Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aurelio Zen -- Cabal

Michael Bibdin 1992. Cabal. Faber and Faber. London and Boston. 277p.

I have seen the Zen detective films on Masterpiece Mystery and really enjoyed them. The books are delightfully different. They give much more dimension to the character of Zen and the characters around him. For example, Tania, his girlfriend, is a budding business executive with an export business she runs on the side of her government job. The background of the story is the corruption and venality of Italians and the Italian state. Yet, it is a story told affectionately and humorously.

The TV version of Cabal implied that there really was a secret organization behind the murders. In the book it is strictly a comedy of errors and plotting. Also, the TV version took the story completely out of The Vatican. I guess it would have been too difficult to film there.

I can’t wait to read the other stories in the series.

Thoughts on The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

 I got this in the Everyman Edition, where it is bundled with Independence Day and The Lay of the Land as The Bascomb Novels. This summer Ford has released a new novel, Canada. I heard an interview with him on NPR. I thought before getting this book, I would check out his previous work as part of my new frugality.

The story is narrated and concerns the life of Frank Bascomb, a one-time novelist, who has become a sportswriter. He is undergoing an mid-life crisis following the death of his son, a few years ago. He divorced from his wife and is trying to find his footing. But everything is going wrong; poor choice girlfriend, too many affairs, and even a really bad choice of interview subject. He keeps saying that his problem is his dreaminess. He seems to want a life where he can stay at the surface of everything, without dealing with people and his problems. Of course, this doesn’t work. In very dense prose, he is constantly reviewing and reworking old experiences as he shows the reader where he screws up.

Perhaps the creepiest part is the divorced men’s club that he belongs to in his town in New Jersey. The club members go on fishing trips and sporting even outings, while they try to hide from their new reality. One of the members insists on confiding his problems to Frank.  ___ has recently had a one-night stand with a man he met in New York, although he doesn’t consider himself to be gay. He wants to tell Frank all and at one point tries to give Frank a kiss. In the climax of the novel he commits suicide, which forces Frank to deal with the situation; although he doesn’t really.

This is the book that gained Ford his fame. In the introduction he says that he wrote it at a time when he wasn’t sure he could succeed as a writer. He almost gave up, when he decided to try something totally new.

It’s definitely not a cheery book. For someone my age, it can be downright depressing. I like the author’s conversational tone. But it is a very dense book. I came across quite a few words whose meanings I had to guess at. He seemed to also have a lot of incomplete sentences. Yet they fit in so well that I only slightly noticed them.

Really, all the characters that Bascomb encounters are sad sacks or losers like him. There are no heroes. Perhaps only his two young children (Paul and Clary), come off as good, or at least not confused. Yet, they don’t take up much of the story. The most touching part for me was when ten-year-old Paul releases one of his pigeons to take a message to his deceased brother. Another weird aspect was how Bascomb addresses his ex-wife. She is named only as X. And she is bewildered by the actions of her former husband as any of the readers would be. She loves him, but can’t stay with him acting this way.

All in all I liked the story. Yet, I will wait a while before tackling the next one in the series!