Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


AuthorGeorge Saunders
TitleLincoln in the Bardo 
Narrator: Cast of Thousands
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

This is a curious, experimental novel that is built upon the true story of President Abraham Lincoln making several visits to a crypt to hold the body of his recently deceased son Willie.  The “bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept that of an intermediate state where a person doesn’t know if they’r alive or dead. The author gives voice to dozens of deceased people who comment Lincoln & Willie but also tell their own stories and interact with one another.  A third element to this novel are sections which are merely collages of writing, newspapers clippings, and historical works about Lincoln and his times. The novel is an oddly abstract attempt at understanding grief and coming terms to death, both on Lincoln’s personal level and the large scale trauma of the Civil War.  The audiobook is particularly interesting since each character is read by a different actor, several of them quite famous, lending it the quality of an audio play.

Recommended booksThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust  and Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler

Rating: ***

Book Review: Beatlebone by Kevin Barry


Author: Kevin Barry
TitleBeatlebone
Publication Info: New York : Doubleday, [2015]
Summary/Review:

This novel is rooted  in the fact that John Lennon bought an island off the coast of Ireland and is premised on the idea that he went to visit the island in 1978 for primal scream therapy.  Getting to the island is most of the trip as hordes of media and the weather put up roadblocks.  It’s really more of a story about a character named “John Lennon” who happens to be a celebrity put into rural Ireland and Barry’s philosophical musings put into the dialogue.  It kind of has aspirations of being a Joyce or Becket work without the same skill.  Frankly it’s kind of boring.  My favorite part was the non-fiction chapter which is a travelogue of Barry’s research trip to the locales in the novel.

Recommended booksPaperback Writer by Mark Shipper
Rating: **

Book Review: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving


Author: John Irving
TitleLast Night in Twisted River
Narrator: Arthur Morey
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009)
Summary/Review:
Previously read by the same author:

Another sprawling, epic novel by John Irving.  I haven’t read one in a long time.  This one tells the story of Dominic, the cook at a logging camp, and his son Daniel, who grows up to be an author.  Irving frequently refers to them as the Cook and the Writer.  After an accidental murder at the camp, the father and son are forced to flee and the novel follows them throughout their lives from Boston’s North End to Iowa City to Brattleboro, VT and finally to Toronto.  All through this time they keep in touch with the gruff logger Ketchum, who looks out for their pursuer. Along the way there are common Irving themes of coming of age, sexuality, unhappy relationships, and unpleasant people. Daniel’s life as an author strongly parallels Irvings, and Irving seems to be trolling his readers to make one think that this is autobiographical.  But there’s also a lot of insight into creativity and the writing process as well.  Despite being the putative central character, Daniel isn’t particularly interesting or well-defined (perhaps purposefully).  Dominic and Ketchum and various minor characters  provide a number of entertaining scenes and tangents.  Overall this is an enjoyable novel, but like many of Irving’s works could deal with some heavy pruning and more of a sense of purpose.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


Author: Ben Fountain
Title: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Publication Info:   HarperCollins (2012)
ISBN: 9780060885618

 

 

Summary/Review:   This review should be called “Liam Sullivan’s Long Summertime Read” because it took me months to complete reading.  The slothfulness of the read should reflect more on the reader than the novel, and in fact the intricate level of detail in the book may be appreciated by a slow read.  Fountain’s novel tells the story of the Bravo Squad whose firefight in Iraq caught on video goes viral making the ten young men instant heroes brought back to the US to be celebrated and used for a promotional tour.  The majority of the novel takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys game where the Bravos are part of the pre-game and halftime festivities and is told from the perspective of the young Texan infantryman Billy Lynn.  There’s little nuance in Fountain’s writing as this is clearly an anti-war novel with a pile-on of hypocritical people using the Bravos to advance their agenda.  The incidents of the novel also grow increasingly absurd including Billy’s fling with a cheerleader and the surreal halftime show where the Bravos support the performance of Destiny’s Child.  My ultimate summation of this book is good but not great, where the small details stand out better than the overarching themes of the novel.

 

 

Rating: ***

Recommended BooksThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien