If you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Pa...moreIf you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Panic. Because if you think about it, Panic is The Hunger Games, reverse engineered. Gone is the elaborate make-up and ridiculous hair. Gone are the high concepts of political rebellion and wealth inequality, the elaborate clockwork of machinations designed to strip individuals of their human bond – all these constructs become false, burdensome, over-elaborate metaphor. The Hunger Games is Panic which is, at its heart, a novel about young adults who have nothing, who expect nothing, and who know the world is designed to benefit people whom they will never meet but who most assuredly have more: more opportunity, more wealth, more chances. Panic is a story about us. About bored kids. Broke kids. Broke kids in love, for that matter, whose efforts toward romance are as unsteady as their steps into adulthood. And reading this makes us embarrassed for so loving the unnecessary drama that most YA allows. Because we are Katniss Everdeen only insofar as she is Heather. We shouldn't need so much dressing around the idea that we are a country at a loss of what to do with itself. That we have created so much distance between the possibility of change and its achievement that a game like Panic seems not plausible, but outright familiar. These are memories instead of fantasies, and Panic is a wonderful, brilliant novel with one simple ambition: to remind us who we are. We are the broke kids. The bored kids. Kids trying to feel. Oliver has never needed science fiction to explain how we work. We are more fantastic and flawed and aflame in our small ambitions toward happiness than the rules of science fiction could ever allow. (less)
A novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, role...moreA novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, role-playing games, and films into contemporary New York college life. Yet the book somehow sheds its inspirations to create an adventure novel that makes the magic we view as a retreat back to childhood fantasy seem a dangerous, powerful thing. It's the weight that Grossman gives his subject -- however wryly cast in its popular frame -- that gives the story the gravity of adulthood. Suddenly the threats are genuine and the temptations of power within adult life actually damning. The consequences of our desire to see the world though the naivety of a childhood relived become palpable -- thrilling, but ultimately exhausting, washing off the youth of fantasy for the sadness of escape. Only the very end of the novel seems to abandon this altered reality, dipping a bit too far into its own mystique. But The Magicians offers a wild ride to get there: emotional, touching in its romances, and capturing all the awkwardness of newfound adulthood. It's a fantasy novel unafraid to show a darker, more earthy side, and it's a take on the genre that shouldn't be missed.(less)
Like most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is,...moreLike most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is, and to see something more of life than her teaching position in the rural South offers. The cure, then, is to dismiss, one after another, the stops on the fickle road to her contentment: her native Chicago, New York's Harlem, Copenhagen's exotic promises. Passed over too are opportunities for extended family, for marriage, and for genuine love. What is never made explicit is how much the background of 1920's American racial segregation contributes to Helga's discontent, and how much is of her own manufacture; a dilemma at the crux of the novel's experience, and the heart of many conversations about race: does the scene define the characters, or are actions here independent of context? The stark result of Helga's travels, however, are revealed by the title: the more you move around a country simultaneously obsessed with and ignorant of its problems with race relations, the deeper you sink into the worst of what it offers.
On a personal note, I'm disappointed I didn't hear about this book until age forty, when it is the perfect novel for late high school and early college students to explore the incongruous, complex relationships between whites and blacks in early 20th Century America, while simultaneously examining the idealistic wanderlust of any person's early twenties. This is -- or it should be -- a classic novel, familiar to any student of American literature. As it is, I only heard about it because NPR put it on a one-off book list published last week.(less)
With cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its ce...moreWith cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its central affair. Likewise, their individual sacrifices -- however much driven by vanity, self-importance, or sincerity -- make Ellen Olenska, Newland Archer, and May Welland complicated, faceted characters who are also strikingly sympathetic; each burdened by a sense of propriety that removes them so far from their own understanding of their needs, the reader probably has as clearer a line of sight on the convoluted motivations leading them to their hearts, if only for the distance. This is a novel too of a lost New York, and a naïvely separatist America, though this novel’s well drawn Puritan ghost still runs, finely shod while scandal hungry, across the continent, in and out of the doors of the nation’s literature, for we are nothing American without the noise of gossip to cover the lusts that we savor. This brilliant novel, with its heartbreaking, soft-handed finale, captures a country we never met, but whose behavior is completely our own. Perfect literature.
A very nicely written, engaging thriller that follows what seems to be the pattern for Colin Harrison’s novels: a man is taken from his family, and th...moreA very nicely written, engaging thriller that follows what seems to be the pattern for Colin Harrison’s novels: a man is taken from his family, and the familiar comforts of financial stability and status, and dragged through the gutters that vein the vivid underbelly of New York City. The characters are sharp, sexy, believable, and the story compels you to follow it through. A minor disappointment in The Havana Room is that the concluding revelations seemed to overlap too conveniently among the cast of characters, but it’s not a flaw that should stop anyone from enjoying this book, or the brilliant, earlier novel, Manhattan Nocturne.(less)
Don DeLillo’s novel of 9/11, reminds me in a way of the film Brokeback Mountain. The weight of that movie came from the premise that the viewer would...moreDon DeLillo’s novel of 9/11, reminds me in a way of the film Brokeback Mountain. The weight of that movie came from the premise that the viewer would be, or should be, shocked by two rural men in love, but the great failing of that movie is that if you aren’t shocked by the concept, then you are left with a fairly typical story of love abbreviated.
Falling Man gains its importance from being a novel about the New York terrorist attacks. But if you overlook the weight of this event — contextualize it in the way you might contextualize a novel wanting to recapture Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of John Kennedy — then you are left with a novel of a marriage struggling to rebuild itself, with the weight of a cataclysmic event moving the characters in and out of reflection.
I’ve read better novels of Events, in particular, Birds In Fall. Where Falling Man suffers is that the novel doesn’t seek to do any contextualizing for us. We read about the aftermath of the attack and are asked, as readers, to blow our own feelings, our own experiences like dust over DeLillo’s portrayal of a fractured domestic life.
(Is it even possible to write a novel about 9/11 that doesn’t in some way ask us to invest ourselves in the author’s difficult process of making the factual mythical and then factual again? I think that novel will be written, but Falling Man is not it.)
There are also sections of Falling Man that follow one of the hijackers. These seemed removed and unreal (most of the book feels removed and unreal, but I say that to DeLillo’s credit) and ultimately false in their rendering.
Of all the things to write about 9/11, is the event itself now the least important? Have we played that song over and over so long that we no longer know how to hear it, and instead only hear what we expect to hear? Is there a person in America who can speak of 9/11 that escapes the tower we built of it in our language horrific hyperbole? Shakespeare didn’t have to write about the deaths of Kings for his stories to reflect the great breadth of human experience, but that choice elevated the root of his story, making Kings more human and common men more like kings. In Falling Man, the Event rules all, but I wonder if we really know what story it is that we are trying to tell about it, about us, about then, about now.