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

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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

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

Beggarman, Thief: Murder with a surprise ending

Beggarman, Thief is a sequel to Rich Man, Poor Man, but readers need have no acquaintance with Irwin Shaw’s 1970 bestseller to enjoy this 1977 follow-up.

cover of "Beggarman Thief" is all text
Complexity of “Beggarman, Thief” defies imagery.

Tom Jordache has been clubbed to death on the deck of his own ship in the harbor of Antibes.

After scattering Tom’s ashes, Tom’s sister, Gretchen, goes back to her Hollywood job.

Tom’s bride of five days goes home to England to bear Tom’s child there.

Toms 16-year-old son, Wesley, who had only shortly before come to live with his father, wants revenge.

Wesley vents his rage his loss on a man in a bar, nearly killing him. He’s released from jail on condition he leave France. He reluctantly goes to stay with his mother and her new husband in Indianapolis.

That leaves Rudolph, the brother Tom and Gretchen always disliked, to settle Tom’s estate in France and make sure Wesley doesn’t commit murder.

Handling unpleasant affairs is how Rudolph made his millions.

In Rich Man, Poor Man, Shaw presented a complicated family story. In Beggarman, Thief he adds both a murder and terrorism to a family story—and does it all with seeming effortlessness and an optimism missing in his 1970 novel.

When push comes to shove, the Jordaches are family.

Beggarman, Thief by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, c.1977. 436 p.
1977 bestseller #7. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Oliver’s Story in which Oliver grows up

Oliver Barrett IV, last seen at the end of Love Story mourning his deceased wife, is still emotionally dead 18 months later when Oliver’s Story opens.

Oliver's Story dust jacket is all text: title, author, and a reference to “Love Story”
Oliver’s Story dust jacket: Just the facts.

Even Jenny’s father thinks its time workaholic Oliver started looking for a new love.

Friends introduce Oliver to a pediatrician, who doesn’t appeal to him, though he finds himself unexpectedly enjoying her family of classical musicians and their music.

Oliver starts seeing a psychiatrist.

He refuses to talk to the shrink about his relationship with his father.

Oliver accidentally meets a woman who intrigues him. He doesn’t even seem to notice that Marcie’s snappy, smart-mouth comebacks sound like Jenny.

But what Marcie Nash tells Oliver about herself doesn’t add up. What does she do with her time? Why won’t she level with him?

Oliver’s Story is twice as long as Love Story, but it’s still Oliver talking about himself—and he’s really rather a jerk.

On the plus side, Erich Segal lets readers finally learn the reason for Oliver’s alienation from his parents.

And he lets Oliver begin to act like an adult.

However, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if Segal had let Oliver accept the Steins’ invitation to join their living room orchestra.

Oliver’s Story by Erich Segal
Harper & Row, ©1977. 264 p.
1977 bestseller #5. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Thorn Birds

As World War I sputters to its end, the Paddy Cleary’s childless older sister offers to turn her sheep station, Drogheda, over to him and his family on her death if he’ll come run it.

The Thorn Birds cover shows house, bare tree, sky, nothing else.
Barren landscape of The Thorn Birds

The Cleary family leaves the green intimacy of New Zealand for brown horizons of the Outback.

Life is hard, but even young Meggie accepts that as normal.

Four of the five Cleary boys love Drogheda; only Frank, the eldest and his mother’s favorite, hates it. He goes off to be a boxer.

The handsome priest who serves the parish is eyed lecherously by Paddy’s sister.

Determined if she can’t have Ralph de Bricassart God won’t either, she writes a new will, leaving Paddy’ s family Drogheda and its income for their lifetime, but giving the bulk of her vast wealth to the Church.

Meggie gets away from Drogheda long enough to marry a man by whom she has one child and to have an affair with Ralph, now attached to the Vatican.

The Thorn Birds is not a pretty story, but Colleen McCullough doesn’t wallow in the dirt.

Her characters make mistakes, takes their lumps, learn their lessons, move on.

And the novel’s worth reading just for McCullough’s Australian landscapes.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Harper & Row, 1977. 533 p.
1977 bestseller #2. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Stranger in the Mirror

A Stranger in the Mirror is the story of a two people who have miserable childhoods and come to Hollywood in search of the attention they crave.

dust jacket of "A Stranger in the Mirror" shows Toby Temple totally alone in blackness.
In the darkness, comedian Toby Temple is at the microphone.

Born in Detroit during the Depression, Toby Temple has a domineering mother who convinces him he is going to be famous.

He’s furious when he isn’t an overnight success.

He finally submits to learning his craft, but he never stops trying to get even with the people who didn’t recognize his greatness.

Josephine Czinski, deprived at birth of oxygen for four minutes, she gets awful, recurring headaches when she’s stressed.

Raised by her widowed mother, a Polish seamstress caught up in a fire-and-brimstone religious sect, the girl has a lot of stress.

Josephine gets on a bus in Odessa, Texas, and get off in Hollywood as Jill Castle, one of hundreds of beautiful girls with dreams of stardom and no talent for acting.

Like Toby, she becomes an accomplished hater.

Without dragging readers through the dirt with them, Sidney Sheldon tells the story of two pathetically damaged individuals leading sordid lives in city full of people just like themselves.

It’s compelling reading, complete with what can only be described as a Hollywood ending: Unexpected, predictable, and dramatic.

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon
Morrow, 1976. 321 p.
1976 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni