“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001)

The Correctionsstar

It is quite surprising to think that the National Book Award for Fiction was awarded to a novel that has turds talking to the main character, Alfred.  Has the literary world really become that desperate?

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (the author who refused to appear on Oprah) is about a family: an elderly couple with three grown-up children, that is three screwed-up children.  The youngest is a girl who has no career, cannot decide whether she is hetero-, homo-, or bisexual, and seems to tae some delight in sleep with other people’s spouses.  Then there is the middle son who seems obsessed with the noir world and being unusual and different, with his only claim to fame being an unpublished screenplay that reveals his obsession with breasts.  Finally, there is the eldest son who is going through a mid-life crises and no longer loves his wife.  Coupled with this is an old woman with a heart of gold, and a traditional, misogynistic old man who is senile and extremely annoying.

This is The Corrections.  Franzen’s problem is that he tries too hard to make his characters strange and unusual like John Irving does, but the result is a bunch of people who just piss you off and who you don’t care about.  Except fro Enid, but then once she is free from the embrace of her doomed family, and there seems to be some hope for her, the book ends.

Originally published on March 11th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Archer’s Tale” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2001)

Cornwell’s Brand New Series

Archer's Talestarstarstarstar

Prominent author Bernard Cornwell, famed for the Richard Sharpe series and the Arthurian Warlord trilogy, begins anew with a series set in a time of immense change.

It is the fourteenth century, the Hundred Years War is about to begin (lasting until 1428); the Black Plague has already begun ravaging Europe and taking life; and then there is still the Great Schism to come (a time where three popes ruled and the entire area of Christian Europe was excommunicated).

Our hero is Thomas of Hookton.  In 1343 his town was sacked and pillaged by the marauding French, and everyone was killed except him.  Now years have passed and he is fighting for the English army against the French; the stage is set for the Hundred Years War, while in the back of his mind lurks a revenge against the people who razed his town and killed his friends and family   They have stolen a relic from his church, the lance that was supposedly used by Saint George to slay the dragon.

The crux and closure of the novel involves the first monumental battle of the Hundred Years War, the Battle of Crécy, the first great win for the English against the French.  It is here that Thomas of Hookton, one of the best archers in all of Europe, will fight for the English, as well as avenge the destruction and death that he has suffered for so long, and in the course of battle, the famous lance of Saint George will shine like a beacon, as Thomas fights to reclaim what was stolen from him.

Once again Bernard Cornwell outdoes himself in this wonderful new series.  While the writing is not a high literary level, the book is nevertheless compelling, and the history extremely well researched.  Cornwell skillfully weaves in the details and facts of the period, serving as a colorful world for the strong characters to interact with.

The reader quickly learns that the reason England is so victorious against the French is because of the infamous longbow (a later coined term).  We even see the first cannons ever used by Edward III, which fail pitifully and are used more in hope than effect.  Cornwell ends the novel with the Battle of Crécy, setting himself up for a complete series of one of the most major wars in the history of civilization.

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Originally published on March 4th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Summons” by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2002)

The Summonsstarstar

It has been two books and some years since John Grisham wrote a novel involving a lawyer and his court.  In that time something has happened to leave The Summons, his latest novel, clearly missing something.

The novel begins with our main character, law professor Roy Atlee, being summoned by his father, the infamous judge of Clanton, Mississippi.  Along with his drug-addicted brother, Forrest, they are to decide the issue of the judge’s will before the old man dies.

Buy when Ray arrives at his childhood home he finds the judge already dead.  Then he finds over three million dollars in cash, hundred dollar bills, no mention of which is made in the old man’s will.  The judge never made that much money, so where did it all come from?

As Ray tries to deal with this immense problem, keeping the money in garbage bags close to him, he wonders whether to tell his brother, or anyone else for that matter.  And soon after this he discovers that someone else wants to the money also, someone who will stop at nothing to get it.

The Summons is not really a classic Grisham lawyer novel; it is your run-of-the-mill mystery story, and yet even though it involves lawyers and the occasional court, there is nowhere near the depth of character and plot that Grisham has been shown to be able to write in his earlier bestsellers.  In fact it was the very depth of his novels that made him what he is.  One wonders how this might affect Grisham’s renowned success.  Not much, likely.

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Originally published on March 4th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.