A cold dissection of the cancerous
BOOKS REVIEWS continued
SHORT STORY COLLECTION
' Thom Jones
1 Sonny Liston Was A Friend Of Mine (Faber £6.99) ii i” k ‘ir sir
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Sonny Liston was aFriend of Mine '
heart of the American Dream is combined With a genuine talent for rendering complex and diverse psychologies in these twelve startling stories written by Washington-based author Thom Jones
Situating his characters in all manner Of hellholes including boxing rings, Vietnam and a psychiatric ward at Christmas, Jones proceeds to strip them of any allusions of grandeur, pride or self-respect and shows that survrval is only a matter of VVIII. ‘40, Still At Home’, tells the story of a morphine addict and his macabre reaction to his mother’s death. And in 'Tarantula', an ambitious high—school administrator is brought back to reality when he attempts to inflict his authority on the school janitors.
Reminiscent of Ken Kesey and Hubert Selby Jr, Thom Jones reminds us of the power and wit of hard-I'ntting literature. A truly gifted writer, he is destined to join the ranks of America's underground literary heroes. (CB)
CREATIVE BIOGRAPHY Peter Robb M (Bloomsbury £25) st at a: *
Peter Robb's 'working hypothesis' of the life and times of the painter known as Caravaggio (real name Michelangelo Merisi, hence the title) is dauntingly large This isn’t just a book, it’s a commitment and, at its best, it’s breathlesst exciting
Like a devoted crime reporter, Robb takes the scraps known about Caravaggio's too-short life (1571- 1610) and whips them into a rhapsodic hunk of historical detection. Who was this notorious superstar of 17th century Italy's complicated and corrupt art world, and what happened to him?
Robb's through—line is based on the major remaining eVidence: the
' STAR RATINGS
j i * ir * * Outstanding
; it t t t Recommended 1 'k t it Worth a try
i * it 50-50
J ...... -. , POOP. -
104 THE “ST l6~30 Mar 2000
paintings. He balances perceptive chronological analysis of the canvases against the sprawling, yet juicily detailed, backdrop of counter reformation Rome and Naples. Caravaggio's astonishineg direct, cutting-edge achievements are vividly
placed in the context of censorious religio-political patronage.
Robb’s prose is sometimes purple,
bloated and peculiarly colloquial but
his love of Caravaggio’s work shines
I through. (DH)
; SPiNSTER SLEUTH ‘ Caroline Shaw . Cat Catcher (Serpent’s Tail £8.99)
Despite her spinsterish ways, Miss Marple has given birth to several
generations of inquisitive little girls.
Lesbian detectives are plentiful in their sub-genre, while the work of Patricia
5 Cornwell and Sara Paretsky have
ensured crime is not just a man’s game.
Caroline Shaw's debut novel is very much in the spinster sleuth tradition,
. but its attempt to merge an old- ' fashioned mystery With a modern
setting and a touch of sexual tension
doesn’t quite come off. Lenny Aaron —
a former cop with a psychologically
scarred past and now expert at finding missing cats — is a wilfully unappealing heroine further handicapped by Shaw's
: ponderous prose style which lacks the
fizz of, say, Sparkle Hayter or Janet Evanovich.
Lenny is called into action when an Australian media mogul’s wife is threatened and another body turns up. Because everyone in the cast has the
means and motive to be a suspect, the plot itself keeps you guessing. (AM)
i MUSICAL HISTORY
Rap Attack 3 (Serpent's Tail £14.99)
' m on m snow- in: scum
Respected journalist, composer/
producer and musical anthropologist
David Toop has bitten the bullet with a revised third edition about the story of hip hop. On tracing the lineage of rap, Toop Virtually tackles the entire history
i of black music. In hunting the origins ' 1 of the genre, he covers the songs of
Africa, Blues, scat singers and the jive
talking radio DJs of the 605 and 70s.
JOURNALISTIC SATIRE Ted Heller Slab Rat (Abacus £10.99) ****
Deliciously nasty satire from Joe's boy
Everyone who works in magazine journalism is absolutely lovely. so it must have taken some imaginative effort on Ted Heller's part to conjure up the motley crew of backstabbers, bitches. philanderers and frauds that populate Slab Rat. Nonetheless, Heller - Joseph's son — has managed to ruffle some expensively-coiffed feathers with his debut novel.
The high and mighty of the New York glossies have taken Slab Rat as a particularly nasty roman-a-clef. a poison pen sketch of the real-life powerbrokers Heller has encountered in his own journalistic career. It doesn't really matter whether Anna Wintour and Tina Brown recognise themselves or not; Slab Rat is brilliant anyway.
A deliciously nasty satire. it follows the variable fortunes of one Zachary Post. associate editor of a snobby lifester mag, social climber, liar and all- round charming scumbag. Zachary is an engaging narrator, acutely aware of his own shortcomings but too neck-deep in corruption and mendacity to change. He will stop at nothing to move through the ranks of an organisation he despises and win a trophy wife who leaves him cold. 50 when a rising upstart muscles in on his territory, things turn ugly.
Heller is eloquently cruel, yet there's nothing cold about this book; it's too keen and witty. and its flamboyant nastiness shields a tender heart. ‘If you think every book reviewer reads every single word. then you can skip to the last paragraph of this one right now,’ Zachary observes. But you won‘t. (Hannah McGill)
I Slab Rat is out now.
3 detail but a more fan-ish, exciting
3 writing style, Rap Attack is a well
: informed, if overly serious look at a E vibrant and constantly changing
musical form. (MR)
Despite an incredibly dense introduction, Toop’s prose loosens up and his conclusions about the current state and future possibilities of rap music are well considered. His incredible eye for detail would make a hardened hip hop kid's head spin but there is enough eye wrtness accounting to add colour to Toop’s factual log.
Where books like 1995's The New Beats by SH. Fernando Jr. offer less
REVIEWERS THIS ISSUE Catherine Bromley, Paul Dale, Thom Dibdin, Donald Hutera, Doug Johnstone, Hannah McGill, Alan Morrison, Mark Robertson