Tuesday, August 05, 2008

BooksFirst - July 2008

Books Bought

See the Special Vacation Edition post

Books Read

Armageddon In Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, introduction by Mark Vonnegut
The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald


For rock stars, death has always been a good career move. For writers, not so much. Often before the corpse is cold, the vultures are rifling through the file cabinet and the trash can for anything that can be sold as “undiscovered” to the core fanbase. In the case of Armageddon In Retrospect, that seems to be several similarly themed short stories that Vonnegut wrote in the fifties for the magazines but never got published, probably for good reason.

Most of the stories have prisoners of war as major characters. Some are in Dresden after the fire bombing that was the centerpiece of Slaughterhouse Five, some take place in recently liberated POW camps. An awful lot of the stories have to do with looting the bodies of the dead or terrorizing the citizenry fleeing the oncoming Russian conquerors. These stories are really only interesting in context as very rough drafts of his later work.

Most of Vonnegut’s very early work was re-published in Bagombo Snuff Box where there was a greater variety of topics. While I hate to cast aspersions on son Mark’s motivations, most of this was better kept lost. He supplies a brief preface and there are some non-fiction sections at the beginning that are like warmed-over out-takes from Palm Sunday. If we are going to just go through the pocket lint, I would have preferred more context and connecting material. But, alas, we are never going to get that from Kurt and have to settle for the scraps we can scrounge.

The book itself is just gorgeous with thick creamy paper and colorful illustrations before each chapter. But that doesn't make up for the rather thin content inside.

The fourth Travis McGee novel picks up slightly from the second and third. The titular Quick Red Fox is a big star actress that between husbands got talked into an orgy that ended up captured on camera by a blackmailing proto-paparazzi. Lyssa Dean pays the extortion, but when a second round of blackmail requests comes around she turns to salvage expert Travis McGee to protect her reputation. Trav really could care less but he needs the money and Lyssa’s assistant is a gorgeous if emotionally repressed gal Friday. And we all know where that is going to lead.

The real fun of this book is watching McGee go around the country and squeezing the real story of the lost weekend out of all the participants. At least the ones that are still alive. The plot is a little convoluted and there are a few too many red herrings, but it keeps the pace up. If anything, the book ends a little too quickly with too much of the denouement happening off-screen. The only really good fight sequence is when Travis takes on a pair of ultra-butch lesbians in a scene that is played for laughs. It’s a little squirm inducing given modern sensibilities, but comes off with a some na├»ve sociology thrown in.

The first four Travis McGee books are all short quick reads and show some growing pains. By the time of Red, MacDonald is getting his sea-legs and rounding out the character nicely. I'm really enjoying this trip down memory lane and can't wait to get into some of the longer meatier books.

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