If you're a fan of the Gillian Flynn books, this will be a nice revelation. "All the Missing Girls" is paced beautifully, has a familiar voice that brIf you're a fan of the Gillian Flynn books, this will be a nice revelation. "All the Missing Girls" is paced beautifully, has a familiar voice that brings you immediately into the story, and highlights a female protagonist for whom you root even when you are not sure she is doing the right things. It is a book about past mistakes and how they sometimes follow you into the present no matter how far you run to get away from them. That said, the interesting writing style of working backward in time could have been confusing, but actually flows seamlessly, which is a testament to the author and her grasp of craft. An engrossing and memorable thriller with flesh and blood characters. Nicely done....more
Remember that time in college when you were feeling out of place, so you wheedled your way into an elite group of eccentrics and showed your allegiancRemember that time in college when you were feeling out of place, so you wheedled your way into an elite group of eccentrics and showed your allegiance by agreeing to kill someone with them? I guess it's happened to all of us at one time or another. Ah....good times.
So, obviously, this hasn't happened to any of us. At least, I hope it hasn't. But, Donna Tartt is not telling a story we have necessarily heard before. At least, not on the face of it. She is telling a unique tale about a peculiar group of friends who pride themselves on being unlike anyone else of their acquaintance. They are young, wealthy, privileged, New England college students, Ancient Greek scholars, taking all of their classes with a similarly eccentric professor who has taken it upon himself to mold their beliefs and ideologies, to the exclusion of all other influences. They study separately from all others in their peer group, secreted away in a hidden chamber of the university, unencumbered by the rules others must follow.
Into this strange symbiosis wanders our protagonist, Richard Papen, a California native trying to escape his mundane suburban existence by heading to chilly Vermont. He becomes fascinated with this odd bunch and manages to find a way into the exclusive group. Taken by their lifestyle, their elitism, and their excursions to a mansion hideaway, Richard is willing to transform himself into whatever he needs to be in order to be one of them. In his willingness to fabricate a past that is not his own, he slowly learns that all of his new friends are fabrications in one way or another, but that they are also currently hiding one monumental secret binding them all together. This secret will lead them all to murder one of their own. This is not a spoiler. We find this out on page one. The unfolding of this act is the meat of the story.
Tartt has woven a mesmerizing tale of casual sociopathy. She gives us a group of people, so bound by their own sense of identity, their own need to be special and separate from the average world that they trade in their sense of decency for a glimpse of eternity. By rationalizing that they are somehow better and smarter than everyone else, they go on a quest for deeper truths, deeper meaning in their lives, but their quest leads them to negate the importance of anyone outside of their cloistered existence. This indifference to the outside world leads to inevitable tragedy, as expected, and an unraveling of the bonds and friendships that have held them together. It is a story that can only get worse before it gets better, if it even does indeed, get better. As the plot unfolds, we find Julian, the professor who encouraged their exclusivity, left to the realization that separating his gifted children may have only led to teaching them a callous disregard for society, an outcome he never intended but should have foreseen. Did he create this situation or merely facilitate it? Would they have found this darkness without him or did they find it because of him?
Tartt uncovers each new realization deftly and elegantly, with an eye for imagery and a turn of phrase that leaves the reader more than willing to follow this group of unlikeable characters anywhere. And for however long is necessary. By the end of the book, we begin to see that despite its eccentric characters and odd plotline, this is not a tale unique to this group, but an all too familiar tale, told hundreds and thousands of times in every possible language, especially the ancient Greek studied by our main characters. In fact, in many ways, the story is quite relevant to our current experience. Small groups in blind allegiance to a misguided leader who promises that "he alone" can save them, can show them the way, only to lead them down a dark and treacherous path due to his own narcissism and sense of self-importance - it is an old story, but one that never seems to go away. It is the story of every mythology, every cult, every demagogue, every motivational directive, every separatist political group. And many, including myself, would say it is the story within which we in America now find ourselves. Casual sociopathy. A story that always gets worse before it gets better. ...more
For as long as I can remember, anytime anyone has asked me who my favorite character from literature (or film) is, my answer has invariably been "AttiFor as long as I can remember, anytime anyone has asked me who my favorite character from literature (or film) is, my answer has invariably been "Atticus Finch." Until now, I have never had to question that choice. The Atticus Finch we all knew prior to 2015 was a nearly perfect person, a high-minded lawyer from a small town, defending a falsely accused African-American man against both the charges leveled against him and the racism of the townspeople. Pre-2015 Atticus was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken widower, lovingly raising two children, teaching them tolerance and kindness, urging them to do good service and not to judge others too harshly. And it didn't hurt that he had the nobility of a king, the patience of a saint, and the face of Gregory Peck.
Now, thanks to the release of "Go Set a Watchman," I will have to rethink my answer.
That said, much as I wish my little house of cards had not been toppled by a new perspective, I have to say that this book was neither a travesty nor a masterpiece. It had its shortcomings, yes, but it also had its moments. For one thing, Harper Lee has a lovely way with language. Her clear, familiar voice brings up a hazy yellow-tinted image of the Southern landscape so vivid and nostalgic you almost feel as if you might have grown up in Maycomb County, Alabama, right next door to the Finches. Throughout her depiction of the transplanted Jean Louise Finch, returning to her hometown for a visit after having lived in New York City for the past couple of years, Lee gives us glimpses of the Scout we remember from "Mockingbird" through a series of recollections that Jean Louise describes for us, scenes which transport both the character and the reader back to the days of the novel we still cherish. There are some charming and humorous tales of playtimes with Dill and Jem as children and recollections of her father as a younger man, the father she (and we) looked up to and admired.
These sweet remembrances, though, are juxtaposed with a disturbing social and political atmosphere winding its way through the community. Jean Louise has discovered that the town has become polarized in its views on race and that her father and boyfriend are both involved in the segregationist forces permeating the town. This discovery has made her rethink everything she once believed about her beloved father and her erstwhile fiance. She spends the rest of the novel wrestling with this knowledge and trying to come to terms with it all.
Along the way, she has encounters with her eccentric Uncle Jack, her prim Aunt Alexandra, and her former nanny Calpurnia, resulting in various exchanges and debates, all of which inform her inner conflict, even if they do little to comfort her. Each character becomes a mouthpiece for the different perspectives in the town, but all of these perspectives are abhorrent to Jean Louise, who feels she has entered into a Twilight Zone of incomprehension and betrayal. In "Watchman," it seems that Jean Louise is meant to be the champion of civil rights that her father was in "Mockingbird," but unlike that book, which succeeded on every level, this book does not, largely because Jean Louise is too apoplectic in her approach to convince us that she is a viable voice of reason and also because the small-town South of that decade was so rife with this type of commonplace racism that Jean Louise seems almost naive to be surprised by it. And yes, the characters suffer a bit due to being forced into pigeonholes, expected to represent certain belief systems and opinions, with little deviance from their appointed states.
Moreover, I had a problem with the choppy nature of the narrative. Many of the scenes that involved recollections were inspired vignettes of humor and charm, but they often had little to do with the story as a whole, and seemed to be anecdotes that had just been wedged into a story where they did not belong. Still, I was happy they were there, because they added so much warmth and nostalgia to a dark and confrontational subject. Additionally, I had a big problem with a scene near the end of the book where Uncle Jack deals with Jean Louise's defiance by literally "smacking some sense into her." In the book, this is accepted as a kind of necessary tactic Jack needed to use on a hysterical woman (and even Jean Louise seems to imply it was to her benefit), but I found it a disturbing occurrence of outright physical abuse, and it unnerved me almost as much as the debate about race and the talk of how "backwards" the "Negroes" were.
Which leads me to the final criticism of the book. Jean Louise purports to be the "good guy"of this book, the champion of civil rights, the voice of tolerance and equality, but, good as her intentions may be, she's a lackluster spokesperson. When Atticus challenges her late in the book about her own beliefs about race, she admits that the African-Americans are "backwards" and "like little children." This is disconcertingly just accepted as a given. She merely disagrees with him that it should preclude them from having equal rights. Not exactly a champion for the ages.
So, although my Atticus is no more, those of us who loved "To Kill a Mockingbird" are able to find a little solace in the plight of Jean Louise in "Go Set a Watchman." Like her, we too have come back after many years away. We have grown up and our views have changed or solidified. And like her, we have had to face the fact that a man we loved and idealized is no longer what we thought he was. Can we love this flawed, sullied, thoroughly human character now that we have seen his dark side? Or will we have to replace him with a new ideal? If the years between "Mockingbird" and "Watchman" have taught me anything, it is that nobody is perfect. But where will I ever find another Atticus? ...more
"Hellhound on His Trail" is a number of books in one. It is a detailed account of two men, one who changed the world with a hopeful message of non-vio"Hellhound on His Trail" is a number of books in one. It is a detailed account of two men, one who changed the world with a hopeful message of non-violence and equality, and one who changed the world with a gun. It is also a book that acts as a window onto another time, the late 60's in American culture, swirling with all of the defining elements that made this history possible. We get portraits of all the players: Johnson, Hoover, Abernathy, Bobby Kennedy, DeLoach, Wallace, Clark, - and a truly unflattering look at Jesse Jackson. It is a true crime book, giving us a victim and a villain, a murder and a manhunt, trace fibers and fatal mistakes. But, what I discovered while reading this book, was that it was also a haunting look at our own current national crises, a book that makes obvious the stains we have not yet erased and the lessons we have not yet learned. Yes, the book is much too unnecessarily detailed at times and certain parts are overly long while the ending seems strangely rushed, but these are minor flaws in a book that does so very many things - and does them well.
I did not experience the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., and what I know of his impact and greatness came largely from history lessons and news clips. Hampton Sides remedied this for me. In an even-handed and meticulously researched account, he painted not the portrait of a saint, but of a man. Sides made sure that his portrait of King included his flaws and weaknesses (infidelities, long absences from home, misplaced affinities) as well as showing us his many amazing features (fierce loyalty, grace in the face of overwhelming odds, inability to hate, calming presence, inspirational demeanor, and eloquent message) - all the things we thought we knew to begin with and which proved to be more than accurate. Likewise, the author's portrait of the assassin James Earl Ray, proved to be layered and complex. Ray turns out to be an enigmatic character, equal parts uneducated racist hick and unexpected criminal mastermind, a fastidious dresser who takes dance lessons and reads self-help books, but who also routinely stays in flophouses and seeks the company of cheap prostitutes. Twice this bland, forgettable man who seemed to fade into the walls wherever he went managed to escape from maximum security prisons! Had those walls contained him the first time, maybe King would have lived to a ripe old age. We will never know.
The author was clearly determined to give the reader a full journalistic account of each man, the good with the bad. And yet, not surprisingly, King still emerges as more saint than man, while Ray emerges as a man so twisted by bigotry and ignorance that he could never have escaped its warp. What really hit home for me, though, is the way that divisive views in the country helped to color and incite the already vitriolic temperament of Ray and his ilk. That a horror of a man like George Wallace could have held such power and popularity at the time - and that so many other politicians and entrepreneurs could have espoused the same beliefs openly, and with pride, lends an ominous tone to the events, a prescience that this murder was destined to occur, something even King seemed to know would happen sooner or later.
I like to think modern sensibilities find it unconscionable that a climate of hatred like this could have been allowed to flourish in our so recent history. And then I look around at the current political landscape and hear people talking about building walls to keep out immigrants, refusing to understand the sad significance of confederate flags, refusing to bake a cake for a gay marriage due to "Christian" values, or balking at those who wish to assert that "Black Lives Matter."
The parallels to modern society in the book were impossible to ignore. I was particularly struck, in fact, by a passage that spoke to another current topic:
"As [U.S. Attorney General Ramsey] Clark sped toward Washington, he thought about America's historical penchant for gun violence...he hoped that the King assassination might quicken the debate on Capitol Hill, and he vowed to push for a policy requiring a permit to own a gun- especially high-powered rifles like a .30-06. "We are virtually unique among nations in our failure to control guns," he would write."
What a sad irony that now, almost half a century after the assassination of one of the most beloved (and to some, polarizing) figures in our history, the same issues still plague our nation and divide us as to our values and political beliefs. We are still beset with inadequate gun control laws, rampant inequality, racial discrimination, and violence of all kinds. Civil rights issues still dominate the headlines, stricter gun laws face powerful resistance from well-funded lobbies, and the ramifications of both issues continue to escalate.
In a climate of intolerance, we seem destined to breed more men like James Earl Ray. If this book has only one takeaway - that we need to heed the message that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us all those years ago or suffer the same unrest and violence that should have been left in our past by now - then it is well worth the read. A culture that allows a man like Ray to exist and thrive is a tragedy, and we are not so far removed from that climate right now. Ray pulled that trigger. There was no conspiracy. No powerful group funded his actions. No one hired him to do this evil deed. But make no mistake, many were complicit in the crime. As King's widow, Coretta, so aptly said at the time, "There were many fingers on the rifle." ...more
I love Kazuo Ishiguro. When I read his novels, I often find myself overcome by the inner lives of his characters. He has a way of breaking your heartI love Kazuo Ishiguro. When I read his novels, I often find myself overcome by the inner lives of his characters. He has a way of breaking your heart with his insight, the way he uses dialogue - or perhaps, more accurately, omits it - to convey the regret and sadness of everyday life and all of those things that are left unsaid. It has served him well in his previous novels, and I was looking forward to "The Buried Giant," although, I have to admit, I was a little concerned when I heard it was a novel written in the fantasy genre. How would an author given to minimalism and an economy of language fare in a genre so often given to the other extremes? As it turns out, not so well.
The story of Beatrice and Axl, an elderly couple taking a perilous journey on foot to see their long lost son, is a bittersweet tale. Along the way, they meet a warrior and a charmed boy and an Arthurian knight, all of whom figure into this enchanted little legend and make up its main characters. There is talk of a mist that has clouded their memories, a mist created by a dragon named Querig, that keeps the people of the land from remembering important details from their pasts. To tell you more might ruin the story, but know that, as is often the case in a tale such as this, all of the characters are shrouded in mystery, things are not always what they seem, and characters are more likely than not merely symbolic embodiments of events and ideas from the collective lore of humanity.
Sounds pretty good, right? And it is. It's pretty good. It's just not very good. And I believe the reason for this is because Ishiguro was not meant for this style of writing. A bold statement for someone who reveres him and who also has no business questioning his skills, but...there it is. Ishiguro has written stellar novels that hinge upon the spare emotional relationships between repressed people and the small risks they take along the way as they approach their fears. He has done this largely through extremely accurate dialogue and the desperate absences of eventfulness that often make up a huge portion of real life. Fantasy, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. The fantasy reader requires a certain richness of detail, a lush, brash, magical turn of phrase that allows the reader to suspend disbelief and enter a world unlike one's own, but with an undeniable authenticity.
From the very first chapter, I noticed the plodding pace of the book, the matter-of-fact way this supposedly enchanted land was described, the lengthy set-up, and the feeling of constantly waiting...waiting...for something to happen. I understand why all of that could have been intentional, but it didn't make for a fantasy page turner and it wasn't "alive" enough to draw me into its narrative. For a book containing Arthurian legend, ogres, dragons, charms, perils, and a strange curse, it was, well...kind of boring. And I don't bore easily. I've watched "Howard's End" twice. I have a high threshold for boredom. But what bothered me most was the feeling that nothing felt new or original. It was a patchwork of every folk legend everyone has ever heard. And yes, I get it, that may have been the point. But if that's the case, write an essay about archetypes and their relationship to individual and collective psychology and just tell me that life is easier when we begin to forget past slights and grudges. Because that's the point of the story. Nothing will ever get better on a large or small scale if we do not forgive the past and allow it to become a dim memory, half-remembered and not as important as the present. It is the only way to heal, the only way to love, and the only way to live in peace.
A beautiful concept. A heartbreaking concept. One I would have liked Ishiguro to explore in a novel. A different novel....more
Gillian Flynn is a tremendous writer. She can craft a great suspense novel like nobody's business. Her*Please note, I give this three and a half stars
Gillian Flynn is a tremendous writer. She can craft a great suspense novel like nobody's business. Her character development is exceptional. Her turn of phrase is fresh, insightful, and often startling in its originality. She writes within a genre that is often tainted by formulaic hacks and pedestrian plots and she elevates it to bonified literature; her writing is really that good. We all know the phenomenon that is "Gone Girl," a delicious piece of work whose devious contrivances were lost on you if you only saw the movie. And Flynn's novel, "Dark Places" was even better than "Gone Girl," filled with complexity and nuances that truly captivated.
"Sharp Objects" is another well-written, well-crafted novel about a struggling city journalist sent to cover the human interest side of the disappearance of a young woman in her hometown, a town she has no desire to revisit for reasons that largely have to do with the complicated relationship she has with her disapproving, passive-aggressive mother and her eccentric stepfamily. Telling you much more about the plot would give away far too many spoilers, and you need to unravel these on your own. Suffice to say, this is a really damaged woman with some pretty disturbing family secrets who is not going to have an easy time of things as she navigates this news story.
Flynn, as usual, makes the characters come alive. She writes like a dream and her imagery really stays with the reader. So, why am I not giving this book a higher rating and a more enthusiastic recommendation? Because this is the only one of Flynn's three books that did not ring true for me. Some of the characters and their motivations, as well as the eventual outcome of the book, seemed unlikely, unrealistic, and in some ways, maddening. I have come to dislike books that take this unlikely turn, because they are legitimizing a concept that is not supported by facts. Criminology has detailed again and again that crimes of this nature have particular culprits, a type that is far and away the norm. I feel endings of this unnatural type feed into a certain mindset that is unnecessarily damaging to our view of society in general. And I have stumbled across this type of ending far too often lately. I am not liking the trend.
My apologies for being so cryptic, but any additional information would be too much. I wholeheartedly recommend Gillian Flynn, and really hope she comes out with many more books in the near future. She is a very talented writer. And her other two books are phenomenal.
Well, I admit it. I bought into the hype. This book was touted in the media as "the "Gone Girl" of this summer!," and I am sorry to tell you that it iWell, I admit it. I bought into the hype. This book was touted in the media as "the "Gone Girl" of this summer!," and I am sorry to tell you that it is not, in fact, the "Gone Girl" of this summer or any other season. Whatever you may think of GG (I personally thought it was great), you have to admit that Gillian Flynn is a writer who knows how to craft a clever and engrossing story driven by exceptional character development, intricate plot points, and vivid details. "Disclaimer," on the other hand, is a book with only one real strength: its conceptual framework. But that alone may be enough to make this book worth reading, at least as a palette-cleansing quick summer read between more substantial works of fiction.
"Disclaimer" has a great little hook. What if you had a deep, dark secret from your past and you thought no one knew about it? Absolutely NO ONE. And then one day, a mysterious book showed up at your door and it held the story of your buried secret for all the world to read? What would you do to protect the shell of your privacy? How would you deal with this subtle form of terrorism from an unknown intruder into your personal life? "Disclaimer" has a truly interesting premise that sets the stage for the way this secret will begin to tear apart the lives of our main character and her family, beginning as a woman's desperate attempt to quash the story and discover its source and building to a twisted crescendo that reveals an even more surprising secret that I doubt even the most savvy reader could have seen coming.
With such a fantastic concept at its heart, one would think I would have given this book a higher rating. My problem with it was a stylistic one. I just felt that the characters were never truly fleshed out. They seemed to me rather two-dimensional, unremarkable people. I could never even picture them as entities in my head, (even though there were really only four main characters), and I just never got a sense of the inner lives of any of them. It was clear that the characters and their dialogue and any small event that occurred was really only calculated to continually drive the one plot point home. And, that's fine. I get it. To some extent, every book must revolve around its conceptual framework. But don't make the machinery so obvious to me. I don't want to see the Wizard behind the curtain in the Emerald City. Get me involved in the characters, make me care about them, and then...only then...will you drive your little hook into my heart.
That said, this book has not one, but two reveals - the second far more incredible than the first. I usually see a surprise or a plot twist coming from a mile away. I never once suspected the actual secret that would be revealed near the end of this book. Well done, Renee Knight, on surprising me. Now, if only I had cared more about the characters, had felt a little more invested in their lives and fates, perhaps instead of finding this book to be a mildly surprising suspense novel with a serviceable hook, I might have dubbed it "the "Gone Girl" of this summer." ...more