Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Cork Boat

by John Pollack

The author, a former speechwriter for a Congressman and Clinton, quits his job to build a boat made out of 165,000-plus corks held together by rubber bands, which he then sails with friends down the Douro River in Portugal.  It sounds like a fairy tale, and it almost is, a heart-warming true fantasy story of childhood dreams and adult sacrifice and priorities and adventure.  Pollack is, of course, a gifted writer, adept at spinning a tale and interweaving personal reminisces, anecdotes and a few strands of history here and there.  But it’s Pollack's determination and optimism, though, that make this such a sweet tale.  After the descriptions of camaraderie, community, despair and dedication, I felt like cheering along as they pulled into Porto on the final day.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Thy Servant a Dog

by Rudyard Kipling

A novella composed of three long stories, as narrated by Boots, a terrier owned by an affluent British couple in the country.

In the first eponymous story, Boots tells how his master met and married a woman with another terrier named Slippers.  Written in fractured and limited English, the story is a series of the two dogs’ simple adventures, from nipping at cows to rolling in bad smells to welcoming the couple’s new baby.  And they meet Ravager, a hunting hound, who grows from a clumsy puppy to a strong, “dretful” pack leader, but remains their friend.

In “The Great Play Hunt,” Ravager, after being hit by a car and can no longer run with the pack, is given to the now older boy.  The three dogs stage a hunt for the boy’s benefit and pleasure with the collaboration of Tags, a lame, friendly fox.

In “Toby Dog,” they meet a trick dog owned by a cockney con artist; Toby helps the pensioned Ravager get some pride back through his trickery.  All wonderful, funny and heart-warming stories.  But Ravager gets sicker, strains himself, and dies; this would be bad enough, but the book just ends there, with Boots mourning his friend, miserable and not understanding why he will not “unsleep” and why they have put him in dirt like a bone.  A very bleak and abrupt ending to such a joyous series of tales; it made me upset.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was "the authorized text,” with notes, preface and brief biography of the author by Matthew J. Bruccoli.  Nick Carraway narrates the story of James Gatz, a penniless young man of few prospects, who reinvents himself as wealthy James Gatsby in order to capture the heart of Daisy, the woman he loves.  Unfortunately, she is married to Tom, Nick’s cousin; and Nick has his own relationship problems with Jordan, Daisy’s friend.

It’s far more than a soap opera of the smart set, however, as the bare-bones plot synopsis might make it sound.  It’s an intricately plotted, meticulously written, introspective work on seeking the past and to what extent people can reinvent themselves.  It is also an ironic comment on the seedier side of the American dream, the substitution of flashy tawdriness for true greatness, the warping of opportunity into opportunism.  The prose is superb; Fitzgerald has fine-tuned the cadences of American English and written a symphony of words.  Gatsby is an immediately intriguing character, the sympathetic bootlegger and adulterer who seems to want, aside from Daisy, nothing more than to be understood, at least by Nick.

five stars