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Kind One by Laird Hunt

Picking daisies on hell's front porch in the long ago.
As a fan of Laird Hunt, I perhaps should have seen the misdirection coming. The tagline on the front cover, "An Unforgettable Tale of Slavery in the American South," and the first paragraph, a dreamlike reminiscence of bed-time tales after working in the fields (I presumed cotton fields although admit in retrospect it was as likely a regular agricultural affair), set me off on the expectation of a tale of Colour and the unfortunate plight of a stooped and wise matriarch in the employ of a wicked plantation owner. Or something similar. 

Instead, something else. Instead, a vignette of the loss of a daughter in a freshly dug well. Instead, no-one mentions the colour of anyone's skin until the dénouement, the chapters where a mulatto boy goes in search of the mother who died giving birth to him. Instead, we have a tale of domestic slavery, of the abuse of a man of his child-wife, and of the daughters he had by another woman, a man who was intent on marrying his cousin until he found her husband less dead than rumours had led him to believe, and so he instead spirited away her daughter with  fraudulent promises. Ginny, the daughter, finds herself in a cabin, caring for girls only a few years younger than herself until her husband grows weary of her infecundity and turns his attention to his daughters. Ginny, in a daze of confusion, jealousy and relief, does nothing to stem his ardour and shield his daughters from his incestuous gaze.

In a strange echo of Fup, pigs enter the story as a dark metaphor, meaning what I don't know, but the visceral descriptions of slaughter and salting and eating are sincerely at odds with the comic descriptions of the making of blood sausage from a slaughtered hog in The Little Town Where Time Stood Still. They are the manifestation of Ginny's suffering, appearing dark and forbidding as her husband's intentions become clear. No collonaded mansion for her, only an incestuous pig farm. Her torments, both external and self-inflicted, don't end when her husband meets his end on the sharp point of a pig-sticker at the kitchen table, as the girls she failed to protect extract a terrible revenge for their own years of suffering, of immolation, at the hands of their parents.

It is a surprising book, a masterful weaving of narrative that slips small shocks between passages of contemplative and colloquial prose, heavily curtained ruminations on the past and tiny high windows on to the present. As an exploration of the abuse of power and of guilt and expiation, I struggle to find a comparator. Laird Hunt is fast becoming one of my favourite living American authors.


How's about that then?

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

The Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…