Master and Commander

Dialect drove me to despair with this one. I found myself skimming the last 100 pages to find out who won the last battle and what happened during the captain’s court martial. I thought this would be an interesting book, obscuring the line between non-fiction and fiction, and yet it was tedious, unwieldy, and not worth the effort.

2666

I have conquered the beast, finished 2666. Long, self-indulgent exhale. The beautiful thing about being in the middle of a Bolaño book is that you know it’s always nearby, where exquisite writing can soothe your eyes as you plow through other books on the side. And now I finish this work of art, his posthumously published five-books-in-one 2666. A note from the editor explains the title as the date 2666, mentioned in Amulet (1999) that a street looked like a cemetery, “not a cemetery in 1974 or 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666.”
The five books making up the novel are:
* The Part About the Critics
* The Part About Amalfitano
* The Part About Fate
* The Part About The Crimes
* The Part About Archimboldi
There are connections between all parts: the critics study the works of Archimboldi and end up in Santa Teresa, Mexico, looking for the mythical author. Amalfitano is a professor who goes slightly mad while the critics are there (geometry book hanging on the clothesline taking a beating from the wind). There is a constant drumbeat on the theme of the mysterious killings of girls in Santa Teresa. The part about Fate is Quincy Williams, dealing with his mother’s death and being sent as a journalist to cover a boxing match in Santa Teresa yet wanting to stay and cover the story of the killings instead but his boss nixes the idea since it wouldn’t appeal to their black audience. The part about the crimes is the most disturbing, pages upon pages of strangled, raped young girls, mutilated. Sprinkled into the mass murders are general domestic violence murders where the girl is killed by her boyfriend/husband/jealous lover. Hans Klaus is arrested for the mass murders and yet they continue while he is behind bars. In the part about Archimboldi, we discover that Klaus is Archimboldi’s nephew.
A couple of bits I thought to mark whilst reading:

Usually they ended up at a bar frequented by whores in Colonia Guerrero, a huge lounge presided over by a seven-foot-tall plaster statue of Aphrodite, probably, he thought, a place that had enjoyed a certain louche glory back in Tin-Tan’s day, and since then had been in perpetual decline, one of those interminable Mexican declines, meaning a decline stitched together here and there with a muted laugh, a muted shot, a muted whimper. A Mexican decline? More like a Latin American decline.

When the Aztecs came out of the pyramids, the sunlight didn’t hurt them. They behaved as if there were an eclipse of the sun. And they returned to their daily rounds, which basically consisted of strolling and bathing and then strolling again and spending a long time standing still in contemplation of imperceptible things or studying the patterns insects made in the dirt and eating with friends, but always in silence, which is the same as eating alone, and every so often they made war.

Translated by the inimitable Natasha Wimmer

Yarborough

I am in physical pain from having finished this unloved, unacclaimed, yet wonderfully written book published in 1964. The pain is partially from having closed the cover on the book, no more pages to devour, reaching the end. The pain is also from immediately hopping online to purchase a copy of the book (I filter book purchases through the library reserve first, if I like it I buy it), only to find it nearly non-existent, a handful of $75 copies lingering in the nether regions.
“Yarborough” is a hand in bridge with no face cards or cards of value. The story follows Arthur Skeleton from conception to death, mostly located in NYC but dabbling in Palm Beach, New Orleans, Europe (during WWII). Arthur is a bridge wunderkind, winning tournaments with his pal Henry at the tender age of 15, taking his winnings and spending them on prostitutes, marijuana, and drinks. Every dialogue is a verbal jousting; he takes everything as seriously as everything else: the concept of infinity is just as important as building a fire.
Arthur runs through a series of girls– La Verne (his first hooker), Jan (his step-cousin), Romaine (whom he pressed to marry him but who refused and ultimately met an untimely death), La Verne #2 in New Orleans, Willa, and finally Bets (Henry’s cousin). Henry and Arthur meet taxi driver Willston Hinshaw immediately after seeing the wealthy never-had-to-work-a-day-in-his-life Williston Hinshaw at the Club where they had dined with Arthur’s stepdad.
Wonderful writing, sparkling dialogue.

“Judy and I love you.”
“The way parents love their children! They want carbon copies. They want the kids to play the same game. They want them to shape up. Do you know what I want? I want people to love me for the dough that oozes out under the cookie cutter. I want them to love me for my bad plays, my false moves, my weaknesses, my transgressions. I want their hearts to leap when I go to Palm Beach or Southampton. I want them to know that I have no place else to go.” (p 242)

“Maybe it’ll be a girl and you can call her Willa. Willa’s a beautiful name. Nobody names anybody Willa any more.” (p 193)

“Madness is when you’re playing a different game from anyone else.” (p 357)

I Know Where I’m Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography

Hepburn’s life, as told in snippets of stories to Chandler, who met with the actress dozens of time through the years. Not to knock Hepburn’s life, which was extraordinary, but this bio can be missed.
Best parts were detailing her relationship with Spencer Tracy, where she throws all feminist thought out the window and becomes his slave, he doesn’t love her as much as she him, he never speaks terms of endearment to her. Also detailing the filming of the African Queen, on location in Africa with Bogey. And her torrid affair with Howard Hughes, who eventually stopped asking her to marry him.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

An enjoyable light read; the story of two laotong, or “old sames”, are friends for life. One (Lily) is on the way up out of poverty and one (Snow Flower) is on her way from fine living to being the wife of a butcher. A brutal look into the custom of foot-binding, where young girls are fed mung beans to soften their bones, then have their feet bound tighter and tighter wrapping the toes underneath the foot which ends up breaking the bones, then healing them into a curved shape which supposedly reminds their hubbies of their “member.”
The secret language of nu shu (merely italicized version of men’s written language) was used to send messages from woman to woman. This language was employed to write messages on the secret fan sent back and forth between the laotongs.
An interesting look into 19th century Chinese culture.