The Diagram Prize is awarded by The Bookseller each year to the book with the oddest title. To give you an example it was won last year by If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs by Big Boom (is there a separate prize for the oddest author's name?). This year they're casting back over past winners, much like the Booker of Bookers, to find the oddest of the odd, or Diagram of Diagrams. The Guardian has an article here and a pictorial selection which can be found here so you can pick your personal favourite. As someone who is constantly removing cat hair from clothing and carpets I feel inspired by the book above to create a new wardrobe. Failing that I could always read Highlights in the History of Concrete.
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Thursday, 21 August 2008
by Andreï Makine
Although born in Russia Andreï Makine sought asylum in France, writes in French and has won both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, Frances top literary prizes, with his novel La Testament Français (published in English as Dreams of My Russian Summers) . Whilst I found that book a little sentimental I did enjoy the romanticism of his last novel The Woman Who Waited and the spare brilliance of A Life's Music. Makine is unashamedly romantic and unafraid of making bold gestures in his writing; the stakes are always high and the themes fundamental to human existence. The title of his latest novel covers the two biggies: what it means to be human, and love. He has widened his landscape in this tale which takes us from the political unrest of west Africa to the frozen wastes of Russia and gives a unique perspective on Africa during the turbulent 1960's and 70's through the eyes of Angolan revolutionary Elias Almeida. It is a view of the world both painful and uplifting, focusing again on the fundamentals, 'When under threat, our existence is laid bare and we are shocked by the stark simplicity of what drives it.'
The novel is actually narrated by a Russian writer who shared a cell with Almeida; who in fact took Almeida for dead and tried to steal a pen from his body, the pen with which he writes the book we are reading, of course. As a child in Angola, Almeida had seen his mother prostitute herself and left to die after an interrogation which leaves her with a broken collarbone poking through her skin. This image keeps returning to him and his need to erase it helps form his belief in making a world where such a thing couldn't happen. When he goes to find his father in the jungles of the Congo he is caught up in the revolutionary zeal of one of the men there; a certain Ernesto Guevara. With his youth and the words of the Argentine ringing in his ears he sees revolution as the means to transform the way the world loves. 'For what is the point of such liberating turmoil if it does not radically change the way we understand and love our fellow human beings?'.
It is the very opposite that brings him face to face with the woman who will haunt his life. Whilst in Moscow, having been recruited by the Russians, he is attacked by racist thugs but saved from a beating by Anna, a beautiful Russian. The two of them follow a doomed trajectory through the history of Soviet sponsored political ferment. This is a theme familiar from his previous work; lovers separated by circumstance and yet connected by their love. That in this case the love is unconsummated shows that in this period of ideology it is perfect for a man like Almeida to carry that through his struggles. In this novel, against such a volatile backdrop, love is shown to be a far more fragile concept than before. The characters, Almeida in particular, are placed in such peril that it is never certain what contact if any they may have with each other again. The scenes of violence in Africa are particularly brutal (much like the film The Last King of Scotland), the image of a child soldier wearing a broken gas mask waving a gun through the bars of their cell showing clearly the tenuous grasp we all hold on life and the capriciousness of death. Another startling image is that of a woman raped by the UNITA soldiers holding Almeida and our narrator captive. As she lies dying they search her mouth to find the rough diamonds she has concealed there, the reason for her silence during their assault. Her bruised and violated body not only corporeal but standing as a metaphor for what is happening to the country itself.
Makine returns to themes and images again and again, their import changed each time by what has happened in the interim. Some may find this is simply repetitive but it has the power to show the danger of not learning from history, even within our own lifetime. Even the thought of return itself is a recurring theme.
'When death stares us coolly in the eye we perceive that in our lives there have been a few hours of sunlight or darkness, a few faces to which we return continually, and that what has kept us alive, in fact, is the simple hope of finding them again.'
This novel is a brave undertaking, not simply by Makine but by the reader as well. You may not like the world he depicts but it is after all the one we live in. As with any novel that tackles such huge ideas it is prone to the odd clunky moment but there is lots to admire. Almeida remembers the safety of burying his face in the crook of his mother's arm. It is a comfort you may wish for yourself after completing this harrowing journey.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Thank god it's good. After all the hype and the inevitable media frenzy after the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger this film had so much weight bearing down on it I was worried that Batman might not fly after all. Christopher Nolan's second film is a dark, complex and allegorical work which gives blockbusters a good name and breathes life into a character which might never have recovered from the diminishing returns of the films from the nineties.
As Alfred says, Batman must 'endure' and it shows what an endurable character he is that with each successive incarnation there is something fresh to be said about the society we live in. The phrase 'post 9/11' is bandied about nowadays to mean all sorts of things but it is clear in this film that New York, oh I'm sorry, I mean Gotham City is traumatised and trying to find a way to deal with terror. Again it is Alfred, in a touching performance from Michael Cane, who explains that 'some men just want to watch the world burn' and how terrifying to be up against an adversary who can't be reasoned with and doesn't mind if you kill him in the process. Heath Ledger is indeed impressive in his role as the Joker; the make-up there like war paint to intimidate, the rough scars showing underneath (but with us unclear as to how they got there) and, with his rough voice breaking to reveal that unmistakeable cackle, a genuinely chilling psychopath. That the film's length doesn't drag is in part due to his performance but also to his devious character which allows Nolan to elongate the plot with the ingenious Joker one step ahead of Batman, the police and the city itself.
The acting is strong throughout. Bale growls his way through more action and smarms away as Bruce Wayne. The soul searching about what makes a hero, or indeed what a hero can be was a little heavy handed for me but Batman is after all not a super hero, just a man, albeit not like us. Maggie Gyllenhall brings far more to the role vacated by Katie Holmes and Aaron Eckhart is solid as Gotham's white knight Harvey Dent. Gary Oldman is great again in a role which could easily have been filled by a corpulent character actor and shows us what is at stake for so many of Gotham's residents. Nolan continues his serious approach to the production creating a complicated thriller which feels more like a film by Michael Mann than a comic book blockbuster. He's left things finely poised for a third movie having set up Batman to be whatever Gotham needs him to be. Hero or villain. Let's just hope that he does return.
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Look at the picture above and you will notice something. Avon and Stringer, together in the same car, but looking in different directions. That tells you all you need to know about these two 'brothers' in season three of The Wire. Whilst Stringer is greasing palms to make the most of the properties they control Avon is glad to be back in the game, keeping control of the corners, and regaining his place on the street. Season three brings us back to the problem of drugs in Baltimore and one man's plan to combat the problem. Major Colvin jokes at one stage that to meet the crime reduction targets he has been set he is going to legalise drugs. But his throwaway comment isn't too far from the truth. By creating zones where a blind eye will be turned on drug dealing and use, he hopes to clean up the corners, concentrate the problem in specific areas and make it easier to target those wrongdoers when the time is right. What it allows the series to explore is the wide web that drugs cast in society, how it affects those directly involved in their production, selling, use and abuse; everyone from the kids used as lookouts to the lone elderly woman who finds herself the only resident in one of these 'free zones'.
Daniels and his now permanent detail have a much harder task to gain any useful information from a wire as the drug crews have become far more cautious about how they use phones, and with their communication in general. This means that we get to enjoy the complications of the police work again, just as in the first series, but with added layers. In fact layers are being added in all aspects of the programme allowing the series to show what TV can do better than any other medium. Given the extended time of several hour-long episodes we are seeing characters rendered in the kind of detail which is usually the reserve of the novelist. It isn't simply time that allows this, but the amazingly high standard of writing and performance. Characters aren't given vast speeches to show personality, just the right words; and the actors deliver them perfectly. Relationships within the police team and the implications of the work on their personal lives (and vice versa) create wonderful tensions. These are mirrored on the other side of the legal divide with the drug crews.
On top of all of that we have the character of the city itself. Baltimore is depicted in great detail; the various districts feel very different to one another, requiring differing approaches from the police. The interplay between politics, policing, media and residents is given great prominence in this series. Everyone is checking their back, as an air of intrigue and suspicion worthy of Shakespeare hangs over proceedings. The introduction of Aiden Gillen (another actor from this side of the water) as Tommy Corcetti, a young and ambitious council man, is significant. I just hope he relaxes into his role. His reptilian stare is right but he looks a little nervous at the moment, like he's really concentrating on getting the accent right. He's a fantastic actor though so I'm not too concerned. The skullduggery is also obvious amongst, and indeed within, the drug crews too of course and it is that increasing body count which keeps the heat on the police and the wind in the sails of this superlative series. Bring on season four.
Monday, 18 August 2008
Grizzly Bear - Plans
Huge thanks to James Dalrymple who has a blog, Demob Happy, covering music, film and fiction and who recommended Grizzly Bear to me after reading my reviews of Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. I can see why he mentioned them to me in conjunction with those two outfits, it's in the alt-country/folk mould but with some electronic influence as you might expect from an album released by the label Warp. What I've been really impressed by is the complexity, as I listen to the album again and again I hear something new each time. There are West Coast harmonies and folky strummings but a wide range of instrumentation that includes flutes, clarinets and many other classical instruments too. The singing is not as clearly beautiful as that on Fleet Foxes début but with all four members of the band contributing differing styles it is in some ways more interesting.
A track like Lullabye which begins with acoustic guitars and a melody The Beatles would have been happy with is soon subverted by discordant guitar, chanted vocals and a musical crescendo which makes you realise how misleading the title is. The lyrics too unsettle, what do they mean when they sing 'My love's another kind'. Central and Remote is another track that contains surprising power as they sing about how 'Pressing matters bear', the darkness lifted by soaring vocal harmonies. Little Brother sounds like standard folk until stomps and handclaps lift it and lush vocals take it into the realms of film-score beauty. Plans is a good example of the electronic influences which help take the simple whistled melody into a landscape populated by beeps, whistles and a big brass section; the song fracturing at the end under the weight of its many parts. The track I keep being haunted by is Marla which with its old piano and string accompaniment creates a beautiful and yet very creepy feel, like walking into an empty house to find a piano playing itself and quiet voices echoing down the hall.
The album was in fact recorded in Ed Droste's mother's house (the eponymous Yellow House) so perhaps that has something to do with my thoughts. There's certainly a lot going on musically, which means that with headphones on your mind can go on some very interesting journeys. It can meander at times or dissolve into the kind of vague psych-noodling that carries a waft of patchouli in the air but all in all it makes for an atmospheric album which really delivers when listened to from beginning to end. Thanks again to James for making me aware. That's what blogging's all about, isn't it?
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Gentlemen Of The Road
by Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon is a writer difficult to pin down. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his mammoth novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, scriptwriter of Spiderman 2, contributing editor of McSweeney's and a man who seems happy to swap literary and genre fiction like a hat. His working title for this novella was 'Jews with Swords' which was usually greeted by laughter when he mentioned it to friends. And indeed Jews have hardly gone down in history as a swashbuckling people but Chabon attempts to redress that balance with a tale which aims to emulate The Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers but falls disappointingly short of either.
The characters are colourful enough. The first of our daring duo is Zelikman, a 'scarecrow' of a man with long blond hair, physician by trade, his weapon of choice a long lancet. His companion Amram is a giant Abyssinian who carries a Viking axe he affectionately calls 'Defiler of Your Mother'. These two gentlemen of the road become involved in transporting a young stripling through the ancient Kingdom of Khazaria which is in the middle of a power struggle that will inevitably pull in our intrepid adventurers.
There are beautiful illustrations throughout from Gary Gianni, which conjure just the right feel for this tale but in a shorter format Chabon struggles to really create the world of The Caucasus around 950 AD. He's clearly done a lot of research but it's plonked down pretty bluntly in places and can feel like your reading a succession of ye oldy worldy words.
But on his return to Atil from the summer hordes, the usurper Buljan ordered that his sukkah be erected on the donjon's roof, with its strategic views of the kagan's palace, the seafront, the Muslim quarter and the steppe, and above all with its relative nearness to the stars, among which his sky-worshipping and uncircumcised ancestors still hunted with infallible gyrfalcons for celestial game.
Perhaps the problem is that it was originally serialised in The New York Times and the episodic format doesn't allow the book to come together as a whole. It's strange given that one of the strengths of his writing in Kavalier and Clay was his ability to leave a chapter on a cliffhanger (much like the comic books that he was writing about) which compelled you to read on into the next, and the next, until its 650 pages had sped by. Chabon's prose can be overcomplicated at times and so perhaps isn't best suited to an exercise like this. Which is the other problem. It feels like an exercise, 'doing' an adventure tale with Jews to see if he can, rather than because it's any good or has any real heart behind it. It isn't bad by any means but after enjoying Kavalier so much this shorter book and The Final Solution have left me unsatisfied. I'm still waiting for the next substantial offering and I just hope that the lure of Hollywood doesn't rob us of great American novelist.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
by Sylvia Brownrigg
Sylvia Brownrigg's previous novel The Delivery Room was a brilliant depiction of the personal life of a psychotherapist. As the patients came through her house we saw the impact of their lives on her own and her struggle to prevent the stresses caused by the illness of her husband from escaping into the sanctuary she provided for those in need. The therapist, Mira, was a brilliantly drawn character, totally convincing as a distinct person and personality, much like the housekeeper, Emerence, in Magda Szabo's superb The Door. Having just read one tale of a woman moving between her husband and her lover, Brownrigg's latest novel has the same premise albeit starting from a different place.
Nobody wants to be a second wife. It's nobody's great ambition in life, to inhabit days loud with shouted schedule conflicts, telephones slammed down or cursed into, cars speeding away with the hysterical exclamation point of burnt rubber...Therefore, second wives. If it turns out to be you, if that's the straw you happen to draw- tough luck. You're never going to get the kind of joy you hoped for when you walk into a marriage that used to belong to somebody else. It's like moving into a new house that still has half the previous owner's furniture in it. You'd like to get rid of the all-plaid living-room set, but somehow you're stuck with it, forever.
In my case, the plaid living-room set was called Theresa.
When Pan, as she is nicknamed, met her husband she was an emotional mess, busy working on a book she called her Dictionary of Betrayal, 'A collection of words and their meanings that would gradually build a story, a world. Betrayal, Abandonment, Grief, Sex, Lying' you get the idea; and indeed these definitions begin each chapter. He sees that she needs help and is the man to provide it. 'I want to keep you like a key. I want to put you in my pocket. I want to hold you close, make you safe, calm and happy.' The impediment of course is that he is only just-about-separated from his wife, so their relationship has to ride first the choppy waters of his divorce from Theresa, and as they marry her curses fly overhead 'like paparazzi helicopters'.
It isn't long before she finds that her life has stopped moving, become stationary; a knowing wink comes from the author as she places Pan at work in a stationery shop, joking about how her friends misspell the two words. At home she is drowning in a sea of discarded clothing from not only her husband but his two sons. What had begun as a comfort has become far too comfortable. So when Richard, the stationery salesman who 'pushes the envelope' enters her life his attentions make a welcome change. He is an unlikely candidate for an affair looking as he does like an 'Irish Santa Claus...Somebody whose suit buttons didn't really want to stay closed' but as Pan explains, his good humour and zen-like mysticisms are what she finds attractive. They meet in a falafel joint called The Promised Land, conjuring a hopeful future, and there they simply talk, but when her husband catches the two of them holding hands on a park bench he is apoplectic.
In the morality plays of old an everyman character would meet the personifications of various virtues and vices, learning along the way the path to a good life. Pan isn't everywoman but she articulates, with great humour at times, the thoughts I should think of many women. Whether or not she completes a journey into moral redemption is not really Brownrigg's concern. Pan has been uniquely shaped by her life experience, which Brownrigg reveals slowly, saving the most pertinent information until the novel's close. She is morally flawed too; aware for example that not knowing what just-about-separated meant exactly is as pathetic an excuse as the moment when one of her stepsons asks if it is ok to do something wrong if you don't know that it's wrong. I was surprised by one of the similarities to Jennie Walker's 24 for 3. Both books contain characters who found themselves marrying their spouses primarily it seemed in retrospect because of their lovely children, something I would have found hard to believe if I hadn't read it twice in a week. This short novel has lots to say about modern marriage and modern morality and Brownrigg shows with great skill the complexities in an age of second families, stepchildren and all-plaid living-room sets.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Despite bringing in a case (of sorts) at the end of last season there is a fair bit of fallout for Baltimore's boys in blue at the beginning of season two. Lieutenant Daniels has been banished to the basement archives and McNulty is a fish out of water working with the harbour police. In fact the first few episodes show brilliantly how ill at ease he is. His barrel chest looks likely to topple him over the side of the boat and there's a repeating joke about his inability to tie any kind of knot. The action shifts for the most part away from the projects run by Avon Barksdale (who now languishes in jail with his nephew D'Angelo) and his crew and to the docks where stevedores and longshoremen ply their trade. In the modern age there is plenty of money to be made from those anonymous looking shipping containers but when one of them is found to contain the bodies of 14 eastern European women a new case begins.
Some slightly transparent plotting allows Daniels out of his underground exile with carte blanche to assemble his old detail (and the promise that if they bring in a case the team will become permanent - very handy for subsequent series) but once things get going it's just nice to have them all back together again. Only McNulty is left adrift and we see his private life following that familiar collision course from the first season. His drunken conversations with 'Bunk' are a particular highlight (and should come with subtitles of their own). We also get to meet Mrs McNulty for the first time as he tries to patch together his relationship.
At the centre of the case is the Sobotka family: Frank is a union official, knee-deep in corruption, his nephew Nick, short on hours at the docks, is doing what it takes to make money whilst also trying to keep Frank's son Ziggy from messing it all up. This series lacks some of the interest of the first. The dock workers can be difficult to care about at times because they are often shown to be just plain stupid. Higher up the ladder is 'The Greek' who with his constantly clicking worry beads is the enigmatic boss. The police work too doesn't get its hooks into you in the same way. Perhaps because of what they've learnt from the first case it all feels far more procedural rather than as if they're feeling their way through. But this is still a compelling series as we watch the personal lives of the team develop, that conflict between home and work putting strains on relationships.
Barksdale's crew continue to fascinate and it is Stringer Bell, played brilliantly by British actor Idris Elba, who exerts all the power whilst Avon does his time inside. His hands are on everything, and I mean everything, and I wonder how that might develop in season three. Could there be some possible conflict in the future? The thief Omar is the other really strong character, still stalking the streets looking to revenge the murder of his 'boy'. Underneath his chilling exterior there is that passion of a man wronged and he is given some of the more memorable utterances. The script continues to be wonderfully baffling at times and maybe suffers in places from much more obvious political point making but whilst it may not have been as impressive a series it still remains far more engaging, serious and worth watching than anything comparable from this side of the water.
Friday, 8 August 2008
It may be too late for Beijing but how about London 2012?
Thursday, 7 August 2008
24 for 3
by Jennie Walker
Jennie Walker is the pseudonym of poet Charles Boyle. After receiving another rejection letter for his novella and a small legacy on the same day, he decided to self-publish the book. You can read a bit more about that and other self-published novels in this piece from The Times. Bloomsbury have republished it (as a steeply priced hardback given its 138 tiny pages), proudly announcing it as the winner of The 2008 McKitterick Prize with some lovely quotes on the front from Mick Jagger amongst others.
During the five days on which England are playing a test match against India we follow a woman as she moves between her husband and her lover. Alan, the husband, is a 'safe pair of hands', a man we see first in the kitchen wearing 'his best apron, the one with the stripes'. Her lover, the loss adjuster, is more a man of mystery 'Explanations are pointless...Isn't mystery better? Not knowing all the answers?'. The action isn't simply framed by the cricket match being played but defined by it. She asks both men to explain the rules of the game giving Walker the chance to have lots of fun with the baffling names of fielding positions, forms of dismissal and even with the fact that after each team has batted and bowled they have to do it all again. Cricket becomes the means by which she can look at her life and the depth and complexity of a test match make it perfect for symbolism. The support of the team, the single performance that can win a game or lose it, the concept of playing for a win or a draw. It is amazing the richness that Walker is able to conjure in such a short and seemingly simple book. But don't worry if cricket isn't your game. Written from the point of view of a novice it is entertaining whether you're Kevin Pieterson or Kevin The Teenager. Which brings me neatly onto the third man in her life; her stepson Selwyn who, as the novella opens, is missing. In some ways he is the most important man in her life, 'after working my guts out at this thing called human relationships, he taught me how to play'. She is unequivocal in her love for him and their relationship is particularly interesting sandwiched as it is between her two other men.
Self-published novels have an incredible stigma attached to them but with successes like this one, Sade Adeniran's Imagine This (which won a Commonwealth Writers Prize) and the death of the publisher's slush pile it may be that things can change. I'm glad that Charles Boyle believed in this little beauty enough not only to pay for its initial publication but to change sex into the bargain.
Sunday, 3 August 2008
The Story of Forgetting
by Stefan Merrill Block
Brilliant début novels by writers younger than me used to really do my head in. But when I turned 30 and realised I wasn't as young as I thought I was I accepted that there are just some really talented people out there. It's easy to come onto the scene with a distinctive voice but what's really impressive is when you read work that's well structured and, crucially, not over written in a 'hey, look at me, I'm really good at writing' kind of way. Stefan Merrill Block was inspired to write this novel after reading Jonathan Franzen's essay 'My Father's Brain', as well as by personal experience of Alzheimer's in his family. With an ageing population it is interesting to read a novel which deals with a disease like this not just as a subject for fiction but for fiction of an uplifting variety. The fact that he's only in his twenties and writes with maturity and sensitivity marks him out as a writer to keep an eye on in the future.
The Story Of Forgetting is really a story of remembering. For Abel Haggard, the 70 year old recluse who narrates one of the novel's strands, the modern world has built up around his dilapidated farmhouse in the form of identikit modern housing. As the local residents use eminent domain (compulsory purchase in the UK) to force him out of his eyesore he remembers his painful past and the reason for him to have clung so tenaciously to his land, waiting. Abel and his twin brother Paul were naturally very close 'For a time there was no distinction between that which was both of us and that which was uniquely me: the purest form of love either of us would perhaps ever know'. But then he fell in love with his brother's wife, Mae. 'I loved things of hers that you would think unlovable. For example. I fell in love not only with her feet but also with her toes, misshapen from birth into two rows of adorable zigzags.' He falls in love with everything about her, forcing him to consider leaving their home. But Mae doesn't want him to leave and when war takes Paul away, leaving Abel and his hunched back at home, the two of them are able to develop their relationship.
Seth Waller is a teenager who wants to be a scientist. He finds the perfect case for study in his own mother who in a couple of memorable episodes has shown the signs of early onset Alzheimer's. In a restaurant where the chefs cook the meat you select at the buffet, Seth's mother misses that last crucial step and is caught slurping the raw meat obliviously. On another occasion when she goes missing Seth finds her wandering with a suitcase filled with spoiled meat she has been hoarding from their fridge. She is suffering from a particular variant, EOA-23, which affects a single gene and whose sufferers all descend from a single man, Duke Alban Mapplethorpe, from Iddylwahl, England ('now long since wiped from map and memory alike'). After availing himself of a report which lists these descendants Seth hopes to interview those locally, conduct his empirical research into the disease and help his mother. He is also driven to find out more about the woman whose past has always remained something of a mystery to her own family.
There is a third strand to this novel: the mythical stories told to Seth by his mother. They always begin the same. 'Alongside this world, there's another. There are places where you can cross...
This other world is called Isidora, and it's as big as ours, and in many ways it's exactly the same...But the major difference is that in Isidora no one can remember anything. Nobody has a name, or a house, or a family. Or you could say that everyone has the same name and the same house and the same family, a single word and a single place and a single name called Isidora'.
As she points out, as scary as this sounds those who remember nothing have nothing to be afraid of and the novel shows several people keen to turn a blind eye to the pain of their past or even of their present. Ignorance truly is bliss. It also shows us something of the transformative power of storytelling. There is something in the style or quality of Block's writing which reminded me of another of those frighteningly talented young Americans, Jonathan Safran Foer. It takes real confidence to link the various parts of your novel with a mythical storyline, and whilst this book has the veracity of scientific research behind it, it is interesting to note that the particular variant of Alzheimer's that Block writes about is entirely fictitious.
Seth is an unobtrusive narrator, his enthusiasm for the scientific method keeps things clean but also perhaps his enthusiasm for becoming a 'Master of Nothingness'. By learning routes between classrooms so that he can make the journey looking at his feet and knowing which seat in the classroom means he is likely not to be noticed he has become invisible to teachers and bullies alike. It is only in the latter stages that his emotions will come to the fore. And ours too, for Block brings the strands of his story together in a way which just avoids sentimentality and makes for a curiously satisfying end to this tale of degeneration.