Memories of Another Day

Close-up photo of blue eyes is at center of front cover of Memories of Another Day.
The cover art has nothing to do with the novel’s story.

Memories of Another Day is less awful than many of Harold Robbins’s bestsellers.

The story is told in sections alternating between “now” and “memories of another day.”

The memories are better than now.

The story is about Daniel Boone Huggins, a West Virginia hill country kid growing up dirt-poor in the early 1900s.

His father isn’t savvy enough to sell his moonshine for what it’s worth. The family needs cash.

Dan is sent off to find work. He ends up in a coal mine.

Dan’s sister, who had married a union organizer, is killed along with him.

Dan leaves West Virginia a confirmed union man.

Dan is a typical Robbins hero. Smart and incorruptible, he’s a hard-drinking stud, pursued by every woman who sees him.

He has a son, Daniel Jr., by one wife, and another, Jonathan, by a second wife who is younger than Dan Jr.

After Dan Sr. dies, Jonathan, 17, full of adolescent rebellion against his father, inexplicably goes off to find his father’s roots.

The memories of Big Dan’s labor union organizing experiences are riveting.

The tale of Jonathan’s getting in touch with his father’s legacy is absurd.

Memories of Another Day by Harold ROBBINS
Simon and Schuster, ©1979. 491 p.
1979 bestseller #04 My grade: B

 

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Jailbird: An oddball in dark places

Title page of Jailbird shows a yellow bird sitting a a tea cup.
The bird, a prothononotary warbler appears in the novel.

Jailbird is not what you’d expect from Kurt Vonnegut’s fertile imagination.

Jailbird is a fictional memoir combining a few oddball characters with a raft of real characters who commit immoral and criminal acts in public places.

Jailbird’s fictional narrator, Walter F. Starbuck, can do nothing right, even when he follows good advice.

The son of immigrant employees of a millionaire industrialist who sends him to Harvard, Walter holds a federal job until he inadvertently betrays a friend and is fired.

Walter’s wife to support him.

Walter finally gets work again in the Nixon administration, where he gets caught in the Watergate scandal and goes to jail.

Released in 1977, he goes to New York where he unlawfully fails to reveal a will  and soon is on his way back to jail.

Vonnegut cannot avoid including a few laugh-out-loud wise cracks and off-beat perspectives on ordinary life, but on the whole Jailbird is a dark novel.

Vonnegut uses the fictional Walter to examine the real history of labor relations in the U.S., the Sacco and Vanzatti trial, the McCarthy investigations of subversive elements, and the unequal distribution of wealth in America.

Vonnegut’s Walter, when asked why he concerns himself with the working class responds, “Why? The Sermon on the Mount, sir.”

Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, ©1979. 246 p.
1979 bestseller #05 My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Overload: Inside the power industry

A blacked-out city and list of Arthur Hailey's other bestsellers are on the dust jacket of "Overload".
O in Overload shows city blackout.

Overload, like several other Arthur Hailey’s bestsellers, goes inside an industry the public takes for granted and reveals the internal problems the public rarely sees—the ones that could change their lives.

Overload is about the fictitious Golden State Power and Light, which its critics say is amassing huge profits to the benefit of stockholders and the detriment of electric and gas customers.

Nim Goldman is the too-outspoken assistant to GSP&L’s chairman. Goldman knows California production facilities are barely adequate to meet the ’70s energy demands. Without more energy generation and diversified energy sources, Goldman predicts an electrical famine within a decade.

Davey Birdsong, a colorful and dynamic activist, leads the popular opposition to anything that raises utility rates. The Sequoia Club has formed an uneasy, and secret, alliance with Birdsong.

Goldman has the usual discretely described sexual conquests typical of a Hailey leading man.

But Overload is unusual in a two ways: Goldman is more sexually predatory than the usual Hailey hero, and two of the novel’s sub plots are awkwardly wedged into the main tale.

Despite its flaws, Overload is a page-turner whose picture of America’s energy problems and the inefficiency of government regulation of the power industry are still valid.

Overload by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, ©1979. 515 p.
1979 bestseller #03 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sophie’s Choice is a great choice for readers

William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice has all-text front cover.
No picture could suggest the subtlety of this novel.

William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice is a novel in the guise of personal remembrances told by a writer. Styron draws heavily on contemporary documents to ground his characters’ stories and on details to make readers feel they are hearing a true, first-person account.

Fired after five months at McGraw-Hill, Stingo, a 22-year-old, Duke-educated, Virginia boy settles into a cheap Brooklyn rooming house to devote himself to writing a novel that will out-do Thomas Wolfe.

Stingo’s upstairs neighbors are an unwed couple maintaining separate rooms to comply with 1947 standards of decency.

Sophie is a sexy, blonde, Polish Catholic marked with a number from Auschwitz; Nathan is a brilliant and charismatic Jewish biologist working for Pfizer.

Although Stingo lusts after Sophie, both she and Nathan accept him simply as a friend.

It’s not long before Stingo realizes there’s sinister about Sophie’s obsequious devotion to Nathan despite his verbal and physical abuse of her.

Stingo becomes Sophie’s confidant, hearing about her childhood, prewar life, and what happened to Poles in Auschwitz.

Stingo is far more perceptive about the characters in novels he reads than he is about people in real life. He has to be told what’s wrong with Nathan.

Stryon seems incapable of drawing a flat character or of leaving a detail hanging lose.

Sophie’s Choice is a gem.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Random House, © 1979. 515 p.
1979 bestseller #2 My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Matarese Circle

Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will hold your attention to the final full stop.

Black background of dust jacket sets off white type and circular blue mark of The Matarese.
The blue mark identifies Matarese members .

The lead characters are an American spy, Brandon Scofield, and his Soviet counterpart, Vasili Taleniekov.

The two are deadly enemies. Scofield holds Taleniekov responsible for his wife’s death; Taleniekov blames Scofield for killing his brother in retaliation.

When the Russian stumbles upon a secret organization that’s financing terrorists around the world, he can’t discern the Matarese’s motive, but he knows the Matarese must be stopped.

To stop them, Taleniekov has to get Scofield to work with him.

Both men are the best in their respective nations’ intelligence communities.

Both are considered mavericks.

Both are tired.

Both are beginning to doubt that their lives’ work has made any difference.

Once they agree to cooperate, the pair go to Corsica where the Matarese is legendary but never spoken of to outsiders and not often mentioned among Corsicans.

Whispers suggest the organization dates from the eleventh century.

Intelligence services know the Matarese provided assassins for hire until the 1930s.

No one knows what they are doing in the 1970s

Ludlum spins a good yarn.

The unlikely collaborators deal the Matarese a death blow.

Or do they?

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, ©1979. 601 p.
1979 bestseller #01 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Eye of the Needle

“Eye of the Needle” cover. A male figure seen through eye of a bloody stiletto with Nazi symbols.
That’s blood on Farber’s stiletto.

In 1944, the whole world expected the Allies to invade German-held territory on the continent soon.

The question was where.

Ken Follett’s novel Eye of the Needle is based on the hoax of cardboard ships and planes, called the First United States Army Group, that Britain created to suggest they will attack at Calais, near Belgium, rather than at their intended site in Normandy.

From that historical fact, Follett sets up a thrilling cat-and-mouse game in which a German spy, Henry Faber, called “The Needle” because of his preference for the stiletto as a death weapon, discovers the deception and tries to get his evidence back to Germany.

Farber is a professional spy. The other German spies working in England are rank amateurs; Farber has to eliminate them if they see his face.

The spies trying to catch Farber are also little more than amateurs. Percy Goldiman’s specialty is medieval history; before the war Frederick Bloggs was an inspector with Scotland Yard.

The unlikely pair come up with a scheme for getting a photograph of Farber.

Eye of the Needle contains no great philosophical truths, but Follett gets his psychological truths right.

Ordinary people rising to the occasion make this mystery-thriller extraordinary.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Arbor House, ©1978. 313 p.
1978 bestseller #10. My grade: A-

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Second Generation: A Fast read

Second Generation is the second volume of Howard Fast’s trilogy about an Italian immigrant, Dan Lavette.

Cover of Second Generation is collage of drawings of scenes of the novel
Cover collage echoes shifting focus of Fast’s novel “Second Generation.”

As the title suggests, Dan’s children are the focus of this novel, which opens in California during the Depression and ends after World War II.

Dan has two children, Barbara and Tom, by his first wife, Jean, from whom he is divorced; and Joseph, by his second wife, May Ling.

Barbara and Tom have enjoyed all the benefits of Jean’s wealth and social status. Barbara remains emotionally close to her father and to his second family; she’s antagonistic toward her stepfather and ambivalent toward her mother.

Tom is emotionally cold to both his parents. He values his stepfather’s money and connections.

Joseph has coped well with Dan’s Depression-triggered decent from wealthy entrepreneur to mackerel fisherman. Joseph is on course to become a doctor.

Fast provides a fast-reading story, constantly shifting from one character to another, as their divergent interests take them to cinematic situations: a labor strike, Berlin under the Nazis, Hawaii under Japanese attack, India during WWII rationing,

Fast doesn’t show his characters grow; he just shows them changed. History, too, is reduced to scenes; there’s no continuity.

Second Generation provides good entertainment.

If you want something more substantial, you need to go elsewhere.

Second Generation by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1978. 441 p.
1978 bestseller #9. My grade: B

Second Generation is the second volume of a trilogy. The first novel of the set, The Immigrants, published a year earlier, didn’t make the bestseller list, but the third volume, The Establishment, published in 1979 did.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni