Reviews of two captivating books I mentioned several posts back. Then on to the Not, which is also … Well …captivating.
First up, Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost”, then “Call Me Burroughs” by Barry Miles. I had mentioned these works weeks ago in the context of size, @ 1300 and 700 pp respectively. Probably combined, ten pounds o’ book, since “Harlot” was hardbound. I think at one point it put my back out.
Seeing that Mailer is considered a woman-hater and Miles wrote about Burroughs, another notorious misogynist, I thought to at least address that element first.
I don’t look for perfection in artists. I try to allow myself the positive aspects of an artist’s work, even if they’re an asshole. Many of the world’s most interesting people are assholes. I don’t appreciate Picasso because I think he was a nice guy. I don’t care how he lived his private or even public life. I want the breadth, beauty and scope of his art.
The greatest artists can rise above human frailties to create. Sure, if I picked at “Harlot’s Ghost”, looking for Mailer’s’s distrust of women, I could probably find it. But that’s not what the book is about. Not why I read it. If misogyny truly exists in “Harlot’s Ghost” then it works just fine within the premise of the story.
Read “The Executioner’s Song” and see if you don’t fall in love with Gilmore’s girlfriend, Nicole. Mailer won the Pulitzer for that one. (Only a thousand pages).
by Norman Mailer
Some interesting notes on this HUGE tome:
“Harlot’s Ghost” begins at the disastrous end then supplies details using years of flashback, narrative and correspondence. “Part One” begins on pp 110. :>) The book closes with the line: “To be continued.” Unfortunately, Mailer never finished the sequel. I have to wonder how big it would have been.
A low-level operative, Harry Hubbard, joins the CIA. His boss, Hugh Montague—code name “Harlot”—becomes his mentor. Said operative falls in love with boss’s wife Kitteridge, also an operative. Much of the story is related in correspondence between the first person MC, Kitteridge, and her feared, revered, distrusted, yet loved and indispensible husband.
While the principals seldom get together physically, though we learn that they eventually get married. Throughout the book Harry never has sex with Harlot’s wife. Indeed, they don’t see each other or even communicate for years at a time. All this tied together by code names and identities that frequently change. Characters assume new names, new assignments. All very CIA vague—through posts in Berlin, Montevideo, Florida and Washington DC.
Can you imagine how difficult it would be to conduct an affair within such an information-based structure? Mailer’s the one to convince us it can be done. And how.
See the CIA evolve out of the OSS through the 50’s. Witness scenarios with the Mafia, the Kennedys (and their lovers) through the laughably and tragically bumbled Bay of Pigs invasion. Various takes on JFK’s subsequent assassination are investigated.
“Harlot’s Ghost” is a book to savor. Sink into it. Allow it to take you under its spell. Fifty pages fly by in one fleeting sitting, not because the writing is simple, but because it’s encompassing and engrossing.
At that rate, it’ll still take a month to read.
Call Me Burroughs
by Barry Miles
Burroughs was a junkie and a crank. A novelist, an essayist, a chronicler, an accomplished painter and performance artist. Today, he would have been seen as gun nut who slept with a pistol under his pillow all his life. He embraced then ridiculed Scientology. He shot and killed his wife attempting a drunken William Tell trick in 1951. He remained an unapologetic pedophile who paid for young boys most of his life. He looked down on men who went after children who were ‘too young’, while he felt comfortable with sixteen-year-olds. And I doubt he had many hard and fast rules.
The cat sure lived his lifestyle. His manic, warp-speed life touched many, from the famous to the obscure. Ginsberg remained a friend, collaborator and sex partner for years. Patti Smith had an unrequited crush on him. He influenced musicians like Ed Sanders, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Madonna and Curt Cobain, among others. Debby Harry was considered a friend till the end.
Burroughs lived life not as we might choose to live ours, but he continued creating and investigating all the while despite glaring difficulties. Such as his use of drugs, combined with the ever-oppressive fact that he had killed someone he’d loved and respected. He never got over that. Not that anyone should.
Miles takes us back to Burroughs’ upper middle-class youth, through years of chaos, drugs and withdrawals, all in the service of groundbreaking creativity. We visit exotic locales around the world where Burroughs lived. The narrative is never sentimental, judgmental, fawning or maudlin. Nor does Miles shy away from horror. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Including eternal and omnipresent contradictions.
The author obviously likes Burroughs. By the end, we think maybe we better understand this literary icon.
And now for the NOT … NOT misogynistic. Quite the opposite!
The Gazillionaire and the Virgin
by Lisabet Sarai.
Our own Lisabet may have outdone herself this time. I’m about three-quarters through this engrossing read and still eagerly flipping pages in anticipation of what’s to come. I’m not giving anything away by saying this is a bit of a switch on what’s become somewhat of a trope in erotica and erotic romance. Within the first few pages it becomes obvious that the Gazillionaire is a woman and the Virgin is a guy.
Lisabet’s remarkable sense of place and atmosphere is more subdued in this new BDSM work of hers. The setting is Northern California, my home, so I think I’d notice any glaring discrepancies in locale or other geographical contradictions. But the story depends more on the emotional exchange between the main characters than on geography or setting.
The novel is arranged in chronological chapters from alternating points of view, switching between Rachel, the heroine, and Theo Moore, her brilliant and naturally adroit sexual acolyte. We aren’t subjected to a rehash of previous chapters, but press on in the alternating pov, only using the immediate past as stepping stone in advancing the story.
Beyond the hot sex lies a plot by hackers to infiltrate the source of Rachel’s fortune, a unique place on-line where people’s fantasies are explored in creating new takes on virtual reality. Things go sideways. Legal lines are crossed. The multi-talented Theo heads to the rescue.
Lisabet’s intelligence and integral knowledge of all things tech guide us through these involved machinations, making us actually believe we understand things we actually don’t. I find that a great asset when reading something I know nothing about. Sorta like when somebody uses a foreign language, then is kind enough to supply an English translation. Or when we watched “Star Trek” on TV. We thought we could really engage warp drive and pilot the “Enterprise”.
Makes me think I’m with the program. :>) Thanks for that, Lisabet!
Due to the fact that I haven’t yet finished “The Gazillionaire and the Virgin”, I can’t tell you how this provocative tale ends. But you wouldn’t want me to do that anyway.
Suffice to say you shouldn’t miss this engaging five-star gem.