She held the thought of Marcus in her mind, like a Saint Christopher medal, or a dream catcher, or maybe just a hidden flask of whiskey in her purse--
She held the thought of Marcus in her mind, like a Saint Christopher medal, or a dream catcher, or maybe just a hidden flask of whiskey in her purse--something that made survival possible.
Yes. This one was a real surprise for me (the good kind), since normally you would never catch me willingly picking up a collection of short stories by an unknown (to me) author. And the cover is bubblegum pink (another strike). And features a blurb about how it "gives women's interior lives the gravity they so richly deserve." Errm, okay? I guess?
Sometimes, you just gotta take a chance and try something waaaay outside your normal reading wheelhouse.
In this instance, the risk paid off. This collection is DE-LIGHT-FUL. Funny, poignant, and filled with insights great and small. I'm a tough nut to crack when it comes to short stories, but the author made me putty in her hands, with her breezy, witty prose and smart, relatable characters. Okay -- maybe not too relatable -- I'm not married, I've never cheated, and I don't have kids -- but there's something about the way these women move through their lives and think about the world around them that is instantly recognizable and resonated within me like a tuning fork vibration.
For readers seeking more of a novella experience, three of the stories -- "Single, Carefree, Mellow," "Dark Matter," and "Grendel's Mother" -- actually feature the same characters (Maya and Rhodes) as their relationship transitions from dating, to marriage, to having their first child. I loved reading about these two, and if the author ever wants to write a whole book on what these two are up to now, I'd be all over that.
These are grown-up stories, featuring adult problems and fears and betrayals and epiphanies. But never losing sight of life's absurdities, and that if we haven't learned to laugh at ourselves we're just doing it wrong. Because humans are ridiculous.
I'm also going to pair this book with Aziz Ansari's Netflix original Master of None, which just received four Emmy nominations: Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy, and two more nods to Ansari for writing and directing. Heiny and Ansari both prove romantic comedies don't always have to revert to the predictable and overly familiar chick-lit tropes. Unique characters and emotionally resonant themes elevate the stories they're telling to notably and satisfyingly above par. ...more
"What an excellent day for an exorcism." ~The Exorcist (1973)
This is an okay book. Fair. Acceptable. But it takes too long to really get humming (I
"What an excellent day for an exorcism." ~The Exorcist (1973)
This is an okay book. Fair. Acceptable. But it takes too long to really get humming (I'm all in for foreplay, but Hendrix really pushes the limits to impatience here). More than three-quarters of the novel is essentially an angsty teen, coming-of-age high school drama about a group of girls and their growing pains with each other and with the world around them. It could very well be Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill -- except that one of the main characters might be demonically possessed (instead of merely being a catty bitch). Sometimes it's nigh on impossible to tell the difference.
Here's the thing -- this book suffers by comparison to a lot of other things. Nobody writes the mysterious, dark and turbulent interior lives of teenage girls better than Megan Abbott. Seeing Hendrix attempt to do the same thing here as he explores the iron bonds of friendship forged by Abby and Gretchen when they were children pales in execution and gravitas to Ms. Abbott's vast talents with her mighty quill.
The demonic possession and exorcism angle is adequately covered -- but again suffers by comparison to 2015's Bram Stoker Award winning A Head Full of Ghosts. And no matter who you are, if you're writing about this subject, your book is always going to be compared to Blatty's classic horror novel The Exorcist and Friedkin's enduring film adaptation of the same name.
Hendrix might have thought he was doing something new and clever here by mashing-up a coming-of-age teen drama with the horror tropes of demonic possession stories, but he doesn't quite make it. Some scenes are definitely creepy and unsettling, there just weren't enough of them (too few of them coming too late in the story) to sustain any kind of coiled tension and impending sense of doom in the reader. And boy, is it really hard to write an exorcism scene that chills, rather than have it feel like a spoof out of a Scary Movie sequel, or a daytime soap opera.
“They're animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”
“They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Gar
“They're animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”
“They walked through the rainy dark like gaunt ghosts, and Garraty didn't like to look at them. They were the walking dead.”
How much do I love this book? There are too many ways to count actually, which is why no matter how many re-reads I've done of it (and there have been many over the years), The Long Walk has always left me too intimidated to review it. I managed a brief blurb of something when I listened to the audiobook a few years back, but never a "real review". So heaven help me, here's my real review.
According to King, he wrote The Long Walk while in college in 1966-67 and it became one of those "drawer novels" that got put away to gather dust when he couldn't get it published. King wasn't a household name yet of course. First, he had to publish Carrie in 1974. Then Salem's Lot in 1975. Followed by The Shining in 1976. In three short years King became a household name. So much so that he got the idea to become Richard Bachman.
King decided he would use this pseudonym to resurrect a few of those dusty "drawer novels" and rescue them from obscurity. He believed they were good (for me, two of them are better than good, they are outstanding -- The Long Walk and The Running Man -- according to King written in a 72 hour fugue in 1971). But King wanted to know readers thought the books were good because they were good, not just because his name was on the front cover in giant letters. His publisher at the time also didn't want to flood the market with more King books when he was already churning them out one a year.* Hence, Bachman was born.
*(these were the days before James Patterson decided it was okay to publish 20 books a year and only write one of them yourself).
The Long Walk is easily, hands-down my favorite Bachman book, but it also ranks as one of my favorite King books period. Top 5 without even blinking an eye. It's lean and mean, with a white hot intensity to it. What I love about The Long Walk is what I love about King's early short stories collected in Night Shift: There is a rawness in these stories that reflects the drive and hunger of a young man consumed with his craft. For me The Long Walk has always burned bright as if King wrote it in a fever. There's a purity in these pages, a naked desire to tell the tale that still gives me chills every single time I pick up the damn book and read that opening sentence: "An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run."
Clumsy? Sure. A bit of an awkward simile? Absolutely. But what a hook. And the hook only digs itself in deeper as each page is turned. Until finishing becomes a matter of have to, any choice or free will stripped away. It's one of those books that grabs you by the short hairs and doesn't let go until it's finished with you.
Before the dystopian craze spawned by The Hunger Games trilogy, before the rise of reality TV with shows like Survivor, King imagined an alternate history American landscape where an annual walking competition would become the nation's obsession. One hundred boys between the ages 16-18 start out walking, and continue to walk at 4mph until there's only one remaining -- the winner. Boys falling below speed for any reason get a Warning. Three Warnings get you your Ticket, taking you out of the race. Permanently. It's walk or die. And as someone who's done her fair share of walking, the idea of that much walking without ever stopping makes my feet and back ache just thinking about it.
But King will make you do more than think about it, he will make you walk that road with those boys, to experience every twinge of discomfort, to feel the rising pain and suffocating fear, to suffer with the boys in sweat, and cold, and hunger, and confusion, as they walk towards Death and consider their own mortality. You will hear the sharp cracks of the carbine rifles and your heart will jump and skip beats.
One theme that King has revisited over the years is writing about the human body under brutalizing physical duress, at the body in extremis and what humans are hardwired to do to survive and go on living another day. Excruciating physical peril undeniably comes with a psychological component and no one writes that better than King. We see it in books like Misery, Gerald's Game and the short story "Survivor Type". King uncovers all the nitty-gritty minutia of human physical suffering and asks the question: How far is any one person willing to go to keep on taking his or her next breath? Stephen King knows pretty damn far. Just ask Paul Sheldon or Ray Garraty. Or the castaway in "Survivor Type" -- him most of all. King also knows that the human body has an amazing capacity for trauma. It can withstand a lot -- so much so that the mind often breaks first.
Each chapter heading of The Long Walk quotes a line from a game show host, but the one that really sticks out (and presumably gave King his idea in the first place) is this one by Chuck Barris, creator of the The Gong Show -- "The ultimate game show would be one where the losing contestant would be killed." And isn't that the truth? Certainly, the Romans knew this as they cheered for Gladiators to be mauled to death by wild animals (or other Gladiators). Just ask the French who cheered and jeered as thousands were led to their deaths by guillotine. There is an insatiable blood lust that lingers in humans that I don't think we'll ever shake completely, no matter how "civilized" we think we've become.
Violence as entertainment is part of the norm, so I have no problems believing that under the right (terrifying) conditions, death as entertainment could become just as normalized. Outwit, Oulast, Outplay on Survivor suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.
One of the things I've always loved about this book is how King handles the audience as spectators, complicit in this cold-blooded murder of its young boys. When the novel first starts, the spectators are individuals, with faces and genders and ages. As the story progresses, spectators increase in number to "the crowd", loud and cheering, holding signs. By the novel's climax, spectators filled with blood lust have morphed into a raging body of Crowd (with a capital C). It is an amorphous and frightening entity that moves and seethes with singular purpose obsessed with the spectacle, and baying for blood like a hound on the scent. It's chilling because there's such a ring of truth to all of it. Were it to ever happen, this is how it would happen. When King is writing at his best, the devil is always in the details.
Another aspect of the story that has always engaged me is the boys’ compulsion to join the Walk and be complicit in their own execution. I've always wanted to ask King if he meant this story to be an allegory for young boys signing up to die in Vietnam (considering he wrote it as Vietnam was heating up and on the nightly news). I think naivety and ignorance got a lot of the boys to The Walk, including Garraty. I think young people (especially young men) believe themselves to be invincible, that death is not something that can happen to them no matter the odds or circumstances. I'm sure no boy went to Vietnam thinking he would come home in a body bag, though many of them did.
If it's not obvious by now, I could talk about this book until the sun burns itself out, or the zombies rise up. And I haven't even touched upon its possible links to the Dark Tower! Which I will do now under a spoiler tag. If you haven't yet, read this book. If you have a reluctant teen reader in your life, give them this book. If it's been a long time since you've read this book, don't you think it's time to read it again?
The Long Walk and possible links to the DT Universe: (view spoiler)[It's important to remember that TLW is a VERY early book for King, that pre-dates his beginning to write of a Dark Tower (which in the afterward to The Gunslinger he says was 1970). BUT (and this is a big but), I find it credible to believe that before King ever put pen to paper in regards to Roland and his quest, or to ever imagine a man in black, King had the seeds and themes of these ideas percolating in the back of his writer's brain already.
I didn't always think so until I read The Dark Man: An Illustrated Poem. King wrote this poem in college and it is in essence Randall Flagg's origin story. Which brings us to that dark shadowy figure that's beckoning to Garraty at the end of The Long Walk. It is very "dark man", "man in black", "Walkin' Dude" "Flagg-like". Whether it is or not, we'll never know. If he hasn't by now, I'm sure King has no plans to confirm or deny it.
Something else to consider Constant Readers: TLW flirts with being an "alternate history" because of this passage:
The lights filled the sky with a bubblelike pastel glow that was frightening and apocalyptic, reminding Garraty of the pictures he had seen in the history books of the German air blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II.
The date April 31st is also used. So here's a question -- is this alternate history or do you suppose King had already started experimenting with the idea of "other worlds than these"?
And one more passage that jumped out at me on this re-read that felt very Dark Tower-like:
Garraty had a vivid and scary image of the great god Crowd clawing its way out of the Augusta basin on scarlet spider-legs, and devouring them all alive.
The scarlet spider-legs reminded me of the Crimson King. Stretching, maybe. But it's fun to think about. (hide spoiler)] ["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm going to try and make this review as quick and painless as possible -- if you liked this book you're not going to want to hear me bellyache about I'm going to try and make this review as quick and painless as possible -- if you liked this book you're not going to want to hear me bellyache about it, and if you didn't like this book, you already feel you've wasted enough of your precious reading time on this series and are just ready to move the fuck on (and hope King is too).
Things started out sort of optimistic for me with Mr. Mercedes -- I didn't hate it; in fact, some parts of it I really enjoyed. Even so, for me it was missing something fundamentally King. If he had stopped there I would have been fine -- but instead, he wanted to drag this wayward experiment into the crime thriller genre out into a trilogy and two more books. And that's where I started to get really frustrated and pissed off.
King is almost 70 years old. I hate to be morbid, but let's be realistic. Who knows how many more books this man has got left in him. Probably not many more. My heart broke a little reading End of Watch. Every part of my Constant Reader soul (which came into existence when I was eleven years old), sunk into the depths of near despair. King was wasting my time, and his time (however much either one of us has got left) on a weak, middling, trashy airport novel filled with ridiculous cardboard cutout characters and a ludicrous plodding plot that left me lukewarm, and quite frankly, bored. King's efforts to unravel his "mystery" with excessive plot details felt like excruciating, eye-crossing infodumps at times.
Arguably End of Watch is the best of the trilogy, but by the time I got to this one, my patience had run out with the entire experiment. When I think about what King could have been writing in the time it took him to peddle this schlock I want to sob and pull my hair out. There's other King books that haven't done it for me over the years, but they've still felt like King. In his ill-conceived foray into another genre, it's like King was a tad self-conscious and insecure and spent more time mimicking what he thinks makes the crime thriller genre so great rather than just writing as himself. When he did try to plug some supernatural elements into the final book, they felt forced and out of place, a messy, stitched up hybrid of a Frankenstein's monster NOBODY wanted. Well, this girl anyway.
And now to cleanse my reader palate of this bitter disappointment, I shall re-read The Long Walk to soothe my Constant Reader soul. It's feeling a little battered and bruised. ...more
A free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for review.
I think anyone who picks up this book is most likely going to be a rabid Seinfeld faA free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for review.
I think anyone who picks up this book is most likely going to be a rabid Seinfeld fan, and I'm no exception. We are in the midst of PeakTV -- a new heralded Golden Age of Television -- and there's a very persuasive argument to be made that it all started with a small show about nothing, that did in fact, change everything. Despite the avalanche of remarkable and groundbreaking TV that's hit our small screens since Seinfeld exited stage left in 1998, it still remains one of my favorite shows of all time. I've never stopped watching it in syndication, it continues to make me bust a gut laughing on a regular basis, and I've yet to encounter any situation in life that cannot be captured by applying a Seinfeld quote.
Seinfeldia is a fun book, and a totally immersive experience into the bizarre, unexpected and meteoric rise of a show that probably should have been cancelled after its first season. But after a rocky and uncertain start, the show got traction with fans and critics. As its influence spread, it was clear to see that Seinfeld was bleeding over and breaking through the Fourth Wall on a regular basis, blending fact with fiction in an original and inspired way not only becoming part of the zeitgeist and popular culture but seemingly birthing it out of thin air. The catchy phrases and neurotic dialogue uttered on the show were quickly absorbed by television audiences and recited in everyday life as if we had always been saying such things.
Or here's what I think -- we had always needed these words to describe both the inanity and absurdity of life, and it was Seinfeld who gave them to us.
The author takes a nice even-handed, well-researched approach describing the "making of" the show, offering a behind-the-scenes analysis of early working relationships, scripts and the jockeying for power and position between the actors, writers and directors. At the helm of course was Larry David -- perhaps the first instance where we really see the genius that can result when a showrunner is given complete creative control over his/her product. And David wielded that power like Thor's mighty hammer. The only other creative force welcomed into the inner sanctum was not surprisingly David's right hand man, Jerry Seinfeld. Together, these two gentlemen mind-fused into a comedic entity where the sum of their brilliance far exceeded their individual talents.
The book also has fun dipping into the "bizarro" aspects of the show -- how it carried the Midas touch for a lot of struggling actors who would go on to great careers after their stints on Seinfeld, no matter how brief or fleeting their appearance. Probably the most notable here is Bryan Cranston -- the inimitable Dr. Whatley -- a dentist who Jerry is certain converted to Judaism strictly for the jokes. Even regular people who never acted on the show got pulled into its gravitational belt for better and for worse.
The real people counterparts to the fictionalized versions of themselves on the show would reap financial rewards and a fame by proxy -- 1.Kenny Kramer's Reality Tour is still going strong in New York City; 2. Ali (“Al") Yeganeh is the real "Soup Nazi" and continues to sell his soup today (and curse Jerry Seinfeld for giving him an infamy and notoriety he never asked for or ever aspired to); 3. and Larry Thomas, the actor who played the "Soup Nazi", continues to appear at fan conventions and speaking engagements, and has even written a book! Rather than fight against it, the actor has made peace with a role he will never outlive and embraces the benefits with grace and humor.
The book also addresses the backlash against a show that had become so popular it attracted haters and critics who believed it to be insufferably smug and overrated. The author also talks about the controversial finale episode and how it disappointed many fans and critics (it's not my favorite episode by any means, but I found things to appreciate about the finale). Then there was the fate of the four leads post-Seinfeld and the various trajectories their careers took, the strangest and most disappointing being Michael Richards and his public breakdown of racist rage. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has always been my biggest girl crush and I've been over the moon to watch her role as Vice-President Selina Meyer only get better over five seasons of her Emmy award winning VEEP. And for Jerry Seinfeld fans you can catch him now doing Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. I haven't seen this yet, but I do plan on checking it out at some point.
Not surprisingly, the brains and soul and passion behind Seinfeld, creator Larry David, has had the most enduring and critical success with his show Curb Your Enthusiasm (which ended in 2011 after eight seasons, but it's just been announced the show will return for a season nine).
To wrap things up (and leave on a high note, with hand), I'm gonna take a page from Dan who in his review listed his ten favorite Seinfeld episodes. For anyone who has ever watched and loved the show, you'll remember just how packed each episode became, routinely following four sub-plots for each of the four leads -- Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. David's singular purpose and desire was to strive to have every episode end with the four sub-plots intersect by the ending. And he almost always succeeded. In no particular order (it was too hard to pick just ten, let alone rank) here are some of my favorites.
"The Chicken Roaster": Jerry and Kramer switch apartments when the searing neon red light from the Kenny Rogers Roasters sign across the street starts disturbing Kramer's sleep. And who can forget Mr. Marbles.
"The Parking Garage": The gang gets trapped in an underground parking garage when none of them can remember where Kramer parked his car. Highlights: Elaine wanders helplessly holding a goldfish in a plastic bag of water waiting for it to perish. George and Jerry get arrested for urinating in public.
"The Chinese Restaurant": The penultimate episode of the second season which takes place entirely in a Chinese restaurant while the gang waits to be seated. It remains a fan and critical favorite of Seinfeld's groundbreaking approach to comedic storytelling -- an episode about "nothing".
"The Bubble Boy": The gang travels upstate to stay in Susan's father's cabin. Susan and George stop at the Bubble Boy's house to get directions and play a game of trivial pursuit. Moops!
"The Opera": The most memorable "Crazy Joe Davola" episode. Elaine and Jerry are trying to enjoy a night out at the opera when Davola turns up dressed as the clown from Pagliacci.
"The Contest": The gang bet each other to see who can hold out the longest from self-pleasuring themselves (the word masturbation is never used in the episode considered too "adult" for prime time television). Part of the fun is all the euphemisms used to avoid saying the actual word, and what eventually makes each character crack.
"The Puffy Shirt": Jerry unknowingly agrees to wear a puffy "pirate shirt" on the Today Show. George gets discovered as a hand model.
"The Marine Biologist": After faking and lying about various jobs and careers, George is finally called out and forced to become a marine biologist when confronted by a beached whale in distress. "The sea was angry that day my friends."
"The Fusilli Jerry": Kramer starts making figures of his favorite people out of pasta shapes that best suit their personality. Jerry is "silly" so his is made from Fusilli. Highlights: "the move" (David Puddy, my favorite recurring character, starts using Jerry's sex move on Elaine; Kramer becomes "the Assman"; and Frank Costanza ends up at the proctologist's office after impaling himself on the Fusilli Jerry. This is also the episode where we get Frank's move of "stopping short".
"The Face Painter": I love David Puddy and this (along with the "Jesus Fish" subplot from "The Burning" episode), is his best stuff. I still say "Gotta support the team" in my best Puddy impression.
"The Little Kicks": Two words: Elaine dances. Also, Jerry becomes a bootlegger and we meet Brody.
"The Merv Griffin Show": Kramer finds the set of the Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster and sets it up in his apartment. Highlights: Jerry is dating a woman with collectible toys from his childhood (that she won't let him play with); George runs over a squirrel and is pressured by the woman he's dating to save its life, which the vet informs him will be costly and require the use of "special, really tiny instruments."
"The Slicer": Kramer gets a deli slicer and starts slicing meat. Elaine and Kramer conspire to short circuit the power in her neighbor's apartment only to find out there's a cat trapped inside starving because its food dispenser no longer works. And that's just the tip of the iceberg -- there's so much hilarity stuffed into this episode that often gets overlooked.
"The Reverse Peephole", "The Frogger" and "The Bookstore": For anyone who ever challenges you that Seinfeldstayed on the air too long, or wasn't as funny once Larry David left, I give you these three episodes which contain some of the funniest sub-plots the show covered in its nine season run. Highlights from all three episodes:
-George's overstuffed wallet, and keeping the massage chair for himself -Jerry is forced to wear a fur coat -Puddy buys an obnoxious leather jacket with a giant 8 on the back, Elaine is mortified -George must enlist the help of Kramer's electrician "friends" to move Frogger game to safety -Elaine starts eating Peterman's $29,000 Royal wedding cake purchased in an auction -Jerry can't break up with a woman because he's too afraid of "The Lopper" serial killer -Newman and Kramer try to set up a rickshaw business -Jerry gets Uncle Leo arrested, not knowing about his previous "crime of passion" -Jerry finds out from his parents "it's not stealing if it's something you need" -George takes an expensive book into the Brentano's bathroom and is forced to buy it. He tries to return it and discovers it's been "flagged". (hide spoiler)]
I could keep going. Seriously, I feel like I'm just getting started. I haven't even mentioned "Moviefone", "shrinkage", "not that there's anything wrong with that", "Dolores", "George's desk naps", yada yada yada. It would have been a much shorter list identifying the odd sub-plot or moments that can no longer make me laugh. There are far fewer of those. After all these years and repeated viewings Seinfeld has more than stood the test of time. If anything, it's ageless, or like a fine whiskey, keeps getting better with age as it thrives (and finds new audiences) in syndication. And while some outstanding comedies have appeared in the years following its finale -- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Parks and Rec to name my two favorites -- they all owe a debt to Seinfeld and for a show that continues to make me laugh out loud, I owe it a debt too.
Good Morning, Midnight is the quietest apocalypse book you're ever likely to read. From the stark, icy silences of the vast Arctic, to the soundless b Good Morning, Midnight is the quietest apocalypse book you're ever likely to read. From the stark, icy silences of the vast Arctic, to the soundless black infinity of outer space, this introspective book is about loneliness and isolation, not bombs, or germs or zombies and fighting like a dog over the last can of beans.
If your reader's desire is to immerse yourself in a well-constructed and deftly explored end of the world scenario then you just might be disappointed here. Getting into the nitty gritty details of an apocalypse -- the whys and wherefores -- that's not this book.
Instead what we have here is a thoughtful and poignantly written contemplation on the ways humans can cut themselves off from other humans, can so easily become trapped in their own inability to connect and build lasting relationships, moving through life untethered -- on the outside of everything, apart from everyone. The two vividly described settings -- the Arctic and outer space -- are perfect metaphors for our disconnected protagonists to move in. Our genius astronomer Augustine is stationed at the top of the world in a remote Arctic research station when the world ends. Our intrepid female astronaut Sullivan (or Sully) is on a round trip back to Earth from the outer reaches of Jupiter, confined in tight quarters with the rest of her crew.
Each is struggling with a loneliness they can't quite define, a torment that only becomes amplified and more crushing as the terrifying realization begins to crystallize that the world might just have ended. From space, Sully and her crew are disturbed at the utter hush of zero communication coming from Earth. What sort of cataclysmic, inexplicable event could have happened to the home planet they are speeding toward? Augustine's Arctic life is just as silent, save for the company of a mysterious young girl left behind after the research station is evacuated.
The real strength of this book (especially considering its modest length) is the striking descriptions (at times breathtakingly rendered) of life in space and in an Arctic research facility. The attention to detail put me RIGHT THERE, I could see, taste, touch everything. I lived on the Aether and experienced the excitement, the boredom, the claustrophobia, the anxiety, the fear. The challenge of meals, and going to the bathroom, and sleeping, and staying in shape. I came to know the frigid wind of the Arctic wanting to rip my face off, and the despair of feeling swallowed up by a white frozen landscape void of humans and seemingly hope. Until the sun rises. And the descriptions -- often eloquent -- are not plodding or heavy. No word is wasted. The prose is so sharp and so observant.
Our protagonists Augustine and Sully -- though they keep themselves busy and strive for ways to normalize a far from normal situation -- will have a lot of time on their hands, empty hours that will torment them, and force them to confront painful truths about themselves and the life choices they've made. What lies on the other side of the apocalyptic silence is a mystery that won't be solved, but that doesn't mean there aren't answers to be found. ...more
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page bio
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biography on arguably America's least known Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury and he of ten dollar bill fame, I would have said they were crazy. But like so many people who will read this book in the coming years, it all started with a mad love affair for the Broadway musical. It's literally all I've been able to think about (or listen to) since April. It's consumed my waking hours in the oddest, most unpredictable, joyous of ways. Having now read Chernow's impressive, meticulously researched book, I am no longer surprised how it was able to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his extraordinary, beautiful, emotional, smart, searing, perfect musical (and that's all I'm going to say about the musical), because I really want this review to focus on Chernow's accomplishment and his fascinating subject -- Alexander Hamilton.
One of the things that really jumped out at me while reading this, is how easily Hamilton's remarkable life and stupendous achievements could have been erased and lost to history for good. He had many enemies -- many people who wanted to re-write history minimizing his role in it, and deny his many staggering contributions. Hamilton died relatively young as well (just 49), way younger than many of the other Founding Fathers who outlived him by decades (except George Washington of course). When you don't survive to live and tell your story, you are really at the mercy of others. Remember this line from Braveheart? "History is written by those who have hanged heroes."
Was Alexander Hamilton a hero? I think by most definitions he most certainly was. Flawed for sure, but nevertheless an extremely intelligent man, with confounding reserves of energy and ambition, and a deep, abiding inner moral compass of what was ethical and right. He also possessed an unsurpassed, formidable ability to synthesize large, complicated ideas into accessible tracts and tangible plans to build meaningful and lasting governments and institutions. And oh yeah, he also wielded his pen in a terrible and mighty way that would have made Shakespeare quiver in his breeches, producing mountains of passionate and fiercely written letters and pamphlets and essays.
I also have to believe Hamilton was truly a good man, because two very intelligent women, remarkable in their own rights (his wife Eliza and his sister-in-law Angelica Church), loved him beyond measure and sang his praises for a lifetime. How do you avoid getting written out of history by those who have hanged heroes? Write brilliantly like a maniac non-stop, leaving behind some of the most important historical tracts ever penned, and be survived by a loyal and dedicated wife who will outlive you by 50 years and spend most of that time fighting for your reputation and the preservation of your rightful place in history.
Reading Hamilton whilst the sturm und drang of the upcoming American election rages in all its frightful rhetoric and bitter partisan vitriol has made for quite an echo chamber of America's shaky, fledgling, post-Revolutionary days and just how tenuous the fabric that binds all the States together really is. It was never a marriage made in heaven, oftentimes held together by duct tape, threats and sheer iron will. America was a walking contradiction, with its State vs Federal, rural vs urban, North vs South, slaveholding vs free divides. Nobody knew (and feared) these fractures more than Hamilton himself. But he also knew a United States would be stronger and better than a dissolute nation of independents jockeying for power and control and consumed with self-interest.
I do believe Chernow has proven that no other Founding Father worked as determinedly with every cell in his body (and top-notch brain), to preserve the Union, and uphold the Constitution. There were many compelling forces, and influential personalities, with the capability to topple this marvelous enterprise with a single huff, and one good blow. But it was Hamilton standing vigilant, it was Hamilton who roared, and cajoled, and screed, not on my watch, and here's why. It's also no wonder then that on his death bed, surrounded by his family and friends, that Hamilton should utter with such deep feeling: "If they break this Union, they will break my heart."
Hamilton's life (all 49 years of it) reads like a Dickensian novel. More than once while I was reading I couldn't help but smack my forehead at the stranger than fiction details, and uncanny coincidences and twists of fate both tragic and ironic. That he began his life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean only to help fight for and build a nation an ocean away is something out of a movie plot. As is his infamous death by duel, at the hands of (then Vice President) Aaron Burr (sir).
Who dies in a duel?!! Hamilton does. And a few years prior to that fateful meeting in Weehawken, his eldest son Philip (using the same pistols!) would die the same stupid way. There were many times when I wanted to shake Hamilton, and kick him, especially when he was tomcatting around and cheating on Eliza with Maria Reynolds, but this final decision to duel with Aaron Burr absolutely infuriated me. It was SO UNNECESSARY, especially given the fact Hamilton still had a wife and young children who depended on him. Of course, it was a dueling era, and duels were pretty commonplace, and Chernow makes a strong case that Hamilton wasn't suicidal, and really believed he could survive the duel with Burr (as most participants do). However, there was also a part of him that knew he could die, since he was so thorough and conscientious in his handling of his affairs. And writing a poignant, final letter to Eliza (which if I had been her I'm sure I would have pulled my hair out).
Alexander knew how utterly devastated Eliza was to lose their son Philip -- so HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO HER AGAIN??? Eliza should have been crushed by the grief -- losing her mother, her sister, her son, her HUSBAND, all in a very short time span. Yet she persevered and would survive to accomplish many remarkable things in her own right, not the least of which was to ensure her husband's rightful, prominent place in the history books.
And now I'm off to listen to the Broadway cast album AGAIN. Because I can't stop.
Headed to the beach or cottage this summer? Got a long plane ride ahead of you? Just hanging out by the pool with a pitcher of margaritas? Yeah, this Headed to the beach or cottage this summer? Got a long plane ride ahead of you? Just hanging out by the pool with a pitcher of margaritas? Yeah, this is the book you'll want to have with you. It's one of those unreliable narrator psychological thrillers that once you start it, you will be utterly compelled to keep turning the pages until you get to the end to find out what the hell really happened? As these kind of books go, it's a satisfying resolution. There are enough sleights of hand, and red herrings, to keep a reader on their toes and guessing until the last page is turned.
The author is trying something a little tricky with her narrative too; she tells the story backwards over the course of fifteen days. This is a neat little fun trick, but really, at the end of the day, I don't think it added much to the tension of the novel, or its structure. Had she just adhered to a straight linear narrative approach I don't think anything would have been lost in the overall impact and delivery of her story.
There are also a few scenes that genuinely had me feeling creeped out and uneasy, because for most of the novel you're really not sure where the threat is coming from (and even if there's any threat at all). Miranda conjures up a heavy and pressing atmosphere that's practically claustrophobic at times, always welcome in a book like this. The setting is suitably small town and insular, carrying its secrets and guarding them closely to the peril of those who wish to turn over the mossy rock and expose the dank underbelly to the glaring sun.
None of the characters are very likeable, but I think because out of necessity, Miranda has to create an impenetrable distance between them and the reader to keep us off kilter and guessing. At their core however, most of their motivations are very relatable and when you finish reading and put the book down, you'll find yourself questioning what you would have done in the same circumstances.
I would like to thank Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy to review. ...more