91. Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

Year Published: 1932
Pages: 281 (illustrated!)

First sentence: Lov Bensey trudged homeward through the deep white sand of the gully-washed tobacco road with a sack of winter turnips on his back.

Seriously can we all just agree that fiction set in the 30s must contain attractive young transients and murder and nothing else?

I'll be the first person to admit that I have a bad case of rose-coloured glasses. I'm nowhere near as socially conscious as I should be. So I feel like kind of a naive ass for giving this book a low rating (to be fair "low" is rather tenuous when there are only three possible ratings...). But I have reasons! Sort of good ones! And I'll tell you what they are.

But first, the plot. The book is about the Lester family, or what's left of it. They're tenant farmers in the early 30s, except that the man they rent from basically abandoned cotton farming for better things about a decade before the events of the book. The Lesters starve and wander and just sort of exude misery all over the pages. I'm not sure how far to get into it. Jeeter is the head of the family, useless for anything except loving the land. Ellie May is 18 and a hopeless case because of her cleft lip. Dude is "simple," 16, and pursued by Sister Bessie Rice, who makes no sense whatsoever. Lov Bensey is married to 12 year-old Pearl Lester, and trying to figure out how to get her and her pretty blonde hair into bed with him, instead of running away whenever he tries to touch her.

The summary of this book is the same as it is for Ironweed, really. That is to say: It was the 30s, and everything was fucking shitty, and then everybody died. Spoiler alert: not everybody dies.

So look, this book made me incredibly uncomfortable, so I guess the author made his point in that respect. It forced me to acknowledge my own luck/privilege, and I suppose literature does have a certain responsibility to do that now and then. But! I felt like the author was being pretty condescending toward his characters, and I hate it when authors do that without any trace of affection. That's almost definitely part of the point here, and once again I'm just a horrible person, but agh. Words fail me. It was just so depressing.

Listen, this is my blog and I'll do what I want. If I rated solely based on the books accomplishing what they set out to do, this one would get 3/3. But as far as the whole reading experience goes, I can't really recommend it, because all it'll do is break your heart, in a bad way. So I've compromised.

Nothing. In lieu of quotations, can anyone direct me to some links or books about "frontier sexuality"? I.e. when and where did Ma and Pa Ingalls get busy, and how did that shape attitudes about sexuality? I promise this is book-related. Read it, and I think you'll see I'm making the best out of a bad situation by being curious about this. -M.R.

Rating: 2/3 (meh)

R9. Twin Temptation by Cara Summers

Twin Temptation (Harlequin Blaze)Pages: 212

Pairing: jewelry designer and PI (sort of)
First Sentence: It was a mansion right out of the books she'd read as a child—Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights.
Climax: Holding on for dear life, she rode the climax, rode him, until they leapt over that final crest together.

I'm actually pretty much at a loss what to say about this book. For the most part the writing was competent enough that I feel sort of bad ridiculing it. In fact it was probably a little bit more than competent, because it was able to convince me to take the absolutely ludicrous plot seriously. (By the way, this is the first in a two-book "mini-series," so I was pretty lenient with respect to plot holes and stuff, hoping that they're resolved in Twin Seduction, which I unfortunately don't have.)

So let me tell you about this plot: Maddie Farrell is a jewelry designer and rancher in New Mexico, who always thought her mother died when Maddie was a baby. That is, until a fancy New York lawyer (Edward Fitzwalter III) calls to let her know that she's actually the daughter of famous jewelry designer Eva Ware, who has just been run over and killed. Maddie is mentioned in Eva's will, and she has a twin sister, Jordan Ware, that she's never met.

For some reason that's never explained in the book, the girls were separated at birth and Eva Ware decided to make them switch places for three weeks in the terms of her will. So that's what Jordan and Maddie do. In New York, Maddie discovers that her mother was murdered by some jealous relatives, in a sort of background plot that allows her to race around the city, adrenaline rushing, with Jase Campbell, Jordan's roommate. He has some sort of private investigation/security firm.

If the hilarious Parent Trap situation wasn't bad enough, the romance is completely insane. Jase and Maddie first meet when Maddie accidentally ends up in Jase's bed the first night after she arrives in New York from Santa Fe. Jase is also just returning home from some hostage negotiations in a jungle somewhere. Basically they're both exhausted (and if you're worried about the whole "consent" thing, don't be: it's all okay cuz Jase is even more tired than Maddie is), so instead of waking up and being like, "zomg there's another person in this bed," they just have semi-delirious sex.

And then in the morning, instead of waking up and being like, "holy fuck, there's a naked stranger in my bed, I'm calling the cops" they just sort of cuddle and then want to go at it again.

Of course that's because they're meant for each other and everything, so they heavy-handedly fall in love, but only after almost fucking in Central Park, and actually fucking in the elevator of some luxury hotel. Although they of course refer to it, right from the beginning, as "making love."

Anyway, I wish this had been funnier. I hope Apache Nights hasn't spoiled me for every other book ever.

But it was his eyes she couldn't look away from. The photo hadn't captured the color. The mix of dark green and blue reminded her of some of the rarer turquoise stones she worked with.

The sun beat down and moist heat bounced up from the cement sidewalks. (I THINK YOU MEAN "CONCRETE." -M.R.)

"I've never done anything quite like this—ever."
"Good." He didn't want to imagine her making love in semi-public places with anyone but him.

"I know that we come from different worlds. But we'll find a way to build a bridge between them. […]" […]
She smiled at him and framed his face with her hands. "I love you too. Let's build that bridge."

92. Ironweed by William Kennedy

(Okay everybody, I apologize profusely. Hopefully this kind of thing won't happen again. Here's the review I should've posted at the end of May. I'll try to make it up to you somehow. ...Also I initially saved it as a draft somehow instead of actually posting it. Good Lord. -M.R.)

Ironweed: A novelYear Published: 1983
Pages: 227

First sentence: Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.

I have no idea why, but I didn't want to like this book. It could be that it's the newest book on The List, and that I think that's bullshit, and surely to God there was at least one awesome book written in the 1990s, ffs. It could be that I resented finding it in the library of the Catholic college on campus. Maybe it was the cover, or the title. But when I opened it, I was prepared to dislike it. And so its failure was even more colossal. The supposed 92nd best book of the 20th century should be able to change any initial impression of mine. I have, after all, far too little taste to pretend that I could dislike any of these "great novels" simply because I decide that I want to.

Francis Phelan is our sturdy-stemmed ironweed, a bum who played ball, accidentally killed his infant son, and has basically a really murky past involving deaths and transience and God knows what else. I'm not quite clear on the actual chronology of his life, but at the time when the book is set, a couple of days in late 1938, he's somewhere in his 50s. He's been hanging around with a woman named Helen for around a decade, and he hasn't seen his wife and children in about a billion years or so. Basically the book goes over Francis' history, sexual and otherwise, and Helen's, too, concentrating on lives, and how they come to be wrecked, and how they end.

From my experience with The Sheltering Sky, I can say I have very little patience for certain treatments of death in fiction (mainly the ones where the author seems to be imposing his or her own views about the hereafter on the narrative), and Ironweed is unfortunately another good example of that. There was also the matter of my having a very poor grasp of Francis' character, so that in one scene he was across the room about to kick someone in the face before I realized he was angry.

The strongest part of the book is when Francis goes home to visit his family. Whereas the rest of it is sort of flat, the bit with his family is sharp and actually excellent. I suppose it's always possible that that was intentional, but it certainly wasn't any fun for me.

I haven't really touched on the matter of Albany because I don't get what the big deal is. I didn't really get an overwhelming sense of "PLACE" from this novel. Can anyone tell me what I'm missing?

- - - - -
His lesson to Francis was this: that life is full of caprice and missed connections, that thievery is wrong, especially if you get caught, that even Italians cannot outrun bullets, that a proffered hand in a moment of need is a beautiful thing.
- - - - -
Just because you're drunk don't mean you ain't cold.
- - - - -
But priests, Helen, have nothing whatsoever to do with brassieres and kissing, and you should be ashamed to have put them all in the same thought.
- - - - -
Katrina, I will love you forever.
However, something has come up.
- - - - -
Rating: 1/3 (don't bother)