homerville by Ken Bradbury – A Book Review

Ever since I was a wee little boy, I’ve been listening to the good people associated with Triopia School District go on and on about a man they seem to consider a demigod.  This man writes speeches performed by high school students all over the nation; he writes and directs the high school musicals yearly, which never fail to sell out and really are quite excellent, if you don’t mind me saying so; he writes a syndicated newspaper column; and he has even had a few books published.  Impressive, yes, but is he truly worthy of the numerous praise he routinely garners?     

Well, before I read his latest book, I honestly don’t know how I would have answered that having not been terribly familiar with his work myself.  However, having read his recently released collection of short stories, homerville, well, let’s just say I may be the new president of his fan club.

His name is Ken Bradbury, and I can’t recommend homerville highly enough.

Bradbury does everything with his writing that I only wish I could do.  He creates remarkably believable characters that are preternaturally quirky in ways that you can’t help but fall in love with, no matter how crude and unpleasant some of them may be.  His plots are not pretentiously complex, but I dare you to resist their charm and surprise.  Bradbury’s dialogue is spot on for his characters and he executes their speech patterns perfectly.

Now comes the inexplicable.  Bradbury is one of those rare authors that gives us just enough.  What I mean by that is, he gives just enough dialogue, just enough character background, just enough description, just enough asides, he gives us everything in just the right amount.  This is a terrible predicament for most authors, myself most definitely included.  We are so guilty of either giving too much of these things or not enough.  It is terribly unusual to have a writer who instinctually knows how to get it just right, who knows how to straddle that line flawlessly.  He also possesses a trait difficult to come by-he knows when to end the short story.  As simple as that may sound, it is easier said than done, and it is yet another aspect that he pulls off magnificently.

homerville is an interconnected collection of short stories about life in small town found in Central Illinois.  If you grew up in a small town, you will lavish in total understanding of the nuances of the simple life.  If you’ve never grown up in a little community, this book will prove remarkably accurate in what it’s like to know that everyone around you knows everything about you and you know everything about them.  The residents of Bradbury’s homerville are as varied and complex as they are familiar, and I challenge you to resist falling in love with each and every one of them.

My particular favorite from homerville is entitled “The Piano Teacher.”

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In the Garden of the North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff – A Book Review

This short story collection from Tobias Wolff is truly just that.  Each story gives you enough of the bare essentials to keep you informed and invested, but they never cross the line into anything remotely superfluous.  Each story feels very much like you’ve entered right into the middle of things and you are there for the climax, but not necessarily the introduction or the conclusion.

While I found this book to be an effective exercise in the art of the short story, I was even more moved by the flaws each character in every story displayed.  Wolff had grand success in getting down to the heart of who and what people are, and that is, in essence, good people that usually display less than admirable traits.  We all have those idiosyncrasies that make us unique and often troubling to our friends and family, and Wolff captures perfectly normal, though certainly troublesome, eccentricities amongst his characters that give us all we need to know about their particular story.

This is a very fast and interesting read, and if you ever wanted to engage in a deep character study in the genre of the short story, this is the collection for you.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – A Book Review

I read this novel roughly six years ago, and found recently I couldn’t remember anything about it whatsoever.  So, being the borderline compulsive reader I am, I instantly picked it up and read it again.  I think perhaps the reason the story didn’t stick out to me much from those years ago is because there isn’t much of a story to speak of.  I realize Hemingway is a master of American literature and is revered by legions, but I simply am not impressed with The Sun Also Rises.  Our characters are disillusioned members of the Lost Generation, those people who experienced WWI, and residing as expatriates who enjoy the many lavishes of France and Spain.  I admit, this could be quite an interesting premise, and although the bullfighting sequences are exciting near the end of the novel, the rest of it is not much more than a lot of arguing and drinking.  They discuss, they drink, they eat, they argue, they move to another café, they drink, they eat.  And so on.

I’ve studied Hemingway.  I know the accolades he received for an evolving style and for changing the way many people look at prose.  I understand he stripped away a great deal of fluff in order to get to the core of his subjects.  I know all this.  I’m afraid it does not change my opinion.

Jack Barnes, our narrator, and Brett Ashely, the lady friend he loves, simply did not illicit any sort of emotional response from me, nor did their story.