“The newest members of the Millionaires club otherwise known as the United States Senate” –Nov. 6, 2002

I suppose if I were a God-fearing American I mightbe inclined to exclamations of "God save the Republic!"after noting that among other electoral horrors Elizabeth Dole,John Sununu and some guy named Coleman in Minnesota are the newestmembers of the Millionaires club otherwise known as the United StatesSenate. The fact that they are replacing Jessie Helms, Bob Smithand that Walter Mondale couldn’t carry the torch for the much-lovedPaul Wellstone, well, I leave that to others to wring their handsabout. And for the first time since the Mesozoic epoch, there isno Strom Thurmond in the (upper) house. Happily, I am wending myway through Donna Tartt’s My Little Friend and am againreminded of the joys and benefits of a literary vocation. Here’sa chase scene as the 12-year-old Harriet is running from tweakerand suspected (by her) murderer of her brother, "She heardhim shouting in the distance. Breathing painfully, clutching thestitch in her side, Harriet ran behind the warehouse (faded tinsigns: Purina Checkerboard, General Mills) and down a gravelledroad: much wider, wide enough for a car to go down. With wide barepatches marbled with patterns of black and white sand swirled throughthe red clay and dappled with patchy shade from tall sycamores.Her blood pounded, her thoughts clattered and banged around herhead like coins in a shaken piggy bank and her legs were heavy,like running through mud or molasses in a nightmare and she couldn’tmake them go fast enough, couldn’t make them go fast enough,couldn’t tell if the snap and the crash of twigs (like gunshots,unnaturally loud) was only the crashing of her feet or feet crashingdown the path behind her." Also, actually reading Ms.Tartt’snew book immunizes me from the clatter and distraction of the inevitablepublicity and critical attention she receives. Unfortunately, Iwas not sufficiently distracted to miss the sad story of RohintonMistry’s travails as he attempted an American book tour forlatest novel, Family Matters. Mistry is a highly regardedCanadian novelist of Indian provenance who has encountered suchrelentless allegedly non-existent profiling that he has cancelledthe remainder of his book tour. It is exactly at such moments thatI think American flag wavers might consider displaying the flagupside down, the nautical signal for "ship in distress."In part, because I was making one of my occasional investigativeforays into the putative real world—which is responsible formy dim awareness of the elections and the shameful treatment ofRohinton Mistry— that I read that Japanese lady’s (youknow the one from the NY Times, whose name most people can’tpronounce and whose gender many people confuse) review of Sam Shepard’snew story collection, Great Dream of Heaven. I read it becauseMr. Shepard has eschewed the normal tactics of book publicity, thusseemingly condemning his books to obscurity. That Japanese ladyconcludes: "As a result, the slighter pieces…nearly evaporateoff the page, failing to insinuate themselves, even momentarily,in the reader's mind. In the end, this book of tales is decidedlyminor Shepard, a collection of accompaniment pieces, really, forthe more symphonic work of his best plays." And I think, "Itwasn’t that way for me at all." The upshot of this is,of course, I hope not too many people are dissuaded from readingthese stories because one (thoughtful and savvy) reader wasn’timpressed.

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