Adventures in American Literature #8, 9, 10 and 11

This is the vacation mega-edition featuring four very different novels. I read quite a lot in my weeks out of the city, including some non-American authors. In any case, here are the four books by American writers:

John Grisham (b. 1955) – The Firm (1991)

What a story! Plenty of action, excitement, intrigue. It gets a little bogged down near the end, but it really is an exhilarating ride. The characters of Tammy Hemphill and Ray McDeere are especially interesting, despite not being in the book as much as the hero and main villains. It’s too bad that the movie (which I recently saw after reading the book) is absolutely ridiculous. The casting is mostly terrible, especially Jeanne Tripplehorn as Abby, the wife of protagonist Mitch McDeere. (I pictured Brooke Adams circa Days of Heaven, probably mainly since her character in that film is “Abby.”) Tom Cruise should not run anywhere… ever. Set that clip to the Benny Hill theme and you’ll never stop laughing.

Laura Z. Hobson (1900-1986) – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Like another great Laura Z. Hobson novel I enjoyed, Consenting Adult (1975), I read Gentleman’s Agreement in the space of a few hours. Hobson’s prose is terrific because it’s elegant yet still moves along easily. The novel tackles the subject of anti-Semitism, which was particularly timely upon publication given that it was just two years after the end of World War II. Hobson handles the material skillfully, crafting a story and characters that resonate with the reader whether they are Jewish or not. I can’t wait to see the acclaimed Elia Kazan film adaptation (and not just because it stars a young Gregory Peck).

Shannon Hale (b. 1974) – Austenland (2007)

I read another of Hale’s novels, The Actor and the Housewife, back in 2009. It was a fun excursion into romantic dramedy, though not a particularly challenging one. Austenland, which makes no excuses for being a silly fantasy, has a completely predictable story, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it can be good to divert your attention for a few hours. I’m looking forward to the film adaptation coming out soon, though it’s probably not going to be a masterpiece. On the bright side, Bret McKenzie is in it.

Linda Howard (b. 1950) – Up Close and Dangerous (2007)

I might not have included this, a paperback romance, if not for the fact that it’s an entertaining little page-turner. If nothing else you’ll learn how to survive being stranded on a snowy mountaintop, provided that you’re a reasonably attractive heiress who is stranded with a definitely attractive airplane pilot. Also, Linda Howard’s writing is less tawdry than that of most romance writers. I speak from experience on this. (Really. Read Dream Man. It’s actually worth your time, even if you don’t usually read romance novels.)


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