Monday, February 04, 2013
Homeland and Little America
What I can't believe was ten years ago, I read a great piece in the LA Weekly by John Powers on the novels of JG Farrell. (Really - you should go read it.) (Side Note: I have a bookshelf dedicated to writers with the initials J"X" - I have JG Farrell, JG Ballard, JM Coetzee, JR Ackerley JF Powers, and JF Federspiel. It amuses me to no end.) The thrust of the review is that Americans are not very good at writing about empire - which is unfortunate because there is so much material to be expolited. One notable exception, according to Powers, was a new novel called Little America by Henry Bromell. At the time I was more concerned with JG Farrell and didn't buy a copy of Little America for a few years and then let it sit unread for a several more years. But I did start to read about Bromell and found out that he was also a TV writer/producer. He was one of the producers of Homicide: Life on the Street (or the cop show in Baltimore that David Simon did before The Wire, greatest work of television ever) and a bunch of other shows. So even though I had not read Little America, I was pretty impressed by Bromell. And then I heard that he was producing a new series for Showtime called Homeland, and I thought, gee, that should be pretty good, I should watch it. And with the way things work around here, two years later I am now watching Homeland.
Yes, Homeland is amazing. So good that I decided to start reading Little America. It, too, is amazing. "A remarkably well written and highly original novel. A thriller at the classiest level." - Los Angeles Times. I agree. Little America is the story of CIA involvement in a fictitious Middle Eastern country in the 1950s told through the attempt of the son of a CIA officer to understand what happened to the country (which has vanished) and his family (who were stationed there). The jacket copy references Graham Greene and John Le Carre. I would throw in the storytelling chops of William Boyd. I can't believe this book isn't better known. I hope the success of Homeland spurs some interest in this novel.
I have no idea if it is possible to effective brainwash a person. I know it is a popular subject in books and movies but I'm skeptical that it could really happen. Part of Homeland concerns whether or not a captured and tortured US Marine could be turned into a terrorist who would then carry out a mission once back in the US. So I was thinking about this when I pulled a copy of The Holland Suggestions by John Dunning off the shelf (where it has been patiently waiting for years for the right time to reveal itself to me) to determine whether or not it should go into storage. John Dunning was a reporter and writer who became a used bookseller and then later wrote some mystery novels about a cop turned used bookseller turned private eye. Okay, I know that sounds terrible. Most vocational inspired mystery novels are terrible and completely implausible. But his first book, Booked to Die, was fantastic. It was a good crime novel and it was about the book world. (Um, I can't remember the plot - it came out in 1992 - but I really loved it. Because I love mystery novels and because I love book collecting. It worked.) And the book was a fairly big hit. At some point I bought an ugly book club edition of one of Dunning's early novels because I wanted more Dunning. That book was The Holland Suggestions, published in 1975. Which, of course, I never read. Until now, that is. Because I realized that the book is some sort of thriller about hypnosis and the power of post-hypnotic suggestion. When Jim Ryan (Jack Ryan was apparently taken) was in college, he fell in with a rogue professor who experimented on his students. Something happened and it shattered his life and cost him his wife, leaving him to raise their daughter on his own. Now, some 15 years later, something is triggering strange actions in Jim Ryan and he is forced to dredge up the past again. Not helping matters is that his daughter now looks exactly like his wife (and may be secretly communicating with her). I can't say for sure if this book will be good - it has potential and reads like somewhat of a wordy P.M. Hubbard. And I probably shouldn't let it distract me from Homeland and Little America, but for some reason I fell compelled to keep reading now.
UPDATE: Henry Bromell just died.