Booksmart: Book Reports

Jul 17, 2007 at 4:07 pm
My Dreams Out in the Street
By Kim Addonizio. Simon and Schuster; 258 pgs., $25.

    It rains in nearly every scene of Kim Addonizio’s scorching new novel. Reading it leaves you feeling as if you’ve been burnt at the stake with a blowtorch in the middle of a thunderstorm.
    This is the story of Rita Jackson, whose husband, Jimmy, left her some time ago and got arrested later that night, and her search for him among the homeless who inhabit San Francisco’s seediest precincts. She turns to cheap hotels, shelters, cardboard boxes and parks.
    The passing descriptions of these people’s lives are enough to elicit tears. Rita is beaten and raped a couple times each, ODs and gets robbed twice. Still, she can’t find Jimmy. A kindly investigator tries to help but turns out to be “just another john.”
    This is a grim and depressing novel written by a hand as light and quick as a hummingbird. There is here, though, a blazing compassion shown for the true underclass, the invisibles, the untouchables. Her depictions of misery and squalor rival the early, bleak novels of Hubert Selby Jr. (“Last Exit to Brooklyn”), and that is high praise indeed. Still she finds a way to leave room for a hopeful ending that does not betray the darkness of the rest. —Paul Kopasz

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
By Chalmers Johnson. Henry Holt and Company; 355 pgs., $26.

    The best and most sweeping historical examination of the American Empire is embodied in Chalmers Johnson’s trilogy: “The Sorrows of Empire,” “Blowback” and now “Nemesis.” This new book is both a synopsis and extension of the first two.
    While it has almost become cliché to compare America’s recent imperial ambitions and the mistakes that leveled the Roman and British empires, Johnson, a senior foreign policy analyst specializing in the Far East, frames the historical arc of America in a way that is neither trite nor condescending. His point (bluntly put): This empire is crumbling for a dozen different reasons: Get used to it!
    Among the reasons are familiar and less familiar factors, including that there are more than 700 military installations covering the globe, at least one in almost every country! It is astounding. Something that would have made the Roman Caesars or even Alexander the Great balk. The United States has outsourced the defense of the empire; soldiers, sailors, security guards, pilots and factory workers are all doing America’s work on foreign shores. Many of these outsourced workers are simply mercenaries. We’ve all heard about Halliburton and Blackwater, but the practical upshot is a defense by paid employees with little loyalty to hearth and home. Intelligence failures are only to be expected under such conditions, all similar to those prevailing in Rome as the democratic Republic was usurped by ambitious men who turned their homeland away from democracy and toward Empire and Imperialism. —Paul Kopasz