Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Favorite Poets

Hart Crane

July 21 was the birthday of Hart Crane, one of my favorite poets.  He was  born Harold Hart Crane in Garrettsville, Ohio in 1899. His mother was a Chicago debutante and his father was a very successful candy businessman who actually invented the Lifesaver, the popular ring-shaped mint.

By the time Crane was a teenager, he knew that he was gay, and he was fascinated by the life and career of Oscar Wilde. When his parents' marriage fell apart, Crane dropped out of school and took a train from Cleveland to New York to begin life as a poet. He loved being in New York, hanging out with poets like E.E. Cummings and Allen Tate. But he had trouble making a living there, couldn't hold down a job. His drinking got worse and in 1932, at the age of 33, he killed himself by jumping overboard a steamship on his way from Mexico to New York. He left behind his masterpiece, The Bridge (1930).  Finding both inspiration and provocation in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that was difficult, highly stylized, and ambitious in its scope. In his most ambitious work, The Bridge, Crane sought to write an epic poem, in the vein of The Waste Land, that expressed a more optimistic view of modern, urban culture than the one that he found in Eliot's work. In the years following his suicide at the age of 32, Crane has been hailed by playwrights, poets, and literary critics alike (including Robert Lowell, Derek Walcott, Tennessee Williams, and Harold Bloom), as being one of the most influential poets of his generation.

To Brooklyn Bridge

by Hart Crane

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Poem for Summer

Canoe by Keith Douglas

Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art
of idleness. I cannot stand aghast

at whatever doom hovers in the background:
while grass and buildings and the somnolent river,
who know they are allowed to last forever,
exchange between them the whole subdued sound

of this hot time. What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle and I will hear
and come again another evening, when this boat

travels with you alone toward Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly.

The Complete Poems (Faber & Faber 1978)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Shared Literary Vision

The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and WarThe Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War 
by David Lebedoff

"They would always lead completely different lives. But they both would devote those lives to writing. And though they wrote for different readers and in different voices, they left us a shared vision of their own time, and ours." (p xv)

Lebedoff takes the reader on a well researched, quick but sufficient journey through the lives and ideas of his two subjects, and in its biographical endeavors, the book succeeds admirably. However, Lebedoff's analysis lacks depth. The last chapter contains a list of comparisons between the two. The greatest enemy they saw was, as Waugh put it, "the Modern Age in arms." They hated totalitarianism with a passion but saw that even if totalitarianism was defeated, civilization as they knew it would remain in danger. Lebedoff writes: "What both believed—their core, who they were—was that individual freedom mattered more than anything else on earth and reliance on tradition was the best way to maintain it." But reliance on tradition and a belief in objective reality and objective truth was in decline. They also shared a trust in the common sense of the common man against the condescension of an upper-middle class. He ends his catalogue of ideological similarities: "It was in the freedom and courage to choose one's own life that Orwell and Waugh were most nearly the same". That their lives were deliberately chosen is the most valuable legacy that both offer to us now, in our own so-busy time."biographical endeavors, the book succeeds admirably.
Both writers saw the need for man to believe in a moral code, but Orwell thought he could have morality without religion . He wrote to Waugh that he liked Brideshead except for "hideous faults on the surface," one of these being the book's Catholic themes. But Waugh did not believe that morality would last without faith. For him, the days of spending Christianity's cultural and moral capital without embracing its creeds were coming to a swift end.
David Lebedoff's The Same Man is strongest when it tells the story of Waugh's and Orwell's lives, and useful when it shows the similarity of their critiques of modern society. Though exactly opposite in their beliefs about the root of the matter—Orwell chose this world, Waugh the next—the two men respected one another highly, perhaps in part because of their striking similarities. Both had willed themselves into being as writers and had consciously constructed personas. Orwell was the socialist proletarian whose Etonian accent and manner always gave him away, and Waugh was the country squire, whom few would ever mistake for a real aristocrat. Lebedoff’s project in his book is to explore this seeming paradox: Despite standing in the starkest opposition to each other in some respects, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell were in other respects the same man.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Literature and Reading

Franny and ZooeyFranny and Zooey 
by J.D. Salinger

"It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so — I don't know — not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and — sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way." --J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

Rereading J. D. Salinger I am impressed with the books that his characters are reading. In the beginning section of Franny and Zooey, Lane Coutell is engaged by his classmate, Ray Sorensen in a brief interchange regarding Rilke's "Duino Elegies" which they both are supposedly reading for a class on modern European literature. While this is brief, merely an aside, reading and literature intrudes again within a few pages. Franny has arrived on a train and she and Lane settle in to relax at a cafe, one frequented by the "intellectual fringe" of students at the college, to which, apparently, Lane and Franny belong. Soon the conversation includes references to Flaubert and Dostoevsky and the true nature of the "bon mot". The contrast between Lane, who has written a paper on Flaubert (a writer whose search for authenticity is his hallmark) and Franny whose search for authenticity in her own life is floundering seems key to this short story. Franny seeks solace in mysticism (The Way of a Pilgrim). Zooey seems to blossom in the second (Zooey) section while the verbal jousting with his mother is unsurpassed in my reading experience.

For this reader, reading stories where the characters own reading experience is a key aspect that enhances my reading pleasure.

The Catcher in the Rye 

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”  ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The presence of literature as a natural part of the background and conversation is not surprising in Franny and Zooey, but it is, if not surprising, certainly interesting in the beginning chapters of The Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist (anti-hero), Holden Caulfield, is not an example of a serious student, in fact he is being asked to leave Pencey Prep because he was flunking most of his subjects and was "not applying" himself to his schoolwork. However, he is clearly not unintelligent, but rather just uninterested in the formal academics as practiced at Pencey Prep, or the several previous schools he had successively been asked to leave.

The Catcher in the RyeIn spite of this lack of interest in his schoolwork Holden is a reader. And quite an eclectic reader in spite of his own somewhat contradictory assessment: "I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot."(p 18). Obviously, before you are one quarter of the way through the book you are aware that he is not illiterate, and that you often must be attentive to what Holden does rather than what he says, in spite of his fascinating narrative voice. It is this voice that more than anything brings this reader back to the book again and again. But, regarding his reading and choice of authors, he has good taste in literature, at least for a teenager. For I, too was taken with Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, although I found Clym Yeobright to be just as interesting, if not more, as Eustacia Vye - the heroine who Holden likes enough to want to "call old Thomas Hardy" and have a chat (how interesting that would be). Now, decades after I first read Catcher, and even more since, at about the same age as Holden I fell in love with the novels of Hardy, I find it fascinating that reading is an important aspect of the characters of J. D. Salinger, both when they are budding intellectuals and when they are merely fascinating "illiterates" on a journey of discovery. Salinger has company in this regard as I remember that other literary favorites of mine, including David Copperfield and Philip Carey (Of Human Bondage), were also readers in their youth, escaping into literature to ease the pain of their fictional 'real' world. Whether for discovery or escape, the journey and joy of reading is worth embracing for yourself.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Reading: Thriller

A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher, #17)A Wanted Man 
by Lee Child

"Sorenson thought hard for thirty seconds and then got back on her phone and called up two final Hail Mary roadblocks on the Interstate, both to be in place in less than one hour's time, the first in the west , a quarter of the way back to Denver plus eighty miles, and the second in the east, well into Iowa plus eighty miles. Both were to be on the lookout for two men, unspecified age, average appearance, no distinguishing marks, possible bloodstained clothing, possible possession of a bladed weapon showing signs of recent use."

About a third of the way into this thriller FBI Special Agent Julia Sorenson is speeding through Iowa at about one hundred miles per hour. If anything the pace of this story, from page one, is even faster that Sorenson's speed as she chases after Jack Reacher, the protagonist of this breathtakingly exciting novel from the pen of Lee Child.
The suspense is palpable as well, for Reacher has hitched a ride with two men who have already killed another and have a female partner (?) in the rear seat of their sedan. The plot unfolds quickly but methodically, with the reader sharing the thoughts of Reacher as he slowly deduces the reality below the surface appearance of his situation as rider and the events that unfold to reveal the truth that will demand all of his skills as a twenty-first century paladin.
The story is successful on many levels with plot and suspense being the most important. The character of Julia Sorenson was especially well-drawn adding to the complexity of the story while taking some of the pressure off of Jack Reacher, not that he could not handle it. The result is a great read for those who like their thrillers fast-paced, suspenseful, and filled with unexpected plot twists.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Running Haiku


Boat launches in harbor
Sun beams on the horizon
While runner is buoyed

From "The Kingdom of Music", 2013
James Henderson

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Top Ten Books for 2013 Summer Reading

Top Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

One year ago I listed the books I was planning to read for the Summer of 2012.   Here is the list for this Summer, albeit a bit late. There are ten books, some of which I am already committed to read and some I merely hope to read.  As such it is subject to change without notice.

1.  The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.  This is really three novels (thus the use of Trilogy in the title).  It is a classic of Science Fiction from the 1950s.  This is for a class at the University of Chicago's Basic Program of Liberal Education.

2.  The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection edited by Gardner R. Dozois.  This is a massive (600+ pages) anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories from 2011.  It is also for the class noted above.

3.  The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. I am rereading this for the big summer read of one of the reading groups to which I belong.  Grass's most popular and possibly his best novel. The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur.

4.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families.  The setting is familiar territory for Steinbeck and he creates an epic saga that suggests the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

5. Cato: A Tragedy by Joseph Addison.  This is a play from the eighteenth century, first produced in 1713, inspired generations toward a pursuit of liberty. Cato, A Tragedy is the account of the final hours of Marcus Porcius Cato (95–46 B.C.), a Stoic whose deeds, rhetoric, and resistance to the tyranny of Caesar made him an icon of republicanism, virtue, and liberty.

6.  The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Our Science Fiction group has selected this book for August. What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? These are some of the questions addressed in this award-winning novel.

7.  Spin (Spin Saga #1) by Robert Charles Wilson.  In this novel the stars go out. They all flare into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. The world gets stranger as the novel, also a selection of our Science Fiction group, proceeds.

8.  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  A good friend and business partner of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins created this sensational tale of madness, betrayal, and greed.  It is thrilling from beginning to end.  Since its original publication in 1860, the novel has never been out of print.

9.  The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. The Art Instinct combines two fascinating and contentious disciplines—art and evolutionary science—in a provocative new work that will change forever the way we think about the arts, from painting to literature to movies to pottery. Human tastes in the arts, Dutton argues, are evolutionary traits, shaped by Darwinian selection. They are not, as the past century of art criticism and academic theory would have it, just “socially constructed.”
Our love of beauty is inborn, and many aesthetic tastes are shared across remote cultures—just one example is the widespread preference for landscapes with water and distant trees, like the savannas where we evolved. Using forceful logic and hard evidence, Dutton shows that we must premise art criticism on an understanding of evolution, not on abstract “theory.” He restores the place of beauty, pleasure, and skill as artistic values.

10.  Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco. Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Ilustrado was called by the judges “brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed . . .It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor”.

11+.  Books that did not make the cut but sit near the top of my TBR pile (the one closest to me). include:
In the First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Savior Generals by Victor Davis Hanson,  a group of thrillers by Lee Child, Brad Thor, and Nelson DeMille, and Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Psychohistory on a Grand Scale

The Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, #1-3)The Foundation Trilogy 
by Isaac Asimov

“The Three Theorems of Psychohistorical Quantitivity:
The population under scrutiny is oblivious to the existence of the science of Psychohistory.
The time periods dealt with are in the region of 3 generations.
The population must be in the billions (±75 billions) for a statistical probability to have a psychohistorical validity.”  ― Isaac Asimov, Foundation

I was disappointed with this trilogy of novels having just reread this Science Fiction classic after more than forty years. The three novels demonstrate exceptional plotting but little else to warrant praise. Asimov has a galaxy populated with humans and it is a grayish world dominated by a fading empire. Set at least 13,000 years in the future, after humanity has colonized space so thoroughly that most people have forgotten about the Earth itself. Foundation opens as the Galactic Empire is in its final years, having reigned over the galaxy for over ten millennia. One man on the capital planet of Trantor dares to stand up and tell the moribund Empire that its decline and fall is inevitable. Hari Seldon has developed the science of psychohistory, which aims to predict the behavior of large populations over vast periods of time. Seldon has predicted not only the fall of the Empire, but the fact that a whopping 30,000 years of barbarism will follow, unless his organization, the Encyclopedia Foundation, is able to finish its immense task of cataloging and preserving millennia of accumulated human knowledge and history. Then, perhaps, the 30,000 years can be shaved to a mere millennium.
The key concept is psychohistory and Hari Selden's projections based on mathematical formulas suggest with high probability the potential for minimizing a coming 'dark age' for humanity. Most of the novel hinges on a few leaders brandishing political power rather than light sabers.  The suggestion of determinism diminished the possibility of suspense for this reader. The resulting loss of interest in the story, with repetitious descriptions of the overriding Selden plan made the final novel a bit of a slog in spite of an interstellar war. Planets were destroyed with the loss of hundreds of millions of lives but that did not seem to matter. Asimov was a prolific author, but in this case his attempt to expand several stories into a series of novels was flawed.

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Monday, July 08, 2013

Victorian Adventure

by Robert Louis Stevenson

“There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and humility; we get none too much of them in this rough world among cold, proud people.”  ― Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped

In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped began serialization in Young Folks magazine. It was this book, along with the earlier Treasure Island (1883) and A Child's Garden of Verses (1885) which first drew me to Stevenson more than fifty years ago. Along with a handful of other authors these books became the foundation of my early reading and love of books. I still have that feeling for Stevenson as I have gradually explored some of his other novels and essays. While he is considered one of England's most popular writers of "Children's Literature", these novels and his others, especially The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, are worth exploring and enjoying as an adult. Jekyll and Hyde in particular, provoked by a dream and written in a ten-week burst during the writing of Kidnapped, is one of the outstanding examples of the use of the theme of 'the double' in literature, and a classic late Victorian text.
In Kidnapped Davy Balfour is the central character and narrator of the adventure, which was based around historical events in eighteenth-century Scotland. It tells the story of Balfour's kidnapping, his shipwreck on a desert island and subsequent adventures with Highland Jacobites.
Though Stevenson wrote prolifically and in almost every genre, these four books from the mid-1880s are all he would need to be remembered more than a century later. This reader continues to look back a the beginning of his reading as a boy and remember when he first encountered the adventures depicted in Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Hard Science Fiction Master

Robert Heinlein

Today is the birthday of  one of the founding fathers of the hard SF tradition which sees both story and society as merely a matter of effective engineering. Robert Heinlein started writing for pulp magazines, especially Astounding, in 1939 and was a dominant influence on the field for the next forty years. His early stories--The Man who Sold the Moon (see below) and The Green Hills of Earth--are set in a "Future History" in which American society goes through radical changes and it is private enterprise that settles in space. Heinlein wrote a number of influential young adult SF books--Starman Jones, and Podakayne of Mars--which are generally freer in their handling of scientific themes than his books for adults. The right wing strain in his thinking produced a classic of McCarthyite paranoid fiction The Puppet Masters, in which the unwary are possessed by alien slugs. He achieved his major fame, not to say notoriety, with two books of the early 1960s--Starship Troopers, which started a whole sub-genre of militarist SF, while Stranger in a Strange Land featured free love and imaginary religions.  Perhaps the best book of his later phase is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (see below), one of SF's more intelligent retreads of 1776 in space; the best of his earlier books is Double Star, a flip tale of impersonation and political intrigue on Mars.

The Man who Sold the Moon

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak."  - Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon

 Heinlein's monumental "Future History" series continues. Two scientists develop cheap solar power-and threaten the industrial status quo. The nation's cities are linked by a system of moving roads-and a strike can bring the entire country to a halt. Workers in an experimental atomic plant crack under the mental strain. And the space frontier is opened by an unlikely hero-D. D. Harriman, a billionaire with a dream: the dream of Space for All Mankind. The method? Anything that works. Maybe, in fact, Harriman goes too far. But he will give us the stars. . .
This compilation of short stories includes the classic "The Roads Must Roll" (Included in the SFWA Hall of Fame collection).  It also includes "The Man Who Sold the Moon".  This is part of  Heinlein's Future History and prequel to "Requiem".  It covers events around a fictional first Moon landing, in 1978, and the schemes of Delos D. Harriman, a businessman who is determined to personally reach and control the Moon.
The story provides interesting contrast in content and style to the work of Smith.  Both of these great SF authors keep me coming back to this genre of literature.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

“From somewhere, back in my youth, heard Prof say, 'Manuel, when faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand, then look at it again.' He had been teaching me something he himself did not understand very well—something in math—but had taught me something far more important, a basic principle.”  ― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

 Heinlein's gripping tale of revolution on the moon in 2076, where "Loonies" are kept poor and oppressed by an Earth-based Authority that turns huge profits at their expense. Luna is an open penal colony and the regime is a harsh one. Not surprisingly, revolution against the hated authority is planned. But the key figures in the revolt are an unlikely crew: Manuel Garcia O'Kelly, an engaging jack of all trades, the beautiful Wyoming Knott - and Mike, a lonely computer who likes to make up jokes....

Running Haiku

Morning Muse

No wind for my Muse
Grayish clouds block the Sun peeking
Through with rainbow hues

From "The Kingdom of Music", 2013
James Henderson

Saturday, July 06, 2013

An American Film Icon

The Name Above the Title: An AutobiographyThe Name Above the Title: 
An Autobiography 

by Frank Capra

"To my family, I was a maverick. I was jeered at, scorned, and even beaten. But I wouldn't leave school. That meant not only paying for my own education, but putting some change in the family kitty as well. Oh, I loved my family and respected their thrift. But how could they know what I knew, that sure I was born a peasant, but I'd be damned if I was going to die one." - Frank Capra

Before I discovered film culture I was entranced by the 'old-fashioned' Americana that has become known as 'Capraesque'. As a family each Thanksgiving we watched Miracle on "Thirty-fourth Street". I loved Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" and Gary Cooper in "Mr. Deeds goes to Town". Later I would learn about other great films of Capra like "Arsenic and Old Lace", Meet John Doe", and "It Happened One Night". One indication of Capra's greatness as a director is a partial list of leading actors that he directed including, in addition to Cooper and Stewart, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Kathryn Hepburn & Spencer Tracy, Donna Reed, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and Frank Sinatra.
This autobiography was a natural for me to read when it was first published and I was not disappointed. It is an inspirational book and offers insights into the nature of artistic creativity. Anyone interested in the background of Frank Capra should consider reading his inspiring autobiography.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Waiting for Your Real Life

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars
by Peter Heller

“Funny how you can live your whole life waiting and not know it... Waiting for your real life to begin. Maybe the most real thing the end. To realize when it's too late. I know now that I loved him more than anything on earth or off of it.”  ― Peter Heller, The Dog Stars

Flying in an old Cessna with his dog provides consolation for Hig the narrator of this engaging story of a not too distant future time on an Earth that is slowly dying. Hig has already lost his wife, his friends, and is marooned on a small abandoned airport in Colorado with his dog Jasper and his partner and friend (perhaps) Bangley. He relates, "I took up flying with the sense of coming to something I had been meant to do all my life."
Somewhat reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the catastrophe that has turned the world into its cataclysmic state remains unnamed, but it involves “The Blood,” a highly virulent and contagious disease that has drastically reduced the population and has turned most of the remaining survivors into grim hangers-on, fiercely protective of their limited territory. Hig periodically takes his 1956 Cessna out to survey the harsh and formidable landscape. While on rare occasions he spots a few Mennonites, fear of “The Blood” generally keeps people at more than arm’s length. Hig has established a defensive perimeter by a large berm, competently guarded by Bangley, a terrifying friend but exactly the kind of guy you want on your side, since he can spot intruders from hundreds of yards away, and he has plenty of firepower to do it.
During one of his flights Hig hears a voice on the radio coming from Grand Junction. Haunted by thoughts of what the voice may mean he takes off one day in search of fellow survivors and comes across Pops and Cima, a father and daughter who are barely eking out a living off the land by gardening and tending a few emaciated sheep. Like Bangley, Pops is laconic and doesn't yield much, but Hig understandably finds himself attracted to Cima, the only woman for hundreds of miles and a replacement for the ache Hig feels in having lost his pregnant wife, Melissa, years before. Perhaps there is a possibility of a new life.  Perhaps not: “Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occurred to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains.”
Peter Heller's narrator intersperses Beckett-like dialogue with brief yet elegant descriptions of the land, his dreams, and his melancholy longing for a warming world that is dying around him. The novel presents a unique mix of the reality of living in a bleak apocalyptic world while experiencing the leavening effect of nostalgia for love lost and a spirit that will not be denied.

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