I suppose if I were a God-fearing American I might be 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 newest members of the Millionaires club otherwise known as the United States Senate. The fact that they are replacing Jessie Helms, Bob Smith and that Walter Mondale couldn’t carry the torch for the much-loved Paul Wellstone, well, I leave that to others to wring their hands about. And for the first time since the Mesozoic epoch, there is no Strom Thurmond in the (upper) house. Happily, I am wending my way through Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and am again reminded of the joys and benefits of a literary vocation. Here’s a chase scene as the 12-year-old Harriet is running from tweaker and suspected (by her) murderer of her brother, "She heard him shouting in the distance. Breathing painfully, clutching the stitch in her side, Harriet ran behind the warehouse (faded tin signs: Purina Checkerboard, General Mills) and down a gravelled road: much wider, wide enough for a car to go down. With wide bare patches marbled with patterns of black and white sand swirled through the red clay and dappled with patchy shade from tall sycamores. Her blood pounded, her thoughts clattered and banged around her head like coins in a shaken piggy bank and her legs were heavy, like running through mud or molasses in a nightmare and she couldn’t make 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 crashing down the path behind her." Also, actually reading Ms. Tartt’s new book immunizes me from the clatter and distraction of the inevitable publicity and critical attention she receives. Unfortunately, I was not sufficiently distracted to miss the sad story of Rohinton Mistry’s travails as he attempted an American book tour for latest novel, Family Matters. Mistry is a highly regarded Canadian novelist of Indian provenance who has encountered such relentless allegedly non-existent profiling that he has cancelled the remainder of his book tour. It is exactly at such moments that I think American flag wavers might consider displaying the flag upside down, the nautical signal for "ship in distress." In part, because I was making one of my occasional investigative forays into the putative real world—which is responsible for my dim awareness of the elections and the shameful treatment of Rohinton Mistry— that I read that Japanese lady’s (you know the one from the NY Times, whose name most people can’t pronounce and whose gender many people confuse) review of Sam Shepard’s new story collection, Great Dream of Heaven. I read it because Mr. Shepard has eschewed the normal tactics of book publicity, thus seemingly condemning his books to obscurity. That Japanese lady concludes: "As a result, the slighter pieces…nearly evaporate off the page, failing to insinuate themselves, even momentarily, in the reader's mind. In the end, this book of tales is decidedly minor Shepard, a collection of accompaniment pieces, really, for the more symphonic work of his best plays." And I think, "It wasn’t that way for me at all." The upshot of this is, of course, I hope not too many people are dissuaded from reading these stories because one (thoughtful and savvy) reader wasn’t impressed.
About The Author
Robert Birnbaum’s Social Security number ends in 2247. He lives in zip code 02465 and area code 617. He was born in the 2nd month of a year in the 20th century. He doesn’t social network (used as a verb) except through his Cuban retriever Beny (named after Beny More, the Frank Sinatra of Cuba). Izzy Birnbaum also has cloud storage and uses electronic mail. He hopes his son Cuba is the second coming of Pudge Rodriguez. He mutters to himself at Our Man In Boston. E-mail: email@example.com