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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bon Appétit!

Reading and eating are very much alike in that tastes in both vary from day-to-day. Mine vacillate depending upon the weather, my mood(s), or what I might have read and/or watched on television the night before. One day I'm munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or sipping chicken noodle soup; the next I am grilling up a sirloin, accompanied by a Caesar salad and a baked potato with (real) butter, sour cream, and chives. Sometimes I'm longing for a grilled cheese on rye with tomato and bacon; or am hankering for corned beef and cabbage; or jones-ing for a honey-cured baked ham dinner, replete with all the trimmings.

Last night, I discovered and am now relishing Brüt champagne and Beluga caviar.

Are your appetites whetted yet?

Every once in while, I click on the PBS television station and settle in for an evening of edification. Last night, two back-to-back episodes of American Masters were on. The first featured Margaret Mitchell, famed author of Gone with the Wind and, the second featured (Nelle) Harper Lee, the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird . Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first and the 50th of the second, both episodes touted the great contributions both books and their writers—as well as the subsequent Oscar-acclaimed movies—made to our culture and society, including the impacts they have had on modern history. Mitchell and her sweeping masterpiece affected, and controversially changed, perceived concepts of life and the ravages of war in the pre-and ante-bellum South in the mid-to late- Nineteenth Century. Lee's poignant novel pointed out racial injustices in the deep South in the mid-to late- Twentieth Century, adding fuel to the fires of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Both shows invoked interesting comparisons between the two authors. Interestingly enough, each wrote only one published novel; each had difficulties with fame and "living" in the limelight; each, during the writing (what I term the “birthing”) process, struggled in variously similar ways with her own unique talents to challenge and captivate our culture, producing what many term two of the best—if not the best—American novels ever written. I, for now, tend to agree.

The documentaries featured interviews with various historians, biographers, and contemporary authors, who, each in his turn, read and commented upon a variety of excerpts from each novel. One writer in particular, with his deep, sonorous voice and obviously educated astute insights into the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, captured my rapt attention and sent me—right after the last episode—down the two flights to my basement library to find an almost-forgotten copy of I Know This Much Is True1 by Wally Lamb. I began savoring it quite early this morning and, except for writing this posting and taking FrankieB on an exceptionally long walk in the breezy spring sunshine—with the book in hand—cannot put it down. Reading it is like dining on caviar and sipping champagne—the sheer, exquisite tastes compel me to consume more and more. But the more I eat, er, read, the more I not so sure I will ever be sated. And so, I sip and eat some more. The writing is that good.

Lamb was born and raised just outside of Norwich, Conn. Much like Dominick, the main protagonist in of his second novel2, he taught high school English and then served as a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Connecticut before turning full-time, self-employed novelist, as his Facebook page attests. The background for this intriguing story about twin brothers, one of whom is a paranoid-schizophrenic, is set in a community based upon the environs of Lamb's childhood—a technique often used by many authors —but often not as effectively as himself and Harper Lee, whom Lamb lists as one of the authors who majorly influenced his writing.

This novel is rich with simple, direct details. There are no embellishments; just a straight-forward accounting, both past and present, of Dominick's event-filled life taking care of Thomas, his twin, the death of his mother from breast cancer. And, so far—I have just started the book, remember—the reaching effects of his maternal grandfather, for whom he was named, upon his life.

I am only on page 44 of 891—not including references and acknowledgements—about to start Chapter Three—of this amazing book. But, already, I am addicted. There are some parts, however, so far, that do jar my sensibilities. For one, outside of the movie A Beautiful Mind and a brief stint working in a homeless shelter, I have no close-up, personal experiences with schizophrenics—or, for that matter, with anyone with any major mental illness (discounting, of course, one or two really paranoid control-freaks I’ve met along the way when I was working). So, I wasn’t sure how I’d react to reading about the intimacies of having one for a brother, until I got further along in Lamb’s narration and realized that along with everything else he poignantly and compassionately writes about, these are hard-core jarring facts of life. Lamb, in his quick-paced, flowingly lyrical style, part literature, part pop-culturization—makes them all more than palatable.

He seduces the reader into wanting more than just the taste of a character—one wants to know the whole being; more than just a soupçon of an experience or event, past or present—one wants to know exactly  what happened, when, where, and why; more than one or two au d'hoeuvres before the main meal, which I am eagerly anticipating he will serve up in grand gourmet, five-star-restaurant-style. However, I am reading this book like a gourmand, a greedy glutton who even in the first one hundred pages cannot get enough of the characters; cannot wait for the next plot twist; cannot summon up enough patience to anticipate the slow marinating of the prime meat, along with its succulent juices, that Lamb's novel, so far, promises to serve up on a silver platter for the delectation of my heretofore, gourmet reading palette.

I hope these are enough eating/dining metaphors for you, because I, for one, am building up a huge appetite writing this. And it is getting close to dinner time, and I really am salivating to get back to my reading. However, I had to expound in order to bring home the bacon—so to speak—that Lamb—even without mint aspic jelly—is, indeed, a finely honed and talented writer. He is well-deserved of the many accolades that reviewers have served up for him in the forward pages of this paperback and in the few glowing reviews that I have read of his works. He is touted as one of our greater American novelists, if not one who rightly belongs in the annals of our greater American Masters., along with Mitchell and Lee.

Tonight, over dinner, throughout the evening, and on through the rest of he week, I am about to continue finding out why.
1 © 1998 Wally Lamb. A HarperTorch Regan Book, published by Harper Collins, New York, NY. If I remember correctly, I literally found this copy in a desk-top library at work, where fellow-employees bring in books to share. So many years ago,  picked it up and brought it home, thinking I'd read it that weekend, but, until today, both sadly and happily, did not.
2 Lamb's first book was She's Come Undone , I Know This Much is True was followed in 2008 by The Hour I First Believed , and Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story in 2009. He is also the editor of two collections of stories written by inmates of a correctional facility for women and numerous articles for various publications and periodicals, including New Yorker Magazine and The New York Times.

2:42 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,