Saturday, January 5, 2013

levon helm; james lee burke

Levon Helm & Sheryl Crow - Evangeline

LEVON HELM 1940 - 2012

James Lee Burke

I always tell people I’m not a great fan of fiction but that’s not strictly true. Perhaps what I really mean is that I’m not a great fan of what some would call literary fiction.

My type of fiction is yer typical US crime novel, the sort of story that has ‘place’ as a character, and offers interesting moral dilemmas. But wait – there’s more: How about a peep into different communities we’re unlikely to ever visit, each with their own belief sets, social divides and power structures?

The Tin Roof Blowdown, the first of James Lee Burke’s books I’ve ever read, is set in New Orleans during the arrival and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. [Was it really that long ago?]

News reports at the time showed us people trying to find shelter, and showed the widespread destruction Katrina caused. We heard reports of how ill prepared the city/state/country was for a disaster like this, and we heard how early warnings to evacuate were totally useless for poorer people with no cars, no money for transport, or who had no money to stock up on food.
Burke’s book is quite atmospheric, and goes much deeper than news reports could, offering a lot of insights into what it must have been like to live in New Orleans when Katrina hit.

As well as the Katrina story, TTRB provides traditional criminal twists and turns – not so much who-dunits in the Agatha Christie style as why-dunits, how-dunits and who might-doits.

Burke’s writing is not just entertaining, it’s above average good. Just one thing I like in a book is reading a passage and having a “Yeah” moment, or thinking “I really like the way he said that”.
Here’s one of those ‘way that he said it’ moments from TTRB:

Actually I think Sidney had a peculiar kind of secular theology at work in his life that was similar in many ways to those who conflate nationalism and religion and business. For Sidney, “sin” and “failure” and “poverty” were the unholy trinity.


  1. oh Levon Helm. The BAND. If you haven't listened to Music From Big Pink, then you must try to fix that.
    Ha! on your stats in the sidebar it says I came from Toorak when in fact it is Buninyong. I do like that I followed your last viewer from Fort Worth TX.
    JLB has been a favourite author of mine for a very long time. The child he used to mention in his novels, Alafair, now writes them herself.
    IF you enjoy him, you will LOVE Carl Hiaasen. Ecologically correct, set in Florida Everglades, and with the most wonderful supporting character, the crazed ex-Senator who eats roadkill.

    1. Hi Ann. I came to The Band via Bob Dylan, of course. And there is a 4 mile high stack of vinyl LPs a few feet from where I am sitting, only one of which I have managed to digitalise so far. No doubt the Band albums are in the stack.
      The traffic feed sources can be amusing, no? Not sure whether Buninyong=T'rak is any better than FKN=Seaford.
      Thanks for the name Hiaasen. I shall certainly keep an eye peeled - it's tedious having to start 6 trashy books before I find one that's readable.

  2. Burke certainly does have a way with words, I can see why you enjoy reading him FC. I have to confess I hadn't heard of the The Band and Levon Helm, but I did enjoy hid duet with Sheryl Crowe.. I'm re reading a few Ernest Hemingway, thoroughly enjoying, he too had a way with words.

    1. Hemingway would be a perfect example of what I call 'literary' fiction, but it would be rude of me to dismiss him without having tried to read at least one of his books. [For some reason I associate him with bullfighting?] Would you like to recommend a favourite?

    2. the bullfighting turns me away too. apparently he rewrote the ending of The Sun Also Rises, 47 times.
      'He' has a very funny scene in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris. He liked cats so he can't be all bad.

    3. I've never been a big fan of Woody Allen, and I'm allergic to cats [tho' I have been smitten by one or two cats in my time].

      BTW found a book in the $5 shop by Alafair Burke. Haven't finished it but I suspect it won't take me long. I would never be disciplined enough to finish writing a book let alone re-write the ending 47 times, but I am very disciplined when I start a book and want to read it to the end.

  3. The Band have rocked my world for many, many years just check out Stage Fright their best album.

    1. Hi Windsmoke, Stage Fright is my second fave but I must confess I have no trouble identifying with the Basement Tapes - especially lines like "I have a hard time waking most mornings".