Books for the dog days of summer

Nick Tosches’ latest novel, “Me and the Devil” (Little Brown) hooks you from the opening paragraph: “The past is a very bad place. It is not good to go there. Not like this. Take a deep breath.” And off we go in this exploration of how somewhere along the line things went wrong.

An aging New York writer feels the life ebbing out of him until one night he meets an extraordinary young woman who draws him into a wholly unfamiliar, intense and unholy world. It’s a riveting tale of lust, sex and blood; not necessarily vampiric but headed in that direction.

A perfect book for the hot dog days of summer. It’s about crossing or not crossing lines and knowing which bridge to cross and which to burn. Drawing praise from both Keith Richards and Anthony Bourdain, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Then there’s “Cold Deck” (University of Nevada Press) by H. Lee Barnes. This one is set on and off the strip in Vegas and offers up a slice of the decidedly less than highly glitzy side of life in the world of gaming.

Like the narrator in Tosches’ book, Barnes gives us a tired protagonist who’s spent more than two decades dealing. After a series of mishaps—getting fired and totaling his car—he too meets up with a desirable young woman and is drawn into an elaborate scheme to rip off a casino.

Barnes’ low key prose rings with well-developed characters and authentic knowledge of the casino life, drawing you in and keeping the pages turning

And finally, Jim Harrison’s latest collection of novellas, “The River Swimmer” (Grove Press). Unlike his previous collections of this one is comprised of two, not three, novellas.

The stories focus on two men, one young and one old, who confront some inconvenient situations. A sort of look at life from both sides now to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.

The first, and longest, is entitled “The Land of Unlikeness.” It’s the story of a declining 60-odd-year-old academic who after teaching art history for many years, returns to his family’s Michigan farm to spell his aunt in taking care of his mother. The journey re-kindles a host of memories of his own lost loves from girlfriends to the act of painting.

In the title novella, a young guy in the upper Midwest turns to swimming as a means of escape from the encroaching realities of his world. In doing so, he encounters several beautiful yet otherworldly creatures. Harrison’s sparkling prose, laced with wit and insight into the human condition is a joy to read.

Notes: The second of the city’s free in-the-park concerts is coming Aug. 17. It will feature Maria Muldaur and the Campbell Brothers. More on this in the coming weeks.

Kirk Robertson covers the Churchill Arts Council scene.


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