Can't get my car to start this morning. Yesterday it was -17 and it cranked over okay, but today at -21, it just ain't going to happen. I'm waiting to see if, when the temp gets up to at least 0 (we're supposed to have a high of 8 today!), I can get the poor thing on the road. If not, I get to work on Saturday. Which completely screws up my anticipated 3-day weekend, but oh well, what can you do?

So while I'm trapped here and AAA is so clogged with calls that I can't even get through and I'm stuck in my house (which is about 54 degrees right now ~ 4 below what's comfortable for me, so I'm going to have to turn the heat on, God forbid), I thought maybe I would do some blogging since I've neglected it for a while (being too busy and overwhelmed with other nonsense as of late).

The last book I read in 2008 was Howard Bahr's The Black Flower. I am a huge fan of Bahr, though have read his books sparingly and over long periods (I want to make them last and I'm now down to only one, so he better write another). The Black Flower was his first novel and I remember distinctly passing it over when it first came out because I was turned off by the paperback artwork (which I did not reproduce here, though it's the edition I own). I made the lousy assumption (judged it, I confess) that the tacky exterior was indicative of a tacky interior (and my apologies to Mr. Bahr because I know the photo used on the paperback cover was his own).

Anyway, after reading The Judas Field (the cover of which appealed to me), I was so impressed with the writing, I collected all of Bahr's other books ~ and it was a treat to end the year on such a positive note. The Black Flower reads like a great first novel. There are parts of it that seem a bit disconnected from the whole as though they were written independently before the whole thing was put together ~ so it is a bit disjointed in places, but Bahr is still amazing with a turn of phrase and his occasionally long-winded metaphors are never overwrought, always worth labor of reading. His descriptions of battle and its aftermath as not so evocative of Crane, though people naturally make the comparison. But where Crane's impressions come from inside Fleming's naive observations, Bahr's impressions seem to come from inside the exhausted veteran perspective of men who've seen it all and worse and just want a cup of coffee: good, bad or indifferent. To me, it's a whole different world. Fleming doesn't want to die. Bahr's Bushrod Carter just wants to get it over with if it's got to happen. Bahr's female characters feel a little flatter to me, but I like them and can appreciate the challenge. Writing women in this era is always a battle between prissy wallflower and full-blown virago, it seems.

Bahr's story here is pretty simple: following the messy Battle of Franklin, the army lands on the doorstep of an estate that gets commandeered as a hospital (if you follow that link you can see a picture of the actual plantation house where the story takes place. Actually, there's a really cool one here). What happens next is predictable, but so well-drawn you forgive it for being cliché: yes, the whole wounded soldier/nurse thing. But here the nurse doesn't want to fall in love in spite of her emotions, and honestly, I wasn't sure how it was going to end, which made restraining myself from reading forward too quickly a real trial.

I had a lot of problems with how The Judas Field ended. It was conclusive and completely realistic, but it made me angry (sort of in that good way that a book ought to provoke ~ and then again sort of in a way that annoyed me because I couldn't see why it had to end as it did). The Black Flower is similarly conflicting, but I felt like it was clearly "right". It felt right. Hard to talk about without giving anything away here, but I don't want to spoil it.

So that's my long spiel for the morning. If you love amazingly sensory, great writing, read Bahr's work.


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