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Back in Bismarck

June 25, 2008

We’ve been home about a week. After some serious grass-mowing things are looking good. We’re still trying to sell the house and still having no luck at all. I know some of you want to move to ND, so get out those checkbooks. We saw Northern Plains Ballet do Midsummer Night’s Dream for free at an outdoor theatre on Midsummer night, which was great. The kids loved it, and it was really well done. We missed the guest dancer from Atlanta who danced Puck during the February production, but it was otherwise a lovely show.

One of the best things about summer is that I get to read almost as much as I want to. Since posting last, I’ve finished Pinker’s the Stuff of Thought and Link’s Magic for Beginners (the title story is note-perfect–a small masterpiece of longing and adolescent unease) and have read Khaled Houseini’s Thousand Splendid Suns and Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road. I described Houseini’s book in an email to my friend Brenna as being like Rushdie without the wordplay or the magical realism–it was well-written and evocative, but ultimately depressing as hell. A true picture, no doubt, of the plight of women in Afghanistan, but there was no affirmation, no looking towards a better way except by pointing out the ways in which female friendships can help you to endure. I would recommend it, but only if you’re in a good mood to begin with. Go into it grumpy and you may well end up suicidal.

So Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road was a welcome palette cleanser. I’m really interested in Michael Chabon–a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of late twentieth-century realism who has in recent years embraced stories and forms that border on genre fiction. He writes eloquently on the need for writers to entertain (not a popular idea amongst “serious” literary critics or scholars) and has crafted in Gentlemen of the Road a rollicking adventure tale of the old school. As a kid, I loved Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. This was as much for the fantasy as for the anti-hero status of the main characters. I remember being confused when I read the first Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collection in the early eighties; I was a twelve-year-old who had recently read Tolkien, so I couldn’t figure out if these guys were really as dishonest and self-serving as they seemed. they were of course, that’s what made them interesting and much, much more fun than Frodo and company–the edginess, the roguish charm. Chabon’s short novel features two travelers who are certainly inspired by Leiber’s adventurer-thieves–their statures and behavior leave no doubt of this, but who also owe a debt to H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Cervantes. Lots of sword-play, stolen horses, elephants, a usurped throne, Vikings, Muslim armies, in an ancient Jewish kingdom in what is present-day Ukraine. A grand story–I’m hoping there are more to come. A good argument for the plot-based narratives Chabon advocates. Fun stuff.

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