Two Dollar Radio: 142 pp., $15.50 paper
"Nog" is a short, strange trip, a cult classic, a blur of a novel. It was published in 1969, the debut brainchild of Rudolph Wurlitzer, child of the upper middle class, college dropout, traveler. There is so much momentum toward the future in this cross-country journey that a reader could easily feel as though the author had pulled out the stopper to let the past and the present go rushing down the drain. In other words, the scary parts are when it starts to make sense.
There is tripping, there are tattoos, there is sex with multiple partners (arms, legs, all very loving). Go West! Go East! Cowboys, Buddhists and cowboy Buddhists abound. Who is Nog? "He was apparently of Finnish extraction, was one of those semi-religious lunatics you see wandering around the Sierras on bread and tea, or gulping down peyote in Nevada with the Indians." A bit of Jack Kerouac, a bit of James Joyce in the moments of revelation when the clouds part, if only to shine light on the octopus (don't ask). The narrator hitchhikes, meets other world travelers -- it's all very fluid. "How am I to know except by looking back if I am settled or not? I am not thinking about going on or not going on. There is no anguish, no confusion even though I don't remember what happened last night after leaving the kitchen." This is not the '60s of sweet kids and folk music; nor is it sinister and doomed to an irrelevant old age. The trippiness contains an Ariadne's thread to something older and more meaningful: an effort to break free, a hero's tale.
Love, Anger, Madness
A Haitian Trilogy
Marie Vieux-Chauvet, translated from the French by Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokur
Modern Library: 380 pp., $27
These three novellas (linked by a few characters but mostly by suffering) were first published in France in 1968, during "Papa Doc" Duvalier's reign of terror in Haiti. When the author was warned that she had put her husband and three children in danger, she halted distribution and the family moved to New York. The book remained underground until released in 2005 in France. This is its first appearance in English. "Love" is a journal kept by Claire Clamont, who lives close enough to a prison to hear the inmates' screams. She kills the barbaric head of the police force. "Anger" is also about the heroism of one woman, a daughter in a family blackmailed by a bureaucrat who threatens to take away their land. His is the power of the juggernaut; she is the human sacrifice. In "Madness," the narrator is a poor poet, disoriented in the surreal landscape of Haiti; a Hieronymus Bosch painting, post-apocalypse. Sexual violence, the tonton macoutes, self-hatred and other forms of barbarism flood through these novellas, in themselves an act of heroism and defiance.
Becoming Bucky Fuller
The MIT Press: 284 pp., $29.95
This very odd book has two story lines: In one, Loretta Lorance strives to show how Buckminster Fuller carefully constructed his own public image. In the other, more interesting one, she shows how Fuller's expertise in manufacturing evolved to his creation of the Dymaxion House.
The Dymaxion House was meant to solve many of the world's problems by providing affordable, efficient and humane housing. As with many of Fuller's inventions, one wonders why it did not flourish as a marketable, much less profitable, alternative (and it is possible that its day simply has not yet come). But Lorance's explanation, that Fuller hobbled his own inventions out of sheer obstinacy and ego, seems incomplete at best. The book contains some beautiful drawings by Fuller and his wife, Anne. His legacy and enduring appeal (especially to young people) transcend any mean-spiritedness in the book.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun