Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hire someone to look things up

On The Mentalist tonight, they’re looking for someone going by the name of Taliferro.

They are pronouncing it Tal-i-a-fer-r0. The name is conventionally pronounced as Tolliver.

Go, Annie, go

I recall enjoying Michael Malone’s First Lady very much and was pleased to have the chance to read his latest novel, The Four Corners of the Sky (Sourcebooks Landmark, 544 pages, $24.99). It did not disappoint.

Annie Peregrine Goode, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, returns to Emerald, N.C., for her twenty-sixth birthday and hears from her father, a con man who abandoned her in Emerald on her seventh birthday. He has a dying wish to see her again. He wants her to fly to him in the Piper Warrior airplane he left for her as a child, the King of the Sky.

Well, Annie hates her father for abandoning her and for being a lifelong liar. She has her own problems, including her pending divorce from a dim but handsome Navy pilot, and her confidants in Emerald, the people who raised her, her lesbian aunt Sam (Samantha) and Sam’s lifelong friend, Dr. Clark Goode, are skeptical of her taking to the air in an old plane during tornado weather.

But Annie is a risk-taker and a fast-mover, and soon she’s off into a web of intrigue involving her father and his multitudinous lies; a religious statue, La Reina Coronado del Mar, of incalculable value; a stubborn Miami police officer; a Cuban exile who makes a living by faking being hit by old ladies’ automobiles; and other characters on both sides of the law.

There are intrigues within intrigues, mysteries and family secrets, and the whole improbable set of twists and turns is, as in so many novels, a voyage of self-discovery for the heroine.

Mr. Malone has a gift for comic writing. Annie tells her childhood friend Georgette about a man who “could be your type,” and Georgette responds, “He’s my type if he’s got a combined total of at least three arms and legs and he weighs less than four times his IQ. Can he spell his last name? Has he been convicted of any capital crimes—I don’t mean just charged, but actually convicted?”

And the chapter on the funeral of Coach Ronny Buchstabe — a triumph of American make-it-up-as-you-go-along commemorations in which, among other things, “three young fat girls clambered up the steps and sang harmonies in a medley of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech’” — must not be missed.

Along the way there are a few maxims about life that are worth considering: that people who have style just might not have brains and that “you can’t stop enjoying things just because you’re bad at them.”

And this: “It was true that despite their blessings, the Peregrines had always been a sad family. Most of them were American enough to believe they had a right not to be sad, an inalienable right not only to the pursuit of happiness, but to its capture. So, while a few had skidded down the shale of life without digging in their heels, most Peregrines had died scrabbling at every outcropping they passed along the way—a new job, a new marriage, a drink or a sport or a church or a chance—determined to grab the American dream before they landed at the bottom. Wasn’t it the national story that failure was the fault of those who failed?”

I confess that there were some longueurs in those five hundred pages as Mr. Malone wound up his plot, but he proceeded to spring it in a highly satisfactory series of comic climaxes.