DirtyLovePbk_Four linked novellas is the billing for this Andre Dubus III effort called Dirty Love. The links are superficial except by theme–characters whose relationships are stunted and unsatisfying. Unfortunately, the characters themselves, except for the title story, are stunted and unsatisfying as well.

Mark Welch in Listen Carefully, As Our Options Have Changed (The title’s terrific, no?) is a clueless, pitiful wretch who catches his wife cheating and goes a little nuts. He hires a detective to videotape her and her lover at a tryst, confronts the wrong man with a pipe (no injuries), and spends much of the book figuring out how to repair the floor and ceiling he’s damaged during a tussle with the wife. The household repairs, of course, are a metaphor for the repairs on the relationship. All of this might work if Mark were someone to root for. I didn’t much care whether he succeeded or not, and I never got to know the wife well enough to decide whether she was the party more injured


Marla is a bank teller with a few rather superficial female buddies and not love life at all. She’s resigned to not having one and is not too unhappy, except she’s left out of all her friends’ conversations about romance. Finally, she meets a guy who’s attentive, tender, caring. They move in together, and she feels rather stifled. He’s overweight, likes movies she doesn’t, is a clean freak, and in the end unable to connect with her needs. But he’s okay. And, as a character, so is Marla. However, she’s not someone this reader falls in love with.

The Bartender‘s name is Robert Doucette, and he’s a pusillanimous dickhead who cheats on his pregnant wife in a most squalid manner. I found nothing redeeming about him and wonder why he would qualify as a protagonist even in a noir story. He’s unprincipled enough, but doesn’t have the nads to hold a reader’s interest.

Devin in the title story has real substance. A late-teenager who got caught on tape giving a blowjob in a peer-pressure situation, which tape went semi-viral on the web, she’s trying hard to live down her ignominy and build a life. She has a sympathetic grandfather, a widower, with whom she moves in when her parents–at least her father–boot her out of the house. She goes to work at a bar (the same bar as the aforementioned Robert Doucette, but the link is spurious) and aims at a GED with her grandfather’s help. He’s a retired schoolteacher, so seems a likely candidate to help her succeed.

Unfortunately, we spend so much time with the grandfather”s backstory–granted, his rocky relationship with his wife qualifies thematically, but it keeps us away from Devin, who is the real interest here–that we keep losing our connection with Devin. It’s like a phone conversation wherein the person on the other end keeps dropping out. The continuity deteriorates to the point where the story is irreparably damaged.

In sum, Dirty Love doesn’t make  the grade because three of the four characters are too weak to hold interest, and the fourth gets submarined by too much focus on a character who is not the protagonist.






photo copy 123Grabbing a last few minutes to zoom through our last day in Central London, the first in 25+ years, and, my, the changes. Two new bridges, a new Tate Gallery, and seemingly increased crowds, especially around Piccadilly. This is Susanne on the Millennium bridge, St. Paul’s dome in the background, which leads directly to the New Tate Modern museum.




exm-main-0012_elsalahi_web_banner_0It’s a word-class space, in which we got acquainted with a wonderful Sudanese Artist, our newest and most favorite discovery in some time. Fantastic story, fantastic art. If you get a chance, don’t miss it.


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Continuing down the South Bank, we took a short rest in a pair of wheelbarrow/deck chairs at a garden store/display. The English take their gardens seriously.



Also along the way, we saw a curious prevalence of blue in weird places like these treesphoto copy in front of St. Paul’s and this chicken in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.






Turns out to be an art installation in honor of London Art month and designed to get people to pay attention to

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trees they take for granted and call attention to worldwide deforestation. Vivid. Does get the attention. Even the toilet seat in our coffee shop is blue.




Lots of great pictures in the national gallery, of course, but the subject of the day was not Turner or Rembrandt for us, but his street artist, working in chalk on the cement outside. A short while after we took this picture, there came a short rain shower, and it all dissolved. I guess we should all admit we work in chalk in one way or another.

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3703-curencore600x900Finally, it was on to the Apollo theater and The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night Time. It turned out to be a great choice if you have only one night to spend at the London Theater, as we did. A superb production of a difficult, painful, yet life-affirming play. Don’t know if it will ever make it over here. It’s very English, but like Ibriham Al-Salahi, if you get the chance. . .

Thus, after a long late-night (for us) bus ride on the 94 from Piccadilly to Shepherd’s Bush, endeth our final day in Central London. We consider it well and truly spent despite all that we were unable to see–New Globe, National Portrait Gallery, etc.–and will stay away from crowds for our final few hours. Thanks again for tuning in.

Carl and Susanne



Wolf Hall  won the 2009 Booker, and you might argue that it should have been ineligible for consideration simply from the fact that the world didn’t need another Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn saga. However, Hilary Mantel proves that, yes, we did indeed need this one. So much so that I’m going to follow the story through her trilogy on this overexamined period of English history.

Wolf Hall’s story is not so much about the traditional matters of pope vs. kings and beheading of wives as it is about the lives of people who live in and around monumental historic events. How they cope and survive, try to avoid the currents and flotsam and jetsam that the river of history hurls their way.

The central figure is Thomas Cromwell (only a distant ancestor of the Puritan dictator Oliver), a commoner street urchin who rises to become chief royal counselor. Mantel uses his wretched beginnings both for effective storytelling and for windows into the effects of royal doings on people on all levels of society. The novel begins with a nasty scene the prefigures nothing of the royal court where he will someday live:

Blood from the gash on his head. . .is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but. . .with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father’s boot is unraveling. The twine has spring clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened up another cut. “So now get up!” Walter [his father] is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next.

Note Mantel’s insistence on detail–the right detail–for each dramatic moment and that she’s using the present tense,which she does all the way through. That technique is supposedly a no-no by some literary authorities, but, hey if it gets you a Booker, the voices of the brahmins must fall silent. We follow young Cromwell’s ascent with leaps and gaps in the timeline–for Hilary has not given us, thank her, an historic blow-by-blow–but a careful look at illustrative events and sequences. Now he ‘s a soldier. Then an aid to the ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey, then advisor to the court, etc.  Swirling around him all the while are the winds of religious change–Tyndale’s bible, renegade priests, false-and-true prophets, false-and-true traitors. Exactly what Cromwell believes or does not is unclear. He is his own man, steering his boat for his own advantage, never quite sinking. He helps others. He helps himself. He is an honest counselor to Henry, but never honest enough to put himself at risk of the ax. A tricky business in an environment where papists conspire against protestants, where a de-legitimated queen (Catherine) with fervent followers and an ambitious young daughter (Mary) who considers herself rightful heir to the throne wait for their opportunity to strike back, where a commoner-lover queen with a reputation as a fierce bitch tries to hold her position long enough to produce a male but succeeds only in pushing forth a bawling Elizabeth, where all the normal savagery of court politics moves apace and alliances shift moment-to-moment.

It’s a confusing world, but Hilary manages to keep us mostly straight. There are moments when I got lost among the pronouns and had to retrace to figure out who was saying or doing what to whom. And although it’s not absolutely necessary to know something about 16th Century English history to enjoy Wolf Hall, it doesn’t hurt, either. But eventually we get the picture of a gifted and essentially decent man doing what he considers best for his country and his church. And there are hundreds of wonderful moments of pure narrative genius such as the following, which might stand for all the moments of joy a reader will experience reading Wolf Hall. For months, Henry has been pursuing Anne’s virginity. For months, she has been holding him off till she can be sure it’s to her advantage to yield. All around, people wonder when/if it will happen, wonder how they will tell whether it has And this is how Hilary chooses to tell us and them:

As he leaves the church, Henry puts on his hat. It is a big hat, a new hat. And in that hat there is a feather.


D.M. Harrison is a bit of an anomaly–and EnglishWOMAN writing stories of the old west, an endeavor she says was fueled by family vacations touring ghost towns.

Buffalo Soldier is a classic in the mode of authors like Max Brand and Zane Grey–stock characters in formulaic situations in which forces of justice work to bring order to a chaotic frontier.

In this case Harrison updates the formula to include a black man, a former soldier, as the protagonist. He’s a soiled-dove paladin who does other folks’ dirty work and does not get the girl. the “soiled-dove” part is because he’s a bounty hunter, though he never seeks money to hunt down good people.

The situation he steps into is purely traditional. A local rancher has recently lost his pregnant wife to unknown predators, is losing cattle to rustlers. The local marshal is marking time till he reaches a pensionable age (If you can find a small western town who gave pensions to their lawmen, let me know about it.) and isn’t about to put himself at risk at the hands of some tough outlaws.

Add to the mix a couple of lighthearted prostitutes who have spent the last several years in a con-artist partnership, and you have a brew for some good entertainment.

Our hero reluctantly agrees to help stop the rustlers,  even though he’s on his way to Mississippi for some family reuniting. The girls get mixed up in the situation by stealing some money from a gambler and falling afoul of the the bandits when they try to flee town.

Much of the rest is predictable, though excitingly rendered. Lightning, thunder, a stampede, a hideout in the badlands. There are some interesting atrocities drawn from the worlds of the Nazi’s and Vietnam. Romance blossoms for the women with a couple of the principals in the story, and in the end, it appears our Soldier is not going to make it back to Mississippi right away, anyhow, and for positive reasons you should discover for yourself by reading the book.

A light, quick read that will keep you amused and interested to the finish.





Reading Jack and the Jungle Lion is like being on a Hollywood movie set watching the making of a silent film. How Jared creates that feeling of being in on the action without quite being of it, defies analysis. Best sit back and enjoy the ride.


Everything is simultaneously real and unreal–the jungle, the headhunters, the melodramatic romance between a film star and a spunky common girl. The girl’s at the stake, the poison arrows are flying. How will they get out? Suspense reigns. Jack Hunter is called upon to live up to his movie-man namesake of Action Jack in real life. Can he do it? Looks doubtful.


Ensuing scenes involve a hilarious food fight and an attack on that poor common girl from the jungle by Jack’s acid-tongued wife, who displays a temperament more vicious than any headhunter’s. Boy gets girl after a long, hard chase. Boy loses girl. Will he get her back? It wouldn’t be Hollywood without a Hollywood ending, and thanks to the kids–oh, did I fail to mention the kids? Yeah, the movie has them, too–anyway, thanks to the kids, we reach the (thank goodness) inevitable conclusion. Finding out how we get from crisis to salvation is more fun than a barrel of white-faced capuchin monkeys. Oh, did I fail to mention there’s one of those, too? Probably a lot of things I failed to mention. Read it and find them for yours.