4. The Gamekeeper

By Barry Hines

This 1975 novel came to me by snail mail from Olman’s Fifty, who reviewed it so adeptly here. Definitely read his review, which is great reading in and of itself. After I read it I wondered if the novel would impact me in the same way.  We think alike in the places this novel converges.

I don’t think I have read anything quite like this.  It’s simply outstanding. The clarity of Hines’s narrative is rare in 20th century literature, which too often is crammed with proof of its own greatness and cheap twists that negate what comes before as if nothing in life is what it seems.  Well, things are what they seem when a writer with knowledge, craft and confidence puts pen to paper.

As Olman stated, this novel isn’t for everyone.  But I thoroughly enjoyed the intricate details of the daily life and work of this British estate gamekeeper, which are very realistic and refreshingly unromantic.  While it is very good storytelling it is also somewhat of a manual for an aspiring gamekeeper.  On could avoid many expensive, time-wasting errors by reading this little novel.

Of course, as much as our protagonist is a careful steward of the land on which he lives so closely, and a cultivator of the Duke’s pheasant stock, his work is entirely devoted to cultivating the maximum number of birds for the Duke and his friends to kill during their annual one day shoot. The gamekeeper works all year for this singular purpose, brutally destroying many other populations of animals and birds (rabbits, foxes, birds of prey, etc.) in order to protect the birds that the Duke and his buddies will annihilate come Autumn.  It’s all so absurd.

I enjoyed Hines’s ability to realistically narrate the gamekeeper’s life and purpose without any insecurity.

3. Under the Banner of Heaven

by Jon Krakauer

Wow. I had already thought that mormonism was hard to take seriously. This book didn't help their case. In most ways this fastest growing religion in America is no more far fetched than the other popular religions, but mormonism has had an especially violent and troublesome first 150 years.

Krakauer focuses on the fundamentalist sects of mormonism, those that were created from a dispute over polygamy. Great.

In the news recently is Warren Jeffs, one of the "prophets," or leaders of fundamentalists who practice polygamy. He was busted for multiple counts of child rape. Apparently he liked to take on wives in a more "pure" state. Life in prison or that clown. Now on to the rest of them!

2. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

by Jon Krakauer

This book honors Pat Tillman, the pro football player who walked away from the NFL at the peak of his career to join the U.S. Army. As did many men and women in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, Tillman signed up to sacrifice something for his country. He and his brother Kevin graduated boot camp, went on to excel in the Army's Airborne and Ranger schools, and were sent overseas to whoop some ass. Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

But Pat Tillman is not the poster boy that U.S. government propagandists had hoped for.

Largely built from Tillman's personal journals Krakauer puts together a story that is deeply moving as well as deeply disturbing. This account of Tillman's life and totally unnecessary death is one part biography of a young man attracted to extreme mental and physical challenges (in the same way other individuals who have captured Krakauer's imagination), and one part scathing indictment of the entire Army chain of command all the way to Donald Rumsfeld.

I really enjoy Krakauer's writing. His fascination with a very special type of human shines through yet again in the book. And if you have been reading his other books over time, you might see that his ongoing mediation on those who seek life to the nth degree is tapping a wisdom that so many of us only know intuitively. Keep seeking, Krakauer, and keep reporting in with these great books!

1. Last Night in Twisted River

by John Irving

This is John Irving's 12th novel in 40+ years and I believe among his best.

It really is great. One reason for that is explained in his afterward where he says that this novel has been in his head for over twenty years. He just hadn't found the last sentence (which is where he starts). In the meantime he wrote other novels because their endings came to him first. But this one has been with him long before many of the others. Interesting... it's a truly great story.

It's also meta-fiction, which was a great experience for me, and very personal for him. He says this in the afterward:

"I've written about writers before - in The World According to Garp an A Widow for One Year. But, in those novels, I never described my process as a writer; I did not make T.S. Garp or Ruth Cole the kind of novelist I am. In Twisted River, Daniel Baciagalupo IS the kind of writer I am; I even gave Danny my educational biography. (We went to the same schools, graduated in the same years, and so forth.) What I did NOT give Danny was my life, which has been largely happy and very lucky. In gave Daniel Baciagalupo the UNluckiest life I could imagine. I gave Danny the life I am afraid of having- the life I hope I never have. Maybe that's autobiographical too..."

That's beautiful. I find that most writers are more elusive than this when talking about themselves (I suspect that they hope to seem more deep by not telling).

Anyway, among the best lines in the novel is this loving, tender exchange between Danny and Lady Sky:

"I have no right to be happy," Danny told his angel, when they were falling asleep in each other's arms that first night.
"Everyone has a right to be a LITTLE happy, asshole," Amy told him.

2010 review

Great enough.