Author Archives: Wheeler

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Jess Hall and his best friend sneak out of Sunday School to eavesdrop on the adult service, seeing something so frightening that Jess inadvertently interferes with the service. That small interruption then creates a family tragedy that soon involves the church and several other members of their rural North Carolina community.

I think Cash intends for the book to uphold a certain kind of faith. I read it as an examination of faith’s impotence and power. People turn to religion for aid and help, but find none. Meanwhile, it often leads them to alienate and harm the people who really do care for them, and many others, too. That seemed to be the case with many of the characters, at least. I say seems because Cash draws them sympathetically and mysteriously. Even the most patently fraudulent among them – the pastor, Carson Chambliss – left me wondering whether he might have been sincere.

As with most southern writing, the book felt too consciously rural. I know lots of country people. None are named Adelaide, or Clem, or Joe Bill. None have privies, either. The mix of kindness, ignorance, religion, alcohol and violence is spot-on, though.


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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in Fiction


The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Through a series of vignettes, the book explores the lives of the staff at a small international paper located in Rome.

I enjoyed it, especially the chapters featuring the descendants of the paper’s wealthy founder. They sure seemed a lot like the Bluths. Also interesting was each character’s involvement in their particular job even as the paper, and the industry itself, was dying around them.

My only quibble: To many foreign phrases and names. Yes, Mr. Rachman, I am impressed by your knowledge of local Roman cuisine. Now please remember your job is to communicate.

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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in Fiction


The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson

Wilkinson describes several attempts to reach the North Pole in the late 19th century, focusing on Swedish explorer S. A. Andree’s failed attempt to reach the pole by hydrogen balloon.

Fascinating. As I read, I thought back to David Grann’s Lost City of Z, which described Percy Fawcett’s attempt to find a lost civilization in the Amazon. Like Andree, he never returned. The amount of faith each of these men had in their cause amazes me. I can think of no reward for which I would leave my home and family for at best a few years and probably more, risking serious injury and possible death. Yet they and many others did so, with the glory being nothing more than being the first to discover some remote location. I’m not sure if I should admire their courage or look with contempt at their irresponsibility.

Then again, sometimes it would not be such a great sacrifice. Right now, with temperatures in the triple digits, being stranded on an ice flow in the arctic sounds kind of nice.

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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Nonfiction


Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

Adhering to every standard necessary to be a “summer read,” the book follows ex-con Charles “Shake” Bouchon on his final job. Only, because he’s really a nice guy at heart, he double crosses his boss and also infuriates another similar underworld figure, meaning the rest of the book is Shake’s attempt to escape from both. And his own past. Ooooh, deep.
Not really, of course. The few attempts at serious insight are laughable. Little, if anything, resembles reality. The characters are ridiculous stereotypes. Even the descriptions of the various locations only reveal that the author has never been there. So don’t come here for literature. But this ain’t that kind of book. It’s an entertaining adventure story. At that, it succeeds.

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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Fiction


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Louisiana Power and Light by John Dufresne

The last of a Monroe, Louisiana clan, Billy Wayne Fontana, tries to find love, meaning, happiness and all that. In so doing, he wrecks himself and pretty much everyone he meets along the way.

I dunno about this book. The author is a creative writing professor somewhere in Florida. Both facts are obvious. The writing style is too consciously creative. Especially the author’s annoying habit of inserting himself into the story at the most jarring times as the voice of a narrator who is supposedly sharing some tall tales with us in the good ‘ol imaginary southern story telling fashion. Really, narrating in the second person is always a bad idea, unless there are two narrators. As for the author’s location, the name of the book’s setting is Monroe. The actual descriptions, though, are of south Louisiana and New Orleans. A common outside mistake, thinking what is true about South Louisiana is true of all of us. Still, if you can get by these annoyances, the story is pretty good.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Fiction


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Set in the mid-twenty first century, a time when society has collapsed and people spend most of their time in a massive on-line world called the OASIS, the book follows a world-wide contest for the multi-billion dollar fortune left by the creator of the OASIS – James Halliday – to whomever can first successfully solve several puzzles and complete several challenges within the OASIS. Halliday, a lifelong computer and pop-culture geek who grew up in the 1980’s, has made knowledge of that era the key to winning.

For gamers and dorks (but I repeat myself), this book is a three hundred page wet-dream. All the action is virtual. The heroes never go outside. Even if they wanted to, the outside word is pretty much shot to hell. They admittedly have no idea how to interact with real people. Yet inside the OASIS, they are superhuman video game rock gods. And they love it.

If you are a normal person, this might sound off-putting. Who wants to read about the fantasies of the IT department? But you don’t have to be a gamer or a dork to enjoy this book. I know I am not the former, and I don’t think I am the latter, yet this book gets one of my highest praises: I will now read some non-fiction, because any fiction I were to read immediately after Ready Player One would be a let down.*

*Note the nice use of the subjunctive. Like I said, I’m not sure if I am a dork or not.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Fiction


Miami Blues by Charles Willeford

This is the first of three books featuring Hoke Moseley, a Miami police detective. Good stuff, if a bit formulaic: Rough-around-the-edges-cop, straight laced partner, bureaucrat boss, naive-but-plucky females, sociopath bad guy and all the other stock urban crime characters mix it up on the way to a satisfying resolution. The other two are similar. Formulas exist for a reason, though. When followed well, they work. These books do. The writing is crisp. The there’s no manufactured suspense. The location is richly described. These are great books.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Fiction