A little interlude in the stream of vacation consciousness. I’m sitting here on the 16th floor of a high-rise in Medellin, Colombia, looking out over the El Poblado neighborhood. It’s early, really early, and I thought it’s about time I finish this post which I’ve been poking away at on and off for a bit. I have friends who like to write. There, I said it. And some of them have actually published books. Usually, not always, I end up getting a copy, though I tend not to review them, because, is it really fair to review the book of a friend? I can’t be 100% objective. But hey, they tell people good things about Casa SaltShaker and recommend they eat here, right? (You guys do, right?)
So, here, a little shilling for a trio of books by folk I know and like.
First up, two books by FJ Rocca, whom you’ve met on these “pages” as Frank, in the guise of posts about some of the dinners I used to do in New York, visiting when I’m back in the States – earlier on in NYC and more recently in Baltimore, and, he’s the talented cartoonist who drew the covers for both editions of my dictionary. Over the last two years he’s published two novels that he’s been working on for some time – one of them I actually read an early draft of years ago, so it was nice to see how it shaped up in final form.
Not the sort of book I’d typically pick up to read, my tastes, without an outside reason to select a book, tend towards food related, obviously, though in the world of literature I tend towards occasionally getting around to a classic that for some reason I’d never read (you know, those lists of “the 100 books that such and such authority says you should read before you die”), science fiction, historical fiction, and humorous sorts of things. Master of Wednesday Night is none of those things – it’s an intricate psychological drama that focuses on the rivalry between a young, up and coming, ambitious (both positively and negatively) symphony conductor, and the older, nearing retirement conductor who’s hovering somewhere between “still got it” and irrelevant. The characters are well drawn, the plot moves along at a good clip, and one of the things I like about it the most is that Frank (see, I’m going to use first names, rather than last names as is typical in a review) doesn’t dumb down his prose. Some folk may need to resort to a dictionary now and again, which admittedly may interrupt the flow, but hey, it’ll be worth it. I found the book engaging enough that I read through the nearly 500 pages in two sittings.
Having worked with Frank for a short while when I was doing night-time word processing at a law firm while attending cooking school during the day (I’m trying to remember when it was that I actually slept), the setting and characters of Be Careful Who Kills You! ring familiar. We knew people like the four folk who dominate the story. What I particularly enjoyed in this little thriller is that none of the characters is purely antagonist or protagonist, they’re all well rounded and have elements of both. By turn, each was someone to admire or despise, to root for or against. There are moments in the plot line where the story edges into being momentarily preachy about right and wrong, good and evil, and I can hear Frank admonishing one or another of his daughters in the ways of the world, but he pulls back from the brink and continues apace. The story definitely doesn’t end up anywhere predictable, and what more can you ask for from a combination romance and thriller?
Now, Layne Mosler is not someone I know nearly as well as Frank. We were more social acquaintances during the time she lived in Buenos Aires, met up once in New York (hey Layne, I notice I didn’t get an acknowledgement for my “ride along” in the book credits – just sayin’), and have kept in reasonably regular touch over the years since she left. She was one of the early English language food bloggers in BA, starting up not long after I did, and her reviews often sent me off to check out one place or another. But, despite the ostensible food focus of Driving Hungry, a memoir that at first blush seems to follow her blog Taxi Gourmet as she heads off to eat wherever the whims of cabbies take her, this isn’t a book about food. It’s a book of self-discovery, mostly as Layne moves from her 20s into her 30s, about life, love, and relationships. Food, and tango, form the backdrop against which her story develops. Now, I have to admit, I approached the book with a certain amount of trepidation – after all, does someone in their 30s really have enough life experience to be writing her “memoirs”? I think of memoirs as something someone writes as they head into their “golden years”. But setting aside that moniker, the book is an engaging tale that traces her story from Buenos Aires to New York to Berlin. One of the more interesting things about the structure, and I don’t know if it was intentional, or based on the timing of when the three sections were written, or simply based on her feelings about those three periods in her life, but each is written in a disparate tone of voice. You could almost come away with thinking that the events, as they unfold, were narrated by different people, viewing Layne’s life from a different perspective. Regardless of intention, I found that that added to my enjoyment of the book, as it felt like Layne, the author, was developing alongside Layne, the character.