What We’ve Been Reading: July 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: July


This week I’ve been revisiting one of my favourite books, Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories What We Talk About when We Talk About Love. These stories appear slight, even inconsequential, on a first read. They feel like artless conversations overheard in a dingy bar — twisting and disorderly. The narratives move by stops and starts; they lead readers down dead ends and alleys on the strength of the slightest associative link. Yet, this carefully understated approach allows Carver to create some achingly poignant and heartbreaking moments. I’ll never forget the horror Carver manages to fold into the clinically detached final sentence of ‘Popular Mechanics’, which describes two parents fighting over their young child, each yanking on one of the child’s arms in a macabre tug of war: ‘In this manner, the issue was decided.’ I get shivers every time I read it.



I recently finished When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back by Stephen Singular. I’ve been fascinated by the FLDS Church for a while, but this was the first full book I read about it. The first half follows Jeffs’ rise to power and abuses within the church, which was pretty gripping. The second half focuses more on his apprehension and trial, and wasn’t quite as interesting, especially since the writing style is quite dry. Still, I’m looking forward to reading more on the subject.

For fiction, I’ve been reading Evelyn Piper’s 50s pulp noir thriller, Bunny Lake is Missing. I picked it up at a book stand because it was cheap and I liked the title. It’s about a young, unwed mother whose adorable little girl Bunny goes missing on her first day of kindergarten. The twist (it comes pretty early) is that nobody seems to believe that Bunny exists. It’s a pretty light read, but it’s fast-paced with a manic, twilit atmosphere, contrasting female hysteria with the cold authority of male doctors and detectives.



For the last month or so I’ve been edging through William T. Vollmann’s The Royal Family, an enormous, brooding, and very depressing novel set among San Francisco’s red light districts. After the suicide of his brother’s wife, with whom he was having an affair, Detective Henry Tyler is employed by a millionaire of dubious moral standing to investigate an intricate network of sex workers led by someone known only as “The Queen”. In a more condensed form, the book could have been a pretty straightforward hardboiled detective story, but instead it is shot through with lyricism, empathy, and hundreds of tiny micro-stories. It reads as if it were bent on subverting typical “femme fatale” noir tropes and emphasising the three-dimensional humanity of sex workers and the legitimacy of their profession. Very verbose and pretentious, but great.

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