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Reviews by Chip

The American

by Henry James

When Americans go to Europe, anything can happen. I know because I'm an American and I've been living in Europe for years now.

But if I didn't know, I could learn from Henry James' "The American."

A rich American heads to France and finds a countess he wants to marry. We see the French being French (including but not limited to drinking champagne and enjoying bons mots), and the American being American (including throwing his money around, making people uncomfortable by being blunt, etc.).

The characters are generally speaking -- with perhaps one example -- interesting and well-constructed, and James was obviously a good observer of colonials on the continent. I liked it a lot, even though I wanted it to end differently.

Reviewed on 2011.06.25

The Way of All Flesh

by Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

I came to this because Christopher Morley -- who is awesome -- mentions it in "The Haunted Bookshop." I was a bit apprehensive, what with "The Way of All Flesh" praised to great heights and all.

Let me tell you, I enjoyed this book like no other.

On the one hand, it's a Bildungroman, with all that entails: changes, mistakes, rosy retrospection. And there are some formulaic or at least unsurprising elements of the story.

But what is most impressive is the sheer rebellion of the author. Samuel Butler was a man who one by one tore down and took apart the received truths of his time, in a way that still rings true today. He was more truly rebellious than just about any author I've read.

Add to this a fine prose style and story that never grows dull, you have a great novel. Excellent.

Reviewed on 2010.07.09

The Fabulous Clipjoint

by Fredric Brown

This is a very readable mystery novel.

The protagonist's father is murdered and over the course of the novel, he and his uncle hunt down the killer and unravel the reason for the murder. All the pieces fall into place, and there's an attractive woman who can't resist the narrator, so there's no lack of, uh, joie de vivre, either.

Not only is this nicely written, it's such a perfect example of the straight-ahead novel it could serve as a case study for James Frey's "How to Write a Damn Good Novel." Frey's best advice is probably that one must make characters the audience can care about and be interested in. Brown has created such characters.

Reviewed on 2009.11.22

The Secret Sharer

by Joseph Conrad

Conrad is one of the great geniuses of modern English literature, and “The Secret Sharer” is my favorite among his works I’ve read.

The story is sort of a non-story, in the modern fashion: A newly appointed ship’s captain rescues and hides a fugitive from another ship. The fugitive eventually leaves. That’s about it as far as narrative goes.

Instead of a linear story progressing from A to B, “The Secret Sharer” spins in upon itself as an exploration of character and situation, especially that of the captain. The hows and whys of rescuing and protecting the fugitive—the causes and effects of the captain’s guilt—are the questions at the core of the novella. The metaphorical referent of the Sharer is something I don’t think can be determined definitively, any more than the many other questions raised. Above all, “The Secret Sharer” leaves much room for thinking and drawing conclusions. It is a “writerly text."

Of course Conrad’s distinctive prose and the strength of all the characterizations in this book make it enjoyable for those things, no matter what one makes of its other aspects.

Reviewed on 2009.09.08

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