Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Depression, Hunters, A Bus Driver, God, Salt and Cod

 By Daddy X

Wish I had better luck to report this time around. Seems most of the stuff I found fell flat, with a few exceptions.

Last time this topic came up, I was working on “The Studs Lonigan Trilogy” by James T. Farrell. I’m still reading the last volume, “Judgement Day,” but not as enthusiastically as the first two.

“Judgement Day” refers to the stock market crash and succeeding years, and has become even more depressing than the first two books of this sad, doomed trilogy. Perhaps I needed something new. I found a hardbound copy of “Hunter” in a thrift shop.

J.A. Hunter (you can’t make this stuff up!) operated as a ‘white hunter’ in Kenya and other locations in Africa in the early part of the last century, contracting with various government agencies and private ‘sportsmen’ to rid the fields, cattle ranges and indeed to protect the very human victims of so-called rogue animals over a period of several decades.

Hunter describes his childhood in Scotland as a quest for the great outdoors. He had little interest in school, sneaking off to poach fish and game on gentry-owned land more diligently than tending to his studies. Woods, streams and the local girls (poaching and pussy, apparently) drove him to distraction.

The father forges an opportunity for his son to stay with a distant relative who has a farm near Nairobi. When Hunter finds the uncle a drunken, ignorant, possibly murderous, definite woman abuser of abominable proportions, he contracts out his shooting prowess.

The memoir unfolds in vignettes much like Jim Corbett’s classic, “Man Eaters of Kumaon.” Hunter and his clients kill a lot of animals. Animals we now know to be at the brink of extinction. Elephants by the thousands. Rhinos by the hundreds. Lions, lions, lions. On one trip alone, he killed something like 167 rhinoceros. They would corner an animal or otherwise force it to charge, killing the creature at their feet, waiting until the last possible moment to pull the trigger, making sure to be close enough so as not to miss a deadly shot. Sheesh!

Hunter depicts a life no longer possible. But by his singular account, we get to experience that life, despite what we now grasp about survival of species and basic compassion. Not to mention the ‘colonialist’ mentality of the writing, a mentality long understood as a major stumbling block for indigenous peoples.

Throughout the book, the reader notes a tinge of sadness in Hunter’s memoir. The book was written in the early 50’s when game was already on the decline in Africa. The reader gets the sense that this book is an apologia of sorts, an attempt to justify and romanticize his part in it all.

Hunter, a contemporary of Isak Dinesen, was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie version of Ms. Dinesen’s book, “Out of Africa.”

My thinking is that not many readers here will be interested in this book.  Just as well. The only place it appears to be available is on Abebooks. 


Last time we posted on this topic, I also raved about a short-short fiction writer, Etgar Keret, and his collection, “The Girl on the Fridge.” Well, I went out and bought another Keret collection, “The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God.”


Do check out Keret’s work. Surreal, sometimes dark and always imaginative, uncompromising tales related in flash fiction. One gets the sense that the prolific Keret could write 24 hours a day and still produce dependable quality material.

Toward the end of the collection, Keret plays out a warped heaven/hell story, relating it by serial flash fiction chapters—twenty-five of them, each with its own conflicts and resolutions. The serial episodes describe day-to-day doings in a dedicated afterlife. An afterlife reserved for people who have committed suicide. Characters retain the scars of the methods they’d used to take themselves down, parts of heads missing, necks and bodies broken and fused. They wend their way through one bizarre situation after another. Not as depressing as it sounds. Keret’s sense of humor, scope and irony are infectious.

Now I hear that he has yet anther collection out. I’ll be looking for it.


In “Salt” Mark Kurlansky relates the history of our most widespread condiment, the only rock we eat. How it made and unmade civilizations throughout history. How our modern roads evolved from animal trails leading to and from natural salt licks. How an occupying army would take over salt production once an area was secured. We in this modern day of refrigeration tend to forget that until the last century, salting was the most common method of food preservation. Everything from fish and meats, to olives, cabbage, cucumbers and turnips were grown then stored in salt, many preserved foods requiring soaking in several changes of fresh water before preparing.

“Salt” brings home the commonality of a substance essential to the human condition, and the ways salt could be obtained in climates that weren’t particularly suited to drying salt from the sea or from inland salt spring sources. If the sun and air couldn’t do the job, forests were sacrificed to supply fuel for boiling salt water until it crystalized. The first denuding of large forests likely occurred due to salt production.

“Salt” relates recipes from ancient times to relatively recently, satisfying a foodie’s need for something to… err… to chew on.

When compared with Kurlansky’s earlier work, “Cod” which describes the international economy that developed once Europeans realized the wealth of bounty from the newly discovered “Outer Banks” off Nova Scotia, “Salt” doesn’t quite hit the mark.

What Kurlansky works I’ve read do have in common is the element of ‘scope’ which I posted about in May, titled “Scope/Research/Logic.”


I recently found a super-collection from T.C. Boyle on a bookstore ‘sale’ table. Four separate collections in one volume, “Stories II.” A large volume, 915 pages for 59 stories. That should keep me occupied for a while, and perhaps liven up my reading to boot.

Will report impressions of Mister Boyle’s work in three months.

BTW- Had a minor stroke a few weeks ago. No lasting damage, but a scare. Momma X says I’m competing with cats for lives.


  1. Wow! Your reading is all over the place.

    I'm quite partial to T.C. Boyle but I've never read his short stories. Have you encountered THE INNER CIRCLE? A fictionalized account of Alfred Kinsey and his sex research. Every character unlikable, but still a great book! Then there's THE WOMEN, a tour de force narrative about Frank Lloyd Wright that unfolds backwards in time.

    One thing about Boyle--every book is different, except for the high quality of the writing!

  2. Yes, a wide range of subjects, both fiction and non can interest me as long as I can get into to the writing. Guess that makes me lucky. I get to experience lots of approaches. Hopefully a guy can learn writing by osmosis. I'll be posting "Learn by Watching" on that particular subject July 11, Editor's Corner at the ERWA blog.

    And yes. TC Boyle. What a fertile mind. What a storyteller. One of the notable wordsmiths and visionary artists of our times. I read Drop City and Tortilla Curtain and think I've posted here about both of them. Will look for The Women and the Inner Circle.

    Yes, Boyle's characters are often despicable assholes but you know that doesn't bother me. ;>) The first two stories in "Stories II" feature characters who are absolutely reprehensible. Even the characters who get fucked over aren't completely likable; they seem to get what's coming to them. Unlike O henry stuff, Boyle's characters kinda do deserve their fate for getting into the situation they find themselves in.

  3. Daddy, I'm really glad you recovered well from the medical scare. Thanks for letting us know!

    You're right that I probably wouldn't read the Hunter book, but it was really interesting to read your description of it! That's one of the nice things about these "what are you reading" posts.

    I used to think I wanted to write books like Cod and Salt. As I read more of them, though, I noticed that there's a real pitfall of just including all the facts about whatever. It's hard not just to vomit your research back. It's an admirable work that can find a narrative thread in a big, pervasive topic.

    1. Thanx, Annabeth-
      Non-fiction books that go from one fact to the next don't often do it for me. "Salt" seems more like that than "Cod". Another non- fiction work to experience is Simon Winchester's "Krakatoa"where he makes deductions and suggests larger implications of what may have been the loudest sound Human beings have ever been subjected to.

  4. I read Cod via books on tape quite a while ago, and it was indeed fascinating. (And persuaded a family member who didn't like to eat fish that this one wasn't so bad as healthy food goes.)

    Hunter was also in Beryl Markham's book West withe Sun, her autobiography of growing up as a wild child in Africa, learning to fly planes, and eventually setting numerous records. She was, according to her writing, a successful rival to Isak Dineson for Hunter's affections.

    1. Oops, that book was West with the Night, not the Sun.

    2. Wow, thanks Sacchi! Amazing the interconnections out there. I read the entire book before knowing the Dinesen connection. Found out looking for the author on Wikipedia since Amazon didn't carry the book.


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