Click through to read the full review of James Lewelling’s TORTOISE, the thirty-second in this full-press review of Calamari books.
This is my second time chewing through James Lewelling’s TORTOISE, and I say chewing because I find Lewelling’s writing style both accessible but meaty, thick. The thickness comes, for me, from repetition, and Calamari houses a few writers who take this tact – Peter Markus for one, Robert Lopez for another – and I’d add Lewelling to that mix for repetition that is both purposeful and dense. For instance, a chunk like this:
Lillian once told me about this guy whose daughter drowned in a pool, I recalled, looking down at the blue water in the pool. He thought she was asleep. He was reading a book somewhere. He put his daughter down for a nap and then went off to read a book. He thought his daughter was asleep but instead she was awake. She got right out of bed and wandered off to drown herself in the pool. She was a small child. Falling in and whatever thrashing around she did hardly made a splash. She did that while this guy was reading his book. He didn’t have a clue. He thought she was sleeping. He thought she was sleeping right up until he wandered up by the pool and found her there face down in the water.
In tandem with this repetition, there is a young (though less-angst ridden) Holden Caulfield type voice in the narration of TORTOISE that I couldn’t shake while reading. There is a dream scene with tall grass and falling, there is the perpetual notion of being bothered:
There were flies everywhere. The people lived with the animals and everything was covered with flies. The flies were maddening. They put me in a state. I hate flies. I couldn’t think about anything else. All I could think about was the flies.
Remind you at all of the ‘fuck you’ sequence in Catcher?
Or in other places, like here:
I worked at a pharmacy. I hated it. I didn’t mind working. I hated sitting in front of the counter waiting for someone to approach. I could chit-chat with the other guy when he was around, but he wasn’t always there and I didn’t always have anything to say.
There is even a bit about a writer who constantly felt harassed about his books, to a point where he started keeping his work private. Sure, there isn’t a hooker scene or a carousel, but the narrator is traveling to see a father-figure to supposedly heed advice or significant information, and there is an enormous amount of talk about family and the individual vs. society – and really this is not all to say that TORTOISE is writing Salinger already completed, but simply to note a parallel thread in this novel that I couldn’t ignore while reading, so there you go.
Though it has moments that slow down a little too much due to the repetition or the turtle-speed of the plot (pun-intended and intentional by the author as well), TORTOISE is a book that I enjoyed overall and that is worthwhile from a variety of angles. What to do with the Catcher parallels? I’m not sure. Maybe you could read this book and let me know? Get yousselffff a copy here.
& then, there will be: SLEEPINGFISH ZZZ & James Wagner’s THE FALSE SUN RECORDINGS.
I listened to Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won while writing this, just fyi.