Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Deportees by Roddy Doyle

Sorry about the vernacular but I fookin' love Roddy Doyle, okay? I don't care what you think of him and I won't apologize--I love him. I read whatever he writes and usually enjoy every word. There have been some books that are better than others, natch, but he's got a way with dialogue and a feel for how people are and can be.

Imagine my surprise when I found out he had a collection of short stories called "The Deportees".

I was thrilled!

Imagine my further surprise when I found out it had been out since January of this year.

I. Was. Pissed.

At a man named Jason.

Jason used to work for Penguin as a sales rep and knew I loved Doyle and always hooked me up with advance copies. He even got me a signed copy of "A Star Called Henry", bless his heart. (G-d I loved that book) Then Jason took another job, a better job, and stopped repping and now I don't know anyone at Penguin and can't get my Doyle early, let alone for free so I'm like the rest of the rabble--uninformed and paying for books like a chump.

Alright, I wasn't pissed at Jason, I was pissed at myself for not keeping up on one of my very favorite authors.

As for the book, if you're a Doyle fan, you have to read it. The eight stories aren't all great but the man can write such circles around so many of his contemporaries, it scares me (I'm actually a little scare right now writing this!).

Best of all, Doyle often revisits his characters and in this collection, we get to catch up with Jimmy Rabbitte, manager and founder of Dublin's hardest working soul rebels, the Commitments! It's a few years after the band has imploded. Jimmy's a family man now and, despite his better judgment, he decides, no he NEEDS to put a new band together. The Deportees,
a multi-culti cast of musicians who form a band to perform Woody Guthrie songs, are a reflection of the wave of immigration that happened as Ireland went from being penniless, backward-ass Ireland to the Celtic Tiger, the most economically successful country in Europe in recent memory. And reading about Jimmy again (and his Da!) is like running into an old friend you forgot how much you loved.

When the White House Was Ours by Porter Shreve

If you look closely while watching old episodes of Star Trek, you’ll see the letters GNDN near various pipes and plumbing on the interior of the old Enterprise. It was an in-joke on the set. GNDN stands for ‘goes nowhere; does nothing”. That’s one of the first thoughts that came to mind after reading Porter Shreve’s latest novel, When the White House Was Ours.

The novel is described on the back cover as “loosely based on Porter Shreve's own childhood" (isn’t that what many novels are?). It was heavily reviewed in PW and Kirkus, et.al., prior to publication and blurbed by big names like Lorrie Moore and Jim Lehrer, so I figured his publisher was really trying to break him out with this book. The rub is, I got done with this one and remembered feeling the same way I felt
a decade ago after reading his debut novel, The Obituary Writer, : GNDN.

Shreve seems a capable writer and includes all the elements that should make for a good novel: lots of characters, both likable and un-, a few plot twists, a pair of hapless parents whose marriage is quietly falling apart, and a sweet, shambling kid who’s caught in it all, along with some relatable coming-of-age yearnings and pubescent angst.

It kept me turning pages, as opposed to putting it down and invoking my “fifty page rule” but there was just NO payoff when I finished. The central theme, his weird parents attempt at starting an alternative school in bicentennial-era Washington DC while struggling to save their marriage and family, didn’t make me care about them. The characters didn’t grab me or make me love them or hate them. His sister wasn’t even developed enough as a character to warrant inclusion (maybe his mom made him put her in the book). If this ends up being his "breakout" book, someone puh-lease explain it to me.

What's nutty is I'm likely meet him this weekend at a local book festival and I doubt I'll have the balls to tell him what I really think.