Friday, October 17, 2014

Charles Willeford's I Was Looking For A Street

I love books set in the LA of the 1920s and 1930s.  I love hobo tales.  Charles Willeford’s I Was Looking For a Street falls right into that wheelhouse.  That said, I liked I Was Looking for A Street well enough, but I didn’t love it.  It’s a memoir of Willeford’s childhood years.  Orphaned by parents who succumbed to TB, Willeford was raised by his grandmother. Because times were tight, he spent much time at a school for boys when she couldn’t afford to keep him.  His reminiscence of weekend visits with his grandmother are particularly sweet and touching.  Though he was close to his grandma, the Depression took a toll on the family and Willeford, at the ripe old age of 14, lit out to the rail yards to tramp across the Southwest to make his own way.

Street contains a hint of Edward Bunker’s Little Boy Blue.  There’s a hint of Jack Black’s You Can’t Win.  Willeford’s writing is spare.  He doesn’t dress up the prose.  But, alas, there’s something light and surface level to the tale.  The book, which clocks in at 150 pages, feels like an anecdote rather than a fully realized memoir.  There are potent incidents, yet they don’t build in a wholly satisfying fashion.  I Was Looking For A Street is an easy read and an enjoyable read, but it left me wanting more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Black Snow by Mikhail Bulgakov

Black Snow is one of those books that is easy to read but hard to pick up.  You know the type.  Fun, light, well-written, but for some reason you’re just not sucked in.  You look at it sitting on the nightstand, beckoning you, but you just groan and waste a little more time checking Facebook or hustling up another Words With Friends game.  Black Snow is a farce by Mikhail Bulgakov, writer of the brilliant The Master and Margarita and Heart of a DogBlack Snow is a fictionalized account of Bulgakov’s attempt to adapt his novel The White Guard for the stage at the Moscow Art Theater.  It’s clear that his experience was frustrating.  There are some funny parts, but it’s so absurd, and so many characters flit in and out of its pages, that it’s hard to care too much about the travails of Bulgakov’s alter ego Maxudov.  Without a doubt Bulgakov has many scores to settle, but perhaps the 1920s microscene squabbles of the Russian theater world don’t have the impact they should in 2014.  Bulgakov’s biggest target in Black Snow is none other than theater great Konstantin Stanislavski.  There’s something exciting about this feud and Bulgakov is merciless, treating Stanislavski like a fool. At the end of day, I wish Black Snow was more biting, but somehow it just seems silly.