I never thought I looked like James Dean, as people used to say I did, especially after I moved to New York to study acting. We shared the same coloring, but I was tall and lanky, while he was short and muscular. My face was round, and his was rectangular. Moreover, I strove as an actor to be as natural as possible, and Dean’s acting struck me as excessive, which is now what I most enjoy about it. His excess wasn’t of the soap-opera sort; it was quirkily personal, as when he rolls a cold bottle of milk over his brow to calm himself in Rebel Without a Cause. His character in Rebel is lacking the love—that is, milk—of his shrewish mother, and the symbolic way it’s expressed is one of many Kabuki-like gestures in Dean’s performances, particularly in scenes involving parents. His biography speaks to the reason. His mother died when he was nine, and afterward his father sent him to live on a relative’s farm in far-away Indiana.

I’m not sure what to make of Darin Strauss after reading this memoir.  To me it seemed like fiction, or at least at first glance it did.  Mr. Strauss has gone through a fairly traumatic event, and since it happened early in his life, he’s had time to process, and maybe figure out a way to deal with it.  He killed someone.  It was an accident, and it couldn’t be helped.  The writing here is crisp, sharp, cliché-free, and brutally honest.  It reminded me of the Stewart O’Nan novel Songs for the Missing.  By the end of Half A Life you realize you’re reading something that really happened, and it’s true, which makes it all the more potent. It’s published by McSweeney’s, and is on sale this month.

This novel took forever to make it my way, and it’s probably because I worship the movie.  Now that the adaptation of Never Let Me Go is about to grace the big screen, I think it’s a fine time to revisit this classic, as backlist sells.  I love how Anthony Hopkins was chiseled in my mind while I read this book, the clueless butler who is only serving his master, even though that master is a Nazi sympathizer.  The book is equal parts beauty and masterful writing; Ishiguro lets us see the butler, but only feel what he sees, not what the butler feels, because he’s void of emotion.  It took me years to finally read Remains of the Day, and it’s worth every second you spend with it.

Dogfight, A Love Story came to me right alongside other books that Random House wanted me to read, somehow this little gem shot to the top of the pile, because after I read the first few pages I couldn’t put it down.  The two brothers at the center of this story might remind you of a modern dayEast of Eden, but with lots of drugs, pitbulls and a scam involving a pocket full of chocolate…that all takes place in Queens, NY. You’ll love the urgency of Matt Burgess, the detail’s that might be overlooked by the common man, in this book, take your breath away.  There is a wonderfully vibrant scene around a dinner table, involving a baseball game and a pregnancy, which should leave you in awe.  As far as debut novels go, this one is great, and it confidently stands alongside The Imperfectionists and Mr. Peanut.

 

 

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