I could probably forgive her for over-exposure to Paris Hilton gossip, or for her part in O.J.’s aborted book. I might even eventually forget the fact that she used my Mastercard to purchase Rush Limbaugh’s Pearls of Wisdom ... but I can’t forgive obsession with Tom Cruise. All things considered, I feel totally justified in keeping her books. (She has excellent taste in literature!) Here are the 10 best of 2006’s abandoned library.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
$24 – 241 pages
McCarthy’s dark novel easily qualifies as one of the greatest literary works of the last decade. This apocalyptic account of the end of civilization as we know it certainly justifies the conclusion that Cormac is the “Jeremiah of our century.” As a father and son trudge through the ashes of a dead world, the man reflects on how mankind managed to ruin to the earth. I guess it would be safe to call The Road a “cautionary tale”... if it isn’t too late.
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
New York: Random House
$24.95 – 422 pages
This long-awaited novel isn’t quite what anyone expected from the author of Cold Mountain. Certainly, readers found a narrative rich in poetic description and romance; however, this time the protagonist is a semi-historic scamp who becomes a key player in the tragic events attending the Cherokee Removal. Add some liberal doses of hot-blooded lust, political intrigue and “manifest destiny” and you have a tale that charms, offends and amuses in equal measure.
The World Made Straight by Ron Rash
New York: Henry Holt and Company
$24.95 – 291 pages
A shameful incident during the Civil War hangs like a judgment over the community of Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. Although the modern inhabitants pursue contemporary objectives (courtship, marriage and a better life), an ancient crime haunts them. Rash’s novel is mindful of the biblical injunction about “the sins of the fathers,” and Shelton Laurel’s need for a final act of retribution and/or justice.
Refuge by Dot Jackson
Charlotte: Novello Press
$24.95 – 346 pages
A popular response to a life that has become filled with adversity has always been simple for a stalwart few — flee! Dot Jackson’s spunky protagonist, Mary Sen, simply loads the car (which she has never driven), cajoles her frightened children into the backseat, and drives away from a loveless marriage and a privileged, but artificial life in Charleston. Her destination, based on a vague memory of relatives who live somewhere in the mountains beyond the South Carolina boundary, represents ... a refuge.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
New York: Little, Brown & Company
$22.99 – 193 pages
This is a harsh but heartwarming tale of a Kentucky teenager who persists against all odds. Saddled with a helpless mother, two younger brothers and a threatened eviction, Ree Dolley undertakes a harrowing journey to find her missing father. Woodrell does a masterful job of creating life in a remote valley complete with faithful renditions of dialect and worldview. However, this novel’s most admirable depiction is Ree Dolley, who between cooking and hunting for food, and being brutalized by her neighbors, dreams of learning to “French kiss” her future boyfriend.
Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson
New York: Picador
$14 (paperback) 219 pages
The world has a generous supply of people like Ruth, a young woman who finds herself increasingly reluctant to “adapt.” A visit from an eccentric relative opens the door to the delights of being unencumbered by property or a need to behave in a “socially acceptable fashion.” Realizing that she is ill at ease among her peers, Ruth quits school, camps out and lives the life of a hobo. She even begins to relinquish family ties and friendship, preferring a solitary life. Her awareness of the transitory nature of human existence prompts her to do as she pleases. This book presents a tempting alternative to “trying to fit in.”
Seeing by Jose Saramago
New York: Harcourt, Inc.
$25 – 307 pages
Translated from the Portuguese, this political allegory by a Nobel Prize winner is a sequel to another Saramago novel, Blindness. In view of America’s growing disenchantment with the political process, Seeing is a timely work. Consider the opening scene in which an election reaches a stalemate when the officials discover that the voters are refusing to select a candidate. Instead, they register and turn in a blank ballot. What does it mean? This provocative tale slowly progresses to a point at which town’s citizenry undertake to run their lives without a government!
The Judas Field by Howard Bahr
New York: Henry Holt and Company
$25 (paperback) – 292 pages
Anyone who has read Bahr’s The Black Flower and/or The Year of Jubilo will definitely want to read this third novel that depicts the Battle of Franklin, Tenn. In addition to being the most nightmarish and senseless battles in the Civil War, this event seems to be a parable for all war. This time, Bahr follows two tortured survivors of the battle who return to Franklin 10 years later. Cass and Lucian Wakefield accompany a childhood friend who wishes to find the graves of her father and brother in Franklin. However, Cass and Lucian quickly discover that the past can return with devastating effects.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
$24.95 – 555 pages
This beautifully written novel is filled with echoes of other great southern novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, A Member of the Wedding and Other Voices, Other Rooms. The similarities constitute “tributes” that honor relationships in the South (family, servants, community). Harriet Dufresnes, a willful, lonely child who is haunted by the unsolved murder of her brother (who was found hanging in the front yard). Tartt pulls all the stops as she faithfully recreates Mississippi dialect, food and social norms. Stubborn little Harriet intends to identify and punish her brother’s killer — even if she is wrong!
I Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary
New York: Da Capo Press
$17.00 - 192 pages
As many of you may know, the gifted musician and vocalist Nina Simone was born in Tryon, N.C. This account of her troubled life manages to be both gratifying and disturbing. Despite her legendary temper and willful behavior, Nina’s fans readily forgave her. During her final years, she lived in obscurity and entangled in legal disputes with the IRS, recording companies and former husbands. Even now (Simone died in 2003), she is still a best-seller, still called the “High Priestess of Soul.”