Top positive review
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Worth the money for "Some Other Place" alone. Five novels for the price of one. Bargain.
on 27 August 2013
If you are reading this review, chances are that you are already familiar with some of the works of Donald Harington which need no further endorsement, though you may have picked up on a possible anomaly. I'll elaborate shortly. If you are new to the author, Entertainment Weekly described him as "America's greatest unknown writer." Novelist and critic Fred Chappell said of him "Donald Harington isn't an unknown writer. He's an undiscovered continent."
Apart from "The CherryPit", "Ekaterina",and "Let Us Build Us a City" (which is non-fiction), the backbone to his twelve other novels is the fictional hamlet of Stay More. Each book is a complete story in its own right and can be read in isolation. However, because Stay More is the common theme, its various generations of inhabitants keep passing through the different novels (set in differing decades) at various stages in their lives. This increasingly develops familiarity with the characters and draws the reader deeper into their world. (At the beginning of "When Angels Rest", you the reader are invited to sit down next to eleven year old Dawny (ie Donny ie Donald Harington). At the close of the novel he sits down beside you as you read, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end). His work has been described as "a magical-realist haze with metafictional twists and turns". If you can buy into the idea of ghosts narrating the stories, animals that talk, a cameo appearance from Jesus, and a detective who isn't a detective (but again bears a marked similarity to Harington himself) you are well on the way to immersing yourself in this surreal creation.
To date I have read "Some Other Place. The Right Place", "With", "Angels", and "The Lightening Bug".These were written in 1972, 2004, 1998 and 1970 respectively. One character (Sugrue Adam) has the briefest of appearances as an adult in "Some Other Place". He appears as an aged man and a principal character in "With". "Angels" features him as a teenager and but one of a cast of many. Thus even if the books are read in the order that they are written, time moves forwards and backwards at the author's whim. Seeing Sugrue's life in rewind poses no problem to the enjoyment of the books and helps flesh out the character.
Now to my main point."Some Other Place" is partly a murder mystery - but don't expect Humphrey Bogart! A brain teaser and several red herrings provide a climactic close to the first half of the book. Throughout the second half you are constantly challenged by doubts about what is real and what is fabricated. If I had read "With" before "Some Other Place", the plot of the latter would have been blown out of the water by a single sentance in the former.This in itself is an enigma when the books are so expertly crafted. If you get hooked on Stay More and intend reading the series, it might not be a bad idea to read them in the order written.
"The Nearly Complete Works of Donald Harington" is divided into three volumes. Interestingly "The Cherry Pit" and "Let Us Build Us a City" are removed from the chronological order and reappear as the final novels in volume three. ("Ekaterina" remains in sequence). Thus we have an almost unbroken run of the twelve Stay More novels. Each kindle volume contains five novels for virtually the same price as one. I would give a resounding five stars to the stories I have read so far, and "Some Other Place" is a tour de force that can stand several readings to fathom all of the intricacies. So how could you possibly go wrong buying volume one? My only nagging worry is that the secret of Stay More will eventually get out. An independent film company tried to adapt "Some Other Place" in 1985 and the result was panned by the critics. It is conceivable that Hollywood could latch onto it, serve up a mutilated sanitised bunch of pap for the masses, and destroy the magical world that grows only in a reader's head.