Showing posts with label luck. Show all posts
Showing posts with label luck. Show all posts

Sunday, May 12

Never-ending enigma


A Princess Diana impersonator with a sister who could be a twin, a precocious child raised in foster care, a cryptocurrency firm with organized crime connections all in Las Vegas – what could go wrong? 

Chris Bohjalian's The Princess of Las Vegas is a fast-paced mystery about a successful Princess Diana impersonator in a second-rate casino who is estranged from her sister after trauma with a stepfather followed by their mother’s death. Regardless of the hard feelings, the younger sister moves to Las Vegas with her precocious and newly adopted teenager, lured by a high-paying position with her boyfriend's crypto company. Meanwhile, the two brothers who own and operate the Buckingham Palace Casino are found dead in the space of a few days, suicides from all appearances, except that that the reader is witness to the first murder with the novel's early pages. 

Diana is popular among those who recall where they were on August 31, 1997, and the fictional Chrissy Dowling is a Las Vegas legend who relies on Adderall and Valium to get through two shows per night and days spent in a poolside cabana. She is intensely proud of her work, constantly researching the royal family and tweaking the show. She hopes that her tribute show touches “a chord of orphic remembrance,” reminding “us who we once were and, sometimes, where we once were emotionally and literally.” 

Still, the suicides followed by the death of Chrissy's love interest has her and other casino staff worried about losing their jobs. 

A lot of luck comes into play in the story – but in Las Vegas, that makes perfect sense. Often, we don't recognize the luck waiting before us.  “None of us, even when we are breathing our last, understand fully the role that chance will have played in our lives, the ways that what we supposed was good luck prevented us from experiencing better luck, or the way that a small misfortune saved us from a far worse one.” 

Princess Diana, a quiet, gentle and beautiful woman adored by the world but resented by her family, was an enigma and the contradictions of her life will continue to remain an inspiration for novelists for years to come. Consider Royal Escape, in which a princess yearns to flee the royal trap where security provides no protection at all. 

Bohjalian delivers a story with modern twists that dig deep into the mysteries of human nature and family angst.

Sunday, January 7



Many will give up on Dayswork by Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel for its odd quality, a hodgepodge of observations and facts mostly about Herman Melville, arranged in brief, chatty sentences and paragraphs. Dayswork reads like a combination of documentary and poetry, or perhaps a couple playing six degrees of separation with Melville as base.

 A husband-wife team wrote the book; he’s a novelist and she’s a poet. The title page lists his name first, though strangely, most of the text is poetic with a first-person point of view, a woman chatting back and forth with her husband about her research on Melville during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the course of her research, she discovers other writers who revere Melville’s work, whether Nathaniel Philbrick who called Moby-Dick “the one book that deserves to be called our American bible” or a David Gilbert who suggested it was “bible written in scrimshaw.” According to Bachelder and Habel, Gilbert relies on the book “When in doubt, or simply in need of something,” and "opens the book at random and reads aloud, his voice ‘hauling forth the words like a net full of squirmy fish.’”

The book analyzes Melville’s themes – time, whales, friendships and more – in haphazard ways while embracing Melville’s sentiment that “Life is so short, and so ridiculous and irrational.”

The book examines the dreamy quality of a writer’s dreams and disappointments, explaining that Melville was fascinated by the sea – endless, masterless – even while spending much of his life on land, often quarreling with his family. The authors quote from the Odyssey: “For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is / for breaking a man, even though he may be a very strong one.” The researcher-protagonist ponders how Melville endured a series of hardships – the death of his oldest son at age 18 and another dead at age 35 as well as a daughter who could not bear her father’s name.

One devastating sentence, albeit from another writer, captures uneven and tragic portioning of luck in life. “‘It’s brutal,’ writes poet Robert Haas, ‘the way some lives / Seem to work and some don’t.’” And the reader understands, though wondering whether Melville would agree that literary greatness is enough. 

The characters yearn for meaning in the midst of forced isolation and the style suggests that the authors set out to play a game with words and plot even as the pandemic had a way of making everything people did seem both more notable and mundane.  At one point, a character notes. “Even a quiet person says a lot in a day, almost all of which is forgotten. Not forgotten, I suppose, but unremembered.”  

We can use more care with our words, whether meant for everyday conversation or destined for posterity.