With its predictable plot and weak sense of place, the high point of the Janice Holt Giles' Hill Man is its main character, Rady Cromwell, hard drinker, tireless lover and obsessive farmer. A driven and ambitious man of the earth, Cromwell is out to make a name for himself. He uses his strong personality and persistent nature to go after the land and the women he wants. He's the strong protagonist that America loves.
Unfortunately, the novel falls short everywhere else. Narrated by one of Rady's closest friends (we never learn his name) the book is written in the "authentic" dialect of the Kentucky hills in the 1920s. This style of writing is tiresome; Giles is unable to pull it off without losing literary merit. By attempting to stay true to a hillbilly way of speaking (a confining task, indeed) she limits her ability to keep the story moving. Too many times, she reverts to telling us the details. We rarely see anything. And her hick narrator isn't much of a storyteller; the novel glosses over about fifteen years in 171 pages. Even though the book is short, Giles fails to keep us reading.
Hill Man was first published in 1954 in paperback. Now, the University of Kentucky Press has issued the first hardback edition of the book. But the book is far from great. Why bring it back? With no strong voice to carry the story and no characters to take the burden off Cromwell, we are left with a one-sided book that even the over-confident Rady can't save.-RST
MIKE NELSON'S MOVIE MEGACHEESE
by Mike Nelson
Sure, you and your buddies can say the big-screen adaptation of Lost in Space was an over-hyped piece of doggie poo-poo. But it takes real talent to put that sentiment into such articulate - even poetic - language as this: "I'd say the film version (of the 1960s TV show) is somewhat like a fairly discreet sausage burp: It's somewhat reminiscent of the original yet not altogether welcome."
That's the kind of skill you'd expect from Mike Nelson who has been watching the most appallingly lame films for quite a while, including 10 years as head writer of the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Nelson's book collects about 60 reviews and essays on TV, films and their stars. The treatments are informed by a sense of humor as well as a sincere desire to appreciate such crapola cinema. When Nelson writes about the theological improbabilities presented by the plot of Event Horizon, he's spending more time considering the issue than Gene Siskel would've given it.
Nelson doesn't write by the pound like Stephen King. And that's too bad since the mere 288 pages only scratches the surface of Hollywood's relentless pounding of the American moviegoer. There are no soothing words to be found for such current body blows like Gone in 60 Seconds. Obviously sequels won't be enough; only weekly installments will do. Until then, start with this book and fill in the gaps as best you can. - ADG
JIM THE BOY
In his first novel, Tony Earley closely examines a year in the life of 10-year-old Jim Glass. Without nostalgia or heavy drama, Earley manages to make the novel move-getting to the heart of what life means for Jim without spelling it out for us.
Jim lives with his widowed mother-his father died before he was born-and is instructed in the ways of rural life by his three uncles, all of whom live within feet of Jim's home. Earley takes us through such rituals as Jim's first day of work, first day of school, a visit to a nearby town, and two birthdays. Every child experiences these things, and they aren't necessarily exciting to adults, unless the child happens to be your own (and many are still bored silly). But through Jim's eyes, each of these experiences become new and sometimes beautiful in the Earley's simple but accurate prose. Consider Jim's first trip to the ocean: "The water was warmer than Jim imagined it would be. A fish no bigger than a thought swam by his feet; when he wiggled his toes it vanished as if made of light." Writing like this lights the book up, providing a flame that keeps us reading.
Jim the Boy is a novel that deals with the everyday as it was in a depression-era small farming community near the North Carolina mountains. But this is not an everyday book. Earley's imagination is endless. He recreates the thoughts, the fears, and the desires of a young boy so convincingly that we are jerked awake, remembering our own child experiences for the first time ever, it seems. It is an amazing memory. -RST