- Dale Peck, What We Lost (2004) –USA
- Tony Pollard, The Secrets of the Lazarus Club (2009 pb) – UK
- Maria Quinn, The Gene Thieves (2009) – Australia
Dale Peck, What We Lost.
Not everyone loves Dale Peck, nor apparently does Peck love many of those he reviews.
With the emergence of the ridiculous Dale Peck, the method of Wieseltier’s literary salon reached its reductio ad absurdum. Peck smeared the walls with shit, and bankrupted their authority for all time to come. So many forms of extremism turn into their opposite at the terminal stage. Thus the New Republic‘s supposed brief for dry, austere, high-literary value—manifesting itself for years in a baffled rage against everything new or confusing—led to Peck’s auto-therapeutic wetness (as self-pity is the refuge of bullies) and hatred of classic modernism (which, to philistines, will always be new and confusing). — Source.
The scope of Peck’s contempt is wide. He has no more regard for his elders than for his contemporaries. The modernist tradition, he writes, ”began with the diarrheic flow of words that is ‘Ulysses,’ continued on through the incomprehensible ramblings of late Faulkner and the sterile inventions of Nabokov, and then burst into full, foul life in the ridiculous dithering of Barth and Hawkes and Gaddis, and the reductive cardboard constructions of Barthelme, and the word-by-word wasting of a talent as formidable as Pynchon’s; and finally broke apart like a cracked sidewalk beneath the weight of the stupid — just plain stupid — tomes of DeLillo.” Not even the masters of the 19th-century realist novel are spared; in a 1999 interview, Peck called Dickens ”the worst writer to plague the English language.”
The question arises: Why should we care what Dale Peck thinks? The short answer is, He’s interesting. Not only has he managed to get himself talked about (”Dale Peck is the Michael Ovitz of the literary world,” says the literary agent Bonnie Nadell); he has managed to stir up a debate over the practice of book reviewing — its status, its value, its effect on our literary culture. ”Peck may not be right about his scorched-earth policy,” the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides has said. ”But his essay moves the discussion from the small idea (is this a good book or not?) to the large one (where should literature be headed?). – Source.
What We Lost occupies a space between non-fiction and fiction.
In the haunting new book by the acclaimed author of Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye, a young man must choose between his troubled family and the new home he loves. Dale Peck, Sr., grew up poor in rural Long Island in the 1950s, sharing a one-room house with seven brothers and sisters, an abusive mother, and an alcoholic father haunted by his past. When, at fourteen, Dale is more or less kidnapped by his father and taken to his uncle’s farm in upstate New York, the change wrought by the move is remarkable. Thriving on the farm, Dale develops a loving relationship with his uncle Wallace, and for the first time he knows contentment. But when Dale’s mother demands that he return, he is forced to choose between his broken family and the land and uncle he has come to love. It is a decision that will determine his future and the legacy he will pass on to his own son. What We Lost is a coming-of-age story that startles in its immediacy and lack of sentimentality. Refracting his father’s past through the prism of his own vivid imagination, the author Dale Peck forges a bridge between generations and reveals the dark secrets at the heart of family.
Reviewers, professional or not, are divided about this book. I found it beautifully written and very moving.
Tony Pollard, The Secrets of the Lazarus Club
The waterman whistled as he pulled on the oars, his small craft carrying him slowly but steadily upstream along Limehouse Reach. He’d set out from Greenwich, across the river from southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, and then headed north, passing Millwall and pulling on beyond. The trip took in almost three miles of river, and it was his pitch. There were other watermen and other pitches but this was his and over the years he had come to know every eddy, backwash and mudflat and had long regarded it as home.
Pausing for a moment he tugged down the peak of his cap against a shower of rain which for a short while turned the brown surface of the water into a sheet of hammered copper. Around his feet were collected all manner of things: pieces of timber, lengths of rope, cork fenders, bottles, various sodden items of clothing and even a small chair. He didn’t care who they once belonged to; they were his now. He was employed by the bailiff to clear the river of obstacles to navigation but any stray object floating in the water within the bounds of his beat was legally his property once lifted aboard the boat. All very official it was: you only needed to look at his smart blue uniform to see that…
Favouring one oar over the other, the waterman manoeuvred the boat to the stern of the stationary vessels and with the long-poled boat hook in hand began to look for floating objects. Wedged between the barge in the middle and the skiff was a length of broken ladder, just long enough, he judged, to be of use again. After some difficulty in pulling it free he stowed it with the rest of the stuff. It was then he heard the noise, a scuffing and scratching interspersed with the odd sharp croak. Using the hook against the stern of the middle vessel, he nudged the small boat a little closer into shore. That was when he saw them.
Two scabrous-looking gulls were perched on something floating in the river but seemingly fastened to the lee board of the shoreward barge. They were squabbling over whatever it was the larger of the two was jealously clutching in its beak. It took the waterman a moment or two to realize that the birds were perched on the back of a dead body, the head having become wedged between the lee board and the hull. The corpse was white as a ghost and entirely naked. With its slender limbs and long hair spread out on the water like a dark weed it could only be a woman – that or a child…
It may well have a preposterous plot, as Alan Massie notes in his review, but I enjoyed it for the history behind it as much as for the tale, though that did engage my interest – as it did Massie’s:
Since Florence Nightingale also turns up at St Thomas’s, to the disgruntlement of the hospital’s chief, Sir Benjamin Brodie, and develops a relationship with Phillips, which however stops modestly short of physical expression, there are times when the novel recalls the Max Beerbohm character, name of Brown, who wrote a blank verse tragedy, "Savonarola", in which every well-known character of the Italian Renaissance made an appearance.
Murder, skullduggery and other dark doings abound. Novels of this type require gusto if they are to succeed, and there is certainly no lack of gusto here. The villains are suitably villainous, ingenious and ruthless, the virtuous suitably brave, the narrator suitably dogged and agreeably often in danger, both from the police and the villains.
No wonder Phillips lies on his bed "pondering my fate. Which was it to be? Loss of position; struck off as a doctor; thrown into prison or even lynched by the mob – the possibilities seemed endless". This is splendid stuff. No wonder that we find that hands are "blood-soaked" and a murderer can stand "steady as a monument, watching me through stone-cold eyes".
In short, this novel is a fine example of what Maurice Bowra called "the Higher Bogus". It’s full of intellectual quirks, lively speculation, and agreeable invention. I scarcely believed a word of it, but found it highly enjoyable. – Source.
Hence my rating.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel – linked image
If the author’s name seems familiar it is because he is a very famous archaeologist, lately involved in the battle site at Fromelles.
Maria Quinn, The Gene Thieves
Brilliant, lonely genetic scientist Piggy Brown is desperate for a child, but he′s in a tricky legal situation. Dancer is a lawyer with his own reasons for wanting to grant Piggy′s dearest wish — and he can set up Conjugal Contracts which push the envelope of the law.
Dancer visits The Nest, the official centre for surrogates, and inveigles them into recommending someone they have used before, someone who won’t ask too many questions about the baby she carries. But choosing a surrogate can be risky, and this one, Angela, comes with baggage: her own child, Molly, a six-year-old who has already seen too much of her mother′s world.
When a grotesque kidnapping occurs, everything is thrown into chaos and Jack Lee, Chief Investigator for the UN Ethical Science Council, decides it’s time to take charge of the case — for the sake of humanity’s future.
Set as you see in a not too distant future, this first novel raises all manner of intriguing ethical and scientific questions. From the author’s site comes this review.