‘Paris in the Present Tense’ is a Stunner

Paris in the Present TenseAvid readers know that when time for leisure reading is limited, solid book choice is crucial. Imagine then how pleased I was to have selected Paris in the Present Tense from the shelves of my local public library. I’m drawn to books about Paris, though many end up being too weak or sappy to push through. I can assure you, however, that this is certainly not the case with author Mark Helprin’s latest work.

Paris in the Present Tense revolves around Jules Lacour, a seventy-four-year-old cellist who has seen much in his lifetime. War, love, and loss have left Lacour with a pragmatic view of his remaining years, yet determined to provide his daughter and her family with choices of freedom that he never had. Paris is their home, but as acts of racial violence escalate Jules is sharply reminded of his war-torn childhood and the carnage left in the wake of the Nazi occupation. Jules’ perceived responsibility to right the wrongs of racial hatred lead him to a moment of violence that changes the trajectory of his quiet, disciplined life in ways unimagined.

Paris in the Present Tense is a deep and beautifully written novel. Whether it was author Mark Helprin’s intention or not, the movement of this story is propelled by the character of Lacour’s cello itself. Jules’ music plays an almost mystifying role in Paris in the Present Tense, and gently carries the story through to its final crescendo. The harmonies and dissonance of Lacour’s relationships – work, love, family, and life – seem to lift from the pages, creating a mystical presence that permeates each passage regardless of setting.

And then there’s Paris. Helprin must have an intimate relationship with this magnificent city because he is able to lay it down so well. Jules takes us with him as he daily navigates the Sorbonne, the Seine, les petits cafés, and his routes through the city’s majestic gardens. “In spring the trees of Paris bloom so lightly they seem to float on the breeze,” Lacour regards. “In summer, its deep green gardens often shade into black and an orange sun revolves in the air like a crucible risen from a foundry. In winter, white silence in the long, treed allées and not a breath of wind. And in the fall bright colors and deep blue sky roll in on cool north winds.”

I loved this book. All of it. Paris in the Present Tense has a lot to offer, but as a recommendation I do feel it demands a certain age of its reader. Jules’ reflections on the passage of time and his unyielding – if not bizarre – ambitions to preserve his remaining family show a desperation that perhaps only a parent (or survivor) might understand. The book is truly beautiful, but some passages might strain the less patient reader. Where some might savor Jules’ deep thoughts on the various stages of life and love, others might get muddled down in his challenging, thicker thoughts. That said, this book definitely worked for me. I’m new to Helprin’s literary style and it hit the right note. While some passages took extra effort (and a dictionary), there is a quick, underlying pulse that keeps you engaged to the very last page.

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Other Strong Parisian Reads – remember to buy from your local independent:

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The Greater Journey by David Mccullough

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle – French series if you’re looking for something lighter

 

 

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Dolan’s Back with ‘The Man in the Crooked Hat’

The Man in the Crooked Hat

Bestselling Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan is at it again with his latest mystery, The Man in the Crooked Hat (Putnam, $27). Dolan’s fourth book follows Bad Things Happen, Very Bad Men, and The Last Dead Girl, all of which quickly found themselves on must-read lists. Mr. Dolan has been called “a new master mystery writer” (Forbes), and has made quite a name for himself in lit circles and on national media outlets. Though Mr. Dolan originally hails from New York, we’re screaming Pure Michigan!  for yet another great writer who represents.

I have yet to dig into The Man in the Crooked Hat, but I have re-posted my review of Dolan’s Bad Things Happen (2011) for your enjoyment below. If you are looking to buy, please consider the independent Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.

Bad Things HappenIt’s true that bad things happen, but are we supposed to enjoy them so much when they do? In Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen, half the fun is waiting out the next “bad thing” (of which there are plenty) while the other is enjoying the ride.

Bad Things Happen is…well…sexy. From the alluring, yet solitary main character David Loogan right down to the seductive college vibe of Ann Arbor itself, Mr. Dolan hooks you up with a delicious murder that fills you with a sweet, edgy unease. As his sultry characters glide in and out of focus, you are left wondering beyond wonder, who in the world can you trust?

After David Loogan becomes inadvertently involved with the mystery magazine Gray Streets, his quiet low-key life somehow slips into a sea of complicated suspicion. However, Mr. Loogan’s appeal lies in his subtle, easy dialogue and blithe manner towards all things homicidal. As Loogan makes his way through the maze of Gray Street personalities in hopes of solving his friend’s murder, he encounters one Elizabeth Waishkey. Elizabeth is a cop who is also intent on solving the murder, but is saddled with the snag of distancing herself from the ambiguous Loogan, who is a promising prime suspect with each turn of the page.

As Waishkey works on Loogan, and Loogan works on his own, this shadowy tale is spun on pure Ann Arbor background, bringing about a well-deserved nod for this progressive midwestern pocket. Matched in sophisticated tones, Ann Arbor provides the perfect setting for Dolan’s sleek, hard-boiled fiction.

“Ann Arbor has the street life of a much larger city. When the weather is fair, and sometimes when it’s not, the sidewalks along State Street and Liberty and Main bustle with people:  hip, arty, confident people who walk to theaters and shops, bookstores and coffeehouses, who gather at sidewalk tables that spill out of restaurants.

David Loogan found them fascinating. He thought it must be the university that produced them. The university made the city more prosperous and young and good-looking. It gathered all these people to itself and then it sent them out into the city where they ate fine meals, and attended plays, and greeted one another on the street with hugs and cheery shouts and back-slapping.”

Bad Things Happen brings in the sharp, classic styles of other noir lit authors such as Raymond Chandler, whom is mentioned more than once in the book. Even if you are not a seasoned mystery reader, Harry Dolan’s seductive style easily translates. Mr. Dolan’s work is fun, and mentally unspools itself in close-up, pan-back fashion. Like a smooth, smoky Hollywood flick, Bad Things Happen definitely has movie rights potential, but for now I highly suggest kicking back and enjoying it just the way it is.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Pessl’s ‘Night Film’ is Deliciously Scary!

CT  CT nightfilm.jpgOkay, I loved Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics and couldn’t wait for her next book to come out. Her recent, horrifying release Night Film has me so scared I’m not even sure I can continue reading it. I am a fraidy-cat to be sure and I know it’s just a book, however, I am torn between wanting to know what happens and sending it straight back to the library! I’m halfway through and not sure my heart can take it. Delicious….

 

 

 

Looking for a few more scary reads this Halloween season? Check out a few of the lists below. Feel free to comment and add your personal faves.

– Amazon’s Top Ten Scariest Books

Listverse Top 10 Most Disturbing Novels

10 Best Steven King Books for Halloween

listal 25 Best Horror Novels

Flavorwire 10 Utterly Terrifying Books for Your Hallowe’en Reading

Michigan Reads

Paranormal Michigan Book Series

– University of Michigan Press – Sprirts and Wine by Susan Newhof

– Wayne State University Press – Ghost Writers: Contemporary Michigan Literature

Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales of Mackinac Island by Todd Clements

The Michigan Murders by EdwardKeyes

Murder in the Thumb by Richard W. Carson

Isadore’s Secret by Mardi Link

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Finding Robert Coles ‘In the Garden of Beasts’

In the Garden of BeastsAuthor Erik Larson’s nonfiction work, In the Garden of Beasts, has been sitting in my “to read” pile since its pub date back in 2011. For the love of summer, I was able to turn the final page last night and can’t quite stop thinking about it.

Larson, also the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, shifts his focus in Beasts to 1930’s Berlin, where the unlikely American ambassador William E. Dodd has taken his post during Hitler’s chilling rise to power. As Dodd navigates the complexities of his political post, the reader is introduced to an incredible cast of characters both demonic and heroic.

ColesCompFinal.inddIt is a wonderful intersect when what we read gives way to contemplation, and more so, empathy for humankind. It is of note here that I have also been reading Secular Days, Sacred Moments:  The America Columns of Robert Coles, recently published by Michigan State University Press.

Coles is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard University and “is unparalleled in his astute understanding and respect for the relationship between secular life and sacredness… .” (via)

In the thirty-one essays of Secular Days, Sacred Moments, which are drawn from Coles’s monthly column in the Catholic publication America, how odd that the one I happened to read today pertains to the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer, who lived “a singular, voluntary opposition to tyranny that culminated in his execution in a concentration camp only weeks before the end of Hitler’s regime,” is hailed by Coles. Bonhoeffer’s brave resistance to the Nazis outweighed his concern for self-preservation, and he left the safety of the United States to return and stand by his fellow Germans.

There is both a Christian and psychological angle to Cole’s essay, and having just read In the Garden of Beasts, it’s poignancy can’t be missed. The question, “What would you do under such circumstances?” is posed in Cole’s work, and hums behind each line of Larson’s.

In the Garden of Beasts offers a close, personal look at a pivotal era in history. The “what-ifs” are boundless, and the outcomes staggering. It is an important book in terms of moral self-examination and offers endless ethical scenarios for consideration. Though my reading of Cole’s Bonhoeffer essay is a coincidence, his full body of work in Secular Days, Sacred Moments offers much in the way we reflect and interpret our everyday exchanges and the world that surrounds us.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Announcing Our Jolly Good Fellows!

Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Oh, how I wish it were me! Congratulations to the 2013 Kresge Artist Fellows in the Literary and Visual Arts. With your combined talents and the generosity of the Kresge Foundation, may we keep the arts alive and well in Detroit and beyond.

“Announced Tuesday by the Troy-based Kresge Foundation, the no-strings-attached $25,000 grants are among the country’s most generous for individual artists,” states the Detroit Free Press. “This year, the recipients included nine in the literary arts and nine in the visual arts. Two independent panels of five professionals judged more than 700 applicants.” Lucky buggers.

For those of us who didn’t make the cut this year, there’s always next fall. Chin up and keep on writing…

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Vande Zande’s ‘American Poet’ Gives Notable Nod to Poet Roethke

perf5.500x8.500.inddDenver Hoptner walks at night. The recent University of Michigan grad, jobless and without prospects, has returned home to live with his father while he regroups and considers his future.

Instead of opening doors, Denver’s fresh MFA in Poetry has left him open only to his father’s scrutiny, and worse, at a devastating loss for the words he longs to put down. Seeking solace, Denver routinely takes to the bleak Saginaw streets searching for a sign.

In Jeff Vande Zande’s  tight, coming-of-age novel American Poet (Bottom Dog Press $18.00), Denver’s sign comes in the form of late poet Theodore Roethke’s boyhood home. The prize-winning poet’s house, found smoke-damaged and in disrepair, gives Denver angry encouragement and fuels his commitment to both his craft and the preservation of a bygone poet’s brilliance.

“It was one of the few things that I didn’t hate about the town,” Denver says. “When I was in high school and thinking that maybe I wanted to write, I used to walk out to the Roethke House at least once a month, just to look at it. He was a pretty big poet in his day. Pultizer Prize for one thing, and it meant something that a guy like that could come from a place like Saginaw. He was a guide. A lodestar.”

Poet Theodore Roethke drew his words from the well of his Saginaw surroundings. Through Denver’s eyes, author Vande Zande also offers bright discovery in the gray and grit of this roughed-up city. Ultimately, it’s in Denver’s struggle to reconcile his future ideal with his present reality that his true poetry begins to emerge.

Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College and writes poetry, fiction, and screenplays. He was selected as the recipient of the 2012 Stuart and Venice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author for American Poet; his novel that was also selected as a 2013 Michigan Notable Book.

– This review can be found in the January, 2013 issue of Hour Detroit. For Hour subscription information, link here.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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