Bloodline: Old themes revitalized

In Bloodline, Sidney Sheldon takes several tired themes, shakes them together, adds a most unusual detective, and serves up an entertaining, fast-reading mystery.

Couple embracing in front of Italian villa is image on dust jacket of "Bloodline" by Sidney Sheldon
Bloodline isn’t as sexy as the cover implies.

Elizabeth Roffe is the ugly duckling daughter of a wealthy pharmaceutical company CEO.

When her father is killed in a skiing accident, Elizabeth inherits control of the family-owned company.

Roffe and Sons is in financial difficulties and the other family members on the board of directors are clamoring for the company to be taken public.

Elizabeth wants to do what her father would have wanted.

She receives a confidential report her father had ordered which suggests someone has been deliberate sabotaging the company’s most promising projects.

Suddenly Elizabeth herself is in danger.

Elizabeth proposes to Rhys Williams, her father’s right hand man, and makes her new husband head of the company.

Into this romantic thriller, Sheldon inserts Max Hortung, an accountant, computer geek, and financial ferret whose goal in life is to be a police detective.

Max gets computers to tell him things and figures out who the villain is.

Sidney Sheldon has no great message for humanity, but it doesn’t matter.

Bloodline is fun to read and Max deserves to star in his own series of detective novels.

Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon
Morrow, 1978, ©1977. 444 p.
1978 bestseller #4. My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Fools Die: Readers suffer

Fools Die is by The Godfather author Mario Puzo.

Dust jacket of Fools Die has black text on white front, white text on black back.
The figure on Fools Die resembling a 1930s detective isn’t one.

Whereas The Godfather, despite its massive list of characters, was tightly focused and well-constructed, Fools Die is a collection of episodes about casual acquaintances, all of whom have appeared under other names in other novels by other authors.

The story begins in Hotel Xanadu, a Last Vegas gambling resort where four strangers meet at the tables.

One of them, Jordan, almost breaks the bank. Before the other three can hustle him out of Sin City’s temptations, Jordan shoots himself.

The others separate, but Cully and Merlyn keep in touch.

Cully goes to work for the Xanadu’s owner-operator; Merlyn goes back to New York to his wife, his boring job, and the novel that’s going to make him famous.

After that about a half-dozen stories compete for attention as the two men go their separate ways, meeting only when one of them needs a favor he can get from no one else.

A Paul E. Erdman or Arthur Hailey could have made the gambling industry interesting.

Puzo doesn’t.

He doesn’t make his characters plausible either: They sound like character sketches by graduate students in a seminar on a novel, complete with confusing sentence constructions and cringe-worthy grammar.
Let Fools Die alone.

Fools Die by Mario Puzo
Putnam, ©1978. 572 p.
1978 bestseller #3. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

War and Remembrance

Night bombing is symbolic dust jacket cover for  Herman Wouk's"War and Remembrance."
Night time bombings are memorable part of WWII.

Herman Wouk called War and Remembrance a historical romance, a description that barely touches what’s packed into its 3.5 pounds and 1,039 pages.

Wouk picks up the story of an American naval family—Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three adult children—whom he introduced seven years earlier in The Winds of War.

This novel follows them from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. Wouk uses their stories to transport readers into the wake of war around the globe.

Pug wins promotions, but spends most of his time trying to unsnarl problems abroad at the behest of Roosevelt.

Pug and Rhoda’s eldest son is killed in action, leaving behind a wife and son.

While son Byron serves on submarines in the Pacific, his Jewish wife and their infant son become trapped in Poland.

Rhoda takes a lover, considers divorce.

Pug falls in love; the war continually pulls Pug and Pamela in different directions.

Wouk says frankly his purpose is to show that war must end. He’s too talented a writer to need to preach: His stories preach for him.

To understand War and Remembrance you need not have read Winds but you’ll appreciate both more if you read them as a set.

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown, ©1978. 1042 p.
1978 bestseller #2. My grade: A+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Chesapeake: Delectable, accessible history

James A. Michener can be relied on to give readers their money’s worth and Chesapeake is one of his best bestsellers for contemporary readers.

on cover of James A Michener's novel Chesapeake geese fly over the bay
Geese always drew people to the Chesapeake Bay area.

As he did in Hawaii and Centennial, Michener immerses readers in landscape and history. This time his focus is a roughly 10-mile square area of Maryland’s Eastern Shore marsh lands where the Choptank River flows into Chesapeake Bay.

Michener begins his tale in 1583 when a Susquehannock Indian ostracized for counseling peace finds a welcome with the Choptank tribe and becomes its chief.

After that, Catholics and Quakers come to escape religious persecution, criminals come to escape hanging, slaves come because they are forced to, Irish come to escape starvation.

As the population grows, the intertwined and overlapping interests of these fascinating characters—historical as well as fictional ones—bring them into contact and sometimes into conflict with one another.

Michener displays his usual facility at turning well-researched technical information into spell-binding narrative. Readers will be entertained and informed by Michener’s descriptions of how a crab sheds its shell, boat building, and recipes for crab cakes.

More importantly, they’ll see how race, immigration policies, environmental protection, and education have been turned over the years into political issues that still divide America.

Chesapeake by James A. Michener
Random House, ©1978. 865 p.
1978 bestseller #1. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Daniel Martin: Introspection writ long

Daniel Martin is a bildungsroman in which little happens but much is thought by 40ish Daniel Martin whose Hollywood screenwriting job is at odds with his Oxford educated instincts.

Daniel is having an affair with an actress his daughter’s age.

Daniel goes home to England to see a university friend at his request.

Since university, Daniel had been estranged from Anthony and his wife, Jane, whom Daniel had loved during university and with whom he’d had sex once before she married Anthony and he married her sister, Nell.

Daniel improves relations with his daughter and Nell, now his ex-wife, and tries to restore his relationship with Jane. He also debates how to break up with Jenny.

Daniel Martin, like his creator, novelist John Fowles, is an intellectual, as are his friends from Oxford. They discuss ideas (with a capital I), analyze everything, but remain wrapped up in themselves.

Flashbacks initially make figuring out the intertwined relationships difficult.

After getting the dramatis personae sorted, the problem becomes remembering the references so you can follow Daniel’s growing up.

I’m sure if I read Daniel Martin again I’d rate it more highly: Fowles is literate and a brilliant word craftsman.

But I just don’t find Daniel interesting enough to bother.

Daniel Martin by John Fowles
Little, Brown ©1977 629 p.
1977 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Delta of Venus: Erotica

A student of mine once advised me, “Never judge a book until you’ve read its cover.”

On cover of Delta of Venus, a woman in roaring '20s outfit exposes her gartered stocking tops while ignoring the camera That’s good advice when the book is Delta of Venus: Erotica by Anaïs Nin. If the cover hadn’t said the book was erotica, I might not have realized that what I was reading.

In her preface Nin says a collector of erotic literature offered Henry Miller $100 a month to write original stories for him.

When he was busy or bored with the work, Miller fobbed the job off on Nin who in turn recruited impecunious poets to produce erotica.

The collector complained. He wanted writers to, “Concentrate on sex. Leave out the poetry.” The result is the Delta of Venus: Erotica.

For the most part, the stories are about as erotic as a physiology textbook.

Even the woman on the dust jacket cover wearing a cloche and showing off her garters is interesting only because she’s so precariously perched on the arm of the chair.

Back of "Delta of Venus" is plain brown, no art or text.
Plain brown back.

The 15 stories—the longest is 64 pages—are not only short on poetry, they don’t have any characters resembling live people.

The characters are bland as mannequins.

There’s plenty of sex, but it’s about as appealing as the back cover of the dust jacket: plain brown.

Delta of Venus: Erotica by Anaïs Nin
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. 250 p.
1977 bestseller #9. My grade: D

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

How to Save Your Own Life

How to Save Your Own Life is a divorce story, which is the flip side of a love story.

Isadora Wing, neé Isadora White, tells the story.

front dust jacket: close-up of kissing couple
Kissing couple are married, about to marry, or divorcing. 

Isadora wrote the best-selling novel Candida Confesses, which her fans say is not only Isadora’s personal story but theirs as well.

Isadora, 32, has been married for eight years to Bennett Wing, a psychiatrist who sees his analyst and advises Isadora to talk to her analyst.

Bennett and Isadora never talk. They occasionally exchange information and have sex together even when they aren’t talking at all.

Isadora has had affairs, but when she learns Bennett has had affairs that all their friends knew about— and assumed she knew about—she begins to divorce Bennett emotionally, intellectually, sexually.

Her marriage to Bennett makes her distrust the possibility of a happy marriage.

Erica Jong makes Isadora’s tale feel absolutely true.

That’s her novel’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Although Isadora clothes her observations in quotable witticisms, so many people have had experiences like Isadora’s that there doesn’t seem to be anything new in Jong’s retelling of it.

The love poems that compose the final chapter, however, reveal the uniqueness of Isadora’s experience.

They’re worth the price of the book.

How to Save Your Own Life:
a novel by Erica Jong
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, ©1977. 310 p.
1977 bestseller #8. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni