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I read Northline by Willy Vlautin in an evening. It was shorter than 'Lean on Pete', but no less powerful. It was about Allyson, a 19 year old waitress who drowns her sorrows in alcohol. In order to get away from an abusive boyfriend, to whom she has discovered she is pregnant, she goes to Reno. She lives in a house with other pregnant girls and she is paid a monthly stipend to then allow a couple to adopt it once it is born. It is the best decision. She manages to save the few grand and once she's had the baby and handed it over she finds waitressing work. Yet the past won't leave her alone. Through all of this she finds counsel in an imaginary Paul Newman. That bit put me off when I first read the blurb on the back, but it works well.

Over the weekend I also read EL Doctorow's Homer & Langley. It is based on the real lives of eccentric brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer. It is narrated by Homer who, since his teens, is blind. When their parents die within a short time of each other the brothers are left to their own devices. Langley, who served in WWI and who has seared lungs to show for it, has a propensity to collect things - any things - and the once elegant house on Fifth Avenue becomes a museum of musty bric-a-brac. There are also stacks of papers everywhere; Langley buys all the daily newspapers and each day types up a precis of the news, which he categorises. He is hoping to one day bring out the one and only newspaper anyone will ever need, based on a Theory of Replacements and centres on humans need to have, for instance, a baseball hero in each generation. Everything is replaced. However, whilst the story is narrated matter-of-factly, as one would expect - if Homer had enough psychological insight into the state they were getting in over the years, then it may not have become the state it became! Yet there is a detachment from it all; don't get me wrong, it's a great story, but there is a depth lacking - an emotional depth. One summises that the war and the parents death and Homer's blindness have all fuelled the eccentricities, but there is not enough of an emotional anchor - there is little poignancy conveyed - and yet one would expect that, for their story is a poignant one.

I'm also waiting to read 'Then Came the Evening' by Brian Hart. Hart is, amongst other things, a former janitor. He also earned an MFA. It seems increasingly common now for American writers of debut novels to have the MFA listed in the potted biog on the front page. And it is becoming that way here; I read not long ago that soon all writers will need an MA in Creative Writing for publishers to take them seriously. My MA is rather more academic, being in literature itself. I have taught creative writing to undergraduates and many of them want to write and do so, but they don't read nearly enough - some of them hardly anything - and yet reading is the surest way to get a feel for the different styles of writing - to be inspired and influenced and even disgusted by some of it. I also have Willa Cather's 'The Professor's House'. I've read nothing of Cather. I opened the book in the shop and was taken aback by the contemporary feel of the prose. Anyway. Onwards. I have a stinking cold and the black dog is still at the heels - but its teeth are not firmly latched around my shins. These damn euphemisms. I went to the TUC march on Saturday though. There were easily half a million people there. The atmosphere was jovial, upbeat, positive - although everyone knew why they were there. I overheard some people saying that they work as nurses/teachers and yet they are struggling to pay the bills and a man said that it wasn't on, that if one works hard then the least that should be expected is to be able to pay all the bills. This government seems to hold public sector workers in complete disdain. What they want is everyone ruthlessly competing with each other; it's the sick society, as Erich Fromm said. Something will have to give. Onwards.

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