The Assault on Tony’s by John O’Brien – An Alcoholic’s View of Armageddon

The Assault on Tony's by John O'BrienOkay, here’s the premise of John O’Brien’s The Assault on Tony’s.

A handful of rich Republican alcoholics stop in at their favorite bar near the country club to ride out a riot. They all arrive at the bar with a couple of weapons—a Glock, a Walther, a couple of Dirty Harry .44 Magnums, a Beretta 92F. Apparently they’re always packing, but now they’re packing double and thank goodness, because the riot soon turns into Armageddon. Continue reading The Assault on Tony’s by John O’Brien – An Alcoholic’s View of Armageddon

John O’Brien’s Stripper Lessons: A Study of Loneliness

Stripper Lessons by John O'BrienStripper Lessons by John O’Brien is a story about a lonely middle-aged guy (Carroll) in a dead-end job, who spends his evenings watching nude dancers at an L.A. strip club called Indiscretions. He’s friendless and has no interests beyond the strip club. Socially awkward, he worries constantly (both at work and at the club) about saying or doing the wrong thing.

As in his first published novel, Leaving Las Vegas, O’Brien provides no backstory for his main character (or any of the characters). There’s no easy psychological explanation, no hint of childhood trauma. By refusing to divulge any biographical details for such a character, O’Brien makes Stripper Lessons a study of loneliness itself, and that makes the novel hard to put down. Continue reading John O’Brien’s Stripper Lessons: A Study of Loneliness

John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas – The Exhilaration of Suicide

Leaving Las Vegas by John O'BrienThe film version of Leaving Las Vegas is a depressing view of an alcoholic (Ben) who is drinking himself to death, and his touching friendship with a prostitute (Sera) he meets in Las Vegas in the final weeks of his life.

The novel Leaving Las Vegas is an exhilarating experience inside the head of an alcoholic who has decided to drink himself to death, and his touching friendship with a prostitute (Sera) he meets in Las Vegas in the final weeks of his life. Continue reading John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas – The Exhilaration of Suicide

William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

Junkie by William BurroughsJunky, a semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs, is a seductive story set at the inception of the “hip” subculture in America. The story follows a man at odds with American mainstream culture into a quest for spiritual meaning via heroin. Burroughs did, in fact, start using heroin in 1944 and within a year, he was an addict. Though the book does not shy away from the sordid aspects of an addict’s life, this is not a literary Reefer Madness. Continue reading William S. Burroughs’ Junky: A Spiritual Quest via Heroin Addiction

Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By – A Force of Nature

Horseman, Pass ByLarry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By is a perfectly constructed tragedy, but because the main characters wear cowboy hats, it got consigned to the “Westerns” bin long ago by the academics and New York critics, who could then write it off as a lightweight elegy on the passing of the Old West and return their attention to boring novels about men in suits. Continue reading Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By – A Force of Nature

George Williams’ Degenerate – A Man Will Search His Heart & Soul

Degenerate by George WilliamsNovels are rarely about the things reviewers say they’re about. If a writer’s done a good-enough job on his novel, he’s created such a vivid impression of life that we’re compelled to search for a higher meaning in it, just as we relentlessly pick over life in our endless search for meaning. I’m going to seek to entertain you by comparing George Williams’ Degenerate to John Ford’s The Searchers. Continue reading George Williams’ Degenerate – A Man Will Search His Heart & Soul

Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky: The Void Meets the Deg

The Sheltering Sky by Paul BowlesThe key to Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel is found in the epigraph by Franz Kafka that introduces “Book Three:  The Sky”:

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles’ first novel and his most well-known work of fiction, is about getting to that point beyond which there is no turning back; it’s about ripping away the illusion of the “sheltering sky” and staring straight into the void. Continue reading Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky: The Void Meets the Deg

Larry Fondation’s Fish, Soap and Bonds: A God’s-Eye View of Homelessness

Fish Soap and Bonds by Larry FondationFish, Soap and Bonds is both a God’s-eye view of a society that treats homelessness as a slow form of public execution and the story of Fish, a former insurance salesman, now homeless, who can’t forget the past.

At the beginning of the novel, Fish has married Soap, a homeless woman, in an unofficial ceremony on the street, presided over by Bonds, their good friend, another homeless man who was once a deacon in his church.  The story is set in the mid-90s, and in many ways, these characters are like any people you’d run into in a novel set at that time.  They argue over whether O.J.’s guilty.  Soap, a still-attractive woman, yearns for a Clinique make-over.  Fish starts every morning obsessed with finding the day’s newspaper to catch up on the news about Rwanda.  They deal with the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake and fires. Continue reading Larry Fondation’s Fish, Soap and Bonds: A God’s-Eye View of Homelessness

Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children by Dave NewmanDave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children is about getting over the life you thought you were supposed to live, so that you can get on with living the life you have. On the surface, the story is much the same as the story in Bukowski ‘s Post Office:  A guy gets a job. He doesn’t like the job. Sometimes he shows up drunk and sometimes he doesn’t show up. Then he gets fired. The End. What’s different is that Newman’s Dan Charles has something Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski never had—a family he’s determined to stick it out with. Continue reading Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

The Ends of Our Tethers and Alasdair Gray’s Great Theme

Mural by Alasdair Gray

 Once a writer has written a book that enough people like, he or she is expected to go on writing that book over and over forever. If the writer is a hack and starts cranking out more of the same, his audience and acclaim will grow. If the writer is good, and continues to grow in his work, he inevitably alienates a good portion of his audience, which sees their dissatisfaction with the writer’s new direction as a failing of the writer. Continue reading The Ends of Our Tethers and Alasdair Gray’s Great Theme