Two Books by Writers You Know—or Should Know
Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.
The season is filled with good books. Here are two to look for in your local independent bookstores or library.
In this latest installment to his Stay More saga, Farther Along, Donald Harington offers meditations on wisdom, love, death, sex, and hope. The nameless protagonist leaves his job as curator at a museum devoted to the American history to go off to the Ozarks to find himself, taking with him only a comb and a supply of toilet tissue so he can play tunes on his comb and tissue. He settles in a bluff cave with his dog, becoming known as the Bluff Dweller, and eventually meets up with a young moonshiner, an aging woman who is the former postmistress of the abandoned town at the foot of the hills, her grandson, and a young woman historian whose name and spirit is the same as that of the mistress of the man who founded the town long ago. The characters move languorously and humorously through the mists of the Ozarks as they fall in and out of each other’s lives. Each learns, as the title of the old gospel hymn indicates, that it’s only farther along that they’ll understand themselves and their world. While it lacks the power of his earlier novel of innocence turned to experience, With, this novel’s insights into the human character reveal why Harington deserves to be better known.
Ever since The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s novels have been uneven and sometimes disappointing. However, with his latest effort, The Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie is back to his old self. Much like Salman Rushdie, the mysterious yellow-haired stranger we meet in the opening pages of this magical and haunting new novel is a teller of tales, “driven out of his door by stories of wonder.” This young man, straddling the worlds of sixteenth-century Florence and Mughal India much as he stands astride a bullock cart and enters the emperor’s domain in Sikri, is driven to this new land with a story that can either make him his fortune or cost him his life. Appearing before the emperor Akbar with his bag of conjurer’s tricks and his stories, the young man presents himself as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I to wend his way into the court. When Akbar challenges his identity, the storyteller begins to weave the dangerous tale of the enchantress of Florence, Qara Köz, whom he claims as his mother. Parading through this tale of two worlds are Niccolo Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci’s cousin, Ago. Köz’s power, as the power of many beautiful women in Rushdie’s novels, is often realized through her relationships with the men in her life, so her story often becomes one-dimensional. Nevertheless, Rushdie’s lushly evocative creation of the mysteries and intrigues of a medieval world and his enchanting and seductive stories captivate and transport us in ways reminiscent of his early novels like Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses.
Books mentioned in this column:
Farther Along (Toby Press, 2008)
The Enchantress of Florence (Random House 2008)
Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Contact Henry.