows (and therefore didn’t have a problem selecting this book) that YA novels aren’t just for YA’s anymore.

From the point of view of someone that hasn’t been a teenager in a while, I love the way Hattemer makes her protagonist, Ethan Andrezejczak, both endearing and annoying.  He is an art student at Selwyn Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota – a school that specializes in art education and hosts a reality television show For Art’s Sake, a show I would call a cross between The Real World and American Idol.  His teen angst takes center stage during much of the novel; however, the plot takes the shape of a humorous mystery or thriller – on a teenage level.

The humor is wonderful throughout the book but one chapter is exceptionally brilliant.  While Ethan and his friend Luke sit in calculus class, they discuss the events of the last day while making the teacher think they are discussing calculus.  The reader knows that when the conversation switches mid-sentence to calculus it’s because the teacher is walking suspiciously in Ethan and Luke’s direction.

Hattemer manages to strike the right balance between not denying that teenagers have hormones but presenting them with hearts and minds, as well.  Inspired by the poetry of Ezra Pound, Ethan and his friends set out to right some injustices they discover about the reality show taking place at their school.  Along the way, they learn more about their friendships and themselves.

It would probably come as a surprise to most that a gerbil named Baconnaise saves the day. It would probably come as even more of a surprise that, in the story, it pretty much works.

Anniversary the Third!

Today is the third anniversary of Mirror with Clouds!  It’s been an interesting, informative and all around great three years and I’m looking forward to year #4.  It’s become my anniversary tradition to post some of my favorite quotations from the past year – so here they are!

These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold.  They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world.  Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere.  With a lantern I inspected them more closely.  Such worshipful venerableness of aspect!  Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells.  I no more saw three tortoises.  They expanded – became transfigured.  I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.

– From Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” (a reference to the tortoises found on the Encantadas, also known as the Galapagos Islands)

 

In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.

-From Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Indians”

 

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.  It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

-From Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

 

He did not believe that he himself was formed in the image of God but that Bishop was he had no doubt.  The little boy was part of a simple equation that required no further solution, except at the moments when with little or no warning he would feel himself overwhelmed by the horrifying love.  Anything he looked at too long could bring it on.  Bishop did not have to be around.  It could be a stick or a stone, the line of a shadow, the absurd old man’s walk of a starling crossing the sidewalk.  If, without thinking, he lent himself to it, he would feel suddenly a morbid surge of the love that terrified him – powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.  It was completely irrational and abnormal.

-From Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away

 

“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble.  You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside.  You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening.  So you’ve got to listen.  You got to find a way to listen.”

-From James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

 

And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city.  He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.

-From Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions

 

 

Katherine Anne Porter: The Jilting of Granny Weatherall

K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦  K♦

It was good to be strong enough for everything, even if all you made melted and changed and slipped under your hands, so that by the time you finished you almost forgot what you were working for.

Be alert that a spoiler is included in this post, although, even if a reader knows what happens, how it happens and how it’s written are reasons well worth reading this story, anyway.

Sad, powerful, scary, beautiful – all could be words to describe Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  Since it’s the end of the year, I’ve already been thinking of my favorite stories of 2014.  This story will now be included in that group and Porter will now be included in favorite new-to-me authors.

Granny Weatherall is eighty years old and on her death bed.  Her family is around her as well as a priest.  Porter’s ability to capture Granny’s life flashing before her eyes is one of the breathtaking aspects of the story.  One minute she is aware of her surroundings and the next minute she is in her younger days.  She also crosses back and forth between denial and acceptance of her situation.  The events of her life include being left at the altar sixty years prior.  Ultimately, she married someone else and had a family with him; however, the fact that the “jilting” should be so fresh in her mind decades later is nothing short of gut-wrenching.

129671

Porter spends a significant amount of the story portraying Granny’s strength.  I’m not one to usually put too much thought into how an author names a character; however, Granny seems to have “weathered” a lot in her life.  It’s as though the grief from being stood up molded itself into a strength that stayed with her -a strength that could be described as admirable.  Maybe a strength that could be considered character and personality.  At the same time, Porter’s story heartbreakingly points out that, in spite of the strength, the grief never ceases to be grief.

I found some similarities in Porter’s story to Flannery O’Connor’s stories – Catholicism and the South are prominent even if in the background.  The priest at Granny’s bedside, while a minor character, is both a bother and a comfort to her.  Granny seems to have molded her Catholicism into something of her own:

She had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her.

One final point:  I’ve alway wondered how an author might realistically write about an actual death using first person narrative of the person who dies.  Now, I know.

I have one story on my DMI 2015 list, but I might need to do some ad hoc reading of Porter’s stories.  From the little research I’ve done, she is known mostly for writing in the short story format.  This is my final story for my Deal Me In 2014 project.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

It’s been a great year in stories!

 

 

Ring Lardner: Alibi Ike

4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥

490597

My second baseball story in a row (and it’s also my final one for this year) is Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike”.  In this case, as in last week’s “The Manager of Madden’s Hill”, the story is more than simply a baseball game.   The title character, Ike, is the focus of what seems to be a letter from the narrator to a friend.  All we know about the narrator is that he plays on the same professional baseball team as Ike.  We really don’t know anything about the recipient of the letter.

Ike earns his nickname because of his continuously making excuses for his behavior.  If he does something wrong, there’s a reason why.  If he does something well, there’s a reason he could have done better.  Whether baseball, card playing or women, Ike is unable to admit to situations as they really are.  His teammates understand this and inadvertently cause some “girl problems” for Ike.

The story has a down-home aspect that might be considered endearing.  I say “might be” because I’m not sure.  A little of this type of story would go a long way for me.  It’s written with the dialect of an uneducated baseball player which was tolerable but could have been irritating if the story continued longer than it did.  I almost want to say that the comedy of the story is old-fashioned; however, I think good comedy is timeless.  Good or not, timeless or not, the comedy in “Alibi Ike” is what I would consider a simpler, more straight-forward humor, such as the following conversation:

Well, Smitty went out and they wasn’t no more argument till they come in for the next innin’. Then Cap opened it up.

“You fellas better get your signs straight,” he says.

“Do you mean me? ” says Smitty.

“Yes,” Cap says. “What’s your sign with Ike?”

“Slidin’ my left hand up to the end o’ the bat and back,” says Smitty.

“Do you hear that, Ike?” ast Cap.

“What of it?” says Ike.

“You says his sign was pickin’ up dirt and he says it’s slidin’ his hand. Which is right?”

“I’m right,” says Smitty. “But if you’re arguin’ about him goin’ last innin’, I didn’t give him no sign.”

“You pulled your cap down with your right hand, didn’t you? ” ast Ike.

“Well, s’pose I did,” says Smitty. “That don’t mean nothin’.

The story is worth reading but I would recommend Lardner’s non-baseball story “Haircut”, instead.  It has some of the same down-home humor (it takes place in a barber chair) along with depth of character and some disturbing aspects of human nature.  “Alibi Ike” is an interesting period piece about baseball and that’s fine with me – on occasion.

As this is week 51 of Deal Me In 2014, next week is the final week and I don’t have to do much guessing to say that I’ll be reading Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  This will be the first time I’ve read anything by Porter so I’m looking forward to it.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Zane Grey: The Manager of Madden’s Hill

6♥  6♥  6♥  6♥  6♥  6♥

23566198

He could never play baseball. But he had baseball brains. He had been too wise for the tricky Stranathan. He was the coach and manager and general of the great Madden’s Hill nine. If ever he had to lie awake at night again he would not mourn over his lameness; he would have something to think about. To him would be given the glory of beating the invincible Natchez team.

Zane Grey’s “The Manager of Madden’s Hill” is more of the baseball story that I’ve been looking for.  I was a little disappointed earlier this year with his “The Redheaded Outfield”.  “Madden’s Hill” has all of the details of a close game that I still consider an amazing feat for an author to think up in his head let alone write down on paper.  But there’s a little more than just the game.  The characters in this story are kids playing in some sort of organized league but not quite as organized as Little League.  The Madden Hill team is led by eleven year-old Willie “Daddy” Howarth. Daddy’s character is brilliantly developed.  In spite of his inability to play baseball, he is the quintessential coach and his players respect him:

Willie’s knowledge of players and play, and particularly of the strange talk, the wild and whirling words on the lips of the real baseball men, made him the envy of every boy on Madden’s Hill, and a mine of information.

The story reminds me of a bygone era when kids played baseball just for fun on a sandlot. That, in itself, made it worth reading.

This is week 50 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project. Only two more stories to go. My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Bernard Malamud: A Summer’s Reading

5♦  5♦  5♦  5♦  5♦  5♦  5♦  5♦

It’s week 49 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project.  Only three more stories to go.  This week I drew the Five of Diamonds and read Bernard Malamud’s story “A Summer’s Reading”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

I tend to assume that authors are avid readers.  “A Summer’s Reading” does not disprove this assumption and I have every reason to believe that Pulitzer Prize winning author Bernard Malamud was an avid reader; however, Malamud seems very skilled at developing a character that isn’t a reader or at least is a procrastinating reader.

3067

George Stoyonovich drops out of high school and in order to preserve his image promises an elderly neighbor, Mr. Cattanzara, that he is reading a list of 100 books during the summer- to get the kind of education he “really needs”. Impressed, Mr. Cattanzara, spreads the news of George’s endeavor.  One of the more humorous aspects of the story arises from the neighbors continuously giving George knowing smiles as he passes by their doorsteps.  Of course, the smiles make George feel a little guilty for not really reading the books.  At the end of the summer, he finally sits down at his local library.  Do his books get read?  It’s hard to say.

Any story that is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s or 1940’s holds some sort of interest with me.  Something about the neighbors hanging out on the doorstep in the cool of the city night during a hot summer makes for an enjoyable scene. I’ve mentioned before my infatuation with New York City.  I’ve only managed to make it there once and I didn’t make it to Brooklyn – only to Manhattan (Times Square and Central Park area). I didn’t get an I♥NY t-shirt but should have. “A Summer’s Reading” may not be high on plot details but any writing that can take me to another place and time, especially New York City, is worth reading.