Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

I cannot get enough of French music.  Here is Debussy's Pour Le Piano L. 136 no. 11 performed by Cecile Ousset.

The Case of the Broken Butter Dish.

The other night, or I should say early morning (five-thirty am is still night for me) my son Derek was leaving for work when he saw a cat underneath the bird cage.  She bolted out of the house as soon as she saw Derek, but this was disconcerting to say the least.

We have a doggie door and that is undoubtedly how the cat entered but why?  

I understand that Breeya is past her prime.  Poor Breeya.  Her littermate Odie has crossed the river Jordan a few weeks ago and she's alone.  Deaf and mostly blind as well, she's just our little geriatric dog.  In a human nursing home, she'd be the old person in a corner by herself rocking back and forth in her wheelchair asking for  family long gone.

There was a time when a cat would not show her head in our yard and now one is coming into our house?

I started shutting the dog door at night, but one morning after spending an hour cleaning up doggie do off the floor (in the washroom, in the kitchen, in the living room...) I started leaving it open again.

Then we woke up to find our butter dish  on the kitchen floor broken into little pieces.  All human members of our household claim innocence.  My son thinks the cat did it.

Why, cat, why?  Why are you persecuting our household?

I'm not sure what to do.  I hate to leave Breeya outside all night.  I don't like broken butter dishes and I really don't like cleaning up dog manure.

So far I have not come up with a solution.  But Josh did get the cutest little butter dish.

CloudsplitterCloudsplitter by Russell Banks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought Cloudsplitter because the Wall Street Journal's book club had decided to read this book together on Facebook.

Synopsis: John Brown the slave abolitionist insurrectionist is already hanged and dead. Several years later, one of his sons, Owen, in old age relates his life story to an unnamed journalist.

First the positive:

The writing is gorgeous. Banks creates a luscious backdrop as he paints people and landscapes in a pre-Civil era. The reader easily enters into that time period.

Secondly, he writes a good story. If one ignores that he is writing about historical figures, the events and interpersonal relationships and how they are carried out is interesting.

The negative:

Owen Brown has apparently spent his life fighting his inner demons and trying to make sense out of what his father did.

The narrator's voice is spoken in a relentlessly heavy monotone which casts a grey haze over everything as one is imagining the story playing out in one's head while reading the words. It makes reading the book a practice of self-discipline and at 728 pages it can at times be tortuous.

Secondly, Banks is obviously superimposing 21st century cultural attitudes on a bygone time. That is not only annoying it makes the story telling suspect. How accurate is it? I have arrived at the conclusion that if I want to learn about historical events it's better to read several non fiction sources.

View all my reviews

 I think someone asked this on another blog but I also ask:  what are people's feelings about historical fiction.  Do they enjoy it or do they prefer to non fiction history books? And why?


  1. Fiction does take liberties with history, doesn't it. Of course, no one can get inside and understand John Brown, a man I believe to have been insane.

    1. I have read next to nothing about Brown but because of this book I would like to. I don't think I learned a thing about the man from this book.

  2. Sorry to hear a your problems with Breeya and the cat. Hopefully you will come up with a solution.

    As we discussed in my comments section on my Scarlett Letter post, I agree that "Historical Fiction" is not a good way to learn or understand history. The subject is best explored in non - fiction.

    A few years ago Ib read Patriotic Treason by Evan Carton about Brown. I thought that it was very good.

    1. Hi Brian! I am getting a little paranoid. I wonder if I will catch the cat.

      I agree with you. I've decided I am sticking to nonfiction.

      I will have to look up PT by Carton. If you liked it then I am sure it was good.

  3. i don't know much about Brown either, except for his connection with Harper's Ferry... insanity is hard to define... i suppose anyone with an overwhelming, irresistible, uncontrollable drive to do something could be considered to be a bit off the wall... nowadays, tho, that's what it takes to get anywhere... i'm glad i'm old and retired...

    1. Hi Mdupuddle. It does seem like the world is getting crazier and crazier.

      I would like to read a better bio about Brown. There always seem to be people who justify violence as a way to achieve the ends, even though they believe their ends are good.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.