There were times while reading this short novel that I had to stop and wonder if my aspiration to one day be the female Bukowski is either setting my...moreThere were times while reading this short novel that I had to stop and wonder if my aspiration to one day be the female Bukowski is either setting my sights too high or placing the bar too low.
And then I up and went to a bar, since I was reading this on the anniversary of the Dirtiest Old Man in Literature's passing and all, so I stopped worrying about pretty much everything. YOU'RE STILL MY BOY, BUK.(less)
I read the last 19% at work and I really, really wish I hadn't because I was far too emotionally invested in what happened to these characters. I have...moreI read the last 19% at work and I really, really wish I hadn't because I was far too emotionally invested in what happened to these characters. I haven't fought back tears over fictional tragedies like this since I watched "Toy Story 3" and I have never beamed with such joy over fictional victories since.... well, ever.
I maintain that Mark Dunn is a writer's writer, as evidenced by his dazzling wordsmithing prowess. The story he spun in this charming anachronistic gem is absolutely enchanting and the characters with which he populates a fictional Arcadian valley are some of the most realistic I've had the pleasure of encountering.
Dunn deserves to be commended further for the way he juxtaposes a modern America against a frozen-in-time Dickensian society. Additionally, his mimicry of Dickens's style is nigh seamless. The author has done what countless teachers and an English degree failed to do: make me wonder if my dislike of Charles Dickens might be unfounded.
My only gripe is that the story moved a little slowly at first, in that Dunn lingered a little too long on characters I hadn't warmed to yet. But that might also be attributable to how my Kindle died within a week of its acquisition, stalling my progress in this tale by a good number of weeks while Amazon took its sweet time sending me a replacement.(less)
I'd been staring at Amazon's coquettishly small representation of the "Wind Through the Keyhole" cover art for close to eternity. Some part of me feel...moreI'd been staring at Amazon's coquettishly small representation of the "Wind Through the Keyhole" cover art for close to eternity. Some part of me feels like the artwork-to-come placeholder image wasn't entirely unlike the final version in terms of its whimsical, eerie similarity to our reality despite its marked otherworldliness, but bigger, more persistent parts of me are filled with impenetrable self-doubt and Guinness. The point: I've had a lot of time to obsessively wonder about what the hell could possibly be going on in the scene that would betray even just a shred of affirmed plot.
Sure, I could have easily gobbled up all the informational morsels that the internet has to offer, only to arrive at the actual book sated on spoilers, too full of fleetingly satisfying junk to enjoy the dazzling main course. And that would cheapen -- nay, ruin -- what deserves to be an act of pure, squealy fangirling in all of its resplendent nerdery. This is the first Dark Tower book that required me to wait longer than a bookshelf-ward stroll to grab the next volume in a series that took the author's near-fatal accident to nudge toward its conclusion: Some weird sense of solidarity or masochism or delayed gratification made me feel obligated to tough out the months of anticipation in a spoiler-free bubble. I wanted a taste (albeit a rather watered-down one) of the unique agony that longtime fans of the series have become all too familiar with.
I know I generously heap on the references to all things yielding to the Tower whenever I get the chance, which I'm sure has grown to be about as hilarious as Pink Floyd fans' dogged determination to exit every conversation with an alternately deadpan or entirely too overeager "Shine on, you crazy diamond" (uh, sorry for those, too), but it's no exaggeration. Glen Duncan, my absolute favorite living writer who isn't Aaron Sorkin, also happens to be publishing a new book this year, and don't think I haven't already scoured every British bookselling site I could find to get my hands on a copy of "Talulla Rising" (my copy is allegedly coming about a month prior to its stateside release date but getting my hopes up on that front has been an exercise in repeated heartbreak): "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is still the novel that I've been looking forward to with the most rabid, shameless impatience I've displayed since I was but a wee lass who was still 20 years from learning how to control her emotions.
Aside from the excruciatingly great care with which Sai King has taken in crafting Mid-World, one of the things I love best about TDT is the characters populating these books. I generally prefer the supporting cast when it comes to multi-book series, like Davos in "Song of Ice and Fire" or Sirius in "Harry Potter." I have such a weakness for the underestimated underdog, which makes it hard for me to automatically glom onto the main character. That was never a problem with "The Dark Tower" because Roland is a fucking animal. What do you need to know about Roland Deschain? Stephen King wrote himself into his own series because he's so pants-shittingly afraid of not making amends with this fictional character he's been raining misery on for decades.
As much as I love Roland's second ka-tet, it didn't really bother me that Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy didn't get much face time in this installment (but, man, can Sai Wordslinger still write these characters like he's never stopped). Roland has a hell of a backstory so I always enjoy getting to see a little more of it. I was honestly in tears when he talked about his mother toward the end of the novel. Since I just read "The Gunslinger" not that long ago, Roland's harsher, all-death-and-business gunslinger persona is freshest in my mind; getting a glimpse of what makes him so heartbreakingly human was a sobering reminder of the layers of sadness and well-hidden vulnerability residing beneath Long, Tall and Ugly's gruff demeanor.
It was that sense of familiarity that really sucked me in and didn't let go 'til the author's afterward. The two divergent tales within this story could not have worked in any other King book (maybe "Eyes of the Dragon," but that's it): The tale of Tim Stoutheart especially was just dripping with Mid-World's magic. Hell, I even felt a little thrill of recognition when The Man in Black dropped by to indulge his devious hobbies. Being treated to both another installment of Roland as a Young Gunslinger and a Gileadean fairy tale made for such ecstatic escapism that it almost ruined reading for me. Seriously. It's a good thing that I still have some unread novels penned by my favorite authors to dig into, otherwise I'd be in a bit of a reading slump. The Tower is always a hard act to follow.
When I finally got to the scene with the tyger, the boy and the forest -- as depicted by this enchantingly immersive tale's lush covert art -- I was blissfully hungover, curled up on my couch and surrounded by some pretty awesome folks who were thankfully engrossed in the kind of movie everyone enjoys after a night of good food, great times and some mighty fine company. What can I say? I couldn't let a quiet opportunity for devouring a few more chapters pass me by. It's been a long time since I read a Dark Tower novel for the first time, and finding out that there's still something so tangibly transportive about tumbling headfirst into Roland's world was comforting in its familiarity. Sai King, never stop answering the call of Mid-World.(less)
ETA, 5 Sept. 13:To say I've been thinking about this book all summer would be a lie, as I have been thinking about this book since I finished it in F...moreETA, 5 Sept. 13:To say I've been thinking about this book all summer would be a lie, as I have been thinking about this book since I finished it in February. Obsessively. A novel hasn't stuck with me and invaded my thoughts like I gave it a key to the place since Gravity's Rainbow. And I can honestly say, with nary a trace of exaggeration, that it has absolutely changed how I look at people, all for the better. Where was that fifth star? It was waiting for me to realize how deeply IJ's characters, passages and ideas burrowed under my skin and into my brain and will continue to badger me until I finally give in and spend another three months getting lost in the jagged beauty of DFW's intricately crafted universe. Well done, sir.
By the time I hit third grade and had still demonstrated absolutely no inclination toward athletic pursuits, my parents forced me into the township's local softball league. Because that's what you do when your bookworm daughter begs to take art lessons and possesses a nigh prodigious talent for falling up stairs, right? My first year of being a young ball player was punctuated by lots of praying for rain, daydreaming in the outfield and swinging at every pitch just because I liked how it felt: Somehow, despite my staggering disinterest and vast physical ineptitude, my team won the championship that season, heralding another god-awful year of my father's rabid commitment to an array of drills that still have phrases like "loosey goosey," "call for the ball" and "keep your HEAD in the GAME!" providing the hellishly looping soundtrack to my nightmares.
Miraculously still, I landed a spot on the all-star team my second year, which only led to more rigorous and more time-consuming practices after school, on the weekends, before games, after games, whenever there was even half an hour to spare in the pursuit of athletic greatness -- time I would have preferred to spend with my nose in a book. Any book. By my third year, I was pretty much self-sabotaging myself at every step of the game, eventually sacrificing the only thing I cared about: my beloved spot at second base. By the time I was a sullen eighth-grader and limply going through the motions I’d had mercilessly drilled into my rote memory for nearly five years, I made it pretty clear that my parents were wasting their time and money on misguided wishes that I’d conform to whatever young-athlete ideal they had mistakenly thought could be pinned on me. This was only a viable exit strategy because the one thing they hated more than relinquishing control over their children was throwing money at hopeless endeavors that would just end in (their, not my) public embarrassment.
But my doomed-to-fruitlessness years spent toiling at the batting cages and the local baseball diamonds and the front- and backyard were not why this book resonated deeply with and brutalized me as severely as it did. Though being forced into the arduous efforts of participating in a sport I didn't much care about save for the way it occasionally diverted the otherwise endless torrent of parental disappointment sure endeared Enfield Tennis Academy's students to me in a way I didn't see coming.
It's incidental that I gave up smoking pot about a month into the nearly three I spent reading this gargantuan tome. It's a cold-turkey move that was a long time coming, as I realized quite some time ago that my affinity for herbal refreshment stopped being an occasional comfort and grew to a full-blown, all-consuming vice. I won't go so far as to call it an addiction, as it was a habit I dropped with surprising ease. And I sure as hell didn't have half the troubles as I learned (thanks to this book, which I'm pretty sure the completion of is the equivalent of a master's degree in twelve-step programs) true addicts do. But when my coping method of choice in unwinding after a thoroughly demoralizing day at work, the thing I compulsively relied on to comfortably pass time and the way I eased myself into unfamiliar social situations started to look awfully similar, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the unfortunate reality that I was on the precipice of becoming a career stoner, sacrificing the pursuits and interests and friendships that I value far more that leaving my mind behind for a while instead of facing my trubles head-on.
For as easy and as shockingly non-disruptive my sudden cessation of a years-long habit was, you're goddamn right there were moments when my resolve almost caved -- not of weakness, really, but just because, meh, why not? That's about when I realized that the ritual of the vice was just as comforting as the substance itself. So I focused on the distance I put between myself and my last toke: One week without a visit from Mary Jane. Two weeks. One month. Now almost two months. And every time someone would pass me the bowl or the bong or a joint out of habit before apologizing profusely and sincerely whenever I declined (it’s weird, the odd deference I found myself receiving –- unknowing echoes of the very things I’d once said to those who abandoned the herb before me -- just for trying to kick a deeply ingrained habit: “Oh, man, you’re cleaning out? That’s awesome, congrats. I could never do that.”), it got a little easier to stay on the wagon.
Pardon the descent into clichéd territory for a second, but every journey of 1,000 miles begins with just one step: My attempt to shake a years-long bad habit began with one day of sticking to my guns. Just like conquering the beast that is “Infinite Jest” began with the turning of a single page. Both had their moments of me wondering just what the hell I’d signed up for but, even with their lesser moments, both efforts have been more than worth their comparatively few and fleeting pains.
I’ve made it abundantly clear before that I don’t give a leaping, prancing fuck about tennis but DFW sure made it interesting in the two essays he devoted to the sport in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Coming into this having read even one collection of his non-fiction ruined IJ for me from the beginning, as it is the man's non-judgmental but deeply, quietly observant presence in his writing that draws me to him the most. But it also made me realize that the guy could have rewritten the phone book and I would have vomited praise all over everything because he’s that good at honest storytelling.
There are truths pouring from every page in IJ, which do lend a certain familiar presence reminiscent of DFW's non-fiction: The AA meetings, the depression, the internal conflicts, the biggest truths coming from the most inconsequential moments and, yes, even the tennis all resounded with real-life personal experience. Even the characters I absolutely hated (like that fucker Lenz) were crafted in a way that made them so human and multidimensional that it was obvious they were intended to be victims of circumstance who demanded more than black-and-white consideration.
The ways DFW blurs the lines and draws parallels between seemingly at-odds concepts show how polar opposites aren’t even as far removed from each other as we like to tell ourselves, that perspective, motivation or a simple name are all that separate, say, physically brutal athletic training and mindlessly indulgent entertainment, as the former is shown to be just another means for an individual to deliver the latter to the many. Similarly, an elite tennis academy really isn’t that far removed from a rehabilitation program: It becomes screamingly clear that both house addicts of some kind when you’re forced to examine what really lies at the heart of each institution. Even, obviously, sexual encounters and the family of one's childhood are complicit in one's effect on the other(view spoiler)[, as seen in Orin’s tendency to seduce mothers and how his own mother, in turn, carries on an affair with a boy young enough to be her son and who is wearing a disturbingly familiar football uniform when their tryst is brought to the reader’s full awareness (hide spoiler)]. Because, really: Is the path to learned, painstakingly accrued greatness not all that different from a seizuring, pants-shitting junkie in the realm of addiction? Filling a void with finely honed talent that will one day destroy the body is revealed to not be entirely unlike filling that same void with a destructive substance that, too, renders the addicted vessel to a ticking time bomb of physical and mental ruin.
But in a time when one can no longer be certain of what the future holds -- the country is run by an increasingly unstable president, when something as indelible as a country’s topographical familiarity is eliminated, when one can’t even rely on the unfailing numerical certainty of what to call the next and all subsequent years -- is it any surprise that extremes are no longer separated by distinct boundaries and that the sweet escapist nectar of entertainment has ascended to such obsessive, pervasive heights? All people can be sure of is that the television show or movie that provides comforting relief from the unflagging instability of the real world is never more than an always-available cartridge away. In this regard, DFW presents a strange sort of dystopia where any addiction or superficial sense of microcosmic control is necessary to cope with a world whose only constant is perpetual upheaval.
It is that very instability that dominates the end of this book(view spoiler)[, as demonstrated by characters being (sometimes violently) uprooted from the surroundings that the reader has spent the length of three normal-sized novels relegating them to and replanted in wholly surprising locales: Hal is taken from the strictly regimented ETA where children are turned into perfectly performing machines and thrust into a regressive support group where adult men are encouraged to embrace their inner infants; the imperturbable Remy descends from his southwestern heights to the rock-hard bottom of Ennet House’s desperate pursuit of getting life back on track; poor Gately is ripped from his more-or-less secure life of sober, middling authority to being completely dependent upon machines to keep him alive, where he is at constant odds with his rational mind to avoid all addictive substances no matter what necessary relief they bring while battling unimaginable physical pain; the less said about Orin's upturned world the better; even the long-deceased JOI returns to the mortal coil in a sense –- by the way, I could have happily read nothing but the interfacing between Gately and Himself the friendly wraith for 1,079 pages and been as happy as an addict on a weekend drug binge (hide spoiler)].
Life is not always interesting or without its flaws and, honestly, neither was this book. For me, IJ wasn’t a perfect novel, nor was it the absolute best thing I’ve read. But it was the most human, the most humbling and the most honest: As far as I’m concerned, those are much more difficult and far more noble superlatives to reach for, especially with a piece of fiction that manages to resonate with more desperate sincerity than some people can ever hope to manage.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I came into The Year of Proustifarian Delights accompanied by a vague dread, worried that I was embarking upon a seven-book voyage of joyless obligati...moreI came into The Year of Proustifarian Delights accompanied by a vague dread, worried that I was embarking upon a seven-book voyage of joyless obligation that would ultimately prove I have too much dullard in me to chug along with anything other than the empty appearance of rapt literary euphoria. I feared that I'd be approaching these books like they were the kind of high-school required reading that sucks all the fun from the one pastime that's stuck with me ever since I learned how to unlock the English language's secret treasures more than two decades ago. Because one of my lifelong constants has also been unflagging self-doubt.
So imagine the flood of relief I felt when this book turned out to be the most pleasant surprise I've ever encountered in my literary travels.
By all rights, I should have hated this first volume of "In Search of Lost Time." I don't really have it in me to care that much about a precocious child's mommy issues. I am not at all interested in the trifling concerns of society-obsessed folk. And I absolutely want nothing to do with a bitterly hostile love affair, especially when it comes to watching its ugliness unfold from an insider's vantage point (seriously, Swann, what the everlasting fuck).
But here I stand on the other end of a book that brought me such needless apprehension, thoroughly enchanted by the magic Proust worked with "Swann's Way." His beautiful, seamless storytelling has proven that just about anything can make for a powerfully intoxicating reading experience when crafted by a master wordslinger. It's not just Proust's dazzling language that is the lone source of this novel's charms, though. That would be too easy. It's the ideas, the connections, the tangible humanity that proves our species' nature hasn't changed all that much in a century. That even with our nifty gadgets we're slaves to our lost pasts and need for love. That all anyone really wants is a little affirmation of our personal worth at the end of the day.
The emotions here are absolutely palpable. If I couldn't outright understand the rises and falls in a character's moods and luck, I sure could sympathize. Far from being banal, each moment of lowest woe and highest elation were the very stuff comprising the whole of the human experience. I wanted to reach across time (and, you know, the boundaries of fiction) to hug little Marcel when he was so thoroughly caught up in the tragedy of being denied his mother's nightly kiss just as much as I wanted to celebrate with Swann over the onset of a seemingly loving romance (before I wanted to kick him in the ass for mistaking obsession for affection, knowing from my own failed relationships how that unhealthy need for complete possession of another person ends).
The celebration of nature, music, food, books and human memory are all songs I know well. I found myself rereading passages not for a want of understanding but for the sheer joy of burrowing into some of the most achingly gorgeous prose I've ever had the joyful abandonment of losing myself in. Tell me more about thoroughly alien architecture! Describe in loving detail the perfumes and rainbow palate of spring to dull the pain of my American winter! Remind me that others have marveled over how a song that once embodied a love's rapturous early days can bring nothing but fresh heartache until the heart can distance itself from such pain to rediscover the melody's own merit as a living piece of art!
My only complaint? This book made me feel too much. Every stab of loss, every bad decision, every mawkish pity-party dragged me right along with the fictional person wallowing in such emotional dregs. It got exhausting.
Still. A round of hurrahs for the book that drove me to self-mastication and the discovery that, while I am sadly not as tasty as the teacakes of my shared appellation, this beautiful book sure is. (less)
Indefinite pause here, as I want to continue with reading this one by way of my husband reading it to me but (and, gosh, I realize how awful this soun...moreIndefinite pause here, as I want to continue with reading this one by way of my husband reading it to me but (and, gosh, I realize how awful this sounds) we just talk too much for there to be a whole lot of room to squeeze a whole book into our conversations.(less)
I've spent most of my life in New Jersey, so I've probably encountered every type of asshole at least twice. Yeah, yeah, you all think you know someth...moreI've spent most of my life in New Jersey, so I've probably encountered every type of asshole at least twice. Yeah, yeah, you all think you know something about something thanks to the intellectual wasteland of "The Jersey Shore" but that's just scratching the surface. (I mean, I assume. I've never watched the show because I don't feel like explaining to the emergency-room staff that I've punched out my television. Again.) Those are what we sneeringly call "Bennies," the overprivileged, overgrown children who storm the state's shore towns every summer to ooze their particular breed of slimeball all over a state that reached its capacity for flagrant douchebaggery back in the '80s. That's just one flavor of asshole we offer, and they're only available seasonally. Try venturing inland and bearing witness to our impressive array of disgruntled Philly rejects and self-entitled soccer moms who can't believe that a stranger had the audacity to not find it, like, utterly charming when their undisciplined rugrats turn a grocery store into a playground.
To survive in the self-proclaimed armpit of America, I've had to do as the assholes do and adopt a few of their tactics. The difference? I generally try to reserve my powers for solely defensive use, rather than construct my entire personality on a foundation of bitchiness -- of course, lesser days have seen my temper flare up without provocation. For the most part, though, being raised by assholes (do you have a better name for the kind of people who punish their children for the unimaginable transgression of wasting a quarter on a stranger's expired parking meter?) and pursuing a short-lived career in print journalism have taught me that the best weapon in the war against assholes is plastering on a big, unwavering smile and killin' 'em all with a sickeningly sweet kindness that just won't quit.
The few "normal" people swimming against the surging tide of assholes in "Night of the Assholes" cling to the same arsenal of impregnable politeness, and also any umbrella, pole, stick or anally penetrating weaponry within grabbing range. Because when the assholes spill from the local mall to congregate around the farmhouse in which a small cluster of survivors seek refuge, one cannot simply exchange barbs or blows with the masses of asses: To sink to their level is to become one of them. You can grin and bear it, or you can stake an asshole in the asshole and know that you did your part to make the world a better place. You know, if it mattered.
Is this starting to sound like a variation on the zombie theme? It probably should, as the book openly takes its inspiration from George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." For people like me -- those weirdos who've had zombie-apocalypse survival strategies and go-bags at the ready for years -- the shuffling undead just aren't that scary anymore. A zombie somehow circumvented the booby traps littering my property? That's nice. Get out of my living room or prepare for a bullet to the forehead and a blade to the neck (thanks for the Nazi sword that not even eBay would consider touching, Uncle Walt). But a legion of assholes? You're not just one among a dwindling herd of brains to them: You're a target, and it's personal. They'll taunt you, pry the layers of boards off your windows, stuff a hot dog down your throat 'til you've choked, or charge your shelter with a fleet of molester vans just to hack away at the civility you're desperately trying to maintain for the sake of your humanity. Or, y'know, they'll just as soon kill you in the most demeaning way possible and rejoice that their laughter is the last thing you'll hear as your life seeps away. Because that's how assholes roll. At least zombies are limited in both methods of attack and motivation. Assholes dedicate their entire being to ruining yours and will keep plotting until they've won.
And, oh my God, are the assholes ever on parade in this book. If the barrage of high-octane jerks in the first 30 pages don't make you hate humanity even more than you usually do during your rush-hour commute home, then you're a better person than I am: The onslaught of persistent telemarketers, pushy salespeople, loudmouth racists, deliberately terrible drivers, stereotypically catty cheerleaders, ineffective mall-security stooges, and the holier-than-thou faux religious zealots had me seething with barely contained rage. Those kinds of people are insufferable on their own and in small doses. But en masse? I can't imagine reacting with anything less than full-on stabby rage. For the few times I had to put this book down in order to distance myself from the growing need to tell everyone to eat me raw and like it, I couldn't leave it alone for more than a few minutes. The story is compelling -- how, or WILL, the non-assholes free themselves? -- and the characters are so fully realized that you just have to root for them. Or root for them to meet with the kind of gruesome death you didn't know you could wish on another person, living or imaginary.
This is my introduction to Donihe's works, and it's my second helping of the bizarro genre: Reading "Night of the Assholes" made me want more of both. Immediately. The story would be campy and artificial in a lesser writer's hands but Donihe deftly navigates his reader through the seemingly hopeless tale he's spun. And the writing is really, really good! I can't emphasize that enough. I am one of those people who gets hyper-involved in a story and can't help putting myself in the characters' shoes, but the way I started getting too irritated at some of the displays of assholery featured in this book was on another level entirely -- and that's a testament to the talent that crafted the story, to make a reader feel what the characters are feeling. Barbara, the protagonist, struggles with anger issues all through the story, and I wished many, many times that she'd just admit defeat already and beat the bejeezus out of someone -- asshole transformation be damned -- because that's what I wanted to do and I needed some catharsis: Luckily, when the assholes get staked, it is satisfying in ways that should probably shame me.
In the end, I like to think that the moral of this story is exactly what my planned defense plea has always been: It's not enough to placidly tolerate the world's assholes; you must kill them to fix the problem. And anything that can justify well-meaning but extreme measures is okay with me. It just helps that it's a mighty good read, too.(less)
(In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote most of this while chomping on my newly acquired Gandalf pipe. As-of-yet-unnamed anachronistic tribute to...more(In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote most of this while chomping on my newly acquired Gandalf pipe. As-of-yet-unnamed anachronistic tribute to oral fixation, I dedicate this review to you, new friend.)
I am terrified of large aquatic bodies. Just.... scared shitless. Remember that inspired-by-true-events flick a few years ago about the couple on a cruise who resurfaced from their scuba adventure only to find that their ship had chugged right along its merry course without them aboard? Yeah, I saw a trailer for it in the movie theater and almost caused a public scene because it's not every day a person has a whole new worst fear forced upon their consciousness for obsessive, terrified consideration. The idea of looking around and seeing nothing but water and sky disturbs me me almost as deeply as the possibility of drowning does (you should probably know that my own wildly vacillating attitudes toward death reach panic levels when I dwell too long on what it would be like to drown).
So, no. I am rapidly approaching my third decade of existing and have never once even considered reading "Moby-Dick." I always figured any sort of cultural or literary touchstone contained within Herman Melville's whale of a tale could be gleaned from the bevy of succeeding works that have doffed their caps to it in affectionate allusion. I mean, I was positively sick about "The X-Files" as a wee, impressionable lass, and in what contemporary bit of entertainment has a major character's backstory been more flecked with the flung spume of the Pequod's final voyage than that of Agent Dana Scully? I was certain that I absorbed all of this book's important messages without having to slog through what I figured had to be a most assuredly dry novel of high-seas antics.
Except that once I finally started reading "Moby-Dick," I had to keep reminding myself that this story is 161 years old because it is the textbook definition of a timeless tale. The themes Melville tackled as the human constants he knew them to be just surprised the hell out of me from such an aged classic.
Any narrator who can step back from the action to act as a faithful recorder -- an unbiased camera zooming in on all the intersecting threads that weave a tragic tapestry, driven to commit his experiences to immortal inscription not by ego but rather a need to ensure that the cautionary tale and its key players live on -- wins me over every time. Ishmael, whose desire for knowledge and feelings of being apart from human society only further endeared him to me in a fit of kinship I so often feel with fictional characters, imposed so little of himself and his point of view on the story that I would occasionally forget both he and his intent to counter some deep soul-aching absence with oceanic travels were among the Pequod's crew. His willingness to abandon his own under-informed prejudices once he began to understand Queequeg's alien ways and the ensuing fraternal bond they share is a lesson for the ages, a promise that moving beyond exhausted tolerance toward exuberant acceptance is more than worth the necessary shift in perspective. It is that very open-minded curiosity Ishmael embodies before he even gets a chance to show off his sea legs that solidifies his merit as the trusty lens through which the goings-on of "Moby-Dick" can be viewed.
As for the civil savage himself, I think my husband's summation of the harpooneer works better than anything I could conjure on my own: "Queequeg is the shit."
And all the whale biology stuffed between accounts of life in search of Ahab's White Whale? I. Was. Enthralled. Marine-mammal biology isn't really something that I've been all that interested in unless there was a grade on the line but, damn it, learning about every inch of the whale from tail to tip and inside out just fascinated me. I'll never look at Shamu or his brethren with the same cooing regard ever again: Them fishy bitches be scary, yo. There's something to be said for knowing the enemy and, good Lord, did Melville ever demystify the whale's inner and outer workings while proving that this is one giant beast who deserves awed respect.
I can't believe how many beautiful, perfectly wrought metaphors and symbols Melville shorehorned into a book that is only superficially about whaling. I can't believe how this is a revenge tale that can actually rival the Shakespearean canon in its scope and fervency and misinterpretations and nihilistic body count. Most of all, I can't believe how much I enjoyed the face off a book that ended by forcing me to witness one of my deepest-rooted, longest-running fears. Kudos to you, Melville. And kudos again.
(The obligatory dick joke is how I blew my load about halfway through this review. Just in case you're wondering.)(less)
After the third time I started this book, got about five pages deep and decided that I just wasn't in the mood for a pulpy romp yet, I finally found t...moreAfter the third time I started this book, got about five pages deep and decided that I just wasn't in the mood for a pulpy romp yet, I finally found the there's-a-car-on-fire-and-I-just-can't-look-away point. What ensued left me assuring myself that my fear of large aquatic bodies is totally justified because boating adventures almost always end in catastrophe. This one, for example, began with a pirate chase and ended with a dude eagerly anticipating his future as a necrophiliac. The rest of the tale included things that not even my most dementedly vivid nightmares could conjure. Like a penis breaking in half from being forced into too many orifices. And a vagina-baby (NOT as obvious of a description as you'd think!) being sexxed to death. And a woman asserting her alpha-femaleness by painting herself with her own menstrual blood.
While the other bizarro books I've read seem to focus on people dealing with strange impositions that wreak havoc on their daily lives, this is the first one that flung its characters right into the fire: There's no shred of normalcy to be found on Spider Island. The body count climbs as the main characters try to wring some sense from their surroundings, going so far as clinging to the time-honored coping method of writing all the weirdness off as a drunken illusion, when the only thing that could kind of save them from the native babes' sacrifices and unwelcome corporeal pillaging is to embrace their inner savages. Which they finally do. And which also involves being stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys with dynamite.
"Gargoyle Girls" has the dubious honor of being the first book since "American Psycho" that put my claims of possessing a nigh infinite capacity for the deranged to the test, as well as being the vehicle by which I discovered the uncomfortable delight of referring to olfactory offenses as "smelling like stomach rape." I had a few moments of wondering if certain details were necessary to the story rather than the shock value they brought to it but was usually surprised to find such things being resurrected as valid plot components. Though this be madness, aye, there really was some method in't after all.(less)