Yesterday I happened to hear part of an interview with Kanan Makiya on NPR in which he discussed his latest book The Rope, a fictionalized account of the early aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
His name rung a bell, and after I tracked down the interview on the NPR website, I realized that Mr. Makiya is the author of Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, which I read many years ago when it first appeared. I didn't know that he also wrote fiction. I'll have to read his new novel and blog about it.
I developed a soft spot in my political heart for Thomas Frank after he published What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America in 2004. It seemed to me that he correctly identified how the Republican party uses culture-war politics to stir up white working-class voters, and that such support usually comes at the expense of their economic well-being. True, I was rather critical of Mr. Frank's handling of the importance of religious conviction, but there is much in his book that I still find convincing. Be that as it may, I take his views seriously, and so I'm always happy to come across new work from him.
In that spirit, then, I recommend that you read this article on the role that the rejection of trade agreements plays in generating white working-class support for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It's not the whole story, of course, and Mr. Frank knows as much, but he is clearly correct to pay attention to what Trump is actually saying on the campaign trail, and if you look at videos or read speeches, you'll see that Trump spends a lot of time denouncing trade agreements that he and his supporters hold responsible for gutting American manufacturing.
By the way, just so you know, both of my parents were born and raised in Kansas. I too was born there, but I grew up in Texas.
Senator Elizabeth Warren just released a report (PDF, 1.2 MB) that discusses twenty civil and criminal cases from 2015 in which, according to the executive summary, "the federal government failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing."
If that little snippet isn't enough for you, then here's an eye-opening paragraph:
Under the current approach to enforcement, corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct. This is so despite the fact that the law is unambiguous: if a corporation has violated the law, individuals within the corporation must also have violated the law. If the corporation is subject to charges of wrongdoing, so are those in the corporation who planned, authorized or took the actions. But even in cases of flagrant corporate law breaking, federal law enforcement agencies – and particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) – rarely seek prosecution of individuals. In fact, federal agencies rarely pursue convictions of either large corporations or their executives in a court of law. Instead, they agree to criminal and civil settlements with corporations that rarely require any admission of wrongdoing and they let the executives go free without any individual accountability.
Just more evidence for the proposition that we are currently living in a plutocracy.
While you're pondering all of this, take a look at Senator Warren's op-ed in The New York Times.
Despite my interest in horror fiction and film, I've never been an admirer of the work of Stephen King. Years ago I read a few of the stories in Night Shift, but since I found them rather derivative of H. P. Lovecraft, I didn't feel any need to read the whole book. Maybe that was a mistake on my part, but that's how I felt at the time. The many movies adapted from Mr. King's books have also never inspired me to read any of his works. Of course, that's not the best way to select what to read, but, once again, that's how I've felt about the movies and their source material. So, for good or bad reasons, I'm rather ignorant when it comes to Mr. King.
I've mentioned in some of my posts of the past couple of years that I've been reading a lot about crime, both fictional and non-fictional. For quite a while, though, I've been aware of a series of crime novels called Hard Case Crime. I read a handful of HCC books before I started my crime jag. Because I've enjoyed what I've read, I've continued with the series as time has allowed.
Mr. King has published two books with HCC. Because HCC hasn't let me down so far, I figured that I should give his work another chance, and so I recently read Joyland. To my surprise, I wasn't disappointed. Consequently, I've decided to devote one of my book notes to Joyland.
I've posted a photo of the cover of the first edition of the paperback edition of the book. My copy was from my local public library, and so it was a bit worn. In case you're wondering, the cover painting doesn't give anything away, since it doesn't depict an actual scene from the book, although it does nicely represent some of the amusement park atmosphere in which much of the dramatic action in Joyland takes place.
The protagonist of the book is Devin Jones, a college student who in 1973 takes a summer job at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. But the voice of the narrator, which is that of the older Mr. Jones as he recalls this time in his life forty years later, informs us as the book begins that it's now September, which means, of course, that he stayed on at Joyland after his summer job ended. The reader will eventually learn why he chose not to go back to college in the fall. This part of the novel turns out to be an affecting coming-of-age story.
As you would expect, though, there's more to Joyland than the story of a young man who graduates from immaturity to maturity. Along the way, Devon has to deal with an unsolved crime—after all, this book is an entry in the HCC series—filtered somewhat fitfully through Mr. King's penchant for the supernatural. A young woman named Linda Gray was murdered in the Joyland funhouse a few years before Devon arrived for his summer job. Her death is still unsolved, and she is said to haunt the funhouse. By the end of Joyland we learn the identity of the killer as well as the answer to the question of whether or not the funhouse is really haunted.
It's a convention of a murder mystery that the perpetrator of the crime is introduced to the reader at some point but in a way that deflects suspicion until the plot reaches its climax. Unfortunately, there's really only one plausible suspect, and so it comes as no surprise when this character's guilt is finally confirmed, but Mr. King never gives the reader any reason for suspecting this individual except for the narrative convention that someone in the story has to be the guilty party. That is, it's the mechanics of murder mysteries that drives the reader's suspicions, not the dramatic details of the plot. Consequently, the solution of the mystery is a disappointment.
The supernatural element is rather tangential to the plot. Throughout the book we are told that one of the characters is psychic. This claim is confirmed for us when we learn that the requisite confrontation with the killer reaches its final outcome by means of a supernatural twist. There's a nice surprise here that I won't spoil, but the book as a whole would not have been much different if the entire supernatural aspect had been omitted.
Overall, I should say that the atmosphere of the amusement park was what I liked most about the book. The coming-of-age story was just a little less enjoyable, since it was predictable at times. (How Devon is going to lose his virginity, that is, with which woman, is completely obvious. I'm not spoiling anything here, since Devon is constantly thinking about sex. As readers we know that some sort of resolution is in the offing.) The pursuit of the mystery is generally well handled (except that, as I noted above, its solution is disappointing), and the supernatural element is largely superfluous. In short, the positive qualities of the book outweigh its negative ones. I think that fans of Mr. King's work will like the book much more than I did, but, as I hope to have shown you, you don't have to be a fan to enjoy Joyland.
I'll soon read Mr. King's earlier contribution to HCC. It's called The Colorado Kid. I'm looking forward to it.
In an earlier post I explained why I. N. J. Culbard is to blame for my interest in graphic novels. Well, I've been seduced by him once again, this time by his adaptation of a series of stories from a book by Robert Chambers called The King in Yellow.
Here are two quick photos of the graphic novel to get you started. The first is a cover shot; the second, a sample of the artwork.
There's really no simple way to summarize what Mr. Culbard has attempted in this book, and so I won't try. The original stories are loosely linked by repeated references to a strange play, The King in Yellow, that has the power to drive its readers insane. As you can imagine, each story is suitably bizarre, and Mr. Culbard captures the weird atmosphere with his usual skill.
The book was originally published in 1895. (You can find the American edition on this page.) The first four stories"The Repairer of Reputations," "The Mask," "In the Court of the Dragon," and "The Yellow Sign"are the ones adapted by Mr. Culbard, although I see that he has slightly changed their order, which really makes no difference, given that there isn't a continuous plotline that runs from the beginning to the end of the stories.
You might be interested to know that The King in Yellow caught the attention of H. P. Lovecraft. (Go to the text of his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" and scroll down to his brief discussion of Chambers.) Presumably, HPL knew what he was doing, and since he doesn't discuss the rest of the book, I can only assume that our four stories are the highlight of the book.
If you like weird fiction, then you'll enjoy the stories as well as their graphic adaptation. You just need to know in advance that they're not telling you a longer tale that somehow encompasses the action of all four stories. If you don't know that, then you might feel let down when you reach the end.
One last thing. If you've stumbled upon this post because you're wondering about the relationship between The King in Yellow and the first season of HBO's True Detective, then you should know that reading the stories (or Culbard's graphic adaptation of them) won't help you in the least to understand the TV series. The show's menacing allusions to Carcosa and the Yellow King contribute to the mysterious atmosphere surrounding the investigation into the murder of Dora Lange. But if you ask me, that's all that they do. You don't need to know anything about Chambers to appreciate the show.
I've been an admirer of the good folks at The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society for a long time. Dark Adventure Radio Theatre, their series of radio-style adaptations of Lovecraft's stories, has been great fun, and so I'm always eager to hear the latest episode. But as the years have passed, I've wondered how much longer the HPLHS could continue to adapt Lovecraft in this fashion. After all, he wrote only so many stories of sufficient length to fill an entire CD.
Three days ago I was very excited to learn that a new episode of DART is now available for pre-order. I immediately purchased a copy of the CD with props (which, by the way, are always a hoot). Much to my surprise, though, my order included a free MP3 file. So I was able to download and listen to Dagon: War of Worlds as soon as I completed my PayPal transaction.
I had thought that the HPLHS, once they ran out of sufficiently long stories, could produce anthology episodes of DART. But what they've done this time around is much more compelling than that. They've taken HPL's "Dagon" (as well as aspects of "The Temple" and "The Whisperer in Darkness") and adapted it in the style of Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
I have to say that the HPLHS has really hit a homerun with this episode. The results are vastly more action-packed (lots of gunfire and explosions) than a typical episode of DART. You'll follow with rapt attention as Nathan Reed of Worldwide Wireless News covers the breaking news of a global attack on the surface world. It's really quite a ride that bodes well for the future of DART.
I just listened to DWOW a second time, and I'm so worn out from all of the thrills that I'd kill for a bottle of Bub-L-Pep.
Finally, a size comparison with two other editions of HPL's work.
My initial impressions are very favorable. The pages are nicely laid out and the print is large and easy to read. It seems to me, from briefly flipping through all three volumes, that most of the variant readings revolve around spelling. HPL preferred British spellings, but his American publishers tended to change them to conform to American conventions.
You should know that this edition is meant primarily for scholars and ardent admirers of HPL's work. Because the hardback edition is limited to 750 sets, it's rather expensive. I can only assume that there will be a cheaper paperback edition at some point.
But since this is not an annotated edition, I imagine that most readers are likely to stick with, say, their copies of S. T. Joshi's Penguin paperbacks, which contain useful introductions and explanatory notes. The variorum edition is just supposed to collect the most accurate versions of HPL's fictional works, and nothing more.
Anyway, it's good to see HPL's work treated with such seriousness.