If you like rolicking, picaresque novels, you will love Handling Sin. Written in the ’80s(?), it remains one of my favorites.
A mild mannered insurance agent is sedately approaching middle age, living out his comfortable life in a small No. Carolina town. He receives news that his vagabond father has passed away, but to receive his inheritance he has to track down his father’s trumpet, last seen in the possession of a young, attractive black woman who may or may not have been his father’s mistress.
The hero rounds up his S. Panza-like sidekick and off they go on a madcap quest across the South. After many hilarious adventures they also absorb a few life lessons. Can’t really describe many details without giving away a few surprises. So give it a try.
What a howler. Reminiscent of Mickey Spillane, Carl Hiassen’s Skinny Dip starts with crooked sleeze-ball Charles Perrone throwing his wife off a cruise ship miles away from the coast of Florida. Unbeknownst to Chaz, his wife Joey, was a champion swimmer and athlete in college, and turning her fall into a dive, survives the fall, swims to near exhaustion, eventually latches on to a floating bale of marijuana, and is picked up out of the ocean by a retired cop Mick Stranahan. Joey doesn’t understand why Chaz tried to kill her and spends the bulk of this hilarious story with Stranahan figuring out why and taking revenge by driving her husband crazy. The book is filled with great character sketches – Tool, a pain-killer addicted hired thug who gets reformed by the terminally ill old lady whose meds he tried to steal, Red Hammernut, the agribusiness tycoon who is paying off Chaz to falsify water quality records so he can keep his polluting enterprise up and running, and Karl Rolvaag, the homicide detective who keeps two albino pythons and when they escape is disturbed when the yappy dogs of neighbors go missing.
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones books are the best antidote I can think of for the grumpies, in my case most recently induced by an unexpected 5 hour layover at SFO. Fortunately most airports these days carry small but decent book stores and even more fortunately in this particular instance the SFO bookstore carried Bridget Jones.
Cervante-esque in their humour, Bridget Jones’s Diary and its sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, carry us on a delightful romp through the life and loves of Bridget Jones, a thirty something London girl who can’t quite seem to get anything right, but for whom life magically all works out in the end. The first book is loosely themed around Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, with the male love interest, who Bridget at first spurns, is a one Mark Darcy, a deliciously modern day character equivalent of the first Darcy.
When the Bridget Jones Diary first came out I was bemused to read some reviews, by men naturally, who were appalled by Bridget’s shallow self-obsessions with weight, cigarrettes, drinking, and “shagging”. Well my friends, believe it or not, Bridget’s diary does indeed express the way that most of us single women think and feel. Which is exactly why it is so hilarious. Bridget is exposing our innermost insecurities and obsessions for the whole world to read.
Dan Brown got it right this time, and The Da Vinci Code is a kick. It unfolds as a thriller wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. The thriller races along as the characters solve puzzle after puzzle to crack the DaVinci Code. (Even his web site is fun – it presents a series of puzzles which need to be solved to get deeper and deeper into the site.) One can enjoy the thriller, or the puzzles, or what I truly found fascinating: the enigma behind it all. Was the message of Christ hijacked by the church hierarchy in the First Century, and later institutionalized into the Roman Empire under Constantine? Did heresy become orthodoxy?