Wednesday, December 29, 2021

William Boyle

William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. He’s the author of five novels: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which was nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, an Amazon Best Book in 2019 and winner of the Prix Transfuge du meilleur polar étranger in France; City of Margins, a Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020; and, most recently, Shoot the Moonlight Out. All are available from Pegasus Crime. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Recently I asked Boyle about what he was reading. His reply:
Without a doubt, the best book I read this year was Agota Kristof's The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie. I’d heard of this trilogy of novels somewhere along the line—I’d written down the titles in a notebook—but it must not have been a substantial lead because I didn’t follow through until recently. An absolute masterpiece. Can’t remember the last time I gulped down 500 pages so hungrily. The bones of a dark fable or fairy tale. Dissects the inhumanity of humankind, the ravages of war, the small lives lost in all the destruction, identity, memory, reality, truth, storytelling, borders, the depths of perversion and depravity and despair, and ways of surviving in a fucked-beyond-repair world. Grim, strange, jagged, haunting, elemental, full of real pain and heart and yearning. Prose that’s like drinking cold, clean water from a sacred spring. Just incredible. Should be said that this book features some of the most horrifying stuff I’ve ever read, and it’s all rendered in the most direct and detached language, which somehow makes it even more emotional and affecting. Fascinating to read this the same week I watched another Hungarian masterwork, Lili Horvát’s film Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, which also questions what happens to the fabric of reality in times of trauma (in that case, love is the source of trauma). Anyhow, this is one of the most challenging, moving, and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. Bummed it took me so long to find but thankful I found it now.
Visit William Boyle's website.

Q&A with William Boyle.

The Page 69 Test: Shoot the Moonlight Out.

My Book, The Movie: Shoot the Moonlight Out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Kimberly Belle

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including the newly released My Darling Husband and The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller. Her books have been published in more than in a dozen languages and have been optioned for film and television. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Belle's reply:
Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

Any story set in the Netherlands is an automatic draw for me, and when I heard Woman on Fire centered around the high-stakes world of art theft, I was sold. Part thriller, part World War II epic, this novel follows a gutsy journalist as she chases a Nazi-looted masterpiece through the darkest and most dangerous streets of the international art world. Barr’s descriptions are top notch, making this a fast-paced stunner that’s as vivid as the painting it’s based on
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 19, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally, America in the Twentieth Century.

Here is Buffa's take on Lawrence Durrell’s Justine:
Lawrence Durrell, quite on purpose, wrote Justine, the first of four novels that together became known as The Alexandria Quartet, like a “spiral staircase,” each step taken changing the perspective of how things are seen. “I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child — Melissa’s child,” he writes on the very first page. At night, when “the wind roars and the child sleeps quietly in the wooden cot,” he thinks about Justine and Nessim, Melissa and Balthazar and about the city, Alexandria. Alone with the child on the island, he will try to reorder reality, to show what was most significant.

He sees all this, he is determined to see all this, the way that each of us sees things in our own remembered past, not as the sequential events they were when they unfolded, but as we first come to learn about them; the way, for example, we learn, much later than it happened, a friend’s, or a lover’s, betrayal.

He will “record experiences, not in the order in which they took place — for that is history — but in the order in which they first became significant for me.” It is only here, on the island, “that I am at last able to re-enter, reinhabit the unburied city with my friends…. Here at least I am able to see their history and the city’s as one and the same phenomenon.”

Justine, the novel, is about Alexandria, the city, because Justine, the woman, is “only an extension of the spirit of the place.” With “five races, five languages,” and “more than five sexes.” Alexandria is different than other places. Everyone knows everyone, or knows something about everyone; everyone knows about Justine, married to Nessim, a man so rich that he cares nothing about money, and indeed is “possessed by a positive distaste for it.” Stranger still, Nessim “appeared to be quite faithful to Justine — an unheard of state of affairs.” Justine, however, is not faithful to him. Durrell does not approach her; she approaches him.

Durrell is not married, but shares his bed at regular intervals with Melissa, a dancing girl, of whom Purswarden, a well-known writer, said after watching her dance that he would propose marriage to her, “But she is so ignorant and her mind so deformed by poverty and bad luck that she would refuse out of incredulity.” The difference between the two women could not be greater, or more tragic. Melissa loved “my weaknesses because there she felt of use to me; Justine brushed all this aside as unworthy of her interest.”

Justine has so many theories about herself that it is never quite possible to trust her conclusions. She is always searching for something, something that will tell her what, and who, she really is. Durrell, her lover, is driven to the same search. It is the question, the central concern, of everyone who knows her, or tries to know her. Everyone wants her, and if she does not go so far as indiscriminate promiscuity it is only because before she gives her body she has already sufficiently imagined the act. Almost before their affair has begun, she remarks that, “This intimacy should go no further, for we have already exhausted all its possibilities in our respective imaginations.”

When Melissa tells Durrell that he is falling in love with Justine, he tells her that it is worse than that — “though I could not for the life of me have explained how or why.” He realizes later that it has something to do with “the curiously ingrown quality of love which I have come to recognize as peculiar to the city rather than ourselves.” Much of what he learns about Justine comes from a book, a diary, written by her first husband, Jacob Arnauti, a story of Alexandrian life seen by a foreigner in the early thirties. The author is engaged in research for a novel he wants to write. One of the characters, Claudia, is like Justine. “She gave herself to me with such contempt,” he writes, “that I was for the first time in my life surprised at the quality of her anxiety; it was as if she were desperate, swollen with disaster.”

Durrell comes across a line that seems to explain everything. Claudia — really Justine — admits that “I hunt everywhere for a life that is worth living…. The doctor I loved told me that I was a nymphomaniac.” The author would like to write a book about her, one “powerful enough to contain the elements of her...: It would have to be a “drama freed from the burden of form. I would set my own book free to dream.” Which, we now understand, is precisely what Lawrence Durrell is trying to do.

If everyone is fascinated by Justine it is perhaps, at least in part, because Justine is so fascinated with herself. She has reason to be. Clea, a friend of Durrell’s, tells him: “The true whore is man’s real darling — like Justine; she alone has the capacity to wound men.” But, then, Justine “cannot be justified or excused. She simply and magnificently is…. Like all amoral people she verges on the Goddess.”

Clea has little interest in love, and even less interest in men. The only experience that “marked” her was one with a woman, who, unsurprisingly, was Justine. Clea tells Durrell that Justine had been “raped by one of her relatives,” and “from this time forward she could obtain no satisfaction in love, unless she mentally recreated these incidents and so re-enacted them.” A line from Arnaud’s diary comes back to Durrell: “There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self — because she does not know where to find it.”

Balthazar, another main character, makes his first appearance only when the story is nearly half over. He is “one of the keys to the city,” someone Durrell took “very much as he was in those days and now in my memory I feel that he is in need of a new revaluation. There was much that I did not understand then, much that I have since learned.” Balthazar, a physician who is often found in bed with a sailor, or some other man or boy whose name he never knew, understands the city in ways others do not. Alexandria “is really a city of incest — I mean that here the cult of Serapis was founded. For this etiolation of the heart and reins in love-making must make one turn inward upon one’s sister. The lover mirrors himself like Narcissus in his own family: there is no exit from the predicament.” Incest has a deeper meaning than what, on a first reading, this might suggest, and perhaps more meanings than one.

With women, with men, with her own haunted fantasies of violent abuse, Justine makes those who are brought within the sphere of her sexuality begin to change places, to become the very person they have betrayed. Nessim, betrayed by Justine, begins to love Melissa; while Melissa “would hunt in him for qualities which she imagined I must have found in his wife.” This is not as strange as it seems, or perhaps stranger than it seems: “One always falls in love with the love-choice of the person one loves.” Incest is everywhere. The four of them: Nessim and Melissa, Justine and Durrell, “were unrecognized complementaries of one another, inextricably bound together.” Nessim and Melissa, both of them betrayed, “talked now as a doomed brother and sister might…. In all their sympathy an unexpected shadow of desire stirred within them, a wraith merely, the stepchild of confession and release.”

Justine, at the end, finally leaves Nessim, but she does not run off with Durrell; she simply disappears. A world war is coming. When Clea gets a card from Justine, who is working on a kibbutz in Jerusalem, the story seems over, but there is an unresolved problem, not about Justine, but about Melissa, or rather, the child she has had with Nessim. There is an incestuous connection even in this. Justine had had a child of her own, years earlier, a child who had been kidnapped and never found. It all makes sense to Balthazar: “I look at it this way: by one of those fearful displacements of which only love seems capable the child Justine lost was given back by Nessim not to her but to Melissa.”

Melissa is in the hospital, and when she dies, Durrell promises to take the child if Nessim does not want her. And then, following the spiral staircase of the story, we are back where we started, the child sleeping peacefully in the wooden cot while Durrell, alone on the island, begins to write what he remembers about what Alexandria and its more than five sexes had been.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

Holloway's latest thriller is Hiding Place.

Recently I asked the author about what she reading. Her reply:
My nightstand has held some great reads recently, and there are more in the queue. Here is what I have been reading in the last month:

The Searcher
I love Tana French’s writing style. Her descriptions are so rich and embodied that the settings take on a life of their own. The way she stages a scene, the depth and layers of her characters, and her use of dialogue is something I find endlessly inspiring.

The Magpie Murders
A friend recommended this book to me. I find Anthony Horowitz’s writing so clever and wry. He captures the overtones of Agatha Christie so perfectly that his stories feel like such classics. He writes a whodunnit perfectly.

State of Terror
Political thrillers are not normally something I seek out, but when I saw Louise Penny had written one with Hillary Clinton, I wanted to check it out. I love the Armand Gamache series, and while this has not held the charm of Three Pines, it is an entertaining read that feels like a juicy “insider” story.

The Best of Friends
The final story is a book club read, and it is a compelling one about secrets, grief, and the bonds between a mother and child. I am finding it doubly interesting knowing the author, Dr. Lucinda Berry, is a psychologist. I love in depth studies of characters who do the wrong thing for the right reason, and I was intrigued to see how she explores the ferocity of motherhood when I attempted to tackle the same dynamic in Hiding Place.

There are, of course, the other research books I am reading for my current work in progress along with Stanley Tucci’s Taste: My Life Through Food. Who else is ready for season two of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy?

What is on your Kindle or nightstand? Send some recommendations my way.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Q&A with Meghan Holloway.

The Page 69 Test: Hiding Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hiding Place.

--Marshal Zeringue