Roo syncopates her swimming with the Sun's.
We continue northbound, camping for the night in a forest in central Minnesota.
Roo syncopates her swimming with the Sun's.
We continue northbound, camping for the night in a forest in central Minnesota.
Lately it's been occurring to me that the planet might be getting hotter. Sure seems that way, though if it were true, I think I’d remember hearing something about it. Of course I limit my news intake to pure, fact-based sources, meaning I judiciously refrain from all #FakeNews and rely exclusively on Fox, and thank God, over there we're devoting all our attention to the humanity-ending threat presented by President Hillary Clinton, so it could be that there just hasn't been time to cover some liberal-imagined End of the World liberal scenario until we get her and Vice President George Soros out of office. So, I don't know. Just seems hotter than it's ever been. It’s probably just me. Maybe it’s just the feeling of all the molecules bubbling from making America so great again.
We left south Iowa on Sunday, continuing our northbound trek in search of cooler weather. The farther north we fled, the hotter it got. By the time we stopped in Blue Earth County in southern Minnesota — as good a place as any on the basis of the name alone — it was 94 degrees one hour before sunset, 84 at 11 PM. It looks like another 150 miles north of here is some sort of meteorological barrier where the temps trend 10 degrees cooler, probably because of proximity to Lake Superior. We'll press on in that direction.
It's not much of a problem for Roo, because she has convinced herself that there are always tadmouses in every pond, so she gets to splash around while I stand on the bank giving the ticks plenty of time to crawl up my legs. When you get far enough north in the United States, the waters begin to run clear, which only encourages her, because she knows that the second the world's first actual tadmouse swims into view, she will be the first dog in America poised to pounce on one. And she's feeling great.
Meanwhile, I had forgotten how difficult it is to move around from camp to camp all the time. Being continually parbroiled while having to set up and break down is a good way to run out of steam. When I saw an Amish couple pulling this little cart in the sun with their six kids on board, I felt a deep kinship with them. The only difference was that their Amish-built cart was built to last longer than ours.
Last night was the first night cool enough to survive without the air conditioner in over a month. The air conditioner is essential, but it’s also unpleasant, because it’s a regular room-type air conditioner mounted right over the bed and it doesn’t have any way to direct the airflow, so there’s always a breeze from it to remind you that the racket it makes isn’t the worst thing about it. Tonight, the weather is even better here in south Iowa, one of the few days in any year when the weather couldn’t be improved on. It’s in the low 60s and clear and dry.
We’re parked on the small campus of Graceland University in Lamoni. I decided to put the bike together and go for a quick ride around the campus. Roo didn’t like it, but I left her in the camper. She won’t go out at night anyway.
Graceland is in the middle of beautiful farm country, about half Amish. This southernmost part of Iowa has low, rolling hills and woods filled with oaks and elms. It's a beautiful place where the good old-fashioned tradition of saluting oncoming drivers is respected. People do that in a lot of places, but it’s always spotty at best. Not here. Here, if you forget to salute someone — an index finger raised from the steering wheel is all it takes — you regret it right away, because they’ve saluted you and forgetting to salute them back makes you something of a heel and in a town this size, it's the kind of thing you might never live down.
You can tell Graceland University stands up for itself, because in the first sentence of their description of themselves on their web site they manage to include the words liberal, in “liberal arts,” and progressive, just to make sure you didn’t misunderstand them the first time. The campus is trim and lovely, with an administration building dating from its founding in the halcyon days of 1858, two years before anyone had any idea how bad the carnage of the approaching civil war was going to be.
I hadn’t seen a single other soul here, unless you count two little kids who starting laughing when Roo jumped in a pond earlier, and they don't count because they were just a couple of little smartasses who could have warned me that Roo was about to jump in pure goose poop soup instead of standing there shrieking with joy like a couple of gargoyles.
So I rode around the campus a little, alone, on the paths connecting the buildings in the quad, thinking what a cool little school it looked like, when who did I happen on but Claude Monet. I haven’t seen him in ages, but I recognized him from 100 feet away.
Now look, I love Monet’s paintings. Always have. I even have a couple of books of them if my storage space hasn’t already been featured on Storage Wars. But, let's face it, the guy has always been a grouch.
“Monet! C'est vraiment vous? Quel bonheur! Qu’est ce que vous faites lá?!” I said to him when I pulled up on my Moulton. I figured the Moulton might appeal to him because it is built a little like the Eiffel Tower. But not a word. He was too deep in contemplation of the small canvas he was working on. Not a look, nothing. Maybe not nothing — it would have been okay with him if I got back on the bike and kept going.
“Ah, oui,” I said. “Je comprends, mon vieux.” He hadn’t come all this way to be bothered someplace where he was counting on solitude so he could concentrate on the parking lot he was trying to capture. When the painting was done, that parking lot would look like a lily pond, which was the key to Impressionism.
Even if there's nothing you can do that will annoy an artist more, I worked my way behind him to take a look over his shoulder at his canvas. Not one of his better pieces, but if you found it in your grandmother’s attic you would be able to purchase most of the county you live in and have enough dough left over to grease every cop and county commissioner within 50 miles, every judge who might object, and still keep the local congressman on retainer to write your personal tax legislation on an as-needed basis.
I mentioned none of this to Claude. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did all right, but he didn’t paint for the money. He did it because he was born to. A guy like that can get away with being a little standoffish.
I left him to it. It was the decent thing to do. Of course I wanted to sneak a shot of him first. He was so engrossed that he didn’t even notice me setting my daguerreotype camera up on the wooden tripod, leveling it with a plumb line and spirit level, throwing the black hood over my head so I wouldn’t expose the glass negative through the ground glass and set a match to the magnesium flare I held high above my head on a wooden pan on a broomstick to illuminate the night scene. He didn’t so much as flinch, though I could feel his eyes boring into my back as I left.
He was the last guy I thought I'd run into in Iowa.
Because we were heading due north yesterday, we started with the sun blasting Roo from the east on the passenger side and then me as it transited over the top and descended on mine. When the road is radiating as much heat as it was, no amount of air conditioning can keep a cold-blooded hothead like Roo cool, and between her misery and my own, by the end of the day I was making wild promises to give her something to look forward to.
“Look at poor, poor little Chiggi — the most miserable bear in the world,” I said. And she was, panting and unable to find a comfortable position. Every time I urged her to get in the shade in the back seat, it made her harrumph with annoyance. Didn’t I know the first thing about road dogs? Did she look like the kind of unprincipled dog who would abandon the traditional shotgun position just like that? All she was willing to try to improve things was to crawl around into different positions, but that only added frustration to getting broiled.
“Tell you what, Bearface,” I said. “Pretty soon we’re going to find a tadmouse pond, and when we do you can hunt them for as long as you like. I won’t drag you out of there. I won’t say a word.”
Roo gave me a look I had seen before. It said, “Blah-blah-blah. Sure.”
”I don’t blame you, Chig. But you’ll see.”
Winding up in a south Iowa cracker camp didn’t do much to dispel her mistrust in me. By the time we went for a walk, it was almost dark and the hot air was dense with humidity. Mosquitos and deer flies were buzzing around like chainsaws with wings. And when Roo finally spotted a small tongue of a lake I wouldn’t even let her go in. The water was soup-green with algae that for all I knew could have poisoned her and in that humidity she would never have dried out and then the pitiable air conditioner in the camper would have been no match for how clammy it would have become as the fungal water slowly leached from her. Plus, it would be too dark outside for her to stand still to be hosed off and dried — she would be too frightened by then and we would both be chewed to the consistency of wet toilet paper by the bugs. Even in a quiet place Roo doesn’t trust the night and keeps lobbying to be let into the camper. With a pack of drunk crackers crushing their Bud Light cans and throwing them against the steel fire ring, with their screaming kids and barking dogs all making a racket, she would be especially anxious to get inside.
When you only plan on overnighting someplace in a camper, you don’t unhook it from the truck or unpack anything but the essentials. We were positioned to get moving quickly in the morning. Still, worrying about a few things kept me up until 3:30, and when I got up at 8, every muscle in my body was so sore that I began to wonder if it was possible that one of the dozen ticks I had pulled off myself could have been to blame. The idea of another long drive was murder. Still, we were going to have to do it, mostly because this is a cash or check-only campground and I wrote my last check to it last night because I didn’t have $15 in cash. It was slow going, though, and I wasn’t ready until 9, when a couple of Aleve and Tylenols washed down with strong coffee began to take the edge off.
I took Roo for a walk in the direction of a boat ramp we passed on the way in last night. It was a long walk, most of it downhill, which meant the longer it went on the worse the uphill return would be. I was never so glad for a $10 purchase as I was for the hardware store straw hat I bought in Oklahoma.
When we made it to the boat ramp around 10, lo and behold if there weren’t some damn tadmouses in the water, which in this part of the lake was clear and clean.
“Well, well, well, Rooklo,” I said. “What did I tell you? Tadmouses!”
That perked her up. I sicced her on ‘em.
The best thing about this boat ramp is that there’s a bench right here under a shade tree. It’s a good thing, because as I type this on the phone, it’s 1:43 PM and without that bench to sit on I don’t know that I would have been up to keeping the tadmouse promise to Roo.
If I have enough laundry quarters left over to pay another night’s rent, Roo will get another shot or two at the tadmouses. She’s too hard a dog to credit me with those as additional promises, but I’m still willing. If I don’t have them we’ll have to move on or risk some kind of trouble with the authorities.
At least I kept the promise of the day before. And with at least another 500 miles to go to try to get out of the worst of this heat, and probably more like 1200 (because it may turn out that the only hope for getting out of the heat will be another trek into the higher Rockies of Montana or Idaho — and I won’t pretend I don’t dread that idea more than being hung outright — where we can camp for free at altitudes high enough to cool down without the air conditioning that needs the electricity you have to pay for at any campground), which will mean heading west across the Dakotas and then the desert of east Montana, tomorrow she won’t be allowed to hunt the in-any-event uncatchable tadmouse for more than a few minutes.
But at least today she’s got three solid hours of tadmouse hunting under her belt. Maybe she’ll think a little more highly of me for that, if nothing else.
One day, when the descendants of our generations are sunning themselves and buying floppy straw hats from street vendors and drinking piña coladas and having oil massages on the tropical white sand beach at a Sandals on the North Pole, someone will text them a video of the days when it was all ice and snow, and none of them will believe it. Certainly not if by then they have all come to believe that all facts are, by default, #FakeNews.
Hell, lots of the people enduring the current heat wave don’t believe it’s hotter now than it ever has been in their own memories, so why should anyone believe any such thing about a time when they weren’t even alive?
Every day of the last three weeks in Oklahoma was in the 90s, with several topping 100. When the humidity is at 100 percent, and the air is plump enough with moisture not to need any of yours and won’t do you the favor of carrying off so much as a drop of the sweat soaking your pants, your socks, your shirt, it just accumulates and slicks you down. A wet dog can walk two miles in that kind of heat in full sunlight and not dry. And once you hang the towels you’ve tried to mop the dog up with out to dry, they just hang there on the line like dead fish and are just as wet the next morning, only a worse kind of wet.
It got to be too much. I was planning to move on from Poteau, anyway — mostly because of the cottonmouths down in the lake where Roo likes to pretend she’s one of them stalking tadmouses — but the heat finally drove us out. Because of all the repairs I had been doing to the camper and the packing of loose items, Roo knew we were going, and she didn’t even argue about getting out of bed around 9 AM, which is, as far as she’s concerned, way too long before dawn to do anything.
I used a weather map instead of a road map to choose a destination, but it was no help. The conventional method of escaping the heat by heading north wasn’t much help, because it was three degrees hotter 1000 miles north in Minnesota, had been for a few days and was forecast to be for another few. Still, reasoning that sooner or later it might cool off up there — for crying out loud, it’s not even June yet — I loaded Roo up and pointed the crate due north.
We made it as far as Iowa and onto a gravel road as dusty as any track in the western deserts and finally to a campground at a place called Skip Bluff. It’s a pretty place — sorry for the lousy photograph, but it’s all I had in me to take after the 500 miles of driving in the relentless sunlight. This place is already acting like it’s the end of the summer. Everything is green, but there’s a little lake here that’s already covered with a stagnant algae and the grasses on the banks tipping into the water as the level recedes beneath their roots.
Having spent a few months in the civilized campground at Poteau, I had almost forgotten about getting back into the thick of Cracker America, but I was reminded as soon as we got here. Here’s the thing about the American Cracker that journalists based out of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles will never, ever understand. You can’t find a real Cracker by flying into Atlanta, spending a day driving around in a rented SUV and sticking a microphone in a few random faces outside a Piggly-Wiggly just because some town somehow looks Southern, as they so often do to try to gain insight into the mind of the Trump voter. To experience the American Cracker, you have to face them on their own territory.
By American Cracker I mean a specific portion of our countrymen. What defines the American Cracker is the one thing they live for: the hope of getting to use their gun on someone. You can be from as deep in the hollows as it gets, but if you don’t look forward to the day you get the return you want on the investment you made in your guns by shooting someone, you don’t qualify. Lots of people don’t believe that, but that’s how it is. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment or abortion or Jesus or any of that. Those things only come into it as needed. You might pray to Jesus to preserve your Second Amendment, which He after all personally penned into the Constitution when it was written in Bethlehem or wherever in the hell it might have been, by presenting you with a Planned Parenthood doctor to shoot, but the shooting is all you really hope for. That’s what defines the American Cracker. Sorry, but if you’re just one of the millions of Americans who own a rifle or a handgun and enjoy shooting at a piece of paper or a water jug, you won’t qualify. You have to be prepossessed of the idea that real prestige can only be achieved by shooting someone.
Part of it must come from the conception of The Rebel, which has somehow become distended over the years from a group of citizens tired of being beleaguered by a distant king who drained you of your money, controlled your trade, sent his representatives to rule you on his behalf, who in turn sent his agents to tell you how much you were going to get for a bale of cotton or tobacco, to insisting on slavery as a fundamental human right of the white man, to riding a motorcycle with your cigarette blowing ashes back in your face because it was cool, even if it was a hell of a bad way not only to enjoy either cigarettes or motorcycles, even though there would be no point in telling that to half the angry-looking graybeard Harley drivers riding around in Saturday packs without either helmets or Obamacare and not finding any irony in the rest of the country having to foot the bill for that instance of Liberty™ when they show up with a cracked skull and a missing leg in the ER, to whatever it is right-wing rebels are rebelling against now, some generalized combination of brown, gay, educated, born in a city, or who originates from the vast land that stretches from Texas clear to the Antarctic, known only as Mexico. The American Cracker is just someone in the mood for violence.
The Cracker is here, where we are. You can always spot a cracker encampment by the six or eight trucks parked near one trailer. Next you’ll spot the dirty dogs sniffing around the various folding tables, coolers, stacked cases of Bud Lights and piles of garbage which, in the name of Freedom™ they will never manage to pick up. If the Cracker has a dog, that dog will always be dirty and usually chained. The chain is optional, but the dirt is a rule of some kind. Then there are the children running around with the replica Colt .45s you can purchase at any Walmart. The children, the Cracker hopes and prays, someone will look at in a way that they can construe as threatening a rape or molestation, because of all the justifications for shooting someone, none is more bulletproof.
If you happen to find yourself standing next to an American Cracker, you can try the usual pleasantries on him, but they won’t do any good. If you say, “Hey, how are ya?” the Cracker will not respond. They consider rudeness a useful tool. Sometimes it makes other people angry, which might give you the chance to shoot them. Rudeness also helps to alert others to your possession of firearms, even though you have to be an idiot not to assume there are guns in every waistband and another few rifles of various types and calibers tucked strategically among the beer coolers.
Anyway, we’re going to keep heading north tomorrow. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that I take much better care of Roo than I do of myself and I hope for her sake to find a pond for her to hunt tadmouses in.
Apologies for typos, errors, ranting, etc., but I'm writing in a hurry here....
In 1934, when Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down in an ambush on a Bienville Parish road near the north Louisiana town of Gibsland (where Roo and I happened to have overnighted once), their joint murder and robbery spree wasn’t even two years old. Forced by their notoriety to camp in swamps, bathe in streams and live on cans of Vienna sausage and saltines, they had been living like animals. Bonnie was by then addicted to the morphine she took to fend off the pain of a leg burned and deformed months before in a crash of one of the Ford V-8s Clyde insisted on stealing exclusively, so gangrenous that Clyde, who never cared how much her rotting flesh stank, had to carry her. The public’s misguided love affair with them had lately shifted, though it would never be entirely displaced by the things about them that had elevated them to folk heroes: a good-looking anti-authoritarian couple who took no shit from anyone and had a seemingly bottomless supply of the good luck that had run out for everyone else in the Great Depression — and who were so obviously shacking up together. People understood that they would have to die, whether in the chair or in one of the vicious gunfights they routinely provoked. Yet, though everyone came to agree that no God could possibly be so benevolent as to not condemn them to rot in Hell, many Depression-era Americans were as hard pressed then as many of us are now to dislodge from their hearts even the worst villains. Maybe once that much love is bestowed it can’t all be taken back. In our collective memory, the names of their victims are forgotten while the romance of their legend looms large.
When a witness claimed to have seen Bonnie shoot a wounded and soon to be married policeman in the head, general opinion turned against them, even though the story turned out to be untrue. Someone else shot the officer. But it had gotten late in a hellish game. There was no more arguing with the nine lawmen and the numerous civilians — a reliable tally of how many has never been arrived at — who lay dead in their wake. Sure, once or twice they gave someone they stole a car from cab fare instead of killing them, but that was about as good as they got.
The Barrow Gang, as it was called before Bonnie’s poem The Story of Bonnie and Clyde was discovered among their belongings and published after they escaped from a shootout in Joplin, Missouri, consisted of Bonnie, Clyde, his brother Buck, Buck’s wife Blanche and W.D. Jones, a 16-year-old tough guy from Dallas who looked up to Clyde and emulated his murderous ways enough to participate unblinkingly in two murders in his first two weeks in the gang. None of them lasted to the end. When Bonnie and Clyde were shot by a waiting posse, they were alone in the car. Buck was already dead. He had survived for several days after a large part of his forehead and brain were blown away in Joplin before being shot again in the back in the next gunfight, in Dexter, Iowa a few days later. There haven’t been many people as hard to kill as Buck was. He lingered for another five days after he took that second bullet in the back.
In the course of the Dexter gunfight, fueled by withering machine-gun fire from 30.06 caliber, 500 round-per-minute Browning Automatic Rifles that Clyde stole from armories, and which far outmatched the numerous Tommy guns arrayed against them, Blanche’s little dog Snow Ball tried to bolt from the hellfire. Blanche forgot herself and took off after him in her famous jodhpur riding breeches. She ran right into the hands of the police, screaming hysterically a few feet from where Buck writhed on the ground.
It is Blanche who makes me think of all this because of a memoir she wrote in prison. She, Buck and Bonnie and Clyde had, not long before the end, all holed up together in a motel in Fort Smith, Arkansas. And, as a Fort Smith motel is where the hand-off of The Puppy to Harlana and Ken Steppe was conducted a few days ago, perhaps you can appreciate why this old history now comes back to me now.
It comes back because I look back on certain aspects of The Puppy’s story with the same kind of deep regret Blanche felt. Blanche never killed anyone. She never even handled a gun. All she really did was go along out of love for Buck on a ride that kept going more wrong and not know when to call it quits.
That’s the spirit in which I have come to regret my earlier, harsh appraisal of The Puppy. I know I called him a con artist. I regret that. I jumped to conclusions about The Puppy. It wasn’t his fault that I failed to peer deeply enough into his bean-sized heart — a heart that will, after all, grow up to be the heart of a wolf. Here I was, recklessly accusing The Puppy of terrible things, while a part of me was able, if not to excuse, then to understand Clyde, who had been tortured in prison and lived for, and got, revenge on the law that had, in the words of one of the friends he sprang from that prison, changed him “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.”
I take everything I said about The Puppy back. Please excuse the accusations I made about him. Forgive me for impugning his little character when it was the dark side of my own that came unhinged and said all those things. Don’t let his reputation suffer in your eyes just because of the things I said. The power of the press can be a dark force when it is brought to bear unfairly.
The Puppy was all right. I understand that now. Let the record be corrected so he can live his new, happy life free of the scorn I brought down on him. Instead, remember him as you might Blanche, as he is in the video, just trying to tag along with the big dog, who, in this case, is the real killer.
In the end, The Puppy wasn’t half as bad as I made him out to be.
You have to hand it to the little puppy. Some guys are just born con artists. I’ve seen a lot of them in my day, but I’ve never seen anyone pull a con off better than he does.
First, he conned Amanda in the Long Lake office into thinking he was just a run-of-the-mill sweet little puppy. He had her completely convinced. You can see it on her face. He conned her right out of a place to crash for a couple of nights. And she wasn't the only one!
He even had me going for a while. I figured his act would collapse under the pressure building on him as the time for his handoff to higher authorities approached, but you couldn’t tell. Oh, he’s a smooth operator. He kept the cute puppy act up right to the end. He poured it on. If you were there, believe me, you would have fallen for it, too. He could put on a puppy act and not even make it look like he was acting. Roo was the only one who saw through him.
I can be hard when I have to be, though, and because of the publicity The Puppy’s case received here at Your Home for Yellow Dog Journalism™, his fate was sealed and I was prepared to turn him in.
Well, the Puppy was handed over in the parking lot of a La Quinta motel in Fort Smith, Arkansas this evening.
Harlana and Ken Steppe drove 800 miles from Indiana to Oklahoma to take custody of The Puppy. Their last dog, a Husky who lived to 17, passed on four years ago. Harlana has thought about getting a dog ever since, but held off until a few days ago, when she prayed for one. The next morning, she awoke, as every other American did, to the spectacular news of the Puppy’s dramatic capture in a traffic chase in Mansfield, Arkansas. After a lengthy telephone interview, in which the corrections officer in charge of The Puppy’s sentencing asked personal questions about housing, finances, exercise, and so on, I was convinced that The Puppy would be lucking out if he was sent to this minimum-security facility instead of the SuperMax where guys like him usually wind up. I guess I went soft on this one — I didn't even mind that The Puppy got his second chance. Harlana said that if we held off until today — Thursday — her husband could take a couple of days off work to make the drive with her. If necessary, she was willing to make the 1600-mile round trip to collect him herself. Thanks to how thoroughly The Puppy had everyone conned into putting him up, we could wait until today.
The first thing I noticed about Harlana and Ken was that they obviously never learned Lesson #1 about rudimentary police technique. It’s like they never saw an episode of Law & Order. What’s the first thing you always do? You pull the tried-and-true Good-Cop-Bad-Cop act on them. Harlana and Ken were more of a Good-Cop-Good-Cop couple. Without the cop.
The Puppy had them snowed from the start. Now, they’re all holed up in a motel in Fort Smith, Arkansas tonight, just like Bonnie and Clyde, ready to drive to Indiana tomorrow.
All I can say is I’ve never been as glad to hand a prisoner off. Even if it did take me about half an hour to say good-bye to him.
That little guy really scored. I told you he was good.
I'll post books here that I love.
One of the most beautiful, but wrenching stories of courage and cruelty and what integrity means. Stunningly written by a great master, The Crossing.
All the Pretty Horses is the book preceding The Crossing in the trilogy. If you're going to read all of them, start with All the Pretty Horses. If you might not, read The Crossing. All the Pretty Horses is a magnificent story (made into one of the worst, most botched, poorly directed movies ever committed to celluloid, so don't let that stop you) of young courage, integrity and learning how the world really works. It is a top-flight masterpiece. Your life can not be complete without reading these two books.
An inventive, funny, romantic, well-written page turner about a 1920s magician. His love and respect for animals is central to the wonderful story of how Carter Beats the Devil.
Perhaps the greatest work of literature of all time, The Gulag Archipelago is a lengthy, detailed history in which the extent of human cruelty and absurdity is painstakingly recounted. As difficult as it is, this should be read by everyone in the world.
I loved Mondo Canine so much that it was the only book that, as many others came and went, remained on the coffee table in my hangar for over ten years. I never got tired of this compendium of dog stories, excerpts, quotes and images. One day, I met the author, Jon Winokur, and we've been friends ever since. Not a plug - I love this book, and every dog lover will, too.
W. Somerset Maugham's story of a young man who finds his way to a simple life in complicated times had a large effect on my whole life. If you haven't read The Razor's Edge, you're in for a treat.
Alan Furst has a magical talent for recreating Europe in the days before and into World War Two. This is probably my favorite of his books, as the story of a young NKVD agent who long journey though war and the violent and clandestine life of a Soviet spy, is close to my heart. A rich and absorbing novel that places you everywhere from Bulgaria to Moscow to the Spanish Civil War, then Paris and New York in the 30s and 40s: Night Soldiers.
Reading this The Glass Castle made me consider giving up writing.
The word 'masterpiece' may appear often in these blurbs, but it's because I'm putting favorite books up here. Robert Littell wrote intelligent espionage potboilers. In his 70s, he wrote a novel based on the life of a Russian Poet. This book is brilliant. In a heart-wrenching historical novel, Littell evokes the Stalin-era Moscow intellectual scene, the terror of the Communist gulag, the injustice, the absurdity. The writing and story are superb. Read this book.