Saturday, March 13, 2010

Best Fiction of 2010 - First Entry

The Infinities, by John Banville. Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), $25.95.
  John Banville's new novel is one of the best I've read in the last few years. Centered on Adam Godley, the dying patriarch of a troubled (but sometimes comically so) Irish family, either in the near future or an alternate universe, the story is narrated for the most part by Hermes, aka Mercury.  The other family members are memorable and include Ursula, a faithful yet alcoholic wife to Adam; Petra, the very disturbed daughter who cuts herself; and young Adam, an enormous and somewhat bumbling chap.

  Banville gives the story a classical framework: one day at the Godleys' home in the countryside.  Young Adam and his gorgeous actress wife Helen have arrived to be with the family to rally around old Adam, a world renowned metamathematician and physicist, who has had an impact on the world at least equivalent to Einstein's. The family believes Adam is completely comatose, but it isn't so.
  Hermes has his work cut out for him, since not only is he telling this story, but he's also trying to restrain the god Pan, in the form of Benny Grace, an "old friend" of Adam's, from causing mischief around the family. Hermes must also stand by and watch his cleverly disguised father Zeus have sex with Helen.

  The author uses some startling imagery, including a train that for some reason makes a daily, early morning stop directly in front of the house, and Petra's involved ritual for cutting herself.  He also alternates between some of the most florid prose you'll ever read and simple, but telling, sentences. The tableau at the conclusion is inspired.

 Burning Bright by Ron Rash. Ecco (HarperCollins), $22.99
  After his very successful novel Serena, Ron Rash has returned with a stellar collection of stories. Rash does for the southern Appalachian region what some of my favorites have done for Mississippi, and that is to put the people in the forefront, while also telling us about the beauty of the land they live on.
 The stories range in time and theme from "Lincolnites", a grim Civil War story about a woman protecting herself and her home, to the Depression-Era "Hard Times", telling a tale as ordinary as missing eggs and as troubling as mistrust between neighbors, to contemporary chronicles of what meth does to individuals, families, and communities.  The author must be particularly troubled about meth use in his area, as this is the backdrop to two of these stories.  There are collisions between old 'superstitious' ways and the postmodern world as intelligently told in "The Corpse Bird" and parables of ordinary people thrust into bad situations and making worse decisions, as in "Falling Star" and "Into The Gorge".
  Mr. Rash continues to hone what he does best: telling us about the best nature and worst flaws of these hard-working, mountainy people.  This collection is ultimately compelling, heartbreaking, and real.

And here's a little extra, not from 2010, but 1920. Suggested reading from Dr. Sean Keane, R.I.P.

Coming next: New Crime Fiction. Michael Harvey's The Third Rail, Benjamin Black's Elegy For April, and Walter Mosley's Known To Evil.

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