Past Squares 7: A Look Back at This Kickass Reading Year (2021)

This is also today’s post for Life of B’s Past Squares!

Next: Chris Offutt, The Killing Hills

The old man walked the hill with a long stick, pushing aside mayapple and horseweed, seeking ginseng.

The Killing Hills, p. 1

Sentence of the Day: The Butcher’s Boy, p. 155

What is it about Las Vegas? It just seems to pull the best writing out of writers, especially writers of noir. Which Thomas Perry definitely is.

  • The dealer looked young, his carefully sculpted hair blond from the sun, but already he had the ageless look of detached competence they all seemed to have worn into them.

TBB Quote of the Day

After the hit man gets mugged in a dark alley in Denver (Denver! He kills the muggers of course. Thankfully, there are just two), existential despair:

He caught sight of himself in the other mirror, sitting naked on the bed. A small, whitish animal with a few tufts of hair. And hurt, too. As he watched, the injured face in the mirror contracted a little, seemed to clench and compress itself into a mask of despair. A sigh like a strangled squeak escaped from its throat. He said aloud to the face, “You sorry little bastard.”

The Butcher’s Boy, p. 39

Self does not know how Thomas Perry does it, but she feels empathy for this hit man — his alone-ness, his (of all things) vulnerability. The fact that he doesn’t have a name makes him more sympathetic, not less.

Stay tuned.

Elizabeth Waring in The Butcher’s Boy

When self was reading Michael Connelly’s great introduction to this novel, she was very excited to read that the plot actually has two main characters: the professional hit man, and a woman, Elizabeth Waring, the DOJ analyst who’s on his trail.

She is so happy that Elizabeth is introduced almost right away. It’s a very mundane scene: as a relatively new addition to the department, she has to hone her chops by reading over piles of reports to sniff out the details that seem “extra” suspicious. She consults with a colleague, who looks over her “possibles” and then picks out one — a very ordinary case — and says, why don’t you look into this one?

There is no reason on God’s earth why that agent should pick out that one case, but it’s pretty exciting when he tells Elizabeth, “Just a hunch.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Michael Connelly Quote of the Day

Economy creates momentum. The story gathers speed and moves with an unalterable urgency. All characters, all action, relentlessly moving toward the same vanishing point on the horizon.

Michael Connolly’s Introduction to the 2003 Edition of Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy

Why has no one made this series into a movie? The chase is made for the big screen. Think The Terminator, only no robots and no time travel.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Moon Palace Sentence of the Day (1st Wednesday in October 2021)

I left an extravagant tip for the waiter, then walked back to my building.

The above is just an ordinary sentence. The reason it’s Sentence of the Day is: the narrator is flat broke. His eating out was a gesture of defiance. He had scrimped so long, but accidentally cracked two eggs which were supposed to be his meal for the day. They fell on the floor and he had a meltdown, went straight to the nearest restaurant and spent his precious remaining dollars.

Stay tuned.

Cyrano de Bergerac on the Moon!

Self is on p. 38 of Moon Palace (btw, what a book. Auster’s lonely narrator is such a fabulist, especially when he opens his mouth at a party):

  • Then I began to describe Cyrano’s voyage to the moon, and someone interrupted me. Cyrano de Bergerac wasn’t real, the person said, he was a character in a play, a make-believe man. I couldn’t let this error go uncorrected, and so I made a short digression to tell them the story of Cyrano’s life. I sketched out his early days as a soldier, discussed his career as a philosopher and poet, and then dwelled at some length on the various hardships he encountered over the years: financial troubles, an agonizing bout with syphilis, his battles with the authorities over his radical views. I told them how he had finally found a protector in the Duc d’Arpajon, and then, just three years later, how he had been killed on a Paris street when a building stone fell from a rooftop and landed on his head. I paused dramatically to allow the grotesqueness and humor of this tragedy to sink in. “He was only thirty-six at the time,” I said, “and to this day no one knows if it was an accident or not.”

The Enigmatic Kathy Wu, First Mention

“Is something wrong? I’m just wondering if you’re a friend of Kitty.”

“Kitty?” I said. “I don’t know anyone named Kitty in my life.”

“You’re wearing the same shirt she is. It made me think you must be connected to her somehow.”

“I looked down at my chest and saw that I had a Mets T-shirt on. I had bought it at a rummage sale earlier in the year for ten cents. “I don’t even like the Mets,” I said. “The Cubs are the team I root for.”

“It’s a weird coincidence … Katy is going to love it. She loves things like that.

Moon Palace, p,35

Hello, Summer of 1969 (Moon Palace, p. 28)

The narrator’s uncle is dead, HOW IS THE NARRATOR GOING TO PUT HIMSELF THROUGH COLUMBIA? Self presumes this was an era before student loans? Narrator being a very resourceful sort, starts selling his uncle’s 1493 books. That buys him two months rent. But then:

  • I had come to my last hundred dollars, and the books had dwindled to three boxes. Paying rent was out of the question now, and though the security deposit would see me through another month, I was bound to be evicted after that. If the notices started in July, then the crunch would come in August, which meant that I would be out on the streets by September. From the vantage of June 1st, however, the end of the summer was light-years away. The problem was not so much what to do after that, but how to get there in the first place. The books would bring in approximately fifty dollars. Added to the ninety-six I already had, that meant there would be a hundred and forty-six dollars to see me through the next three months. It hardly seemed enough, but by restricting myself to one meal a day, by ignoring newspapers, buses, and every kind of frivolous expense, I figured I might make it. So began the summer of 1969.

The young narrator might not realize it, but he is over 50% of the way to being a bona fide writer. Self means: anyone who can live like that and make decisions about getting by, without thinking: I MUST FIND A JOB!


Stay tuned.

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