This book is absolutely fantastic. In the opening scene of the novel, the protagonist and narrator, a thirty-something writer, director, and star of t...moreThis book is absolutely fantastic. In the opening scene of the novel, the protagonist and narrator, a thirty-something writer, director, and star of the pornography industry, sustains life-threatening burns from a near fatal car accident after he hallucinates during a drug-induced joy ride up a steep mountain road. During his hospital rehabilitation (as with so many contemporary rehab stories, his is one of body and soul), he is befriended by Marianne Engel, a likely schizophrenic manic depressive who believes she is hundreds of years old and has been beckoned to the narrator's hospital bed because he is the reincarnation of her mercenary lover from 14th century Germany. The narrator makes no qualms about how outlandish his situation is and how little he believes of Marianne's stories, yet the structure of the narrative, layering elements of the contemporary post-burn recovery with Marianne's tales of her early life and other allegorical stories through the ages, develops an intriguing and mesmerizing plot that is difficult to put down.
There is of course some pretty potent postmodern metafiction happening here, as the subjects of storytelling, reality, and religion are at the heart of this novel. The protagonist is decidedly male--the imagery at times is grotesque and violent and the women are either sexually or maternally painted--yet the character's own path toward redemption makes these now trite staples of male writing totally forgivable and actually integral to the development of the story. I do wonder how many of his own issues Davidson is working out here, or at least how many issues he sees as elements of contemporary masculinity on a more societal level, particularly because the story is couched in that stereotypical American male fantasy, the heterosexual porn star, being nearly burned to death in a fire that results in the loss of his virile good looks, as well as his primary sexual organ. With the strong religious nature of the text, the fires that disfigure the narrator easily stand in for the burning fires of Hell. The journey that follows is one of such genuine contrition and I wonder how this character's development correlate to Davidson own ideas of a more universal adult male mentality.
Notably too, Davidson incorporates extensive historical context and terminology, medieval and classical allusions, and impressive vocabulary, all without slipping into pretension or condescension. The overall effect of this work borderlines for me on true masterpiece!
(After drafting this review, I noticed that Davidson is a Goodreads author and he even comments on people's reviews of his work! How exciting and nerve-wracking! Andrew, if you read this, I think you're amazing!)(less)
Margaret Atwood is pretty brilliant, at least based on the two books I've read by her (this and The Handmaid's Tale). While Oryx and Crake never reach...moreMargaret Atwood is pretty brilliant, at least based on the two books I've read by her (this and The Handmaid's Tale). While Oryx and Crake never reaches the soaring heights of fiction that The Handmaid's Tale tale, it's still a fantastic exploration of our future destination. She takes on a lot in this book. The sole character Snowman opens the novel in his post-apocalyptic world, dodging genetically engineered and dangerous animals, harrowing yet dependable weather, and keeping watch over a new species of humanoids (also genetically engineered). Through a series of flashbacks, Snowman relates his previous life as Jimmy, growing up in a dystopian America where the privileged live within walled compounds run by major corporations. Along the way he meets Crake, a genius with sociopathic tendencies who tries single-handedly to solve the world's population problem with modern science. Of course Crake does not account for the pull of human emotion, and his plans go horribly awry when the two boys jockey for the love of the beautifully damaged Oryx.
While effective at creating a believable future (she succeeds in getting readers to buy into such ludicrous sounding imaginings as as a rat-snake hybrid called a "snat"), Atwood at times attempts to fill in too many holes. In The Handmaid's Tale, she trusts the reader to take the journey into Gilead without a handbook of what's what, yet in the end, the reader feels as though the story has been told to the furthest extent possible. The absence of total understanding the dystopia mirrors her protagonist's role in the oppressive society (something Cormac McCarthy does equally as well in The Road). Here though, Snowman almost knows too much, and the holes are more glaring in the plot. None of this detracts from the experience of the book though, and Atwood's creation is still fantastic. Perhaps too, judgment on this novel needs to be reserved until she completes the trilogy, as this is merely the first in a series of books focusing on the same dystopian vision.(less)
My head is still spinning from this utterly fantastic book. (I'm not quite sure how I got out of high school and college without having read it!) Writ...moreMy head is still spinning from this utterly fantastic book. (I'm not quite sure how I got out of high school and college without having read it!) Written almost a century ago, Huxley's novel is eerily prophetic in its depiction of a culture that promotes promiscuity as "virtuous" and that pushes individuals toward chemical happiness. The narrative naturally includes all of the standard dystopian literary elements: Bernard is the underdeveloped Alpha who becomes "elated by the intoxicating consciousness of his individual significance and importance" in spite of the government's attempts to eliminate individuality; Lenina is his unquestioning love interest who willingly embraces the propaganda that sustains society's status quo; and John the Savage is the outsider who provides an alternative perspective to the shallow perfection of the World State. Unlike feeling tired after so many decades of reinvention by other authors, the story is invigorating in a manner that is far more easily preserved than some of its contemporaries, such as George Orwell's 1984, which although equally as brilliant suffers from a title and setting that has dated it for the past thirty years.
Beyond the precision with which Huxley predicts our reality from the vantage of the early twentieth century, what is so scary about the book is its honesty in depicting what utopian societies truly require: a prominent figure claims that "the secret of happiness and virtue [is] making people like their un-escapable social destiny." The novel suggests that humanity requires a caste system, whether formalized as it is in the World State of Brave New World or conveyed as subtext as it is in our own world. Admitting the static nature of those social positions however is antithetical to the ideals that promote capitalism in the Western world and would likely lead us inevitably down the path to this "brave new world" in which babies are born in test tubes and chemically engineered to fulfill their future line of work. The commentary here though provides for an inescapable contradiction. The perceived perfection of the World State is actually a flaw, supposedly only because we have history and our own reality to which we can compare it. Near the novel's closing, a government official details his belief that "actual happiness always looks squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand." Perhaps this is precisely why our current society soldiers on in the face of such vast disparities in social justice and economic representation.(less)
This was a totally incredible book (until the second to last chapter, but more on that later). This is the only novel of the three that I've read by M...moreThis was a totally incredible book (until the second to last chapter, but more on that later). This is the only novel of the three that I've read by Morrison that I totally understand why people consider a truly gifted writer. The craft of her writing here is fantastic; everything is so carefully constructed for the first thirteen chapters. I found myself just pausing several times while reading to bask in her words. And beyond the poetry of her prose, the storyline is totally riveting too. I'm finishing up teaching it right now, and while most of my sophomores are struggling through the weight of the text, the majority of them have said it's the best thing they've read this year in class! I recently read A Mercy and virtually hated it, and I've read The Bluest Eye, which I loved but didn't realize how good her writing could be until reading Song of Solomon!
Now even though I'm going on and on about how great this book is, the second to last chapter was a bit of a let down. As my friend Ingrid says, Morrison just gets too "didactic" in that section. The storyline is centered on the protagonist finding his identity, and in chapter 14 (of 15), he runs encounters a woman who answers every last question he could possibly ask about who his family is. I literally felt like Morrison's editor read chapter 13 and said, "Honey, we need to wrap this thing up." (She returns to the beauty of the first portion of the book for the final chapter luckily!)(less)
A really terrific collection of short stories, this book totally redeemed Edward P. Jones for me after reading The Known World and totally hating it....moreA really terrific collection of short stories, this book totally redeemed Edward P. Jones for me after reading The Known World and totally hating it. A lot of what was hard about The Known World was that Jones zooms in on these characters and provides all this insight about them, but then never refers to them ever again; now it seems he just had the short story bug and it seeped its way into his novel! This collection is a great read, and I'm anxious to read his second collection, which includes some sequels to the stories in this book.(less)
I absolutely loved reading this collection of nine short stories from morbidly hilarious Tom Perotta who is a master of providing a glimpse into the d...moreI absolutely loved reading this collection of nine short stories from morbidly hilarious Tom Perotta who is a master of providing a glimpse into the dark souls of seemingly normal characters, revealing a little bit of how we all behave if we're being completely honest about our motives. So many of Perotta's stories accurately capture the world of the New England public school, and as a New England public school teacher, I simply cannot tear my eyes away from the train wreck that is the cast of characters that make up his fictional world. Whether providing a glimpse into the egocentric world of an honors student trying to pad his resume for college, detailing the anxieties of a teacher with a negative rating on Rate My Teacher, or recounting the neurotic self-destruction of a hired test taker, these stories will both entertain and mortify you.(less)
Oh my god. How did I go 31 years without reading this book?!?! I'm starting it with my sophomores next week and I cannot wait! It's so good! Why wasn'...moreOh my god. How did I go 31 years without reading this book?!?! I'm starting it with my sophomores next week and I cannot wait! It's so good! Why wasn't this taught at Leigh High School?!?!(less)
Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite novels of all time, and her Oryx and Crake trilogy is excellent. When I came across this series of three chapters browsing the "Kindle Shorts" website, I purchased it immediately and devoured it in three days. Written for the online site Byliner in an effort to bring back serialized fiction, the story picked up steam after the first chapter when fans wanted more, including television producers who want to turn the story into a series.
The world of Positron is a new society in which victims of the world's failing economy and rising crime rates willingly enter a walled compound where a large prison fuels the local economy. Every citizen has a counterpart with whom they trade places once a month, first living in the outside world of relative freedom in a government-provided house, then incarcerated while providing the type of manual labor that helps society function. There is of course a dark underbelly to this world and nothing is as it seems.
There are trademark Atwood motifs here, principally her thematic focus on the ways in which sex motivates our every move and the ways in which society's attempts to clamp down on our voracious sexual appetites only serves to fuel them, but Atwood is one of the great authors who can write about this potentially seedy topic without making the literature feel seedy itself. The characters here aren't as clearly drawn as in her dystopian novels, but they are amusing and realistic, their internal monologues providing a light-hearted humor that underscores the dark gravity of their situations.
I'm eager for future installments, and I look forward to a potential television series based on Atwood brilliant creations!(less)
I haven't ever read an entire book of "flash fiction," short works no longer than two pages each, and I found the experience so fun and rewarding. The...moreI haven't ever read an entire book of "flash fiction," short works no longer than two pages each, and I found the experience so fun and rewarding. The "Editor's Note" for this collection is invaluable, most notably because it suggests reading the pieces like poetry. Each piece is so short, that a reader can't simply swiftly comb through it and expect to gather everything the author intended. These pieces are not driven by the traditional elements of the short story, but in many cases they are just as rewarding.
Some of my favorites included "Mandela Was Late" by Peter Mehlman, where a despicable parole officer waits impatiently for a meeting with Nelson Mandela after his release from prison; "Currents" by Hannah Bottomy which is a tragic beach scene told in reverse; "Rose" by John Biguenet, a carefully crafted portrait of parental loss; and "The Wallet" by Andrew McCuaig, a piece that uses a traditional story arc in just under two pages. There are dystopian pieces here like Jim Crace's future world of manipulative shopping in "21" and there are witty plays with form, like G. A. Ingersoll's "Test," which is formatted completely like a standardized test. My favorite of all though is certainly the final piece, J. David Stevens' "The Death of the Short Story," an obituary for short story genre that describes, among other fabulous personifications, how "the loutish Novel got drunk on cheap Chardonnay and babled about the good times he and the Story had shared" (227).
This is a wonderful collection, and I'm eager to read more!(less)
I really enjoyed this super short novella (some call it a long short story) by Henry James. With its focus on the upper class hypocritical expectation...moreI really enjoyed this super short novella (some call it a long short story) by Henry James. With its focus on the upper class hypocritical expectations of feminine decency, the book presents the titular character as "an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence." Her pseudo-suitor, Mr. Winterbourne is conflicted about his attraction to her and his own place in society that would be jeopardized by too close a connection to the woman. In the end, the short span of the narrative ends up a distilled version of Wharton's The Age of Innocence, one that reaches its point far more succinctly and with much more endearing characters.(less)
During the first half of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sardonic and morbid wit Ferris employs to convey the absurdly ironic world of a C...moreDuring the first half of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sardonic and morbid wit Ferris employs to convey the absurdly ironic world of a Chicago advertising agency floundering in the plunging economy of the early twenty-first century creates a humorous text in the vein of Catch-22. However, as with Heller's novel, I found myself worrying about the sustainability of such a tone for a long novel like this. Where Heller refocuses his text through the fragmentation of chronology, Ferris instead shifts tone at exactly the right moment. Midway through his book, his narration moves from pure satire to a moving focus on a character who has until that moment been purely peripheral (as most characters in this book are). A shift in tense signifies the change in style and this beautiful portion of the book provides an important weight to Ferris's work. The second half of the book melds the two tones, culminating in a brilliant plot device that some might view as heavy-handed but in the context of these postmodern shifts in perspective is actually quite brilliant. The final chapter of the book marks a return to the gorgeous and important tones of that midpoint chapter, and I found myself near tears in those closing pages.(less)
I actually scanned the pages of this book into my computer and use it with my kids on the interactive white board to teach comma placement. They LOVE...moreI actually scanned the pages of this book into my computer and use it with my kids on the interactive white board to teach comma placement. They LOVE it. Then after we look at the pages, they create their own versions. So fun! :)(less)
When I was living in New York, the best thing about my time there was seeing great non-musical plays. Ever since college, I've been heading into the c...moreWhen I was living in New York, the best thing about my time there was seeing great non-musical plays. Ever since college, I've been heading into the city and going on these whirlwind tours of Broadway musicals, easily packing five shows into one weekend. When I moved there and started working in the industry, I had the opportunity to see LOTS of non-musical shows both on Broadway and off, and I realized how truly fantastic these shows can be. I've always been a fan of theater in any form, but I never felt the compunction to go out and pay a huge amount of money for a non-musical show. Since I left New York, I'm better about seeing these shows in Boston and occasionally in New York when I have the chance, but now with kids my trips to the theater (especially in New York) are incredibly limited and I've lapsed again in my "straight play" adventures.
Reading Rabbit Hole though totally reminded me how great these plays can be. It's a really simple piece focusing on the aftermath of a family losing a young child to an hapless accident. The setting takes place actually in the time following the typical "grieving period" that immediately follows the death. I think I find myself so attracted to this setting because having lost my mother over a year ago, that period after everyone stops asking how you're doing and after you are "expected" to talk about your loss is really the most devastating as you consider what to do with yourself and how to cope with the vacancy inside of you. And then also, I'm going on two plus years as a father now, so the idea of losing a four-year-old is both incredibly unimaginable and entirely real. So for these reasons I think I was especially in tune with the subject.
Knowing the original cast of actors fairly well helped in imagining how great the original production likely was. Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery are two of my favorites, and imagining them as this bereaved couple struggling to reinvent their marriage when they suddenly find themselves childless helped to realize the intent of the piece.
I can't say that I've ever been a huge fan of David Lindsay-Abaire in what I've read and seen of his work, but this changed my perception of that. The other pieces I know by him are pretty light, and this carried such a sincere weight. There are moments of levity amidst this weight, and I think that holds so true to actual experience. Again, the setting focuses on the extended time period that follows that initial grieving process, and humor is such a necessary and appropriate coping mechanism. And with these humorous points are coupled some truly brilliant assertions about loss. At one point, the protagonist's mother (who has also lost a son in her lifetime, although an adult one) says, "At some point the [weight of loss:] becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out form under. And carry around--like a brick in your pocked. And you forget every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason there it is: 'Oh right. That.' Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it's kinda...Not that you like it exactly, but it's what you have instead of your son, so you don't wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn't go away, which is...fine...actually." So true.
I'm teaching this play this fall as part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning literature seminar for a select group of students, and I think this is going to make a brilliant addition to our slate!(less)
While on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escape...moreWhile on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapees from Maine living the high life as lawyers in New York; the former in insanely wealth, helping the rich stay rich, and the latter is a Legal Aid attorney, helping the poor and downtrodden. Initially, they seem to have left behind Bob's twin sister Susan and the shadows of guilt over their father's death when they were all children, but when Susan's son Zach makes an incredibly stupid decision, one that disrupts the delicate balance between hearty Mainers and the newly relocated Somali refugees, the boys are pulled back home and the reality of their ties to their hometown and each other are revealed to be both strong and strained.
Strout explores various narrative perspectives, seemingly inconsistently, yet each contributes to the central themes of her novel. Her characters are flawed and imperfect, and she simultaneously makes them endearing and horrifying. The book read incredibly quickly, and I admit loving every minute of it.(less)
This book is truly fantastic. Marketed in the young adult genre, it easily surpasses a vast majority of the fiction geared toward adults. In the style...moreThis book is truly fantastic. Marketed in the young adult genre, it easily surpasses a vast majority of the fiction geared toward adults. In the style of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Collins has created a horrifying dystopian future, one with a history that she metes out in pieces only as it is necessary to understand the plot. This fragmented exposition creates a tension in the veiled possibility that this reality is too easily linked to our own. The plot sounds outrageously sophomoric--an oppressive government reminds its lowly citizens of the dangers of rebellion by selecting twenty-four teenagers to battle to the death in a televised game of survival of the fittest--yet Collins expertly avoids mediocrity primarily through the likability and charisma of her strong female protagonist Katniss, a delightful mixture of burgeoning adolescent maturity, awakening sexuality, and a fierce independence. While the novel is truly plot driven (there really isn't a whole lot of literary "depth" here beyond the harbingers of a stark future of tyranny), the plot developments and characterizations make it difficult to put this book down. I simply cannot wait to read the next installment!(less)