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http://www.dallasnews.com/arts/books/2016/10/07/victorian-london-never-looked-creepier-steven-prices-mesmerizing-gaslight

By Gaslight
Steven Price 
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  $28)

By Joyce Sáenz Harris
Special Contributor

Steven Price, author of "By Gaslight."<p><span>Stephanie Rae Hull</span><br></p><p></p>    Canadian poet Steven Price’s second novel, By Gaslight, is a dark Victorian thriller that will put paid to such fancies. If you loved big, atmospheric period mysteries such as Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx or Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, here is a novel with similar hypnotic qualities. By Gaslight draws in and magically transports the reader, as if by time machine, to another world.

Price mesmerizingly blends history and imagination in a monster of a novel – some 750 pages – filled with the lurid, Dickensian realities of a great world capital. This is a London where you might not want to linger long, even with Holmes beside you. Here is a city celebrating itself at the height of its glittering power, even as it suffocates on filthy air, drowns in fetid water and wallows in the grimmest depravities.

By Gaslight begins with William Pinkerton, elder son of famed Scottish-American detective Allan Pinkerton, threading his way through London’s slums to find a friend, one of his late father’s old agency operatives. He wants to ask Sally Porter, an ancient African-American woman, about two local criminals, Edward Shade and Charlotte Reckitt. Sally says she doesn’t know Charlotte, and as for Shade, she advises: “There ain’t no catchin a ghost, Billy.”

Meanwhile, a dapper businessman named Adam Foole arrives in Liverpool aboard the RMS Aurania. Foole is not quite what he appears, but “he had lived among the very poor and the very rich both and he knew which one he preferred.” On the Aurania, Foole meets a “burly doctor from Edinburgh,” an affable and well-read Scotsman who is interested in spiritualism and thinks detective stories would be much improved if they featured a truly intelligent detective.

“Foole had smiled at the simplicity of it but the doctor only chuckled and said Deduction, my good man, deduction.” The unnamed doctor, of course, is Doyle, who published his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887.

Like William Pinkerton, Foole heads to London in search of Charlotte Reckitt. But for him, Charlotte is not a fleeing perp; she is his lost love, the one who got away. The two of them are veterans of the flash life, operating in the shadows and pulling off nonviolent crimes in order to live well above their modest means. Though they’ve been apart for years, a letter now has called him back to her.

When Foole learns of Pinkerton’s quest for Charlotte, the men briefly become uneasy allies – after all, both want answers about her, albeit for very different reasons. Clues emerge with the investment of much shoe leather and risk-taking as the two men venture into some truly seamy parts of London.

William Pinkerton works his case with the aid of Scotland Yard, where he encounters the Met’s own Holmes in the person of a certain Dr. Breck, who has a “long thin figure [and] grey eyes” and an uncanny gift for deduction. By the end of By Gaslight, Pinkerton also has developed an eerie knack of sussing out the truth. Whether justice lies where truth does is, he discovers, another matter entirely.

Price drives his narrative at a leisurely yet relentless pace, segueing with ease to the characters’ recent past, and even further back to the American Civil War, as more and more secrets are uncovered. Every so often, he casually drops a dazzling twist for a big reveal that leads only to more questions.

Price’s writing style, with idiosyncratic punctuation eschewing quotation marks and most commas, is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy. There are lines that you could swear came from Hemingway, such as: “But his brother also was a man of great physical courage and together they had ridden several times on the outlaw trail with loaded rifles and there was no man William would rather have at his back.”

In his acknowledgments, the author writes: “There are many excellent nonfiction accounts of the early Pinkerton Agency, the Civil War and the lives of criminals in Victorian London. This is not one of them.” That’s true, but By Gaslight nevertheless will make you feel as if you really had explored London in 1885.

It’s a deeply unsettling, fascinating place to visit. You probably wouldn’t want to live there.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

 

 

STILETTOhttp://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20160617-fantasy-stiletto-by-daniel-omalley.ece

By JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS
Special Contributor
Published: 17 June 2016 06:35 PM

In early 2012, Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, The Rook, was published to heady reviews, and enchanted fans immediately demanded a sequel. Fifty-three months later — not that we’ve been counting, or anything — we finally have Stiletto, a worthy successor to O’Malley’s original tale.

“Original” was the word for The Rook, a novel that defied easy description. Equal parts mystery, comedy, spy drama and supernatural fantasy yarn, it introduced heroine Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas as a seemingly shy, ordinary Briton who is, in fact, a ranking official on Her Majesty’s Supernatural Secret Service.

Myfanwy is a Rook, an operations executive of the Court, which administers the Checquy Group, sort of MI5 and MI6 rolled together with Torchwood.

The Checquy is a super-powered, black-ops government agency dedicated to fighting Great Britain’s supernatural enemies, of whom there are many. The most formidable of these foes are the Grafters, a despised Belgian army of superhuman monsters and the Checquy’s worst nemesis throughout history.

In Stiletto, something entirely unexpected has happened: The Checquy and the Grafters have declared an uneasy truce, and a formal peace agreement is being brokered in London. This masterstroke is engineered by Rook Thomas and Graaf Ernst van Suchtlen, the wily, centuries-old patriarch of the Broederschap (as the Grafters call themselves). The big question in Stiletto is: Can sworn enemies become allies without spilling oceans of blood along the way?

Some readers may be disappointed that Myfanwy plays more of a supporting role, albeit an essential one, in Stiletto. But O’Malley’s pivot opens up his universe with a zest that demonstrates his mastery of it, plunging us into the hearts, minds and intrigues of two engaging new protagonists.

One is Felicity Clements, a feisty urban-assault warrior for the Checquy. The other is Odette Liliefeld, the five-times-great-granddaughter and protégée of Graaf van Suchtlen. Both regard Rook Thomas with respect — deservedly so, as she possesses truly fearsome supernatural powers.

Unfortunately, the two young women dislike each other, with mistrust turning to loathing when Felicity is assigned to protect Odette during the peace conference. Meanwhile, acts of supernatural terrorism keep breaking out in London and around the U.K., casting suspicion on both sides as their delicate diplomacy is endangered by a mysterious gang of Antagonists. If the peace process breaks down, both the Checquy and the Grafters know the resulting war will bring destruction so catastrophic that even the average Muggle might be forced to notice it.

Having encountered the Grafters in The Rook, we know that mere mention of them is enough to make a Checquy agent turn pale. Grafters are Frankenstein monsters, so chemically and surgically altered that the Checquy regards them as barely human. Odette, at 23, has retractable bone-spur stilettos implanted in her wrists, and she sleeps in a bathtub full of life-extending goop that slows her metabolism and heals her numerous surgical upgrades. As O’Malley puts it: “Everything about her was bespoke, specially made. Her whole body was couture.”

In Stiletto, the Grafters view the Checquy as equally weird and scary, if not more so. After all, Rook Thomas and her cohort possess inborn supernatural powers, whereas the Grafters’ peculiar abilities are acquired through their scientific, medical and alchemic skills. But as we get to know Odette, her little brother Alessio and their doughty great-grandfather, it becomes apparent that perhaps these mortal enemies are not so unalike after all.

O’Malley faced a classic sophomore challenge with Stiletto: How could he pull off a sequel that would satisfy his eager following of Rook fans? Whenever readers are subject to delayed gratification from a favorite storyteller, expectations are bound to be insanely high. Moreover, there’s no recapturing the delicious element of surprise at discovering something fresh and inventive, as happens in the reading of a writer’s first, unexpectedly wonderful book.

However, O’Malley works his magic in adroit new ways, recalling all the legerdemain that delighted us the first time around. Stiletto is laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally bawdy and paced like a spy thriller replete with chases, betrayals and tragedies. There is slime, there is heartbreak, and there are wardrobe malfunctions. We even get allusions to E. Nesbit’s classic fantasy The Enchanted Castle and to Sherlock Holmes’ villainous archenemy, Professor Moriarty. Fear not, dear reader: Daniel O’Malley’s in charge, and the Checquy Files are in masterful hands.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

Stiletto
Daniel O’Malley
(Little, Brown, $26)

City of Mirrorshttp://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20160520-horror-the-city-of-mirrors-by-justin-cronin.ece

By JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS
Special Contributor

Published: 20 May 2016 05:16 PM

When Justin Cronin’s The Passage was published in 2010, many compared it to Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic dystopian opus The Stand. King himself was so wowed by Cronin’s multilayered work — the first in a planned trilogy — that he bestowed upon The Passage’s book jacket a heartfelt blurb that concluded: “Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.”

The Passage was a phenomenal success, and two years later, so was The Twelve. Readers have waited almost four years for Cronin to deliver his finale, and their impatience, as recorded on social media, has been palpable. But The City of Mirrors is here, and I’m happy to report that the wait has been worth it.

By the way, you may be wondering: Do you have to have read the first two books to enjoy The City of Mirrors? Simply put, having read them will make the experience of No. 3 much richer for you, with a far bigger emotional payoff. (If you did not read the first books yet, watch out for spoilers below; if you did read them but haven’t reread them lately, get over to enterthepassage.com and zip through the detailed synopses that Cronin provides.)

Our back story: The Passage saga opened with a world in deep environmental and ethical trouble. As Cronin put it succinctly in the May issue of Texas Monthly: “In The Passage, science and the military and the government get together and make a super-predator that eats the North American continent.”

This seriously misguided attempt to create an American super-soldier, using a virus from a vampire bat, results instead in the creation of super-vampires. The Twelve, a group of former death-row inmates transformed by top-secret Project Noah, are inhumanly strong vamps: fearsomely quick, hard to kill and not even the least little bit sexy.

Their creators cannot control these monsters, so the Twelve escape and their 40 million horrendous offspring — dubbed “virals” or “dracs” — roam North America after efficiently infecting or devouring all but a handful of humans. The entire continent is quarantined, and the United States is a dead zone.

Cronin has said that The Passage germinated when his young daughter asked him to tell her a story in which a girl saves the world. That girl is the trilogy’s hero, Amy, the 13th test subject of Project Noah, who receives a refined strain of the virus. But Amy, who is just 6 when she is transformed, becomes not a monster but an enhanced version of herself, with psychic powers and preternatural awareness, plus an extended life span powered by super-immunity.

A century later, a still-adolescent Amy becomes the spiritual leader of a group of survivors who, as the series’ tough but good-hearted protagonists, remain battle-ready and on the move through Colorado, Southern California, Iowa and Texas for the duration of the trilogy.

Cronin, currently a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Rice University, is a native New Englander who admits that Houston’s humid heat made Texas an acquired taste for him. Nevertheless, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors take place mostly in Freeport, Houston and Kerrville, where Amy’s friends set up a new Republic of Texas. The Republic is the antithesis of The Homeland, a grim slave-labor state in Iowa, where survivors were exploited and sacrificed by creepy “redeye” virals on behalf of their overlords, the Twelve.

The City of Mirrors spends a sixth of its pages on the back story of Amy’s ultimate antagonist: Zero, a.k.a. Dr. Timothy Fanning, a biochemist who was the virus’ original human carrier, infected by vampire bats in South America. A brilliant man who is disappointed in life and bereft of his true love, Fanning finds a dark purpose in his unsought role as progenitor to the Twelve.

Even after the Twelve and their masses of followers are destroyed in the second volume of the trilogy — ushering in 21 years of seemingly viral-free peace for the Republic of Texas — Zero sits like Lucifer in the shadows of Grand Central Terminal, planning his viciously triumphal comeback in the heart of Manhattan, his “city of memories, city of mirrors.”

The Passage’s ambitious arc of time leaped first a century and then a millennium. In The City of Mirrors, Cronin gives readers the deep satisfaction of taking us to that far future, where Amy and her friends left their imprints on the world, both with words and through the blood and memories passed generation to generation.

“It’s children, [Caleb] thought, that give us our lives; without them we are nothing, we are here and then gone, like the dust.” The raison d’être for these Texans always had to be the children, those precious sparks of humanity whose future Amy fought to save.

It’s not easy to successfully wind up a beloved trilogy. But with The City of Mirrors, Cronin has produced a rarity: a great, beautifully fulfilling ending for a huge story about mankind’s failure, imperfection and redemption. There aren’t too many series whose endings make me perfectly happy. But this one did.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin

(Ballantine, $28)

Available May 24

A Friend of Mr. Lincolnhttp://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/books/20160129-fiction-a-friend-of-mr.-lincoln-by-stephen-harrigan.ece

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln marks a departure for the Austin-based writer. Just like his other books, this one quickly engages the reader’s imagination with its deep perspective, rich historical authenticity and a lively cast of striving, imperfect humans.

By Joyce Sáenz Harris
Special Contributor

Of all American presidents, Abraham Lincoln is the one most often accorded something like reverence. Most of us were taught a grade-school version of his life that sketches his triumph over crushing backwoods poverty, his moral conversion to abolitionist beliefs, and his rise to become Father Abraham, the Great Emancipator, savior of the Union and martyr to the cause of freedom.

But in Stephen Harrigan’s splendid new novel, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, we meet a very different Honest Abe. This young Mr. Lincoln is a politically ambitious but socially awkward frontier lawyer of the 1830s and ’40s, one who often falls victim to “the hypo,” meaning depression and anxiety. He is driven by his concept of honor as if by Furies, yet he also relishes using his mercilessly sharp tongue to win at the law or the ballot box. He hates slavery but doesn’t really believe in racial equality. He tells terrible, ribald jokes. He is a fatalist, wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln is written from the third-person viewpoint of Micajah “Cage” Weatherby, who meets the future president as a roughhewn youth during the Indian wars and later becomes one of Lincoln’s bachelor cronies in Springfield, Ill. (Given that Harrigan wrote the superb historical novel The Gates of the Alamo, it may be no coincidence that “Micajah” also was the first name of an Alamo defender.) Cage Weatherby is a fictitious character, but Harrigan inserts him neatly and believably into Lincoln’s social circle of real-life Springfield friends such as Joshua Speed and Billy Herndon.

Lincoln takes an immediate liking to Cage, in awe that he is a published poet who has traveled to Europe. Cage, meanwhile, knows there is something special about his new friend, no matter that Lincoln is shabbily dressed, reedy-voiced and awkward as a young stork. Ambition burns inside this man, Cage realizes, and he senses that Lincoln is destined for some sort of greatness: “Lincoln was a man people tended to develop a deepening fascination with.” Yet for all the camaraderie they share, Harrigan’s Lincoln remains a riddle even to his best friends.

“The interesting thing about Lincoln,” Joshua Speed remarks to Cage, “is that he’s both the most public man and the most private man I’ve ever known. He has to hover rather precisely between the poles of his personality. Any deviation might pull him apart.”

The turning point in the men’s friendship comes when Kentucky belle Mary Todd arrives in Springfield in 1838. Lincoln is bowled over by the fact that “she knows Henry Clay! She lived only a few miles from him in Lexington and used to visit him as a girl. … It’s like living down the road from George Washington!”

Cage can’t imagine that the refined Todds would ever consider the rustic Lincoln as a possible suitor: “The union of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd was as unlikely in theory that night as it would later prove to be in reality.” But Mary is one of those people with a deepening fascination with Lincoln, and like Cage, she senses his potential for greatness.

Lincoln, in turn, knows he needs a political helpmate, and Mary is perfect on paper: a skilled hostess with charm, useful connections and an astute, calculating mind. Nevertheless, Lincoln is reluctant to commit, and the courtship is a long, rocky one. Cage’s efforts to support his friend end up backfiring, and he learns firsthand just how vindictive Mary Todd Lincoln can be.

Harrigan’s previous novels all have been set in Texas, so A Friend of Mr. Lincoln marks a departure for the Austin-based writer. Just like his other books, this one quickly engages the reader’s imagination with its deep perspective, rich historical authenticity and a lively cast of striving, imperfect humans. His Lincoln is one of them: a young man subject to the same torments, infatuations, ambitions, enthusiasms and sexual appetites as other young men. But unlike the others, he is peculiarly fated to become a tragic, heroic figure whose best speeches are the immortal poetry he yearned to write.

After a century and a half, he also remains America’s most beloved enigma. That homely face and those weary gray eyes guard a well of secrets so unfathomable that we, even as friends of Mr. Lincoln, have yet to plumb its depths.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

Plan your life

Stephen Harrigan will speak Thursday, Feb. 4 at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Lane, Dallas. The 7 p.m. talk is free; a 6 p.m. reception, which includes a signed book, is $30. Register at hpumc.org/ or 214-523-2240.

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln

Stephen Harrigan

(Knopf, $27.95)

Available Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Pleasure+and+a+Calling

By JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS
Special Contributor

Published: 02 January 2015 12:14 PM

Real estate is an obsession for many people, as millions of HGTV viewers can testify. Normally, we think of it as a benign sort of obsession, and we think of our real estate agents as a benign sort, too.

Unless your agent is William Heming. In which case, think again.

In Phil Hogan’s new novel, A Pleasure and a Calling, Heming is what the Brits call an estate agent, one who takes a deep interest in his clients’ lives. This, he confides, is “the job from heaven.”

With each new client, he makes a copy of the house key and keeps it. He has hundreds of keys arrayed like trophies on the wall of his own house, which no one ever visits. Then, whenever he pleases, he lets himself into a client’s house and becomes intimately acquainted with every aspect of their lives. It is more than a game to him. It is a thrill, an intoxicant, a mini-vacation that allows him to feel fully alive.

“Here, among strangers’ belongings, is where I am most at home, moving quietly and surely,” Heming muses. “I know where they keep their private things, how they arrange their lives. I follow their plans and make mine around them. … I will eat or drink something, perhaps take a small keepsake — a teaspoon, a sock. But … I am not a stalker, or a voyeur. I am simply sharing an experience, a life as it happens.

“Think of me as an invisible brother or uncle or boyfriend. I’m no trouble.” In fact, Heming considers himself to be “a ministering angel” who is “more than happy to change a lightbulb or rewire a hazardous plug, or sort out a dangerous boiler.”

At times he can be an avenging angel as well, as when he spots a wealthy former client clipping the side mirror from an old-age pensioner’s parked small car, then fleeing the scene in his “behemoth” SUV. Heming plays good Samaritan and anonymously replaces the mirror for the old lady. Then he proceeds to make the malfeasant SUV owner’s life a merry hell, replete with breaking shoelaces, popping buttons, missing Rolexes, leaking pipes and the arrival of an amazing array of expensive merchandise that no one has ordered.

If Heming’s mischief ended there, he would be merely amusing. However, he slowly reveals that his hobby springs from the dark grounds of his childhood, when he was “an invisible boy” who enjoyed watching people, and sometimes manipulating them, as if they were his personal set of puppets.

“I hadn’t much of significance to say to my fellow pupils, and vice versa,” Heming recalls. Yet he “winkled out their secrets — their family nicknames, who among them had had an appendix or tonsils out, who was going skiing that winter. … I filled a spiral notebook with my findings and conjectures (Tomerton was gay, I surmised; Faulkes’s stammer was the product of torture as a child), spilling into two notebooks, which became three, four, five and more as my enterprise gathered weight. I kept their lives, all of them — the weaklings, the bullies, the dolts, the young Mozarts and Einsteins — locked in my chest.”

Hemings’ secret life takes an unexpectedly dangerous turn when he becomes fascinated by a young woman who is having an affair with a charming cad of a married man. Once he acquires her key, or rather the key she had given to her lover, he moves into her attic for five days and spends his nights there in “a career first. I ate, drank, dreamed and breathed her. She was that newest drug, that highest ledge, the rarest butterfly, all in one.” Now he is indeed a stalker, a man obsessed who must evade not only the law but also the one person who, it turns out, is nearly as diabolically clever as he.

A Pleasure and a Calling starts out slowly, meticulously building the first-person portrait of a sociopath. But, 70 pages in, the novel takes a sharp turn into Patricia Highsmith country, and the deliberately bland, purposely forgettable Heming stands revealed as Tom Ripley with a real estate license.

Author Phil Hogan is a veteran journalist and critic, and this is his first book to be published in the United States. Here’s hoping for more to come.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a Dallas freelance writer.

books@dallasnews.com

A Pleasure and a Calling

Phil Hogan

(Picador, $25)

By The Dallas Morning News

Published: 12 September 2014 06:42 PM

Merritt Tierce’s new debut novel set in Dallas, Love Me Back, got some high-profile attention at BookExpo America last spring, even winning mention on the front of Publishers Weekly’s “Show Daily” edition. The message the book world heard was: Much should be expected of this edgy new talent.

Attention for Tierce, 34, didn’t end there. The book’s dust jacket features an admiring blurb from fellow Dallas author Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), who selected her as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” in 2013. The advance-review copy boasts a rare personal rave from Sonny Mehta, chairman and editor in chief of the Knopf-Doubleday Publishing Group, who calls Love Me Back “unconventional, painful, poignant and fiercely engaging.”

Previously, Tierce was a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award winner and a contributor to Dallas Noir, a highly readable collection of dark-edged short stories from local writers, published last fall by Akashic. Her story, “The Private Room,” was excerpted from Love Me Back, where it appears as the final chapter. Though every story in Dallas Noir had its grim aspects, “The Private Room” was by far the bleakest.

In her day job, Tierce is executive director of the Dallas-based nonprofit Texas Equal Access Fund (TEA Fund), a grassroots feminist organization that provides financial assistance to women who cannot afford the cost of abortion. Choice is, perhaps not coincidentally, integral to Love Me Back, though it’s not the choice of whether to have an abortion. Rather, self-destructive choices drive a middle-class teenager — a church-going high-school valedictorian headed to Yale — to abase herself in the most horrifying ways.

Love Me Back’s protagonist is Marie Young, who is not quite 17 when she gets her first job serving at an Olive Garden in Dallas. Marie graduates to waitressing at a Chili’s and at the Dream Cafe before landing a big-time serving job, an opportunity to earn hundreds in tips nightly at a swanky Dallas steakhouse that she calls The Restaurant. (In real life, Tierce waited tables at Nick & Sam’s.)

Marie’s life, much like Tierce’s, was thrown off track by an unplanned teenage pregnancy. It’s unsurprising to learn that Tierce spent years waiting tables before she turned, successfully, to writing fiction; her details of restaurant life have a gritty authenticity that comes from having been there and done that. But Marie’s path, unlike her creator’s, contains no hope, no redemptive light at the end of the tunnel.

Marie’s too-early marriage buckles under the stress of working opposite shifts and living in poverty. Marie loves baby Analisa but feels she has no maternal instinct, that she is “only her nursemaid.” At Chili’s, however, she finds she’s good at something: “I learned how to sweep aggressively and efficiently. I learned how to anticipate and consolidate, which is all waiting tables is. I learned how to use work to forget.”

When her husband takes custody of Analisa, Marie pours her stunted emotions into work and the surrogate, dysfunctional family created by each restaurant’s ever-changing staff. At her lowest point, she uses drugs, and “in about three months’ time I had sex with approximately 30 different men who worked for or patronized my steakhouse, the bar next door, Il Castello, and Cosimo [a nightclub]. …But it wasn’t about pleasure; it was about how some kinds of pain make fine antidotes to others.”

She engages in joyless, graphic ménages à trois, in anonymous hookups where she remembers men only as “the black one” or “the white one.” She allows herself to be “pimped out” by co-workers, to be slapped around, insulted and used. She cultivates her reputation as a tough girl, one who “was not afraid of whatever debasement awaited.” In private, she inflicts small burns upon herself. When she finally settles down to seeing someone exclusively, he is one that she calls “the hateful man.”

Marie’s story is painful to read, but Tierce’s focused, fiercely unsentimental writing nevertheless lingers long in the memory. This is not a feel-good, book-club sort of story, but rather one that will leave the reader with an ache in the heart and a queasiness in the gut. The presale word on Tierce is true: Her unflinching realism may haunt your dreams.

Don’t come to Love Me Back expecting to love the protagonist. Don’t come expecting a happy ending. In this agonized slice of Dallas life, there is none to be had.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a freelance writer in Dallas.

books@dallasnews.com

Love Me Back

Merritt Tierce

(Doubleday, $23.95)

Available Tuesday

 

Plan your life

Merritt Tierce will appear at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at The Wild Detectives, 314 W. 8th St., Dallas.

These days, when newspapers are playing it so very safe, it’s weird, wild and wonderful to see something as wacky as the Louisville Courier-Journal’s front page as rendered by a Turkish conceptual artist.ky_cj

Anyone who knows me probably knows about my obsession with Lost (currently airing Wednesdays at 8 on ABC).  There are a number of TV shows I like a lot, but only one to which I am an abject slave. This happens to me every once in a while, pop culture-wise. It’s kind of like how I was hopelessly hooked on Harry Potter from Book 1: I was fixated on Lost from the pilot episode on. As a result, I have spent the past four and a half years either (a) watching Lost or (b) waiting like a lost puppy for Lost’s next season to start. Yeah, it’s utterly pathetic. I know.

The Geronimo Jackson ladies' T
The Geronimo Jackson ladies’ T

There’s no really good way to explain my infatuation with Lost. Well, of course there’s Josh Holloway, who plays James “Sawyer” Ford, and Henry Ian Cusick, who plays Desmond Hume, and Matthew Fox, who plays Dr. Jack Shephard. They’ve got some mighty good-looking men on that show, and they’re good actors too. Among the women characters, my favorite is Dr. Juliet Burke, played by Dallas’ own Elizabeth Mitchell. And then there’s a whole raft of other characters: Kate Austen, the former fleeing felon and freckled femme fatale; Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, the large and lovable slacker and lottery winner who calls everyone “dude”; Sayid Jarrah, an Iraqi who was tinker, torturer, soldier and spy for the Republican Guard in the first Gulf War; John Locke, whose paralyzed legs and broken back are miraculously healed as soon as he lands on the island; and Sun and Jin Kwon, the Korean couple with gorgeous looks and ugly personal secrets. Then there’s Daniel Faraday, the mentally fragile physicist and time-travel expert; Miles Straume, the sarcastic “ghostbuster” who talks to dead people; and Frank Lapidus, the ace pilot who becomes quite the expert at flying to and from a mysterious island that doesn’t show up on any charts or maps.

The premise of Lost is well-known by now: In September 2004, an Oceanic jetliner breaks apart over the South Pacific en route from Sydney to L.A. A few dozen people from the plane’s midsection and tail section wash up on an island and await a rescue that never comes. Three months later a freighter arrives on an ominous mission, bringing the news that the world believes Oceanic 815 to have been lost at sea with no survivors. Eventually six of the Oceanic castaways return to civilization, a media army and worldwide fame — while telling no one about leaving behind a group of friends who must fend for themselves as the island goes skipping through time.

But the rest of the Lost universe is what makes most of us fans so happily mental. “The numbers”: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. The smoke monster. Dead people who don’t seem to stay dead. The island’s unseen ruler, Jacob. The gigantic remains of a statue with four toes. The hippie-era Dharma Initiative and its indigenous opponents on the island, “the Others.”  Richard Alpert, the Others’ shaman, who never ages.

On Lost, even the good guys aren’t all good, and the seeming bad guys aren’t all bad either. Flawed, complicated, devious and ruthless though they can be, Lost‘s villains are some of the series’ most interesting people. Billionaire Charles Widmore, who used to be the Others’ leader, can be appallingly cruel or astoundingly kind, but he’s never predictable. And Benjamin Linus, the rival who ousted Widmore as leader of the Others, is one of TV’s great bad guys. As played by the amazing Michael Emerson, Ben is bug-eyed and shrimpy, but also steely and manipulative. He looks like a complete milquetoast, yet he commands respect, fear, hatred and loathing. Ben can’t be trusted. Ben lies. Ben kills people. Yet the show wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without him.

One of the show’s little in-jokes is Geronimo Jackson, a fictional 1970s-era band whose name keeps popping up throughout the past few seasons. Right now you can find their single “Dharma Lady” on iTunes (they sound a lot like the Grateful Dead), and you can buy Geronimo Jackson T-shirts online at the ABC.com store.

Although I love reading and participating in Lost fansites and blog discussions, I’ve never bought any Lost magazines or action figures, Dharma Initiative-logoed merchandise or other diehard-fan paraphernalia. But for some strange reason, I decided that I wanted a Geronimo Jackson T-shirt, and the other day I got one. Somehow it appeals to me — maybe because I came of age in the ’70s. If Geronimo Jackson had been a real band, I probably would have listened to them back then. Heck, I’d probably still be listening to them: I’ve got early David Bowie in my car’s CD changer right now, and he still sounds good to me after 35 years. 

After this current season, Lost has one more season to go, its sixth, before the series wraps up. I have no idea how the story of the island and its inhabitants will end.

But whatever happens, at least I’ll always have Geronimo Jackson.