Saturday, February 12, 2011

Benjamin Hale's Evolution of Bruno Littlemore: Published

Bruno Littlemore?
(Image from Amazon)

My right to write on this novel that I haven't (yet) read is grounded in the fact that I knew Mr. Hale when he was only a few weeks old.

His father Pete -- who seems to prefer "Charley" these days -- grew up with me in the Ozarks, just a year behind me in school, and the two of us spent a lot of time running around together and reading the same books. Pete, in fact, introduced me to The Hobbit, The Whole Earth Catalogue, Buckminster Fuller's writings, and a host of other things that I might have overlooked due to my hillbilly ways.

But we parted our 'redneck' ways when we quit those days and left Salem High School, only to meet up again several years later when the two of us both wound up in the San Francisco Bay Area at the same time. Pete and his wife Leigh soon added Benjamin to their duo there, and I got to know Ben as a very tiny creature who -- perhaps like Bruno -- has evolved more than a little. Indeed, he has evolved into a recognized wordsmith, a bona fide novelist, for his first novel has now been published, as Pete informed me by email last week on February 4th, while I was stuck with a slow internet connection:
Yesterday kid Ben's book ("The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore", if you want to google around at it but have forgotten the title--) at long last hit the proverbial streets and can be had by the curious and burned by the outraged (they're probably not quite on track yet there, but I expect they will be pretty soon). A relative in Little Rock was having trouble finding it, and I told him to check out a Barnes and Noble, because they picked the book as a "new discovery" or something along those lines, and one of the perks is getting a good display of your book in all those stores. He's getting mostly very positive reviews (one not-happy one that I've seen so far, out of about a dozen otherwise, so not bad), and has a "tactical nuclear weapon review" in the NYTimes this weekend, which I know for sure is very positive because I got to read it early . . . it'll be interesting to see how that one goes.
I think that readers will understand that I can never, ever be impartial in a review of this book . . . not even after I've managed to get around to reading it (which may take some time). I will thus direct the interested reader to the afore-alluded-to review by Christopher R. Beha in the New York Times, "Primal Urges" (February 4, 2011), which I may have missed in the International Herald Tribune last week during my week without newspapers, unless that review is yet to appear in the IHT. Anyway, the review is not merely positive, it glows nuclear, as Pete implied, for Beha even compares Hale to Nabakov, or at least Bruno to Humbert, but I think that the comparison is meant for both pairs:
Vladimir Nabokov claimed that the "initial shiver of inspiration" for "Lolita" came from a newspaper account of an ape in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris that produced the first drawing ever made by an animal. "This sketch," he reported, "showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." The story neatly encapsulates the tragedy and comedy of Humbert Humbert: for all his preternatural brilliance -- no one of his kind has ever set such things down on a page -- he knows less than nothing because he doesn't know that a world exists outside himself. The narrator of Benjamin Hale's first novel, "The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore," has some of Humbert's erudition and much of his arrogance. Like Humbert, he is imprisoned for a murder he can't bring himself to regret, and like Humbert's, his confession is far less concerned with that act than with the scandalous love affair that precipitated it. The difference is that Bruno knows he is trapped, for he has "seen this cage from both within and without." Also, Bruno is an actual ape.
Beha then says a number of things that make this novel sound like the difficult sort of reading that I like but that some people don't, so Beha makes sure to let us know that:
Hale's novel is so stuffed with allusions high and low, so rich with philosophical and literary interest, that a reviewer risks making it sound ponderous or unwelcoming. So let's get this out of the way: "The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore" is an absolute pleasure.
That means that you might like it, too . . . maybe. Beha is an editor at Harper's Magazine, which might or might not recommend him, I suppose, depending on what you think of that magazine (and I don't have an opinion). Readers will undoubtedly want to look around at more reviews, and the Wikipedia entry on Benjamin Hale looks to have links to a number of them.

And of course, there is that little thing that Pete vaguely alluded to, about Ben's novel possibly ending up "burned by the outraged," an obscure allusion, no doubt, to what Beha himself referred to as a "scandalous love affair" of the kind that set off a different sort of nuclear reaction by Wesley J. Smith in First Things: here and here.

This 'love affair' issue is one that will have to be taken seriously, but I won't comment upon it any further until I've actually read the novel.

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At 6:27 AM, Blogger chale4 said...

Excellent summary of the deal, thanks Jeff. Yes, Other Readers, Jeff was the first human, not ourselves, who my wife and I entrusted with the care of our first and brand-new kid Ben for a few hours, which allowed us to actually go to an entire uninterrupted movie that evening in Berkeley, lo about 27 years or so ago!

Reviews, thankfully lots of them, are trending very thoughtful and positive, for sure. He's working on another currently (good idea!), and may have a book of short stories that follow "Bruno", that's TBD, I gather. If so, there are some truly excellent stories that will be found there, I can say with all sincerity.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good to know that I was the first "human" to be entrusted with Ben, but you surely don't intend to imply that you and Leigh aren't also human beings!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jeff for this pre-review. We knew Ben was being published but did not know the name of the book. My Mom has mentioned several times she wants to read it, now I can tell her it is available.

Pedro, If you read this, tell Ben congratulations from the Nemec family!!


At 10:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jay, you're welcome. I thought that you might be interested.

Jeffery Hodges

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