Seasons Readings: Some novel ideas to pass the time
Friends, I know that you have lots and lots of time during the holidays with absolutely nothing to do, and that you are in desperate need of something interesting or fun to read. Fortunately, you have me to help you. After all, what are friends for?
I don’t know, either.
I recommend to you the three novels written by alleged poet Jon Loomis. I say “alleged” because I’ve not read his alleged poetry, but will tell you now that were I to read it and find that it did not rhyme or, worse, did not rhyme and lacked meter, I would say, then, that he is no poet but a prose writer who, for some reason, gets to characterize his prose as poetry as is the case with everyone whose prose appears in any issue of The New Yorker.
I know what you’re going to say because it will be precisely what my wife says, although she often prefaces it with, “You’re a moron …” and then, as does the Poetry Society, goes on to explain — or if it isn’t her, somebody does, maybe the Blank Verse Planet Aliens — that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Here, for instance, is what the Poetry Society says about blank verse:
“Blank verse: Unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse. This 10-syllable line is the predominant rhythm of traditional English dramatic and epic poetry, as it is considered the closest to English speech patterns. Poems such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, and Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning,” are written predominantly in blank verse.”
All righty, then. Notice, however, that the Poetry Society specifies a “10-syllable line” and I promise you were to you pick up any copy of The New Yorker –subscribe, though, or borrow one because the newsstand price will bring tears to your eyes — you will not see any alleged poetry with any standardized meter, for instance the 10-syllable line. Most of it is all over the place, meter wise.
But enough about that. Perhaps the “poems” of Jon Loomis either rhyme or have a regular meter or both, which would be best.
That’s not what I came to talk about. I came to tell you about his three novels — “Mating Season,” “High Season,” and “Fire Season” — all of which are set in Provincetown, all of which are well-written and contain not only solid mysteries, but characters it is easy to like and some characters whom it is easy to dislike.
The lead is Frank Coffin, a detective, but to me the best character is Lola, his partner. There are many secondary characters, including a number of denizens of P-Town, often dressed in interesting P-Town styles — like the Tall Ships who grace Commercial Street even in weather that isn’t conducive to wandering around in heels. He even mentions my favorite Wellfleet restaurant where I once had an oyster stout that was not as good as the bacon stout I once had at Book ‘n’ Bar in Portsmouth.
Loomis’ books are all easy reads which I know might disconcert you, what with your continued pursuit of “The Faerie Queene” and that complete volume of Shakespeare you’re going to wade through during the holidays, but these Loomis books will, then, be like a sorbet to your reading palate between “Queene” and the Thane of Cawdor.
Here, let me give you an example of some of Loomis’ prose (yes, real prose):
Coffin’s pregnant girlfriend insists that he see a doctor because he is putting on weight and she doesn’t want him to die rather than help raise their child. Here is Coffin talking with Dr. Sangupta, who doesn’t seem to have a first name. The doctor speaks first:
“Well, your cholesterol’s elevated. What are you going to do about that?”
“Well, I …”
“Your good cholesterol’s okay but not that great. Your bad cholesterol’s much too high. What are you eating? Cheeseburgers every day?”
“What about exercise? You’ve put on quite a bit of weight.”
“My job’s pretty demanding right now. I don’t have a lot of time.”
“You must make time. Do you want a heart attack at 50?”
“Well, what are you going to do about that?”
“Watch my diet? Go to the gym?”
“I want to see you again in sixth months.”
“You know, I’m sure you’re very good at what you do, but your manner’s kind of confrontational.”
“Oh, yes. Patients say that all the time.”
“Well, what are you going to do about that?”
Okay, maybe you had to be there but given what passes for dialogue in most contemporary mysteries, it’s darn good.
And another thing I like about these books — they don’t get hung up in the characters’ personal lives. Yes, Coffin has a pregnant girlfriend. Yes, Lola has a girlfriend who’s a pilot and they both like wine and each other. But Loomis takes care of each of their get-togethers in little more than a page. Compare that to the whining that goes on in most contemporary mysteries. Raymond Chandler would turn into a book burner were he around to force himself to read any of them. Get off the “he found himself assigned to the case with FBI Agent Connie Bobnnie, his former love from a former time in what he now thought of as a former life.”
Loomis is good that way. So are Steven F. Havill, and Erin Hart, and Bruce DeSilva and Mike Doogan and, of course, Tana French (but her novels are so bleak! But wonderfully written. But bleak.) Elly Griffiths’ books take place in bleak landscapes but the stories aren’t so bleak. They are archaeological.
Don’t like mysteries? Try “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, about the women of Troy after the fall, or “A Manual for Cleaning Women” by Lucia Berlin. And if you can find a copy of “The Debatable Land” by Graham Robb, let me know.
That should be enough to get you through the holidays, especially if you’re alone. You could also subscribe to the streaming service Acorn because the new season of “The Brokenwood Mysteries,” set in New Zealand, has begun and “A Place to Call Home” has just ended, but you can start from the beginning and if you don’t love it, well …
You heartless beast!
What are you going to do about that?