So, February was a good month for reading, as we had several long (7+ hour) train trips. During February, I read:
- Taming the Alien by Ken Bruen
- The McDead by Ken Bruen
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Baby in the Icebox: and Other Short Fiction by James M. Cain
The first two were the remaining books in a trilogy that I started in January. As I said then, his first book was “short, offensive, and poorly executed.” But, as I also mentioned, he came recommended by authors I’ve enjoyed, and I had picked up all three books in a single Kindle edition for $1.99 (or some very low amount), so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and started the second book. His writing improved, though I would still not recommend it. I’m unlikely to pick up more of his books.
The Lathe of Heaven was jaw-dropping. Seriously.
The book deals with the provocatively-named George Orr (as in George Orwell; or as in either/or?), whose dreams shift reality from one time stream to another. Some of his dreams effectively change the history of the world in order to bring about the events that he’s dreamed. For example, while enduring a painful visit by an obnoxious aunt, he dreams that she never visits. When he wakes up, he discovers that he now lives in a timeline in which she died tragically several months earlier. The sleep researcher and therapist from whom he seeks help decides to take advantage of this skill, and attempts to rid the world of war, racism, and overpopulation. And of course, like a demented genie, Orr’s dreams grant these wishes in the most backhanded of ways. This was a great read, and I will be looking for other books by Le Guin.
And finally, The Baby in the Icebox is a collection of work by the befuddling James M. Cain. He is known best for crime classics The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, but in this collection, the editor includes several early sketches in which Cain plays with dialogue and character. A few of them are phenomenal, particularly in how they capture small town life. “Queen of Love and Beauty,” captures in about five pages the devastating pain of returning to a community that won’t forget or forgive. “Santa Clause, M.D.” and “Gold Letters, Hand Painted” both had me laughing out loud; the latter of these is easily the funniest thing I read this month. The rest of the book contains forgettable short stories, with two exceptions. The titular story, “The Baby in the Icebox,” works. The characters work, the narrator works, and the plot works. And the baby lives, for those interested. And the final story, a longer serial entitled “The Embezzler,” was an enjoyable reminder of the old black-and-white crime films of the 40s and 50s. All in all, not a great collection, but a few gems in the mix.
So, another month in the bag. I nearly finished a fifth book, but it looks like that will have to wait for the March update.