I had the good fortune over the last week to read a whole slew of books. Ah, the luxury of time! Two of the books came from the same press, which made me start thinking about how devoted readers can become to certain presses. Certain publishers have reputations in my mind. Graywolf, Milkweed, FSG–I trust them and will read a book given to me on blind faith that it possesses some excellence. That goes for Soft Skull and Counterpoint now. I’ve been a fan of a lot of Soft Skull books over the years. This year they had the smarts to publish Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe, one of my favorite books of the year. Now Counterpoint has taken over Soft Skull and I beginning to think that my love for Soft Skull might now extend to them as well. I read two of their forthcoming books and I’ve got to say I’m very excited about them.
First I read Bone Rattler by Eliot Pattison. This historical novel is so rich in details that you feel like you’re a fly on the wall observing the story. Set in colonial America, we follow Duncan McCallum as he travels aboard a British convict ship bound for the New World. Murder, suicide, and strange rituals on the journey force him into the role of investigator even as he is indentured to the land baron Lord Ramsey. Thrust into the middle of the French and Indian War, Duncan has to navigate not just the new territory but the wily ways in which those who control his destiny play with him. The New World almost seems like a character itself in this novel, the way the vastness of a land untouched by Europeans looms over the story. How scary the frontier must have been!
Next I read Lydia Millet’s How the Dead Dream, a book that follows T. a distant young real estate developer. As a child he discovers that he’s really good at making money and it provides him with relief. He becomes a developer in L.A. maintaining a lonely life. On impulse he adopts a dog that signals changes are about to happen. His mother shows up announcing that T.’s father has left her–he’s gay and moved to Florida–and promptly moves in with him. T. then meets Beth, a woman who finally understands him, but a tragedy leaves him alone again. While his mother begins to unravel, T. finds consolation breaking into zoos to spend time with endangered animals. Finally he goes to the jungle and ends up on a quest evocative of Heart of Darkness. Millet’s lyrical writing with bits of humor tossed made reading this book a dreamlike experience. I’ll try to post a few snippets of my favorite parts of the book tomorrow.