It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review and as I finished the last sentence of my first Annie Proulx novel, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to do another review. Reading this book has been a very interesting experience, though not in the way I expected. I had started it before my vacation, but chose not to bring it with me because I would finish it too fast and I didn’t want to schelp more than one book around while traveling. Picking it back up meant only a day’s interruption of my trek up Everest (i.e. reading War and Peace!)
That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx (Image courtesy of GoodReads.)
The story starts out a bit slowly and focuses on setting up our protagonist. Bob Dollar grew up in Denver with his Uncle Tam after his parents dropped him off, ostensibly on their way to Alaska where they would set up house and then send for him. They never did, though, and it’s fairly clear that they did not die in some horrible bear attack, but simply abandoned Bob and went off on their own. Bob tried to find them for a while but then accepted their absence and floated through life with his Uncle.
His Uncle Tam runs a second-hand store with a man named Wayne (or Bromo, as he’s often called) who also lives with them. They are obsessed with old plastics, especially Bakelite, and they never miss an episode of Antiques Roadshow. When Bromo decides he’s no longer infatuated with plastics and leaves to go to New York, there is the implication that the two men were lovers and had just broken up. Bob never really liked Bromo, but feels the effects of another parental figure leaving. Continue reading
I’m not sure how it all happened, really, but about two years ago, I became a cog in a book-trafficking machine. The process started with a local library that couldn’t handle all the book donations it received. A friend of mine, outraged that the books would go to waste, started picking them up and distributing them to various places, including the college where we both worked. When she left her job, I took over her duties, both official and unofficial. So for the past two years, I have been getting books from her to bring to school, which are then placed on a free book cart for anyone to take or contribute to.
Because I’ve been getting first crack at the books for this entire time, I’ve had to buy new bookshelves to house my burgeoning collection of books, which is increasing at an alarming rate. I’ve found a few gems, and I’ve also ended up with books that I may not have otherwise picked up. One of the more recent examples of this is Steve Martin’s Shopgirl. It’s a slim volume, and I’ve always thought that Martin is an extremely talented and intelligent performer. I thought I’d see how he did with fiction-writing. Continue reading
I might be a little late for this party, seeing that True at First Light has been published for 10 years already and many thoughtful reviews have already been written. It may be an arrogance to think that I have something new to contribute, being neither a Hemingway scholar, nor a professional book reviewer. But I’ve found that people seem to experience Hemingway very differently, so whether it’s love or hate, everyone who reads Papa has something to contribute to the discussion.
I agree with most of the reviews I’ve seen that yes, this book is bad compared to his masterpieces and that it is unfair to compare it to The Old Man and the Sea or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Books written in his prime, with the advantage of time for editing and talented people who assisted in that task, are of course what make up the bulk of his legacy. Also yes, in True at First Light, there is very little plot to speak of, it rambles and proselytizes, and it occasionally makes no sense. And finally, yes, it is confusing to puzzle out what is memoir and what is fiction in this “fictionalized memoir.”
But this is all exactly what makes the book so fascinating. This feels like a rare glimpse into the belly of the whale itself. This is a peek into the writing and thinking process of one of the greatest writers of all time. We get to see a work in progress and in doing so, we get to see parts of his longed-for truth in art almost unadulterated. Continue reading