Book Report: Three picks for summer reading
It's summertime, and the reading is easy.
Here are three books that are worth turning the pages of during the summer months:
"Frank's Revenge: Albina After Dark" (Greystone Press, $15 paperback), by Don DuPay
Set in Portland in 1975, "Frank's Revenge" is a short novel about an ex-cop working a freelance case for cash amid the corruption and racism of his former brothers.
Down on his luck, Frank has been working as a private investigator repossessing cars from bigshots in Portland's West Hills and Lake Oswego. He begins most days in the Lotus Hotel, where he has a Bloody Mary served by Midge, the longtime barmaid and friend to regulars. As Frank sorts bills at the bar, he's approached by a beautiful young black woman named Theda, whose brother was shot to death in the Albina neighborhood by a killer the neighborhood has dubbed Batman.
Taken in by Theda's attentions, Frank agrees to meet her at the Burger Barn on Union Avenue for a meeting with the OGs (original gangsters) who want to see justice served.
DuPay ("Behind the Badge in River City: A Portland Police Memoir") sloshes around in Portland's gritty history and recalls well his days spent in its bars and after-hours joints. Frank and Theda employ unusual methods to lure Batman into their net as they try to crack a case that Portland's dirty cops won't touch. DuPay's novel serves its purpose well: acting as a hook where the author can hang his memories of working as a police officer and police detective from 1961-1978.
Excerpt: "Ten years of his life had been spent pushing a squad car through the gloomy streets of the Albina ghetto after dark, and here he was again. Yet Albina was familiar in a comforting way. It has been home for Frank and he knew its every dimension; every alley and dead-end street, every closed up storefront and battered old house."
"Orange World and Other Stories" (Knopf, $25.95), by Karen Russell
Powerful and strange are the inventive stories in Russell's new collection, "Orange World and Other Stories." To say the sky is the limit is too restrictive.
Russell's characters voyage across time, dimensions, and even species in her staggering feats of imagination.
The first story, "The Prospectors," set in Depression-era Oregon, is simply scary. Two high-spirited women travel by icy chairlift to a lodge inhabited by ghostly workmen, and the unsettling danger of their situation makes for a bizarre blend of humor and horror as the women resist being taken by the past and sealed like bugs in resin.
Another story, "The Bad Graft," is a kind of road trip tale and love story from hell. A lost couple visits Joshua Tree National Park, where the young woman is pricked by a tree that takes root inside her. Transmogrification, where things become other things, is just one of Russell's tricks.
Like a magician, she holds readers entranced and astonished. Russell, who resides in Portland now, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with her first novel, "Swamplandia!"
Excerpt: "Unfurling its languorous intelligence, it looks out through her eyes, hunting for meaning the way it used to seek deep sun, jade dew, hunting now for the means of imagining its own life, comprehending what it has become inside the girl."
"The Long Accomplishment, a Memoir of Hope and Struggle in Matrimony" (Henry Holt, $28), by Rick Moody
Moody will be at Powell's City of Books, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27.
In his new book, Moody ("The Ice Storm," "The Black Veil") examines the salvation his second marriage has afforded him. Before he begins that story, he backs up a bit to write with cringing honesty about the sexual compulsive behavior and addictions that fueled his youth — masochism, self-harm, and loneliness. It's all a part of what Moody calls his shame spiral.
Meeting his second wife proves to be a part of the total reset that he needs, and writing about it is obviously what the writer needs.
Excerpt: "What I want to document is a year in a second marriage, an extremely hard-won year in a marriage, and to try to show that in a year of incredible difficulty you can still nonetheless pursue the elusive goal of love, that shared purpose, no matter how old or in what state of mitigated attractiveness, if you are bent upon that lofty end."
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