121: Duel in the Sun – John Brant. Duel in the Sun covers the 1982 Boston Marathon epic battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley (Minnesota native). Considered the greatest Boston Marathon in history it marked both the high points in the careers of both men as well as their eventual downfall. Duel in the Sun does more than simply recount the race, though it does that, but it tells the stories of Beardsley and Salazar up to the marathon as well as their lives after. Salazar dealt with declining times and exhaustion and the inability to perform at his previously high level. Beardsley battled drug addiction after he suffered an accident on his farm. The inspiration here is more than just in the marathon, but in their lives. Beardsley’s perspective is covered in his autobiography Staying the Course (used as a source material and sometimes quoted for Duel in the Sun) but John Brant weaves the stories of the marathon and the two American runners at the height of America’s dominance in distance running. The book may jump around quite a bit, but it tells the story of these two men well.
122: Everyman – Philip Roth. Everyman is Roth’s meditation on aging. He begins with a funeral and then has the newly deceased narrate portions and experience of his (narrator’s) life and reflections on regret and the joy and the pain of being near death. I suspect Everyman would resonate more with an older reader, not that us young bucks can’t appreciate this book, but I haven’t lived the life that an older man has and I don’t have the experience of children and regret that you can only get through living. But what Roth delivers for me is a perception of that experience, to make it real and to hold it up to the face of the reader and say “This is what our fathers have lived, this is what they are feeling when we’re out ignoring them” and he does a hell of a job with it. I can’t say that Everyman is as powerful or as important to me as The Human Stain or The Plot Against America, but Roth here delivers another solid novel and a moving story. Philip Roth is one of America’s master novelists and he has lost none of his powers. Actually, having read Portnoy’s Complaint, I would say he has gained in craft.
123: The Fortress of the Pearl – Michael Moorcock. This late Elric novel was set far earlier in the sequence, between Elric of Melnibone and Sailor on the Seas of Fate. The book was actually the seventh Elric novel written rather than the second place it owns in the chronology. But, in the first three published novels in the Elric sequence no mention of Elric’s adventures at the fortress of the Pearl is given. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that the book was not written yet, but it still does not fit into the chronology…until Moorcock has something done to Elric to make him forget what he had done. Nice. He could write a nearly unlimited amount of Elric novels with that device and just fit them in anywhere he wants. The Fortress of the Pearl is written in the 60’s / 70’s pulp fantasy style of grand adventure of magic and swords and alien lands and alien peoples. This is the case with all of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels (at least the 5 omnibus editions I’ve read so far, which would cover 15-20 short novels). So why did I struggle so much to get through these 200 pages? This was rough going and whatever charm and wit Moorcock had with the earlier Elric books he somehow lost along the way. Besides being wholly unnecessary to the Elric sequence, it just wasn’t that well told of a story.