One-Minute Book Reviews

December 26, 2007

A Pittsburgh Lawyer Tries to Play Through His ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Philip Beard’s Golf Novel, ‘Lost in the Garden’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe the golfer in bunny ears on the cover should have been the tip-off

Title: Lost in the Garden: A Novel (Plume, 240 pp, $14, paperback), by Philip Beard.

What it is: A comic novel about a 45-year-old lawyer who, after his wife kicks him out of their home in suburban Pittsburgh, tries to cope with what he calls his “midlife crisis” by playing golf.

How much I read: The prologue, the first chapter and some later passages, about 30 pages.

Why I stopped reading: Beard starts pushing his luck with his first line: “If you choose books the way I do, you still have a chance to save yourself a few bucks.” He adds: “This is not a book that is meant to be bought; it’s only a book that needed to be written.” This sort of self-consciously ironic pose makes a critic say very quickly, “Okay, if it’s not meant to be bought, I won’t tell people to buy it.” Especially when the cliché “midlife crisis” also appears in the first few pages. A Publishers Weekly reviewer who finished the book said, “After a promising start, Beard doesn’t provide enough plot to keep the reader from losing patience with Beard’s self-absorbed mid-lifer and his games (sporting and otherwise).” That may be true, but comic novels don’t need a lot of plot if they’re funny enough to make you want to keep reading, regardless.

Best line in what I read: A quote from the novelist Peter De Vries: “Confession is good for the soul only in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff – it is a palliative rather than a remedy.”

Worst line in what I read: Beard writes of the members of a golf club: “The women (who only just attained full membership status in 1998, following a battle that rivaled the one for women’s suffrage in both acrimony and expense) …” The labored humor of the line is typical of what I read.

Consider reading instead: Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, a much funnier treatment of the crisis that occurs in the life of a father of two when his wife says he wants a divorce (“Nick Hornby Looks at a Marriage in Trouble in His Comic Novel How to Be Good“) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

Published: May 2007 (Plume paperback), May 2006 (Viking hardcover) http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780452288423,00.html

Caveat lector: On the book cover shown here, the man is wearing yellow bunny ears. These may not show up on your computer screen.

Furthermore: Beard also wrote the novel Dear Zoe, which he self-published, then sold to Viking. He has a great story on his site about the experience www.philipbeard.net/backstory.html. He is a writer and lawyer in Pittsburgh.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

June 15, 2007

The Five People You Meet on a Golf Course: Billy Mott’s Novel, ‘The Back Nine’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:56 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

An actor and caddy tees off with a tale of a 40-year-old man who, out of the blue, becomes the best player in golf

Finished The Back Nine (Knopf, $24), which I quoted in a post earlier this week. And while I don’t know the author’s golf handicap, his writing handicap is about a 12. Billy Mott is a Los Angeles actor and caddy who deftly evokes the tedium, servility and ruthlessness of the caddy shack at a California golf club. But his novel is otherwise pure escapist fiction: stock characters and a far-fetched plot with lots of golf play-by-play and an overlay of Mitch Albom–style sentimentality about father-son relations. At the age of 40, washed-up Charlie MacLeod returns to a sport that he abandoned years earlier and, out of the blue, becomes the best player in golf while falling into the orbit of a nasty group of high-rollers who bet on matches. Can he maintain his integrity when confronted by people with nicknames like the Czar? What would Mitch Albom say?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

June 5, 2007

Lorne Rubenstein’s ‘A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands’

A memoir of playing on the best golf course you’ve never heard of

Sports books sell in inverse proportion to the size of the ball, publishing lore says. Golf books sell better than baseball books, which sell better football books. And apart from athletes’ memoirs, the best-selling golf-books tend to be instructional manuals (like Golf for Dummies) or coffee table–toppers (like the opulent Where Golf Is Great: The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland).

A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (Citadel, $14.95, paperback) transcends those categories. Globe and Mail golf columnist Lorne Rubenstein offers a beautifully written account of a summer that he spent living in the Scottish Highlands and playing golf at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club www.royaldornoch.com, a place with a cult following instead of the superstardom of spots like St. Andrews and Gleneagles.

But Rubenstein’s book is about more than the mystique of this remote and storied course. A Season in Dornoch is about Scottish history, Highland music and the allure of playing on links (“a landscape of blown sand created by the action of the wind on the seashore”). Sean Connery, the world’s best-known Scottish nationalist, wrote the foreword. And five-time British Open champion Tom Watson rightly says in a blurb: “Rubenstein gives the reader a feel for what makes the appeal of the Highlands so enduring. He brings the place and its people to life.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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