I like my horror subtle and my thrillers, well, thrilling. A bit of magical realism is the frosting to my cupcake. In other words, Lauren Beukes newest masterpiece, “Broken Monsters,” was basically written for me. The balance and seamless workings of the divergent plots and themes are brilliant in their effortlessness. Beukes is known to bend genres to her will; she succeeds admirably.
The story starts with a dramatic, disturbing murder. To Detective Gabriella Versado of the Detroit Police Department, it’s immediately apparent there is a seriously disturbed mind at work. From these bare bones of a plot, the perspective changes dramatically. First to Versado’s bright, uncertain daughter, Layla, who’s trying to grow up in a world that is both achingly familiar to any former teen and brutally different in the age of social media. Next, a washed-up writer with a chip on his shoulder — his arrogant, obsessive, self-centered ramblings making him both incredibly unlikeable but also sadly relatable — and a rich counterpoint to Layla’s vitality and promise. The fourth POV is T.K., an avatar of the city and the violence, poverty and gritty hope that defines it. Detroit is more character than setting — drawn with clear realism, but shining with a pride that seems almost laughable in the face of so much adversity. Finally, the killer and his frantic insanity become a narrative pair — passionate, haunting and sad; it’s a contradiction that worms into your brain and leaves nightmares in its wake.
Beukes has created a skin-crawling work of art. The tension actually caused me goose-bumps, several times. It’s exceedingly rare for my jaded soul to have such a visceral reaction. Read it before they cast Ben Affleck in the movie; you’ll be glad you did. ...more
Reading like the lyrics from a sad love song with a surreal twist, Stuart Dybek has built an exquisite set of short stories for anyone with a lovelorn heart. Rendering romance into stories of despair, betrayal, ill-considered and frantically passionate relationships, Dybek shines a light into the dark, smoky, blistering bits of love from which so many of us try to hide.
In “Paper Lantern: Love Stories,” characters are drawn rich and taunt, wending their way through the travails of love that are oh-so familiar to adult readers — from the joyous pain of young love to the echoing loss of something that was only a moment in the sun. The characters are strong, as they sometimes float through more than one story just to reveal their truths in new ways, in a new context. Dybek shows his considerable skill for poetry, drama and all the grandness of high emotion. Gritty at times, soft as a feather at others, the variations boost the drama and create the kind of intimacy that love engenders. These stories seem to demand that a reader fade into his or her own memories of love and heartache.
The stories are different enough to offer distinct insight and revelation but similar enough to form a novel-length elegy for the whimsy of love. My favorite is Tosca, where love takes on an operatic quality — dramatic and crass, bitter and tender, vacant and ethereal. The scope of love, death and the mirrored quality of memories comes crashing to an abrupt end, asking the layered question, “After the ragged discharge, when the smoke has cleared, who will be left standing, and who will be shattered into shards?” ...more