Cracker by Damian Christie

No Play Today

I don’t know how this weather keeps up. Must be something to do with all the water left over from the Tsunami. How about that eh?

I have to say, I’m getting pretty sick of the foreign correspondents on the telly each night, particularly the Brits. I’m tired of “poignant reminders”. Some of these reporters must spend their entire time searching through rubble and ruins in the hope of finding something tangible to base their reports around. I'm reminded of the rumours about certain correspondents carrying an assortment of such items – teddy bears, children’s shoes and the like.

The other night the “poignant reminder” was a photo album.

“In it, photos of people, families, now dead.”

“Photos of weddings, birthdays, religious ceremonies… all the participants, now dead.”

“And this photo, of people at the beach, the beach which killed them, a poignant reminder…”

Oh fuck off.

One hundred and fifty thousand-odd people are dead. Houses, villages and vast tracts of coastline have been demolished. I don’t need to see a photo album, poignant or otherwise, to realise exactly how devastating this is.

As for the story “a glimmer of hope among all the destruction” about the Thai rescue of two dolphins who were trapped inland… Do we really need this? We need a cutesy animal story about two marine mammals who are completely insignificant in the scheme of things [sorry animal lovers, but you know what I’m saying], so we can feel okay for a while?

Anyway. The long break was nice, thanks for asking. I managed to find myself at beaches in Waiheke and Northland during what seemed like the only four sunny days in weeks (27th/28th and the 4th/5th).

The trip up North was long overdue, the first time in my conscious memory I’ve been past the Bay of Islands. It’s getting a bit yuppified in parts (Mangonui, Cable Bay, Rangiputa), but at least that means you can find a decent feed…

A month off (I start work next Monday, but thought I’d do the honourable thing, by providing those back at work today with a five minute diversion) has finally provided me with the time to knock off a few books.

I interview an author every week or two on my radio show, and usually only have time to read about 100 pages between the time the book arrives, and the interview itself. Regardless of how good the book might be, it’s almost impossible to finish after the interview, because the book for the following week’s interview needs reading. Yeah, I know, tough job.

I quite it when bloggers do the “what I’m reading/listening to” thing, so I think I’ll follow suit, albeit sporadically. Anyway, here’s three you might enjoy.

What I read these holidays, by Damian Christie.

What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt. Best book I’ve read in ages. It follows two families living in New York over a period of 20 or so years. Highly recommended, so much so that I’m going to track down everything else Hustvedt has written and read it.

The Big Year - Mark Obmascik. A true account of America’s biggest bird watching competition, The Big Year follow four birders who spend an entire year – and tens of thousands of dollars – competing to see who can spot the greatest number of bird species within continental North America. A great tale of human obsession.

Cosmopolis - Don DeLillo. A friend of mine rates DeLillo very highly. He’s written a dozen or more novels, but this is the first I’ve read. A very stylish piece of literature, set in April 2000, tracing a day in the life of a billionaire currency analyst. DeLillo creates a great atmosphere.

And sticking with the theme, and conscious of providing a few more minutes of much needed respite from work, here’s a review I wrote a while back:

The Resurrectionists
By Michael Collins

In 1988 Irish rock band U2 travelled through America. They visited Graceland, walked the streets of Harlem, played with blues legend BB King, covered a Dylan tune, penned a tribute to Billie Holiday and generally discovered the heartland. The resulting album, Rattle and Hum, was awful.

If that same CD was what inspired Michael Collins to leave Limerick and cross the Atlantic in search of a better life, I shouldn’t be at all surprised. His first offering, The Keepers of Truth, was set on the ‘rust belt’ of the USA, and in its opening four pages manages to name-check no fewer than four makes of American car, ten different American fast food outlets and the ubiquitous Coca-Cola.

Rather than now having it all out of his system, Collins seems to have redoubled his efforts to capture the American essence in his latest work, The Resurrectionists. Again, for reasons best known to the author, the first chapter earns not just one but two thick coats of luscious red, white and blue. In those first few pages, the reader is introduced to burger jockey Frank Cassidy, whose parents died in a mysterious fire when he was five, his wife Honey, a truck dispatcher whose ex is on death row in Georgia, and their children Robert Lee and Ernie. Frank gets free sodas by banging on the machine just so; Honey says ‘goddamn’ a lot. Robert Lee calls Frank a ‘son-of-a-bitch’; Ernie plays with his dinosaurs.

When Frank learns that his uncle, a farmer in bleakest Michigan, has been shot dead, he steals a car – what else, a Cadillac – bundles up the wife and kids and sets off to reclaim the family acreage. Arriving in the “sleepy backwater town” of Cooper, the mysteries behind the deaths of Frank’s mother, father and uncle simultaneously unravel and intertwine and unravel again.

One suspects that Collins could be a very good writer, if he were writing an entirely different book than this. As an American Gothic mystery, it fails: ‘All is not as it seems!’ the author cries. ‘Who cares?’ comes the response. His descriptive style is often rich and poetic but over the course of the book seems more like endless padding, and any requisite tension is lacking. Collins has a hundred imaginative ways of describing a stormy sky, but leaves many central characters as flat as the pages on which they appear. When characters do speak, their voices are muddled, sounding remarkably like an intelligent Irish writer putting on a bad Southern drawl.

In an interview after the release of The Keepers of Truth, Collins spoke of his concern in not breaking into the American market, and The Resurrectionists seems to be a none-too-subtle attempt to remedy this. If he succeeds, then all power to him, but it ain’t working for this cowboy, that’s for darn tootin’.