Thursday, March 20, 2008

Books: Lullaby, by Oakley Hall

I felt a little guilty reading this book, as if it were not really literature. I picked it up having just finished the brilliant Warlock, and wanting more; Oakley Hall is primarily a writer of Westerns, and I was going to get one of those, but this stood out as different. A combination of ghost story and beat narrative set in Hawaii, Mexico, and Northern California, it's too fun to be literature. Oakley Hall is an amazing storyteller, and unlike, say, Pynchon, upon whom he supposedly had some effect, style never stands in the way of the story.

The story is as follows: a divorced husband and wife (she is originally from Hawaii, but they both live in San Francisco now) are still held together by a family business (real estate and land development) and their two adult children (they had three, but the youngest died in a childhood drowning incident): a messed-up daughter, in Honduras with the Peace Corps (we don't hear much from her), and a son in graduate school, working on a novel (also to his father's chagrin, who wished he would find a more substantial career). Quickly, their son takes a near-deadly fall off a bridge and, after intensive surgery, survives with some brain damage. This accident brings them back together, as does the necessary purchase of a shopping complex back in Hawaii. The mother, who was raised by a superstitious Hawaiian nanny, is certain that there is a curse on the family that explains the deaths and accidents, and indeed, as the story unfolds, there have been incidents of grave desecration by her husband's developing projects. Meanwhile, their son has his own ghosts and curses; he was writing a novel about the (literally) bewitching blonde he used to date, who dragged him and two other (male) friends first up to a house in the mountains to start a psychedelic band (at which time they experimented dangerously with the occult, seeing some things they would have preferred not to see), and then down to Mexico to take part in a big drug purchase (at which time our hero bows out, instead joining a group of Mexican spiritualists on a peyote pilgrimage, which doesn't go so well for him either). Another curse seems to be at work, because two of the four men involved in the drug scheme (which went horribly awry, as we find out in flashback) are now dead, and our hero himself almost died too.

As you can see, this is all deliciously nervous and fun, but also rather silly, and the characters are more than a bit stock. Hence, my guilt at enjoying it so much.

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