Last Update 1/20/20

The Secret Ways by Alistair MacLean, Pocket, 1959 

A British agent is sent into Hungary shortly after the abortive revolt to smuggle out a scientist who had been coerced into defecting following the abduction of his family. Fortunately, the agent runs into a member of the Hungarian secret police who is actually a freedom fighter. After considerable trouble and near failure, he succeeds in his mission. Despite some good scenes, this is not a very interesting spy novel and the protagonist is surprisingly shallowly drawn for a MacLean protagonist. It is also quite static despite several scenes which presumably designed to maintain some tension. MacLean would get better at this sort of thing later on. This was filmed in 1961 with Richard Widmark starring. 1/20/20

So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan, Delacorte, 1982 

I never particularly liked this novella about a young boy growing up in the aftermath of World War II. It has most of the author’s strengths, but it seemed to me more didactic than his other work, and in some ways quite bitter. There is little hint of the wild humor of his other work,and it is considerably less inventive. Brautigan later committed suicide so it’s not surprising that he had a dark side. 1/19/20

Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan, Touchstone, 1971 

The Tokyo-Montana Express by Richard Brautigan, Delacorte, 1980 

Two collections of short stories, although most of them are probably technically not stories at all. Brautigan could have been the writer for whom the term prose poem was invented because most of these are elegantly phrased concepts or images or scenes. Plotting was never among his strong points. They are a pleasure to read particularly in small batches. Although undoubtedly not someone who would appeal to every literary taste, Brautigan was a unique voice who was with us too brief a time. 1/15/20

Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan, Touchstone, 1976

This novel alternates between two stories. In the first, a successful humorist has to deal with the painful end of his love affair. In the second, which appears to be a story he was writing, three men are puzzled when an ice cold sombrero falls out of a cloudless sky. The situation in the latter portion of the book escalates into virtual warfare while in the former, the protagonist becomes increasingly despondent and disorganized. The theme appears to be how people over react to relatively trivial situations and blow them up into actual disasters. 1/10/20

Knight’s Gambit by William Faulkner, Signet, 1950 

Six short stories set in a familiar Faulkner setting, tending toward the more conventional edge of his work. Best and longest is the title story, which features one of my favorite of his recurring characters. These are closer to mystery stories than is most of his work. The stories are not included in his Collected Stories for some reason, so you need to pick this up separately if you want to read all of his shorts. 1/10/20

Collected Stories by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1995 

This is a very large collection of short fiction, but it should be called Uncollected Stories because it contains the stories which were not reprinted in any of Faulkner’s several previous collections. The most famous is, of course, “A Rose for Emily,” but there are a lot of excellent tales here, most of them in familiar Faulkner communities and dealing with similar themes although there are a few that break the pattern a bit. I read this over the course of about six weeks, a story a night, and I suspect it might be better not to address it in much larger chunks. Faulkner was not the cheeriest of authors. 1/6/20

Force Ten from Navarone by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1968 

The survivors of The Guns of Navarone are immediately diverted to a new mission in Yugoslavia. There is a complicated plot involving spies, counterspies, people pretending to be fooled and people actually fooled, an attack that is fake and is met by a defense that is fake, firefights in the woods, double agents, triple agents, and so on. This tried to replicate the feel of the original and Where Eagles Dare but only succeeds intermittently. The climax is pretty spectacular. The movie version stars Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw and has a substantially different plot. 1/3/20

Willard and His Bowling Trophies by Richard Brautigan, Pocket, 1975  

An almost indescribable novella in which two sets of characters lurch toward a collision. The first is a married couple who suffer from genital warts and have slipped into mild sadomasochism. The husband seems to be losing his mental faculties and has trouble concentrating or remembering things. The other set are three brothers whose only interest was bowling. Then someone stole all their bowling trophies and they have spent three years searching for them, and robbing gas stations to support themselves. They get an anonymous tip about where the trophies are, but there is a mixup about the address which results in a tragic confrontation. Like most of Brautigan’s work, the mood is sad despite the occasional whimsy. 1/2/20