Summer Reading

Ah, summer. When serious readers can indulge their guilty pleasures. Mine includes the serial crime novels of James Lee Burke. This summer, I’m reading #20 in the Dave Robichaux novel series, “Light of the World.” Burke’s novels are very popular summer reads. Their publication dates frequently occur in July. He’s won the Edgar Award twice for Best Crime Novel of the Year. Early in his career, Burke was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and NEA grant, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Two of his Robichaux novels have been made into films.

“Light of the World” received mixed reviews this summer but I’m undeterred. I’m a fan, not just of the writer but of his characters, Dave and Cletus. I’m willing to suspend disbelief, despite the fact that both of these former New Orleans cops and Vietnam vets are, by my calculation, well into their 70’s and yet still capable of tramping through wilderness and lugging heavy armaments when needed.

Burke’s plots are fairly straightforward. It’s character development that emerges as his great strength as a crime novelist. I find myself coming back with each new novel to join these compelling characters in their world of victims and villains, heroes and anti-heroes. I’ve dabbled in other crime series, including Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, but none have captured my imagination like James Lee Burke.

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Smokelong

Smokelong Weekly is an online, weekly short story publication with 10 years of history as a literary vehicle. Newsletter Subscriptions are free via email and accessible from their website, smokelong.com/home.asp The name describes the typical length of pieces they publish, long enough to finish a smoke.
Smokelong Quarterly is their seasonal compilation of stories, interviews and art.
Submissions are limited to 1000 words or less, and they ask contributors to limit submissions to one story at a time. Their submission site resembles most others online.
They recommend submissions be more than stories with a twist or punch line at the end; they ask for honest work written in language that surprises. Weekly Stories are selected by guest editors. Their editorial board selects the Quarterly’s content. To get a feel for the editors, visit their blog page where you’ll find photos and bios for guest editors, many of whom are previously chosen authors.
Their archives page offers links to scores of stories chosen for publication, giving would-be contributors an opportunity to get a sense of what fits.
I read several stories I liked, stories that I found myself thinking about again. The story I liked best was “On Behalf of the Class,” about a group of school kids at a museum. The author exquisitely captured the children’s predictable selfishness as they disappointed their teacher and failed to see the exhibits through any other lens than their own childish concerns. And who can blame them for being more interested in what was happening in the here and now, as their classmates jockeyed for attention and status, over a bunch of dusty old relics?
The author was Elisaa Kahn, an MFA student at Western Michigan University.
I recommend this site for literary fiction writers and readers.

Everyday Fiction

I received notice today from Everyday Fiction, an online publication for flash fiction, that they have accepted another of my short stories. The story, entitled Kin, is scheduled for publication in September. The EF editorial team praised Kin for its blend of description and story, and the way the two compliment each other. The story is under 500 words in length yet provides a complete story arc. Find the story next month at http://www.everydayfiction.com

The Line of Beauty

While on vacation I read Alan Holinghurst’s “The Line of Beauty,” his Booker prize winning novel from 2004. Last summer, I picked up his 2011 novel, “The Stranger’s Child,” which was famously passed over for the same prize. I chose it knowing nothing about the British author or the controversy that resulted from the Booker oversight. It reminded me of an updated E. M. Forster story…a bit of “Howard’s End” with gay characters.

It was Holinghurst’s prose that captivated me last summer but I read the novel like a starving woman at a banquet, too greedily. This year, I worked backwards in his oeuvre, reading slowly, savoring his enchanting cadences for all their beautiful antiquarianisms, with plans to read his 1994 book, “The Folding Star,” next.

Hollinghurst is an Oxford educated Brit whose prose garners high praise for its lyrical qualities. He, like his narrator, is Jamesian in way he turns phrases. This prize-winning novel is set in London in the 1980’s during the rise of the Tories under Margaret Thatcher. It follows a young, gay Oxford graduate pursuing his doctorate, whose thesis focuses on Henry James, as he navigates London’s gay community as it slowly emerges from the shadows. The novel also explores the era’s changes in class and status in London’s ruling class, along with the emergence of AIDS and the burgeoning drug trade.

Holinghurst’s novels are frequently explicit in describing gay sex. James Woods’ 2011 review of “The Stranger’s Child” described the novel as “circling around the suppressed and repressed gay experience.” In “The Line of Beauty” Holinghurst describes its narrator, Nick, coming of age in London in the 1980’s directly, without much circling.

The real story, though, explores class distinctions. Nick’s romantic partner is flush with new money, as well as political connections. He gets tut-tutted when he contracts AIDS but by contrast outsider Nick (think Carraway) gets bloodied so to speak – except that no one wants to touch him. The Tory MPs and Peers feel entitled to blame him, curse him and evict him. It’s the daughter, Old Puss, who ultimately tips the apple cart.

The theme of indulgence and self-indulgence runs through the novel, including every one of the main characters. But ultimately the outcomes for the aristocrats are temporary, like the parties and the travel they enjoy, while Nick and Leo, his working class lover, suffer fatal consequences.