A whole mess of books to share. I’ve been putting this off because I was having a hard time writing about a couple of them. I think you’ll be able to guess which ones as you work your way through the list.
The Last Stand of Payne Stewart – Kevin Robbins
This is an unlikely book for me to both read and enjoy. I never liked Payne Stewart. He seemed like an arrogant prick most of his career. Late in his life, he got a little preachy about his religion, which tends to put me off, too. But I heard Kevin Robbins talking about his book on a podcast and got interested. It didn’t hurt that Robbins is a KC native. Got to give the homeboys some love.
It’s an interesting book in that Robbins both tells Stewart’s compelling life story – like him or not he was a character – and ties his career to the profound changes in golf that were taking place in the late ‘90s. Tiger was coming onto the scene. The technology in clubs was changing rapidly, which made it harder for old school, ball control players like Stewart to compete. The introduction of the Pro V1 the year after Stewart’s death changed things even more. His win at the 1999 US Open was a final high point for not just a generation of players, but a whole style of play.
The book didn’t make me like Stewart more than I did when he was alive. But it did make me appreciate his career more.
The Cockroach – Ian McEwan
McEwan is one of the greatest writers of the last, I don’t know, 50 years or so. He has a way of slicing through complex situations and writing about them without being ponderous. So this, a 100-page allegory for our current political state, is peak McEwan.
Being British, he focuses on what is going on in the UK right now. In this fictional Britain, the country is debating whether to enact “Reversalism,” which would reverse the flow of money in its economy. For example, you don’t pay for goods. Vendors pay you to take their products. You don’t earn a wage, but rather purchase a job. And so on. It is ridiculous and nonsensical. But so too, to McEwan, is Brexit.
The book is told from the perspective of the British Prime Minister. Or rather the cockroach that has taken over his body in advance of the final push to pass Reversalism. And, it turns out, most of his cabinet’s bodies are inhabited by cockroaches as well.
Again, ridiculous and nonsensical. And equally hilarious and chilling.
There are cameos from an American president who is impossibly vain and communicates via Twitter. And is an idiot. So that’s spot on.
I have a feeling if I was British, or followed British politics closer, I would understand a lot of the subtlety that is in this story. Even without that context, it was a very fun, quick read.
The Fighter – Michael Farris Smith
This book centers on Jack, a middle-aged, drug-addicted, brain-damaged cage fighter and his quest for redemption. He seeks a final big payday to both resolve the outstanding debts he has with a local crime boss and pay off the loans he has taken out against the ancestral home of his adoptive mother so she can return there to live out her final days. A series of events derail him, he runs into the woman who is likely the daughter he never knew he had, and they join forces in a last-gasp effort to save everything that Jack loves. The end isn’t surprising, but it was so bleak that it was more affecting than I expected it to be.
Thanksgiving Night – Richard Bausch
I spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving week working through this. It begins as a hilarious, farcical look at a small town in Virginia and a series of people in that town who are connected. There is an aunt/niece combo, who because they are just a couple years apart are more like bickering sisters; the niece’s son, his second wife, and his adult children from his first marriage; their eccentric neighbors; a handyman who is working for the aunt/niece and his live-in daughter and grandson; that daughter’s best friend and her new boyfriend; an aging priest; and a few other folks.
There is some general wackiness in the first half of the book. Eventually the tone turns more serious, following the accounting of one of the worst dinner parties in the history of dinner parties. Soon there is a life-threatening medical issue, an affair and probable divorce, a teacher who may be preying on his students, and attempted shooting in the town’s high school.
All this leads up to a rather eventful Thanksgiving dinner.
Wrapped in all that are all the usual points a book about the holidays has to hit. I wish it had kept the light, ridiculous feeling its first half is filled with, though, rather than turning dark. I thought the story lost much of its heart when it made that turn. And I laughed a lot less in the second 200 pages than I did over the first 200.
Liar & Spy – Rebecca Stead
L had kind of checked out of her book club so far this school year, mostly because of sports keeping her busy. But she’s going to this week’s session, when they will discuss this book. To motivate her, I bought it and read it along with her. She would read a few chapters before bed, put a bookmark into it, and hand it to me the next morning so I could catch up.
This is the story of Georges, middle schooler in Brooklyn whose family has just moved from the home he had spent his entire life in into an apartment due to his dad losing his job. His mother, a nurse, begins working constant doubles at the hospital and, thus, is always gone. At school, Georges is often picked on because of the way his name is spelled – he is named for the artist Georges Seurat – and because he’s kind of a geek rather than a cool kid.
In his new apartment building be befriends a kid weirder than him, Safer, who lives a couple floors up and is home schooled. Safer recruits Georges to help him spy on a mysterious neighbor.
Georges eventually learns to stand up to the boys who bully him at school, discovers that Safer’s weirdness is his way of hiding his own many, many fears, and uses that knowledge to confront his own fear about what is really going on with his mother.
It’s a nice enough book, but it does play out rather slowly. I know L has struggled a little to connect with it. I’ll be interested to hear how many of her book club pals had the same issue.