Saturday, December 28, 2002

Two more books down on the Western reading list. The Underground Man is a Lew Archer mystery from Ross McDonald. It's functional, but I prefer the hard-boiled amorality of Chandler or James Cain to the somewhat less cynical version here. With the L.A. locations and P.I. protagonist, I couldn't help but keep thinking this was a watered-down Chandler. But if you're more of a mystery fan than I am, it's probably worth a look.

The second book is Ethan Canin's The Palace Thief, a mid-1990s short story collection, with the title story the inspiration for the recent film The Emperor's Club. The book consists of four pages of about equal length, my favorite of which was the opener "Accountant", in which a middle-aged accountant with one last chance at a major business coup instead opts to walk off with a memento he believes that he is earned. The whole story revolves around the accountant's thinly veiled anger toward a former high school friend who has found great success with the hard work that he himself has put in. All four stories are strong, creating protagonists who are not easily likable, but through whom Canin demonstrates the small obsessions that stick with us and the brief, seemingly minor moments that haunt us. If one thing connects these stories, it is that their very different male protagonists make discoveries that bring both clarity and a type of disappointment that will linger, though not deep enough to bring on despair or catastrophe. Knowing the characters must continue to deal with these disappointments on an ongoing basis is perhaps the only truly depressing part.

I also took time out to read my second David Sedaris book. If you haven't read anything by Sedaris yet, run don't walk to the library or bookstore to pick up one of his essay collections. Yes, now. I'll wait...

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