It has been a while since I have sampled the treasures of Smashwords as they arrive hot off the server. Once again, I am looking at the book-length literary fiction offerings available today, September 15. I mainly read the samples, which are often generous, but if I really love a book, I buy it. I am skipping thrillers and any other genres I feel would be better judged by another member of the staff.
First up is G. K. Ingersoll's The Atheist Vignettes. This is a mostly well-written pastiche of pieces about people, mostly former members of a group called Chris†eens, who are confronting their doubts about faith as they enter middle age. We are treated to sections of a play interspersed with vignettes (naturally) of characters in various states of dogmatic compliance/anxiety interacting with one another. The dialog seems very sharp and realistic; the only problem is with the play excerpt at the beginning, featuring a dialog between God and Satan. The name of the speaker does not begin every line, so the reader is constantly referring back to the top of the page and counting downward “God, Satan, God, Satan...” to the line in question. There are also a few syntactical errors, but overall it looks like an interesting read.
Next, we have three offerings from the mysterious “Dorian Taylor.” Is he real? Is he alive? Is he dead? The preface of each work only hints.
I will start with Modern Problems. We are told of an author using the pseudonym “Dorian Taylor,” an artist plagued by anomie who just cannot get it together to find a market for his writing. The book is a pastiche of narratives, beginning with a poem. I think Taylor has a story to tell, but first he has to fix the errors and the derivative style. I'm sure he can come up with a more interesting description of a dancer than comparing her to Terpsichore:
“From all that he could conger up in his mind in later years, all that really presented itself to his memory were Jamie's legs…”
“Standing still she was a homely little girl from Nebraska, in motion she was Terpsichore, the Goddess of the dance, and she came from Mount Olympus.
“There is or maybe was, a bar off of Washington Square, situated in the basement. It had chess boards painted on it's tables, and the chief reason for going there was to discuss philosophy, or literature, or maybe play a game of chess, while sipping the French liquid fire called Pernod” (italics mine)…
Top 40 is a book that uses old (and I mean OLD) pop tunes as chapter headings in stories about the author as a “man out of time.” Being old myself, I can relate. I didn't get through enough of the sample to see if he actually used Joni Mitchell's “Urge for Going,” but it's what comes to mind. The image of the rambling man who “marches to a different drummer” or “hears the call of the road,” or (if I ever write my own song) “is too narcissistic to commit to anyone” is very prominent. I'm hoping it was a satirical treatment, but when he misspelled “Iliad” I couldn't go on.
Billed as “Georgette Heyer meets the Marquis De Sade,” Taylor's Volatile Elements makes for more interesting reading. It is about a very wealthy man who owns vineyards and other revenue-producing ventures, a man who came by his money in a very unfortunate way that I wish Taylor had elaborated much more upon. He meets up with a long-lost girlfriend, and we are treated to multiple points of view, as well as lots of steamy sex. I think Taylor's characters become much more interesting when they are making love rather than soliloquizing. This seems to be the most mature of the works.
UPDATE: We think this has been republished as The Gaze of the Abyss.
Elder Wonder Comes of Age is a book about horny Mormons. It's very funny. It's Mormon practice to send their young eighteen-year-old men to do two years of missionary work. They can have only limited contact with family and friends while on a mission. The protagonist, Jerry Wonder, already has one strike against him: he's a vegetarian. Also, as most eighteen-year-old humans, he's constantly thinking about sex. He is sent to New Zealand, where, under the very watchful eye of a senior elder, he goes out proselytizing with other horny teens. It is the early 1960's, and everybody is worried about what direction the Cold War will take. They get a mixed reception in New Zealand; their hard-sell tactics anger many people. As a Jew (Jews don't seek converts), I found it unnerving to read about Jerry's partner lying to an elderly Jewish woman, telling her they were sent by her Rabbi to visit her. Jerry refuses to back up the other missionary's faith statements. Meanwhile, his girlfriend has taken a job as a stewardess so she can see him in New Zealand. I may have to buy this one…