Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Frozen Thames

In each of these forty remarkable vignettes, the River Thames freezes over, and the lives of all Londoners - the rich and the poor, the royal and the peasant, the merchant and the working man - come together in a cross-section of history suspended like bubbles in a block of ice.

These historically accurate snapshots of deep winter center on the lives of those who lived through the actual times the river froze. The characters are complex and their feelings palpable. The frozen river and hard winters double as characters aching with depth and pathos. The stories are fraught with tension, suspended in medias res, leaving the reader on ice while the river flows on underneath. Some elicit powerful emotions, while others thrive cloaked in cold intellectualism. They submerge into one another, creating patterns and lattices connecting time periods, people, and places. Consequently, The Frozen Thames feels authentic and postmodern at once, no easy feat in such a short form.
Humphreys’ spirited inventiveness, poignant details, and focus on the range of human experience enliven and expand her fictions into truths. The Frozen Thames is a fine book, always smart, engaging, and entertaining.
This review was first published by The Sacramento Book Review, August 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend

In his folklorist history of Bigfoot, Joshua Blu Buhs tracks Bigfoot from the mists of native mythology to the backwoods of America and beyond. He explains how the wild-man, a figure common in oral tradition and storytelling, evolved into a North American monster against which white working-class males in the 1950s could test themselves, while shifting cultural norms and changing values threatened traditional male roles and ideas of masculinity.

A small part of that constituency forms the heart of this book. Sasquatch hunters and researchers are earnest and driven, yet divided by paranoia, suspicion, and ideological differences. In their quest for fame and acceptance, they fell victim to their own vanity, to hoax and fraud, and to tall tales and charlatans so dishonest that the hunters themselves became laughing stock. Bigfoot changed with the times, eventually becoming a staple of fiction and advertising, an environmentally friendly commercial symbol, fully co-opted by the culture at large and no longer wild and primitive.

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend is an oversized footprint of Americana, and a fun read - Bigfoot may not be stomping through the American wilderness, but his legend still lives in the forests of our imagination.

This review was first published by The Sacramento Book Review, August 2009