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23 January 2015

Library Limelights 75

Gillian Flynn. Dark Places. New York: Broadway Books/Random House, Inc., 2009
Flynn is probably best known for her Gone Girl, also recently a film, to great praise, although some have questioned how credible are parts of the tale. The same might apply to Dark Places since it is in the works as a film (hey, the book is always better ...!). But it's a mystery-lover's perfect stew with a wide choice of alternate killer scenarios. Much more to the fore than credibility is Flynn's incomparable portrayal of family members and the Kansas ambiance. The exceptional, seductive prose quickly inserts us into the hardscrabble lives of the Day family.

Libby Day is a now-grown but damaged child since most of her family was horrifically murdered one dark, wintry night. Her brother Ben was convicted. We follow Libby's quest for the truth as her narrative alternates with that of Ben and their mother Patty. The very imperfections of the characters bring them to visceral life. Every sentence conjures vivid images. Flynn has already soared into the top ranks of American crime writers. Her debut novel, Sharp Objects, was reviewed in Library Limelights back in January 2014.

Libby lunches with her trustee:
"But," continued Jim Jeffreys, "I think everyone would like to hear you're doing well."
"What about college?" he chewed off a hunk of meat.
"What about we try to set you up in some sort of office job, filing and whatnot?"
"No." I folded in on myself, ignoring my meal, projecting glumness. That was another of my mom's words: glum. It meant having the blues in a way that annoyed other people. Having the blues aggressively.
"Well, why don't you take a week and do some thinking on it?" He was devouring his steak, his fork moving up and down briskly. Jim Jeffreys wanted to leave. Jim Jeffreys was done here. (9)

She rinsed her hands, chapped, red and hard, and glanced at herself in the mirror, making sure her eyes weren't wet. She was thirty-two but looked a decade older. Her forehead was creased like a child's paper fan, and crow's feet rayed out from her eyes. Her red hair was shot with white, wiry threads, and she was unattractively thin, all bumps and points, like she'd swallowed a shelf's worth of hardware: hammers and mothballs and a few old bottles. She did not look like the kind of person you'd want to hug, and, in fact, her children never snuggled into her. (61)

Libby again:

When I was fourteen, I thought a lot about killing myself―it's a hobby today, but at age fourteen it was a vocation. On a September morning, just after school started, I'd gotten Diane's .44 Magnum and held it, baby-like, in my lap for hours. What an indulgence it would be, to just blow off my head, all my mean spirits disappearing with a gun blast, like blowing a seedy dandelion apart. But I thought about Diane, and her coming home to my small torso and a red wall, and I couldn't do it. It's probably why I was so hateful to her, she kept me from what I wanted the most. I just couldn't do it to her, though, so I made a bargain with myself: If I still feel this bad on February 1, I will kill myself. And it was just as bad on February 1, but again I made the bargain: If it's this bad May 1, I'll do it. And so on. I'm still here. (153)

Denise Mina. Garnet Hill. UK: Bantam Press, 1998.
I lucked into this paperback somewhere forgotten now. It won Mina the John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel back in the day (and she hasn't slowed down since). The book was just what I wanted, a submersion into the lives of Glasgow people managing to get by, people with an unquenchable spirit. Maureen O'Donnell is a mental illness survivor, seeking retribution for the victims of hidden crimes. The police are a little slow on the uptake, and her dysfunctional family headed by a mother known by her children as Drunk Winnie are no support. In her dangerous search for the single perpetrator, Maureen balances between panic and dignity, and not without humour.

A series of crimes only comes to light when a man is murdered in Maureen's own home. He's a married man with whom she's been having an affair. Maureen does not become a suspect, but clearly there's a different, yet unknown personal connection. The feisty young woman determines to unravel the mystery as inevitably we learn about her harrowing childhood experience. Her brother Liam and loyal friend Leslie, among others, provide some needed assistance. Wonderful characterization, an absorbing read.

Word: teuchter (246) ― a slightly derogatory but humourous lowland Scots term for a highland Scot.
One-liner: Siobhain sighed the deepest sigh Maureen had ever heard, like all the Mothers of Ireland breathing out at one time. (305)

Part of a police interview:
"Your mother said you had a psychiatrist," said McEwan.
"My mother drinks too much too often. She's in tune with the moon a lot of the time."
A hint of a smile floated across McEwan's face. "How would you know if you were having a breakdown?"
"I'm not having one, if that's what you meant. When depressives have a breakdown it's pretty obvious. We can't function or get ourselves out of the house. If I was having a breakdown you'd be able to tell."
McEwan looked at McMummb, who must have done a two-day course in psychology. He nodded his confirmation and McEwan turned back to her. McMummb sat back and blushed with delight at McEwan's deference. (50-51)

Drunk Winnie:
The school had found out that Winnie was an alki when the headmistress phone her about Liam's disruptive behaviour in class. Winnie staggered up to the school, told the school secretary she was a wanker and fell asleep in the waiting room. She couldn't be wakened. George had to come and get her, carrying her out of the school and into the car, still snoring her head off. The teachers stopped giving them a hard time after that, they looked on them pityingly and made allowances when they didn't do homework. It was insulting the way they spoke to them, as if their lives were pathetic and always would be, as if they couldn't help themselves. Maureen would rather have been treated as a bad child than a sad one. (96)

A victim:
Yvonne's hair was honey blonde, turning brown through lack of sun and cut into a short, manageable, hospital style. She was sitting in an orthopaedic armchair; cushions had been placed between her hips and the chair sides to stop her slipping over. A freshly puffed pillow in a transparent plastic cover lay in front of her on the table attachment. She was slumped over it, her hands in her lap. Her glassy blue eyes were half open, her cheek was resting on the plastic-covered pillow in the slick of warm saliva dribbling horizontally out of her mouth. She was forty at most. ... It was a long time since Yvonne had had an expression on her face. (283)

Iain Banks. Stonemouth. New York: Penguin Books LLC, 2012.
Not nice to admit, but I couldn't wait for this book to finish. In my increasing quest to understand the nuances of Scottish accents, words, and idioms, this looked like a good bet with a criminal element involved. Alas, I didn't read the fine print about "rite of passage" and so, ultimately, it was really centred on a summer of young love. Young love, the consequences, and much discussion in the aftermath; discussion often tedious from an old cynic's point of view. Stewart Gilmour had good reason to be wary of returning to visit his hometown near Aberdeen. Resolving old relationships and avoiding several thrashings keep him very busy. Language insight: 8 out of 10.

Words: numpty - "the slow kid who got jokes last or not at all and who always needed help with answers" (138)
winny - worry; fankle - a tangle impossible to untangle

Highland exercise:
Full-on Scottish country dancing like this is a sight and a sound to behold, and not for the faint-hearted. Aside from a few gentle dances like St. Bernard's Waltz – basically for the grans and grandads, so they can shuffle around the floor recalling past and limber glories while everybody else is at the bar – it's all fairly demented stuff, with rugby-sized-scrum packs of drunken people whirling around the room in progressively more fragmented rabbles trying to remember what the hell happens next.
The Gay Gordons is effectively choreographed chaos and an Eightsome Reel is a deranged marathon requiring a PhD in dance. Two hundred and fifty-six bars of dashing, reversing, turning, skipping, pas-de-basing, jump-stepping, successively-partner-swapping-until-you-get-back-to-the-one-you-started-with music is common, but the Eightsome properly lasts for four hundred and sixty-four bars, and no matter how fit you are at the start it's always awfully good to get to the end. (197)

Job description:
"Oh, I think about what I actually do," I tell her, "and Ferg's right: I point lights at big buildings. I'm an exterior decorator fussing over the phallic substitutes of rich boys. I window dress the grotesque status symbols of a kleptocratic worldwide plutocracy, the undeserving elite of the far-too-impressed-with-themselves über rich. It's exciting, it's rewarding, it's well paid and it takes me all over the world, and so long as I don't actually think about it I have a great time." (315)

19 January 2015

Lost and Found: A Tale of Two Cities

My mother's copy of a classic for a high school English course in the 1930s.
Port Arthur Collegiate Institute.

13 January 2015

Library Limelights 74

Linwood Barclay. No Safe House. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Barclay does it again in this latest novel; the author's fertile imagination knows no bounds. Ordinary people and events stumble into extraordinary, terrifying problems, all propelling the reader toward a climax almost impossible to anticipate. Two teenagers trespassing, for a not-so-innocent lark ... what could possibly go wrong?! The answer of course is just everything: cue the non-stop action. Terry Archer is the hapless suburbanite whose wife Cynthia is still recovering from years-old trauma and they have to deal with Grace, their stubborn teenager. How many dead bodies before Terry gets an inkling of the menacing forces set into motion around him?

More than one criminal enterprise is thriving behind the scenes. We're kept guessing about Vince, the unrepentant crook; Jane, his adopted daughter; Nathaniel the dog walker; Reggie the mysterious voice; Wedmore the cop; and a host of confused others. All dished up with an irresistible bite of humour. If you don't know Linwood Barclay yet, you're missing exceptional "can't put it down" suspense.

Jane at work:
Was this what she really wanted to do? Mr. Archer, he'd figured her out. She wanted to write, and not stupid jingles for gas stations and furnace repair companies. She wanted to write novels. She wanted to write about what it was like to be a young woman growing up today. Wondering what the hell you were going to do with your life. Having to fight for everything you get. Nobody wanting to give you a permanent job. All short-term contracts. No benefits. The whole 22-22-22 thing. If you were twenty-two, companies worked you twenty-two hours a day for twenty-two thousand dollars a year. And if you didn't like that, well, tough shit. (268-9)

"If we call the cops, Grace might not be in as much trouble as we first feared, and we'll be helping Jane at the same time."
I wasn't so sure.
I decided to try another tack with Cynthia.
"That man out there, I know what he is. He's a thug. I get that. But I still feel I owe him. For how he helped us before. If he hadn't come with me that night, I wouldn't have found you―you and Grace―in time. And like they say, no good deed goes unpunished. He nearly died."
Cynthia's eyes softened. "I don't feel any different. I know the sacrifice he made. But what can we do? Jesus, Terry, what the hell can we do?"

John Lescroart. The Hunter. Toronto: Dutton/Penguin Group, 2012.
Adoption: a personal mystery that many adoptees hope to resolve for different reasons. Upon learning shocking news about his birth parents, private eye Wyatt Hunt has no choice. He must use all his skills to trace events of forty years ago. His original informant is an unknown; the clues are sparse. A few bodies begin to pile up, literally making nightmares for Wyatt as he is in the process of making a committed relationship to Tamara. His friend Devin Juhle the cop helps with technical access at each stalemate. Wyatt Hunt and a few other names in the story will be familiar to Lescroart fans and his chronicles of a fictional San Francisco cluster of inter-related friends in legal and law enforcement circles.

How many ghosts can Wyatt conjure up before it's over? ... even the ill-fated Jim Jones colony in Guyana. The unfolding revelations and consequences begin to overpower the psyche of a 40s-something alpha male. Yet I felt Lescroart uncharacteristically fell down a bit here. Tamara's devotion does not feel depicted strongly enough and I could not see the spark in the relationship.

The friends have a typical conversation:
" ... I do my real job for which I get paid as a homicide inspector, and you're asking me if I could just look up a little something for you in my free time and for no compensation whatsoever?"
"There would be compensation of performing a small but meaningful service for your best friend in the world."
"I don't think that's going to be enough."
"It will be, especially when you hear what it is."
"I don't want to hear what it is, Wyatt. I've got other work I'm supposed to be doing, as I believe I've mentioned already now a time or two. And after I'm done here, I've got three witness interviews starting"―Juhle checked his watch―"in exactly forty-two minutes and they will take me through the rest of the afternoon and possibly even into the night and that in turn will make me late for dinner, which Connie hates and I can't say I blame her because I hate it, too."
"You are in rare eloquence today," Hunt said. (37-38)

A premature call:
Hunt sat at the counter of the restaurant in his hotel. In front of him was a glass of milk. On his plate was what little remained of a large serving of breaded pork tenderloin, an Indianapolis specialty of which he was sure Mickey would not approve. Nevertheless, it hit the spot at the moment―hearty, bland, comforting, filling. Mashed potatoes and a really pretty good red cabbage dish as the sides rounded everything out nicely.
He felt the buzz of his cell phone at his belt before he heard its guitar-strumming ringtone. He'd played phone tag and left a message with Juhle and didn't plan to pick up for anyone except him or Tamara, and sure enough, here he was.
"What do you mean the case is solved?"
"Is there a possible second meaning?"
"Come on. Talk to me."(230)

 Cathi Unsworth. Weirdo. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2013.
The title was not appealing, but the blurb "Queen of Noir in the UK" was. A tale of secret teenage revenge in a small Norfolk (England) town is revived twenty years later. Sean Ward arrives to research the old murder case, unaware of unleashing dire consequences. Corrine Woodrow, locked up in an asylum, had been accepted as the perpetrator but Sean and his employer think otherwise. The probing reveals a lasting layer of degeneracy and complicity as the narrative switches between the two time periods. A "cast" of dozens keeps us on our toes.

Sean finds some allies as he seeks interviews with all concerned, striving to understand the issues. But he is putting them in danger. A brilliant ploy is our not knowing who the victim was! My original reservation about a novel based largely on teenage life quickly dissipated; Unsworth definitely has the magic touch at ramping up unbearable suspense.

New girl arrives:
He handed Samantha a piece of paper with her timetable. Her results from the public school she had previously been attending in London put her in the top stream, so Corrine wouldn't be much help showing her around.
"Deborah Carver," Mr. Pearson looked across to the other side of the classroom. "You have the same lessons as Samantha here, can I trust you to show her how to get about?"
Deborah opened her mouth but it took a while for the words to come out. She had been staring at the new girl with a strange feeling of dread coiling inside her. She didn't know why, or what it was about her. Later she would imagine that she had been struck by a premonition, that this girl who looked so shining and pretty actually had a black cloud hanging over her head that was about to open up on her world.
On all of their worlds. (43)

Magical or medical?
Corrine had the strangest sensation, as if she had started floating through the air.
"Fade into the light," she heard Noj say. "Fade into the light and disappear."
She didn't hear the door open, nor see the shapes of several people standing over her.
"She's passed clean out," said Sheila Alcott, gently lifting Corrine's right eyelid.
"In that position?" Gray said. Corrine was sitting bolt upright.
"She's catatonic," Sheila spoke as one who had seen this sort of thing many times before. "We need to call an ambulance." (120)

31 December 2014


The 2014 page of book reviews is now posted. See "Books Index 2014" above. 

Titles are listed alphabetically by author surname with reference to the date of posting and Library Limelights number (most posts cover two or three books).

29 December 2014

Library Limelights 73

Peter McGarvey. Dark Sunset. New York: Cliff House Publishing, 2013. 
Cliff House appears to be one of those small publishers that acts as a website to feature the works of one or a few authors, available from online sources. After about the first hundred pages the missing wordsa lot of prepositions, for some reasonwere more noticeable, indicating less than careful proofreading. And yet Dark Sunset is a well-crafted debut for a series about Molly Parsons, a bounty hunter turned police detective. Working in her home town of Sunset in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, Molly is not quite recovered from a previous unspecified trauma but the murder of a visitor makes her focus on the crime.

The dead man was interested in Sunset's favourite son, a poet of international fame, also deceased. Eventually we learn Molly's sad back story as her conniving boss and a sneaky colleague are trying to force her out. Things look even less optimistic for her when she disagrees with their arrest of a killer. Then a second, shocking killing occurs. Plenty of local characters with potential motives are introduced; it's a dandy story. Toronto author McGarvey has fashioned an entire milieu in the town of Sunset and its inhabitants (he also has a website about it: He's one to look for.

One-Liner: Small towns have narrow minds and long memories. (86)

Recurrent nightmare:
Molly woke up screaming. She was on the floor. She didn't remember falling but could feel an ache in her left hip where it had slammed into the hardwood. She crawled into the corner. She raised the Beretta and aimed it at the bedroom doorway. Somewhere deepin the darkness of the house was a soft whirring.The compressor on the refrigerator?No. Something was out of place. It tore her from sleep. Fear was strangling her. She couldn't breathe. A weight was crushing down on her chest.Am I having a coronary? (75)

Deputy Paul Booster:
Damnation! Molly Parsons had not even taken a law enforcement course before joining the sheriff's department. I spent three years in college getting my criminal justice diploma!Booster acknowledged Molly had a keen sense of curiosity which made her natural investigator. She had to know all the answers, learn all the facts, and put it together seamlessly to make a case. However, he could see she was struggling now. She was off her game, not showing her usual arrogant confidence.He figured her husband's death had taken a lot more out of her than she was willing to admit.She's an emotional wreck, just going through the motions.(115)

She overcame this:
Small towns were cruel places. As the gray little daughter of the crackpot minister living on the edge of town Molly was an outside. Perceptions were formed early and followed a person like an unwanted shadow. They lingered far into the future.Her fellow students had broken into cliques corresponding with their parents' social status and income levels. Most of the kids had an occasional kind word or smile for her. It was just a small group who'd treated her badly. Although she tried to fade into the background their snickers and snarky comments followed her through the corridors. She was never certain which was worse, the nasty remarks or the pity. Both made her withdraw deeper into herself. (138)

Malcolm Mackay. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. London: Mantle/Macmillan Publishers, 2013.
One of the tartan noir novelists, Mackay gives us an inside look at organized crime in Glasgow. The clinical, dispassionate writing style took some adjustment on my part. But it's absolutely suited to the subject matter. Calum is a hired gun for which there's a certain demand; it's a skill and this book is the anatomy of a hit. He reviews his new assignment before, during, and after the fact. Despite the author's sparse language, we are privy to Calum's thoughts and thus can determine his feelings. The same goes for the victim's girlfriend and several other characters. Really, the achievement of a gifted writer.

The men who hire Calum are protecting their turf, never sure of who might be scheming for a takeover. Drug dealing, car theft, money laundering, factions competing for power all part and parcel of the subculture make the rivals permanently paranoid and dangerous. Wives and girlfriends are under scrutiny. Meanwhile there's a similar jockeying for position among police individuals, some of whom are honest but habitual bullies. This is a fine study of operational contrast between criminal gangs and law enforcement. Mackay plans two more novels in his Glasgow trilogy. Dark, but I'm in.

The life of Lewis:
Poor judgement. He knows it. He's always known it. Zara isn't the right person, not for that sort of life. He'll never be able to play happy families with her. They could fake it for a while, but she would get itchy feet. It wouldn't last. There's the fear, though. He thinks about it as he sits opposite her.both eating some chicken-and-pasta dish that he's thrown together. It's flavourless, but she's already talking about where they should go, playfully complaining that his choices are always dull. The fear. If he dumps Zara, and looks for something more meaningful elsewhere, he might not find it and be left with nothing. What they have may not be much, bit it's better than nothing. He agrees to her suggestion of a nightclub one that she always enjoys, he always hates. (36-37)

Life of a gunman:
Two weeks. That's when there's nothing but uncertainty, and worry. You're thinking about what everyone else is doing. You're wondering how close to you the police are. You're worrying that this might be the crime that tips you over the top. You go from being off the police radar to being in their sights. You become the target. It's almost bound to happen at some point. Calum tries to be as careful as he can, but one really smart cop might come along and catch him out one day. Technology may move forward and catch him out, not just on one job, but on every job he's ever done. (164)

Life of a street cop:
Plod through the day. Hot and dull. Nothing happening. No big incidents, nothing of much note. Hot Saturday, though, so there'll be a lot of unpleasant work for the night-shift. People drinking all day in the heat. People falling over, falling off things. People knocking each other down. Men trying to impress women by knocking lumps out of each other. Men trying to have their own way and knocking lumps out of women. Lot of ugly domestics on a night like this. Greig hates domestics. Tricky business. Better avoided. He's glad when the shift's ending and they can wander back towards the station. Out of the uniform, into a T-shirt. (205)

13 December 2014

Library Limelights 72

Nicole Mones. The Last Chinese Chef. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2008.
A savoury little find. Yard sales pay off. No mystery here, simply a sweet story of Maggie who is grieving the sudden death of her husband Matt and undertaking, reluctantly, an urgent trip to China. Well, there is a basic question involved and we have to wait for the answer. As a widow, Maggie is about to face her husband's devastating secret. As a magazine food writer, she is about to discover some therapeutic benefits in Chinese cuisine. More than a culinary tour, the novel touches on customs and culture of China both historical and modern. A local chef becomes her accidental but complaisant guide.

Maggie's encounters with Chinese families include their experiences of serving the Dowager Empress and the tragic days of the "Cultural Revolution," among others. A kept woman muses on her future that is spiralling downward. Also the author of Lost in Translation, Mones is a very engaging and sensitive writer. The ribs and the tofu with thirty-crab sauce are not to be missed!

The end is nigh:
He knew what was coming even though they did not tell him. Huh, old Dr. Shen, he was a fool if he thought Xie could not grasp his euphemisms and decode his glances to Wang Ling. Actually, it wasn't so bad. The pain he had felt in his limbs for so long was gone, replaced by numbness. His body was failing, spiraling away from him, his hands quivering when he could raise them at all. Yet he was clear. Steel cables sang in his mind. He remembered everything about his life. And while he could feel the next world, feel its sounds and urges and movements beyond the veil, at the same time he knew he had never been sharper or more astute about this one. He saw everyone and everything, not the surface but what was true inside. Most of what he saw made him content. (96)

Sam's family:
Then she heard Sam's footfall on the stairs. Strange that she knew his step already. ...
"Do you want to take a shower? And then we'll have breakfast."
Of course, she thought, another meal. "Does someone else need to use the bathroom?"
"Not now. They're Chinese. They bathe at night. You slept through it."
The sisters got up and trickled out, sly, smiling, as if now was the time for Maggie and Sam to be alone.
"They like you," he said. "They told me so."
"They think we're together."
"No," he said. "I told them we're just friends."
"Well, I'm sorry. I took your room."
"Not in the end," he said. (158)

Gao Lan's family:
I was born in the same year as our nation [1966], a fact that gave me great pride and also my name, Guolin, the country's Welcome Rain. This was my generation. Later we were termed the Lost Ones because we had lost our educations, but I always bristled at that. Being lost was a state of mind. On the contrary, we showed we had the fierceness for anything. When we were sent to the countryside in 1970 we endured privations such as even our mothers and fathers never did. I went two years without oil and salt. That is something most people today cannot imagine. Yet those ten years of chaos did not break us. The one thing that did break us had already happened, might in fact have made the Cultural Revolution possible, and that was the famine. Looking back, I have thought that only people who were starved as children could do the things we young people did. (106-107)

Annie Proulx. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner, 2002.
Annie! Annie Proulx! As a huge fan of The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes (she also wrote Brokeback Mountain) I can't believe I missed this one. Proulx has transferred her bewitching humour to the Texas panhandle, wonderfully capturing the life and idioms of a fiercely proud rural society. Woolybucket County is experiencing the modern dilemmas of independent ranchers v. corporate farming and the oil business. Young and naive Bob Dollar comes to town, employed by a giant of the hog industry, to scout the area for a new site. Bob is not excellent at his job. But he devours tales of the old cowboys and the home cooking at the Old Dog Cafe. The twang accents and hilarious clichés of the natives don't conceal their canny practicality that defeats every desperate ploy Bob comes up with. Howsomever, they affectionately adopt him ... most of them. Except for the one or two who want to kill him.

The concocted place names (Roughbug, Slickfork, Struggle, Cowboy Rose, more) and personal names (Ribeye Cluke, Tater Crouch, Parch Wilpin, Freda Beautyrooms, Jim Skin, LaVon Fronk, Bromo Redpoll, and more) are only the tip of the iceberg, the introduction, to endlessly inventive anecdotes of these characters and the old days. I defy you not to laugh out loud in delight during the Cain and Abel quilting bee, or Bob's wasp sting, or his hapless run-ins with Sheriff Dough. Proulx's ability to get into the skin of her characters seems effortless and infinite. The word charm applies here unreservedly. Best advice: read slowly to appreciate every line. Annie rules!

Words that need sounding out loud so you catch the drift of the context:
barbwar (also bobwire)
graindaddy as in your ma's pa
awl as in Standard Awl pumping millions of barls a day
waf as in the female you married
prior as in what you do at church (or to win the rodeo)
small as in the opposite of frown
flar is what a pansy is

One liners:
Every pie got its own piecrust. (69)
Couldn't hit an elephant's ass with a banjo. (80)
No sir, there ain't no corn on that cob. (240)
The ghosts come up out a this place ever night like a flock a bats. (241)
Jesus Christ, I just as soon put a funnel in my mouth and run against the wind. (313)

Oldtimers reminiscing:
"Oh, we was poor," said Methiel Huff. "Seems like at the end a the month all we had a eat was beans and more beans. Red-letter day when we got a little salt pork to perk them up. Mother used a keep the salt pork in a crock, lid on it and a big stone on the lid, but someway Dad's old hound dog pushed the stone off and got in there and eat ever bit of it up. Ma said then the only thing we had to flavor the beans was windmill grease. That old relief truck would come around and we'd get rice, beans, prunes and powdered milk." (107)

The Struggle cemetery:
[Jim has a condition that forces him to cough―Wagh!―every so often]
"When my deddy died they buried him in―Wagh!―Struggle. He is buried in the lightbulb cemetery―Wagh!―up there where a man's worth is spelled out by the watts a the lightbulbs set in the ground around the grave. Know what old Susie picked for him? Three burned-out refrigerator bulbs. She said he didn't deserve no more. Wagh! Wagh! Wagh! I always felt bad about that. I always told myself I'd go up there and put in bigger bulbs for him." (231 and 241)

Admitted to a cockfight:
Bob stayed for nearly two hours watching match after match until he began sneezing from the chickeny dust and feather effluvium mixed with smoke. There was something mesmerizing and terrible about the birds, the rank and sweaty crowd. Gradually he had understood that the cocks represented their owners, that the grossest lout, the skinniest Asian, mingled his psychological identification with that of the sleek, beautiful and dangerous birds. He said good-bye to the fat man and eased out. In the parking lot a heavy farmer was pissing on a tire. He glanced up at Bob.
"Lost me nine hunderd bucks in there," he said.
"Sorry to hear it."
"Not half so sorry as I am. I believe my waf will kill me."
Bob drove back to the Busted Star feeling he had been present at some dark blood sacrifice older than civilization, a combat with sexual overtones rooted in the deepest trench of the panhandle psyche. (236)