Dave Wood's Book Report, April 22, 2009
As I've mentioned before, I love to read books that embrace a specific locale. In fact I got started reading when I was in high school and someone told me about Sinclair Lewis, a writer who grew up in a small town, like me. I gobbled up "Main Street" because it smelled like home.
There's a new book out set in a small Wisconsin city, which I have just gobbled up and would like to see more.
Dwight Allen is a Madisonian who graduated from Lawrence University and has just published his second novel, "The Typewriter Satyr," by Dwight Allen (Terrace Books, $24.95)
Tall, gangly Oliver Poole lives in Midvale in the heart of the Badger State. It's a college town, sort of liberal. Oliver is married to a prominent attorney, has four kids plays softball on an old-timers team and for a living, repairs typewriters. Not a great profession in this age of word processors.
One day a talk show host on a public access radio station, Annalise, shows up at his shop and asks him to restore an old typewriter.
They fall in love, Oliver's marriage bottoms out and the new relationship is more than rocky. Both characters have their hangups and personality disorders.
Oliver, for one, is growing old. He's also a hopeless romantic who memorizes love poems. This is a wry and funny book, often heartbreaking because any reader who can't see Annelise and Oliver in their own lives isn't looking very hard.
And then there's the writing. Author Allen's description of Oliver performing his morning toilette is skillfully done and reminds me of writing ranging from Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater."
"He toweled his nose dry. He studied a line that curved down fro below the outer rim of his nostril to the corner near where his lips parted, a seam in which whiskers sometimes hid, like weeds in a ditch. (He had rooted them all out this morning.) He tilted his head back and peered into is nostrils, brambly passageways that little animals or elfin people might scramble through on their way to some foreign land ... He examined the blackhead further. He'd tried to pinch it out on other occasions, but it was there to stay, a cindery blemish."
I not only love Wisconsin, I also love New York City.
I haven't been there for a year, so I grabbed a new novel "Super in the City," by Daphne Uviller (Bantam, $12, paper). The cover said it was set in Greenwich Village, one of my favorite places.
I adore Washington Square, the playgrounds where grown men play pickup basketball, the restaurants like Minetta's next to NYU where an old couple walked in when we were there and asked the headwaiter where the spinach was purchased in the evening's lasagna. The headwaiter replied and the old man said "#&^*^%$$ you, you jerk."
You'll meet characters like that in Uviller's new novel. Her heroine is Zephyr Zuckerman, a med school and a law school dropout, who spends her time crashing parties and eating hors d'oeuvres and falling in love with a newspaper reporter who drinks beer while in the act of coitus. Zephyr's family owns an apartment building. When their handyman, or super, disappears, Zephyr gets the job of fixing toilets, changing light bulbs and solving mysteries.
For me the mysteries are incidental. I like Uviller's description of the Village and all its glamour and all its seediness.
Speaking of seediness, there's always Dublin, which we haven't visited since 1970. Back then it was truly seedy with beggars on every corner.
Ireland eventually enjoyed an economic boom, so I imagine it's a bit different now, but not in "Heart and Soul," by Maeve Binchy (Knopf, $26.95). Binchy is a grand Irish short story writer and that's nowhere more apparent than in this new collection, which involves Dr. Clara Casey, who is hired to organize a clinic in a Dublin warehouse slum. She succeeds, but not after lots of trouble and the patients she meets in the interlocking story of this her 19th book.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.