Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fever At Dawn and Spill Simmer Falter Wither

Lot and lots of reading of late. Publishing pals are keeping me well-stocked with a wide array of books and I'm trying hard just to keep up. 

Peter Gardos is a Hungarian filmmaker who has done things in reverse. He has already made a movie, Fever At Dawn, and then went back and wrote the novel of the same name. I haven't seen the film but I finished the novel recently

The book starts with Miklos, a Hungarian Jew, hospitalized 
in 1945 Sweden as the Holocaust winds down. Because of fluid in his lungs, he has been given six months to live. In his boredom and defiance of his imminent death, he manages to secure the names and addresses of 117 girls from his hometown, also hospitalized in Sweden. He writes each the same letter in the fervent belief a correspondence will develop and through that correspondence, he will find a wife. In this manner, he meets Lili.

It's a hell of a set-up, don't you think? Better still, Fever At Dawn is based on the true story of Gardos' parents. He only learned of this tale after his father passed and his mother showed him the correspondence and revealed their story. 

Fever At Dawn is fast-paced and entertaining especially in light of the truth behind it but I wonder if it worked better as a film. To me, most of the characters were uneven and underdeveloped, especially Lili, whose illness is never made known and whose constant fainting becomes laughable (Like Lou Reed said, "...women never really faint..."). There is also a "frenemy" sub-plot that seems unnecessary. I did love Harry, Miklos' randy boon companion, and his never-ending quest to test his potency.

Despite what I find deficient, the book was a bestseller in Europe, the book rights went to auction here in the States, and it will be published in thirty countries. Please decide for yourself. 

More to my liking was Spill Simmer Falter Wither, the debut novel by Sara Baume.  Some might shy away from the man-and-his-dog saga but this is done so well, you'd be foolish to do so. Be warned however, this is no warm and fuzzy read. 

Ray is a puzzle and the solution doesn't come until well into the book. What we do learn is that Ray lives in "his father's house" in a small, seaside, Irish village. The village has been Ray's only home but has always been regarded as an oddball and at 57, that won't change. His father has passed and one day, in a move that is out of character, Ray adopts a troubled shelter dog after seeing a flyer taped to the window of the local jumble shop. The dog has been injured which leads Ray to name him One Eye and they become utterly devoted to each other. The story is told to One Eye but you will often think he is addressing you, the reader. 

At first, I thought the unconditional love going both ways would allow Ray to develop into his own man but One Eye has a mean streak which creates trouble for them both. There is a hovering danger author Baume creates that is unnerving. At one point, Ray is so afraid, he packs up his car, gets his savings, and they spend months driving nowhere and anywhere to avoid consequences that may or may not actually exist should they return to the village. It is a impetuous, paranoid, but poignant trip that leaves Ray broke and afraid but with nowhere else to go but "home". 

Throughout, Baume had me by the cojones and the heart strings. She imbues Ray with surprising insight while avoiding sentimentality. Her prose can sparkle as when Ray remarks about how One Eye's senses overtake him during their walks: 

"...I call you but you don't seem to hear, you're hypnotised by smell. Now you zig-zag the concrete, hop on the wall and shout at the gulls, bust into a frenzied run...How can you be so unremittingly interested? How can every stone be worth of tenderly sniffing, every clump of grass a source of fascination?...I wish I'd been born with your capacity for wonder. I wouldn't mind living a shorter life if my short life could be as vivid as yours." 

If you've ever owned a dog, you know how well she captures the rapture but it is counterbalanced by Ray's own wonder, his deep love, and his history of heartbreak.