**spoiler alert** Hm. I think I just may not be cut out for traditional literary fiction, even when there seems to be a ripping good story attached. W**spoiler alert** Hm. I think I just may not be cut out for traditional literary fiction, even when there seems to be a ripping good story attached. While there was a very distinctive narrative voice and a lot of the ideological rambling is very much in support of defining who that character is, after a certain point it just feels like authorial wankery more than anything else.
The interesting line with this book is how much of the wanking is the author trying to establish who his narrator is, a self-admitted rapist and murderer, and how much of it is descending into general author commentary. When, in the first thirty pages, the narrator whinges on about how there's been no real examination of the aftereffects of rape on the rapist and how that's not faaaaaaaaaair, yes, that's a crucial bit of information about the narrator. What squicks me is how it is written such that I think we are supposed to take the narrator seriously on this point, if even for a minute.
And so on and so forth for the next two hundred plus pages.
The other thing that left me a bit, "...is this for real?" is the big revelation at the end of the book. When the narrator finally finds out what happened between his brother and his brother's wife in the House of Meetings during their conjugal visit fifty years earlier. The thing that destroyed his brother. The problem was the sex was good and the brother just didn't care. Maybe I'm just not the target audience, but casting this entire tragedy of lives, the entirety of 20th century Russian history to some extent, through the prism of the sexual prowess of two brothers? Are you kidding me? This is totally an "The World Revolves Around My Penis" book, and I just don't give a damn any more.
Points, though, for structure. I found myself the most fascinated by the addressee of the book, the narrator's late-in-life stepdaughter. I thought the book was really well-constructed in how it created this entire relationship and life in the blank spaces around the story being told.
Points, too, to the author for having the balls to come out and say it directly, through the narrator, even - this is really a love story between the two brothers; the women are all excuses or intermediaries.
(Which, yes, that's kind of the point of the book and the narrator, but my god I'm tired of reading Serious Books in which the women are all excuses or substitutes. I think that's why the stepdaughter was so interesting - she was the only female who appeared in the entire book who was not judged solely on her sexual worth. And, of course, the stepdaughter never appeared at all.)
Yes, there are some brilliant turns of phrase. Yes, this was really skillfully constructed. But I'm not interested in literary ideological ponderings so much as I am in storytelling, and it's very clear which was more important in this book.
(Plus I just don't give a damn about the narrator's penis.)...more
Oh, Stephen King. Or Bachman. Or both. I do enjoy you so. Overall, it was a very compelling, very quick read. Definitely recommended.
King speaks of Oh, Stephen King. Or Bachman. Or both. I do enjoy you so. Overall, it was a very compelling, very quick read. Definitely recommended.
King speaks of The Colorado Kid and Blaze in the same breath, with good reason. There's a similar feel to the writing. Very sparse. It's still very King-y, in my mind, in the way childhood and location are the keys to each character, but the actual language used is a little crisper than King-as-King. Or maybe that's just the character in question.
Blaze really is one of the most sympathetic criminal-protagonists I've run across in quite a while. He has a terrible life that shapes him, and othern than the death of the blueberry farmer, it's hard to point to a moment and go, "This. This is where it all went wrong and never came back. This is the point of no return." It's just one small tragedy piled on top of another.
I enjoyed the ambiguity of George and his post-death relationship with Blaze: is it a real haunting, or is it all just Blaze? I like that Bachman makes a convincing argument both ways and never resolves it. Still, though, George and Blaze aren't the heart of this book; Joe and Blaze are.
Blaze's growing affection for Joe just slayed me. I don't know why the little descriptions of Blaze learning how to care and feed for this tiny human being that completely confuses and delights him affected me so, but they did. Even as Blaze does thing after thing that is on the surface reprehensible (stealing a baby, fatally injuring the old lady, etc), his internal monologue and developing affection for Joe somehow make him deeply sympathetic. You understand how he came to the point that stealing a baby was the most logical thing to do. You know how it all has to end (tragically), yet you can't help but rooting for Blaze to succeed, or to at least be okay. There's a really weird dichotomy created, where you can't help but hope for a happy ending for Blaze, which has Blaze and Joe living "happily ever after," even as you realize you're hoping that a baby grows up happily with his kidnapper. It's not like we're even given monstrous parents to dread Joe's return.
What struck especially keenly for me was the contrast between this inevitable hope (and inevitable disappointment) for the strangely sympathetic Blaze with the law enforcement guys. You're set up in a natural response to Sterling's demonization of the unknown kidnapper of, "But you don't really know Blaze! He's not a monster!" with the fact that Blaze did kidnap Joe and did end up killing that old lady, and fron the outside, he is monstrous. I guess it's the contrast between monstrous acts and a monstrous nature. Sterling is very black-and-white, yes, but ultimately he is trying to find a kidnapper and a(n unintentional) killer. Blaze's death is tragic, yes, but it's hard to resolve the situation in any other way.
What I like, ultimately, about the dichotomy that Bachman creates is that it doesn't offer any easy answers. Blaze is not exempt from the consequences of his horrible actions just because he did many of them with good intentions and what "bad" intentions he had were clearly the result of the accumulated tragedy of his life. Nor is the tragedy and wrongness of Blaze's death diminished by the fact that he was killed by a law enforcement officer who believed he was pursuing a cold-blooded kidnapper and murderer who had just killed the leo's fellow officer. It's the removal of "cold-blooded" from that last phrase that complicates things that might otherwise be fairly simple. ...more
**spoiler alert** Hm. Let's see. It's by the guy who wrote Remains of the Day, so it has a bit of a "modern literature, good-for-you, subtly subtle in**spoiler alert** Hm. Let's see. It's by the guy who wrote Remains of the Day, so it has a bit of a "modern literature, good-for-you, subtly subtle investigation of people and their motivations, with people going into rooms and going, 'Oh! I, oh, well, oh. I didn't know you were in here.' 'Yes, Sebastian, what is it? I am moving books slightly to the left.' 'Oh. Well. I guess I'd better leave.' 'Yes, I guess you'd better had.'" sort of thing going on, which I find interesting when well-done (which I find very rare). So much of it is just ordinary description of people going about their days, but the subtle subtleness is nice, in that it really *does* convey more going on than merely moving books slightly to the left.
Plus, much of it revolves around a boarding school. What can I say - I have a weakness. There is absolutely no way boarding schools are half as interesting as I was convinced they were at age eight, but it's v. hard for me to let go of that inner eight-year-old fascination. In some ways, this book reminded me of so many of the British Boarding School Novels I read at age eight, except nobody turns into a cat or a long-lost wizard or a hidden princess or anything. It's just, you know. People. Kids. Being cruel and kind as kids can be.
The narrator falls victim to the same fault of so many of these sorts of books, in that she's far less noticeable than some of the other characters, but for once I really do believe that she is a decent person, more decent than some of the other characters. She does things and has little kindnesses that some of the other characters don't that make her a better person than some of them, not by default (hey, at least she's not as cruel as some of the other kids!), but because of some of her own actions. But again - subtle subtleness that is both subtle yet subtle. Or something.
More detailed plot and character spoilers follow.
Like, big spoilers. Seriously. If you want to preserve the conceit of this book, at least a little bit at first (I found it fairly easy to figure out what was going on but found the unfolding of The Secret to be interesting and well-handled), skip this.
So, yeah. The kids in the boarding school? The grown-up kids resolving all their weird relationship issues? Clones. Created for organ harvesting. And their entire lives are shaped around their future "donations," after which they "complete." It's like The Island, only with far fewer explosions, and ultimately nobody escapes.
Maybe that's depressing, but I kind of like the story where the Big Secret - which is never really a secret to the characters, just is referenced obliquely to the reader, because there's nothing Secret or Weird about it to the characters - is revealed and is pretty much horrible and nothing changes. The characters are interesting and valuable because of who they are, not because they are, like, the Liberators Of The Clones or because they beat the system.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's depressing, but I like it nonetheless.
I imagine reading this was like what reading 1984 or Brave New World is/was like when no one really knew what they were about. When their plots weren't already revealed before anyone had ever seen the inside cover of the book. The point is the people, not the science fiction plot idea behind them. (Okay, there is a talky section at the very end, where one of the characters dons Captain Exposition pants and gives backstory beyond what the narrator could know, but it was intriguing and I am willing to forgive its mild hokiness.)
I like that the teachers were revolted by the "students," the clones, because I can imagine that happening. I can imagine people working for the betterment of the students because of the ideal they represent, even as they are horrified by their actuality. I like the way the narrator and her fellow students are clearly established as human beings in the eyes of the readers before the notes of dissonance and oddness are fully established as being Other (and not just a really weird boarding school practice).
I like how art and creativity are deemed "necessary" to prove that the students have souls. I like how creepy that is. I like how creepy the doubt of humanity is, how the students are treated halfway like people, halfway like, well, I don't know what. Less than human. Locked into the endless cycle of caring and donation and completion. I like how depressing it is that the one school to actually educate the students is shut down for lack of support. (Although I would have loved to see that fleshed out more.) I like how even the people educating the students see it as educating them purely for the sake of education, not because they fully see them as human or to give them a chance at a better life (as which education is always trumped). I like how the Hailsham students are a product both of thinking that their education is for something more and good and of thinking about how their lives are already laid out and how questioning their ultimate donation and completion is not even in their frame of reference at this point, only requesting a "delay." I like how the word die is only used once, maybe twice, in the whole book.
Even as all that's going on, I was intrigued by how, hm, typical some of the characters and their interactions are. The best friend is charming yet cruel, and I for the life of me couldn't figure out why people were her friend. Yet isn't that the way it can be in school? The narrator was a little more introspective, a little more caring, a little more something than most of the people around her, but ultimately she wasn't particularly memorable. The boy is friends with the narrator but dates the cruel friend, even as he's in love with the narrator. And what makes it compelling in a way it wouldn't otherwise be is how it plays out over the backdrop of the fact that they're clones and being raised solely to donate their organs and ultimately their entire bodies. It just kicks everything into high relief and makes something that would be interesting but not particularly intriguing into complex and deeply intriguing. At least to me....more
**spoiler alert** Dude. Best serial killer book I've read in a while. Funny, creepy, yet not horrifying in the way that American Psycho is. What can I**spoiler alert** Dude. Best serial killer book I've read in a while. Funny, creepy, yet not horrifying in the way that American Psycho is. What can I say - I'm much more engaged by a book that is a rollicking good mystery combined with a creepy-funny narrative voice versus a meditation on American society in the 80s combined with a creepy-funny-creepy narrative voice.
I'll admit I first picked up this book because I want to watch the Showtime series, and I'm a book-before-movie kinda gal. (Everyone at work is watching the show, and I want to be one of the Cool Kids.) Therefore, Michael C. Hall's face and voice were very much in my head the whole time.
Doesn't matter. Dexter is, well. Dexter. Deeply distinctive Dexter. Detached drama queen Dexter. Devilishly droll Dexter. One of the best first person narrations I've read in a long time, and I think the author does a v. good job of being internally consistent with Dexter.
In many ways, mysteries rely on deeply human motivations, passions, emotions, etc., which the author has deliberately removed from Dexter. What delights me about this book is how the author still manages to fit Dexter into that paradigm without giving Dexter a sudden fit of human compassion. The rules are the rules from the beginning to the end, and there's no wavering.
Ultimately, you can't have Dexter kill Deborah and a) have most readers not throw the book across the room and 2) not kill all his funny with real, legitimate creepy. I quite like the perfect little deadly diorama (couldn't think of a third D word) at the end, with the dichotomy (ha!) between Dexter's siblings, between nature and nurture if you will, between Dexter's creepy and Dexter's funny. It's a very fine balance between the two, setting up Dexter's serial killeritude and keeping him relatable enough to a) be a sympathetic character and 2) fit within the shape of a mystery novel and not just have Dexter go, "Wheeee!" and kill everyone.
I do wish that there was a bit more plausibility to the idea that Dexter himself could be committing the murders, but I'm not sure how you do that and still tell the story. The whole following-the-van bit pretty much negated the possibility that Dexter was doing it for me, so that element of mystery felt a bit overplayed to me.
I like that Brian came out of nowhere, that it was not unsurprising that Dexter's Mysterious Past was involved in some way, but the way in which Dexter really was the focus of it all was unexpected. The gun was on the mantle, but it was only tangentially referenced, and you don't know it's a shotgun until you're staring down its barrels.
I'm not sure I buy the series' general premise, even fictionally - horrifying childhood trauma = soulsucking serial killeritude - but, again, I like that it's consistent. I like that the way Dexter expresses the closest thing he feels to affection is through rigid adherence to Harry's code, in its delicious logic to him.
Some of the narration is a little overblown - here, have another moon metaphor! and Dark Passenger - but it fits in a lot of ways. The root of pretentious is pretense, so it makes perfect sense that Dexter is a blooming little font of pretentiosity. His self-awareness of that is what takes him from irritating to backwardly charming.
Now I just need to fix my computer's sound card so I can watch season one on demand through netflix.......more
A lame attempt at paranormal chick lit. Not worth the paper it was printed on. Insulting and shallow, with the whole paranormal twist seemingly tackedA lame attempt at paranormal chick lit. Not worth the paper it was printed on. Insulting and shallow, with the whole paranormal twist seemingly tacked on with no internal logic or explanation. I was drawn in by the idea of the imaginary friend showing up for real, but the potential is-he-isn't-he is dashed in the very first page, when we've got narration from the imaginary friend's POV, and then the authors didn't even try and do anything interesting with the whole imaginary friend community thing they've set up. It's all just hand-wavy, and the heroine is all of the worst aspects of "chick lit" romancey heroines rolled into one. It goes through the motions of a wacky, interesting set-up and manages to be neither wacky nor interesting.
Also, WTF. The heroine gets dressed up and walks twenty blocks in four inch heels, after never wearing heels? My credulity can only be stretched so far. ...more