After reading Kemper's awesome review I knew I'd be getting to Preacher eventually -- now after having read the first volume I'm left wondering why th...more After reading Kemper's awesome review I knew I'd be getting to Preacher eventually -- now after having read the first volume I'm left wondering why the hell did I wait so long?!
It's bloody, gory grit and gasoline pulp Texas style, with demons and angels and a possessed preacher, an Irish vampire and a supernatural gunslinger known as the Saint of Killers -- who reminded me instantly of Roland Deschain crossed with Randall Flagg.
Something has gone very wrong in heaven: a terrifyingly powerful entity (the offspring of an angel and a demon known as Genesis) has escaped to earth and binds itself to a mortal man -- Jesse Custer (redneck preacher of a small Texas parish). Jesse needs answers fast as the dead bodies start to pile up around him and the po-po are hot on his tail. Joining him on his quest (and evasion of the law) will be his ex-girlfriend Tulip, and a ninety-something year old Irish vampire called Cassidy.
There's a vicious serial killer on the loose too just to keep things from, you know, getting boring.
The word from up on high is that God has left the building. Literally. Fucked off and left humans to fend for themselves. That's not going to stand for Jesse, and he's decided it's time to smoke God out of his hiding hole and get some answers. Maybe even a little payback, who knows? I surely don't, but I can't wait to find out.
Yeah so make no mistake: this thing is profane. It's violent. But there's an energy and an aliveness running through the story that's absolutely addictive. I can see why this series has stood the test of time (and will continue to do so I'm sure).
But don't take my word for it: in his introduction to the series Joe R. Lansdale calls Preacher "scary as a psychopathic greased gerbil with a miner's hat and a flashlight and your bare asshole in sight." Heh heh. An effective metaphor to make any butt clench up I'm sure. But this is what really got me:
Because there is only one PREACHER, a tale out of Ireland, dragged through Texas with a bloody hard-on, wrapped in barbed wire and rose thorns.
If that doesn't make you want to pick this series up then check your pulse, because you just might be dead.
Picking this one up I was not prepared for such a trip into dark and depraved waters. This is more than Scudder has ever gone up against previously an...more Picking this one up I was not prepared for such a trip into dark and depraved waters. This is more than Scudder has ever gone up against previously and definitely the strongest in the series since Eight Million Ways To Die. While we've moved along in years out of the 80's into the early 90's, New York City continues to be a seething trap of anger and violence and desperation with all those ways to die and Scudder has stumbled upon yet another one. This time, he didn't even go looking for it, not really. It sort of finds him in a weird, chilling series of coincidences.
Two words: snuff film. Yeah, like I said, dark and depraved waters.
Scudder is moving along nicely in his life these days. He's sober and regularly attending meetings. He's got his girlfriend Elaine (who one dewy-eyed reviewer wistfully and with no irony whatsoever refers to as Matt's snuggle bunny) no matter that she's a call girl and continues to see clients. He's also forged a pretty meaningful friendship with Mick Ballou, the Irish gangster who may or may not have carried around some guy's head in a bowling ball bag, the man who proudly wears his father's blood stained butcher's apron (and which of those stains are man or animal, nobody knows).
I keep coming back to these books mostly for Scudder. He's such a great character to spend time with. But also for the sense of time and place that Block is able to conjure. I find the Scudder books act like time capsules in a way. So much of the plotting of this story relies on VHS tapes and renting them from a video store. It made me remember what that was like and how long it's been since I've actually done it.
I remember when my family got its first VCR ever and it was this huge exciting moment, like we had finally arrived at a Jetsons' version of the future. And with Block, it's so authentic, because he's not writing these books from a 21st century perspective and recreating 1991, he actually wrote this one in 1991 without the long view and hindsight that we have as readers. I love that. That doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to Scudder aging and getting Block's take on a 21st century New York. I can't wait actually.
I'll wrap this up with a note on the ending -- holy shit snacks. (view spoiler)[If Scudder had done this in his heavy drinking days, I would have blamed it on the booze, but to do it stone cold sober, I'm positively shocked. Yet pleased. Satisfied. There was a time early on when I was so angry at Scudder for letting a child rapist walk free (forcing him to donate money to Boys' Town). I was so disappointed with his lack of action then. Well, no one can accuse him of lack of action here. Decisive. Unequivocal. Was this justice or cold-blooded murder? I loved when Scudder tells Ballou about his mentor who told him you don't ever do something with your own hands you can get somebody else to do for you. Well I guess Scudder decided that wasn't for him. If this was going to happen, he was going to have blood on his hands to show for it. I can respect that. (hide spoiler)]
Now I think I'll go for a walk among the tombstones. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book has everything I love -- a Southern setting, secrets, family tragedy, religious zealotry run amok, and strong narrative voices. If I had rea...moreThis book has everything I love -- a Southern setting, secrets, family tragedy, religious zealotry run amok, and strong narrative voices. If I had read it, it would have been an easy four stars. But because I listened to it, and the audio version is one of the best I've ever heard, it's getting five stars.
This is a debut novel -- is it flawless? No. But you know what? I didn't care. I don't think you will either. I got so swept up and carried away by the story I was being told I was living it. I was right there in that small town watching it all go down with a flutter of anxiety in my stomach, and a lump of sadness in my throat.
What really made me love this story as an audiobook is that we have three narrators read by three different readers-- 1) Jess Hall, a precocious nine year old who has a penchant for spying and will eventually see something he wishes he hadn't that will change his life and the life of his town forever 2) Adelaide Lyle, a feisty old woman who has born witness to much of the town's history and dark secrets and 3) Clem Barefield, seasoned Sheriff with a painful past who must confront the evil that has taken hold of his town like a cancer.
Getting the story from these three very distinct voices and points of view is fantastic. It makes what is essentially a simple and straight forward story feel richer, more layered and emotional. I loved the reader for the Sheriff. What a fantastic performance. That voice married to the author's prose is a match made in heaven. In the best ways it reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones's performance in No Country for Old Men.
A Land More Kind Than Home is set deep in the heart of snake-handling country where you better hope that when the preacher arrives in town, he ain't the devil in disguise.
Read this book -- and if you do the audio thing -- listen. You won't be able to stop, I promise.
And since I have a thing for book trailers, this one does a great job of capturing the edgy, southern Gothic mood of this novel that's so portent with revelation, betrayals, and tragedy.
Can you remember the first time you ever had the wind knocked out of you? I was about ten. I was playing with my cousins out in their front yard. Ther...more Can you remember the first time you ever had the wind knocked out of you? I was about ten. I was playing with my cousins out in their front yard. There was this fence that ran about 2 feet off the ground that we liked to walk along, imagining tight ropes and balance beams. It was during one of these wobbly walks when my ten year old body lost its balance and I came crashing down hard upon that low fence. It caught me right across my stomach where my diaphragm lives.
In a swift "whoosh" all the air was pushed out of my lungs. Every bit of it, or it seemed so at the time. I fell over onto the ground curled protectively around myself. In a blinding moment of sheer panic that exploded into terror, I found I couldn't actually catch my breath. As hard as I tried, I could not breathe in and in those few seconds of sickening realization, I was sure I was going to die. It's one of the clearest childhood memories I have.
Reading Megan Abbott's version of a coming-of-age tale shot through with dark secrets and unbidden impulses is like getting the wind knocked out of you for the first time. It's sudden, inexplicable, frightening and leaves you breathless. When it's all over and done with, you feel a little nauseous, a lot bruised and newly wary of the world surrounding you. It's as if your senses have been heightened, and a forbidden knowledge passed onto you that you don't ever remember asking for, or wanting.
The End of Everything is a story about that tender, delicate, powerful place girls find themselves in before they become women, when they cling to each other like life support systems, sharing breaths, secrets, curiosity and hormones. Hug your daughters close, because I did not need Megan Abbott to grip me by the throat and show me that when our girls are laughing the hardest, and tumbling cartwheels in the sunshine, that is when they are at their most vulnerable. How they yearn for what they cannot name and do not understand, moving towards it like moths to flames, ignorant to the perils, to how much something can burn and leave scars.
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie is our narrator, which makes for a brilliant choice. We see events from her innocent eyes and as she is thinking one thing, we are thinking something else. (view spoiler)[I'm still not entirely certain exactly what was going on between Mr. Verver and his daughters (especially Dusty). I don't think there was actual physical molestation, but there was something about his behavior that unsettled me and made me extremely uncomfortable. His actions, the way he spoke to the girls, teasing them, flirting with them...I don't know. He also curried favor and created tension between all of the young women, even pitting one sister against the other as if they were rivals for his devotion.
That Dusty should have felt so proprietary over her father's affection and to react so violently to Evie's accusations proves to me there was something going on that should not have been. Then we get to his treatment of Lizzie herself. What should have been innocent and real and shot through with trust, felt predatory and rotten. The fact that Mr. Verver gives Lizzie the same speech he once gave Dusty about how he's the first man to see how lovable she is and how many hearts she's going to break made me feel icky. (hide spoiler)]
This is a sad story, and it is a difficult read. There are many times where you will feel deeply uncomfortable. There are truths here that we do not want to know, do not want to ponder, and for some readers, truths they will not want to remember. But it is also a beautifully constructed piece of prose and if I wasn't a fan of Megan Abbott before now, this novel has clinched it.
P.S. A quick note on the audiobook: I did not enjoy the reader at all. I found the voice too childish, hyper and nails-on-a-chalkboard squeaky. The way she spoke for Mr. Verver really rubbed me the wrong way too. If I could have, I would have finished this in print. Don't listen to this one. Read it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Yowzers, this is some pretty sick, disturbing shit, but I'm not going to label it 'torture porn'. The Fallen Boys avoids that fate by offering: 1) a s...more Yowzers, this is some pretty sick, disturbing shit, but I'm not going to label it 'torture porn'. The Fallen Boys avoids that fate by offering: 1) a solid story that takes its time to unfold and 2) strongly developed characters who I spent pretty much the entire novel scared to death for their safety.
The tension throughout the story is coiled and lethal. While there are a few uneven parts where the momentum lags for a bit and seems to meander, overall it is a pacing that builds, and builds and continues to build towards a crashing climax. At times I couldn't move my eyes fast enough across the page just to get to the next scene and towards some sense of light and hope. Let me end the suspense right now -- there is no light and hope. I'm sorry if you think that's spoilery, but I want you to know what you're up against before you pick it up. This book is unrelentingly dark and damaged and absolutely merciless as it moves towards its final destination. I also loved that there were a few twists thrown into this story that I didn't quite see coming.
The ending -- argh!!!!! (view spoiler)[Did everyone have to die? Really? Throw me a bone here. I was SO UPSET at the utter carnage. Even Marshall dies, right? The rats get him. What a way to go! Oh wait, we should assume there is one survivor: When Jenn Kyoto stumbles out of the forest and meets Joe he takes her to the police station. I don't think he would have done that if he had killed her or was going to kill her. So amen, one survivor. (hide spoiler)]
While not quite as strong as these horror classics of the same ilk, this book could keep company with The Summer I Died, The Girl Next Door, and Let's Go Play At The Adams'. That is the highest compliment I can pay, believe me. If you have the stomach and nerves for dark, damaged and desperate, this is the book for you. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I've read gobs of creepy books and watched heaps of horror movies, but nothing can run a spike of scare through me quite like a gaggle of teen girls....more I've read gobs of creepy books and watched heaps of horror movies, but nothing can run a spike of scare through me quite like a gaggle of teen girls. You knew these things already, didn't you? Or at least suspected -- the vicious, petty jealousies, the unchecked hormones, the cutting intelligence harnessed to manipulate and intimidate, the capricious cruelty, the fathomless insecurities, the abiding self-loathing ... need I go on?
Teen girls are a tribe unto themselves, with their own language, dress code, rules of behavior, and very specific rites of passage. Every day is Lord of the Flies day for teen girls. They don't need no stinking island to channel their inner savage, alright? Stephen King knew this when he has Carrie White cornered and bleeding from her first menses in the girl's high school locker room while her classmates pelt her with sanitary napkins and tampons chanting: "Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!"
In Dare Me, Megan Abbott takes you deep into teen girl territory, so deep you will flinch, and grimace and squirm at all the things she's going to show you. It's a sordid voyeurism that will have you screaming for more. This isn't a darkly humorous satire a la Mean Girls or Heathers. Not at all. This is a sober, penetrating look at the inner lives of a group of cheerleaders -- their insular, isolated existence as members of a tribe within a tribe. Their rituals include starvation diets and brute, physical demands requiring near constant pain and risk of serious injury.
Into a volatile balance of power comes new Head Coach Collette French. Loyalties shift, boundaries are tested, trusts will be broken and amidst all the angst and perpetual drama, a body will be discovered. For Ms. Abbott isn't just writing cheerleaders, she's writing noir cheerleaders, with a rich cast of characters each vying for the role of femme fatale.
This is a story icky in parts dealing as it does in burgeoning, pubescent sexuality, obsessions and desires. For all of that it is bloody fascinating featuring an engaging plot that Abbott has exquisitely paced. I read this in one sitting. I was violently pulled into this world and held captive the entire time. This isn't a happy story. You've been warned.
This is how they looked: three dead girls propped up in three straight chairs.
The suspicion didn't just go away. It just slipped back to wherever it hid.
Wow. What a meaty and cerebral read -- textured, layered, nuanced. It is a quiet novel that takes its time to carefully contemplate on its subject. And what is its subject? Despite the title, not the disappearance and death of three young girls, not really. Solving the crime, locating the victims, is secondary to the examination of a small town under siege marinating in fear and gripped by suspicion. Dobyns takes a microscopic approach and in rich, solid prose draws a detailed portrait of a townspeople succumbing to the worst of their prejudices and paranoia. It's excruciatingly intimate and painfully honest.
At times, I was reminded of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As with Jackson's novel, Dobyns is able to disturb and unsettle me with his insight into dark hearts and the secrets humans keep. What is that stranger sitting next to us on the bus hiding? Our neighbor? Our friend? Our lover? What impulses lurk behind expressions of devotion and fidelity? What impulses do we see when we look in the mirror? Most of us will never act on them, but they lurk there nevertheless. Waiting, for a crack, for a moment of weakness.
I liked how the first person point of view not only kept me in the dark for much of the novel, but kept me off-kilter and suspicious too. Like the town's inhabitants, everyone became a suspect for me as well, including the narrator himself. I did not trust him. I was never able to satisfactorily confirm his reliability. I was on my own, unnerved and watchful, plagued by feelings of dread, outrage, and melancholy.
Don't let the sleepy start in a sleepy town fool you. This book has teeth. For me, no one writes the mad psychology of small towns better than Stephen King. Dobyns makes a helluva case though. Fans of Donna Tartt's The Secret History may also enjoy this. (less)
GR friend Maciek recommended this book to me, and I highly recommend that you check out his most awesome review that does a brilliant job of capturing...more GR friend Maciek recommended this book to me, and I highly recommend that you check out his most awesome review that does a brilliant job of capturing this book's strengths. As for me, I knew very little about it save from what I could vaguely remember from the movie that's over ten years old now.
It's hard for me to classify this novel as anything other than "an experience". Parts of it are fun and breezy, others dark and depressing. Still others surreal and uncomfortable. It has adventure. It has epic creep. It has mind-bending elements that keep you off-kilter. The trick is that no matter what is happening or not happening on any given page, I was totally engrossed the entire time. Every time I came back to the book after a break BAM! I was right back on the beach, real life immediately falling away.
The buildup is slow and meticulous, yet never feels unnecessary. Garland concentrates on the minutiae of beach life to draw us in and make us more than just a voyeur, but a participant. It is a potent intimacy that allows us to see beach politics for what it really is. The descent as inevitable. The ending perhaps not all that surprising.
I love stories that delve into the mechanics and realities of group psychology. Who emerges as leader? As sycophant? As outsider? As threat? Remove any group far enough away from the rigorous checks and balances of "civilized society" and it's astonishing how quickly our moral compass can become "askew" at best, outright busted and broken at worst. Given enough time under the right stressors, humans can justify just about any aberrant behavior as necessary and essential. It what makes us so dangerous in war. (view spoiler)[The ease with which Richard is able to smother the long suffering Swede is chilling. He does it not out of an abiding empathy to end someone's pain, but to clear an obstacle to his escape plan. Jed won't leave if the Swede still breathes. Richard doesn't want to leave without Jed (which has more to do with Richard's ongoing obsession with Vietnam war movies and "leave no man behind" sentiments rather than real friendship). Ergo, Swede must die now. It makes me really wonder what Richard would have done if he had caught up to Karl before the surviving Swede was able to escape with the boat. (hide spoiler)]
Life on the beach did not repulse me, but I do not long for that kind of existence and cannot relate to that desire to cut oneself off from society, family, friends, history. Much of the novel reads like a dream, because once you enter into this way of life, your day to day melds, blends and becomes very dreamlike. Time is fluid and driven by the sun rather than timepieces or calendars. The characters - while fleshed out - are not knowable because they are not even knowable to one another (or even themselves). They are first names. They are nationalities. They are how many fish did you catch today. They are the last game of soccer, the last game of Tetris on Game Boy, the last joint twisted up and smoked. I would find that very lonely and off-putting. But I can also see how it can infect you, get into your bloodstream, and that once you found yourself "in it", you wouldn't want to leave. It would feel normal, and safe, and right and something to fiercely protect at all costs. Losing perspective is a frightening notion. But it happens, and when it happens it's too late. You don't know you've lost perspective, because you've lost perspective. See how that works?
There is an emotional element missing for me here because of this. I long to connect, and feel connected to characters and that just doesn't happen. That's the nature of the story and the ruthless and methodical way in which Garland writes it. I can respect that. Plus, Garland chooses Richard as the sole narrator. We just don't know how reliable he is, and we can only see the characters through his eyes, a very limited viewpoint indeed. The other aspect I'm left to ponder is (view spoiler)[the lack of sexuality. There are hints of people who have paired off, and the unrequited attraction Richard feels toward Francoise, but that's it. On a secluded beach of young, vibrant people at the peak of health and curiosity, why is this sensual component missing? Did Garland just not want to deal with it, or is it a deliberate omission? That part of coming to the beach and giving up so much of yourself means sacrificing that carnal element as well. As if you've been neutered, or given a chemical castration. Perhaps? I don't know. But I did find it odd and it left me scratching my head. (hide spoiler)]
My backpacking, hostel-sleeping days are behind me, and I don't miss them one bit. I wasn't an adventurous traveler even then. Much more cautious and boring than I would ever repeat now. The exotic seeking travelers, desirous of something completely alien, remain completely alien to me. I don't get that compulsion. But I wish them the very best on their epic adventures. Steer clear of the isolated lagoons and beach heads though. Perfection is an illusion, and a siren song. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Really 3.5 stars but since I enjoyed parts of it so much, I'm rounding up. What? A girl's allowed to feel generous every once in awhile. This book is...more Really 3.5 stars but since I enjoyed parts of it so much, I'm rounding up. What? A girl's allowed to feel generous every once in awhile. This book is not without its flaws, but goddamn, it has a gritty, modern noir sensibility that I just fell in love with.
Miriam Black is a damaged -- you could even argue deranged -- anti-heroine who isn't a very nice person. She's pretty fucked up actually, and she's just as likely to rob you as she is to spit in your eye. She fills her days (and nights) with booze and sex with strange men. She's a champion of letting the expletives fly. Miriam has enough personal demons and closet skeletons to fill a soccer stadium. And they hunt her. They torment her. And no matter how much she runs, or how far, they are always just at her heels nipping away. While her jagged edges and self-destructive tendencies might not make her very warm and sympathetic, I still found her to be extremely dynamic and interesting. Her choices mattered to me and I became very invested in how her story was going to end.
This is a crime novel in that there is a lot of criminal acts taking place and a lot of vivid descriptions of violence and physical trauma. Miriam's is an unusual problem -- at the touch of skin-on-skin she can foresee the time and circumstances of a person's death. Such intimate foreknowledge is a heavy burden to bear, especially since Death and Fate cannot be foiled. The only control Miriam has over these situations is to maybe be there right at the moment of your destined demise to relieve you of your money and credit cards (you don't need them anymore, right?)
She's pretty much come to accept her powerlessness. It has made her cynical, entirely dysfunctional, and dangerous. Then she meets Louis -- a hapless, widowed truck driver who only has a month left to live. His death involves torture and would be considered gruesome even by mob standards -- and this is what Miriam knows: her name is the last word that falls from his lips. The mystery becomes how do we end up at this point, and despite knowing better, will Miriam be able to cheat Death this time? Will she even try?
While Louis is merely a character sketch, the other woman in this story -- Harriet -- is one of the creepiest, most memorable characters I've read in a while. Like the best noir classics, this book too is all about the damaged women and the choices they make. It is they who drive the story, and the men are just along for the ride.
This book concludes quite solidly but there is a sequel planned that I will definitely be checking out. Miriam is pretty intense and I really want to know where her story goes next.
If you're curious about the writing at all, here are some of my favorite turns of phrase:
The Barnegat Lighthouse has 217 steps. Each is an agony. Each a troubled birth, an expelled kidney stone, a black widow's bite. The steps are corrugated steel painted in flaking yellow. They wind in a tight spiral through a channel of black brick. It is like ascending the throat of some ancient creature.
"You want to make a change...so cosmic you're unwriting death and kicking fate square in the face, then you best be prepared to pay for it." -"With blood," Miriam says. -"With blood and bile and voided bowels."
Miriam stops walking. Clouds drift in front of the sun. Somewhere out over the water, a storm brews, and rain clatters against the tides....Lightning licks at the ocean way out there under the steel sky.
I know Daniel Woodrell can write -- his pen is his sword and he wields it with deathly and thrilling precision. Nowhere is that on display more than w...more I know Daniel Woodrell can write -- his pen is his sword and he wields it with deathly and thrilling precision. Nowhere is that on display more than with his novel Winter's Bone which left me breathless and humbled and panting for more. The story of young Ree and her perilous hunt for her missing meth-making father is one of rage and pain and beauty, and knocked me flat I loved it so much. It instantly made it onto my all time favorites list. With this collection of mostly very short stories, Woodrell is unable to cast the same lyrical spell over me, and so it is with huge and devastating regret I give The Outlaw Album a paltry two stars.
The collection contains some bright moments of fierce-eyed intensity, but overall, the experience feels muted and unsatisfying. Woodrell has proven to be such a vivid, emotive, and wrenching writer, yet here the effect is just too subtle to do its job (a fault that likely lies more with me than with him). I am not the best reader (or critic) of short stories. It is a problematic format for me that I don't swoon over easily. Just getting a whiff of a story is usually not enough; I want more, more, and more! I realize that yes, in some instances less can often translate into so much more and that's where the short story's power lies, I just didn't feel it here.
In his collection Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill is ruthless, his prose savage. There is a shocking, almost overdone, Southern grotesquerie to it all and I loved it!. In contrast to wild Bill, I came to Woodrell's writing hoping for a tempered, mature, evocative approach to essentially the same subject matter, and while there are hints of that, there are more misses (by a mile) than hits. (less)
Wow! What a darkly disturbing yet strangely delightful romp of a book. Last Days is a marvelous mash-up of hard-boiled detective noir, literary myster...moreWow! What a darkly disturbing yet strangely delightful romp of a book. Last Days is a marvelous mash-up of hard-boiled detective noir, literary mystery and straight-up horror that never comes across as messy or confused. Evenson's prose is sooooo tight; not a single word is wasted, the narrative action propelled along at a break-neck pace, every other chapter ending on a nail-biting cliffhanger, the dialogue smart, snappy, and at times very funny. I blew through its 200 pages in no time at all, and I bet you will too.
It's easy to draw parallels to the noir greats here, but since I just finished reading several Cain novels I will repeat what I wrote in my review for Double Indemnity because it applies just as well here:
It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the "gotta know what happens next" monster rattling the bars of his cage....[Cain's] ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It's sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms.
In his wonderful introduction [which you read after or you will be entirely spoiled], Peter Straub compares Evenson’s snappy dialogue to not only the Marx Brothers and the “patter of 1930s” vaudeville and burlesque, but to comedic teams like Abbott and Costello and their “Who’s on first” routine. Even with all of the dreadful mutilations and creepy fanaticism running through the story, there are unexpected moments of brilliant levity which made me grin and snicker. As I found myself grinning and snickering, I was reminded of The Pilo Family Circus, another great piece of writing not to be missed that's a genius blend of genres containing the blackest of humor.
But now a short word on the dark heart of Last Days, because in some respects what we have here is a non-supernatural horror novel. At times, the story flirts dangerously close to parody: it's so over the top in places that you can't help but wonder if Evenson is just pulling your leg. No he's not. If you're not careful, he just might cut it right the fuck off. There's something so unbelievably creepy and sinister to me about the lopping off of body parts (either against one's will or voluntarily). Several films that come to mind are: Boxing Helena (dreadful!) and the Asian flick Audition (chilling!). And who could ever forget poor old Lawrence being forced to hack through his own foot in the original Saw movie? (bloody brilliant!):
"He doesn't want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet!"
Evenson takes the essence of this celluloid horror and transforms it into something grittier and more nuanced. There’s a depth to Kline’s descent into a dizzying maze of mysteries. We are as in the dark as he is, as frustrated and frightened. Something sinister is afoot (no pun intended), and madness lurks around every corner.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to Maciek and his spectacular review without which I never would have picked up this book, and that would have been my great loss. (less)
I'm going to start this review with a humble caveat -- there's no way I can do these stories (or Pollock's writing) any sense of justice. But if I can...more I'm going to start this review with a humble caveat -- there's no way I can do these stories (or Pollock's writing) any sense of justice. But if I can get you to pause whatever it is you're doing, if I can get you to put down whatever else you happen to be reading, for just a moment to think about this book then I will be a very happy woman indeed.
What can I say? Knockemstiff knocked me flat on my ass. The interconnected stories are an assault on the psyche - a kind of brutalization lined with a deep and abiding sadness (Kemper calls it "emotional desolation") -- a hopelessness that is at times suffocating. These are tales about people trapped in a dead-end place in dead-end lives who don't even have the wherewithal or wisdom to get the hell out of Dodge even if it means chewing their own goddam leg off to do so.
Pollock's characters are not caricatures -- Pollock makes you care, he shows you their humanity in all of its glorious dysfunction, then he makes you root for them and sometimes even pray for them. You know it's futile but you do it anyway -- and then you get your heart broke, and that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I don't know what that says about me that this sort of visceral reading experience appeals to me, but it does. Perhaps it's the cold comfort that no matter how bad my life seems at any given moment on any given day, it will never be as bad as that.
I also believe it's the cold comfort that's derived from knowing humans are survivors no matter what. No matter what we find a way to endure; no matter how badly we muck things up, we find a way to carry on -- even broken, busted up and beaten down. Despite knowing deep down: "anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it." That's some coldass wisdom right there and it takes an amazing amount of courage and resiliency to face your life armed with that knowledge (but people do it every day).
The writing here is phenomenal -- cutthroat and precise. I'm amazed how quickly Pollock was able to drop me into any story and feel like I'd been reading about the characters for hundreds of pages already. Short stories usually leave me wanting something more and feeling like there is something fundamentally missing. Not so here. I experienced each story as a distinct entity with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Each opening sentence made a promise to the reader that Pollock delivers on. Also adding to the overall reading experience here is the fact that many of these stories interconnect so that a character from one will reappear in another, usually older and even more damaged than when we first meet them. This gives the collection a kind of coherency where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.
And of those opening sentences? Here are a few of my favorites. By reading these I think you'll be able to tell whether this collection is for you or not.
Real Life: My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old. It was the only thing he was ever any good at.
Knockemstiff: Tina Elliot is leaving tomorrow, heading off with Boo Nesser to shack up in a trailer next to a Texas oil field, and I feel as bad as the time my mother died.
Hair's Fate: When people in town said inbred, what they really meant was lonely. Daniel liked to pretend that anyway. He needed the long hair. Without it, he was nothing but a creepy country stooge from Knockemstiff, Ohio--old people glasses and acne sprouts and a bony chicken chest.
Fish Sticks: It was the day before his cousin's funeral and Del ended up at the Suds washing his black jeans at midnight. They were the only pants he owned that were fit for the occasion.
Bactine: I'd been staying out around Massieville with my crippled uncle because I was broke and unwanted everywhere else, and I spent most of my days changing his slop bucket and sticking fresh cigarettes in his smoke hole.
Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing his car, that's larceny. ~The Postman Always Rings Twice
If Noir can be said to have a cold, black heart it’s Postman that provided the juice to electroshock it into a beating, breathing existence. It is without a doubt one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century (of any century really) and has gone on to influence entire generations of writers and filmmakers. As a debut, it shocked, titillated and disgusted, banned upon publication in Boston and in Canada. Before I even knew anything about this book, or the films that were based on it, I adored that title. To this day, it remains one of my favourites.
What Cain accomplishes in just a mere 100 pages is impressive. He finds the voice of the common man, and the dark and dangerous shortcut to greed, lust, and violence. More than anything, Cain understands how easily man is corrupted, how easily he can corrupt others, like an infection. And I use “man” here in the generic sense encompassing both genders, because when it comes to villains and black hearts, Cain is an equal opportunist.
Entire books and dissertations have been written about Cain’s women – the good, the bad, the rampant sexism, the alleged misogyny – whatever. Cain’s characters don’t bleed political correctness that's obvious – what they are is a symbol of their time and circumstances – hewed from harshness, beacons of egocentrism, proprietors of antisocialism. The women like to be smacked around a little (it helps get them in the mood), and the men are only too willing to oblige the ladies in that regard. Men aren't asking for what ought to be freely given, and should it be denied to them, why... they'll just take it anyway, won't they?
Based on all of this, Postman easily garners five stars, so why am I only giving it four? My only hesitation stems from this: I just didn’t enjoy it as much as Double Indemnity. Neither Frank nor Cora drew me in to quite the same extent that Walter and Phyllis did – the former are cold, dislikable and a bit icky, whereas the latter duo are fascinating in their terribleness and villainy. They are even sympathetic in their own messed up way … whereas Frank and Cora felt like reptiles crawling on their bellies, sniffing for a blood meal. Plus, Phyllis is simply an awe-inspiring, terrifying creation – a walking, talking sociopath before the term was even widely known. She is quiet, sexy, subtle and deranged -- I love her.
Having said that, Postman is lean and mean hard-boiled pulp fiction and you gotta respect that. It’s not shy about going for the jugular with absolutely no foreplay. But Cain doesn’t need it, requiring so little time and so few words to get the reader foaming at the mouth -- when he’s ready to go, so are you. This is a must-read, but you know that already. (less)
There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all start...more There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the "gotta know what happens next" monster rattling the bars of his cage. Your first thought: Strap on baby, this is gonna be g-ooood
Cain is a MASTER storyteller: his cutthroat instincts for plot and pacing unerring and enviable. His ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It's sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms. And he makes it all look so easy which anyone who has ever put pen to paper knows, easy it is not ... ever. Whether you believe Cain to be a genius, an idiot savant or the prince of pulp, there's no denying his enduring appeal and lasting legacy to the world of literature. And not just the written word, but film as well, since so many of his stories have been adapted into silver screen classics that resonate with awesomeness to this day.
As a movie, Double Indemnity is pure gold, yet the vein from which it is mined is richer still. Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis is THE femme fatale, yet there is so much nuance and depth missing from her character in the film (in what is already an amazing performance). Cain's Phyllis is so much more than a sultry seductress and the cold-blooded spider hanging in her web. But I will leave the pleasure of that discovery to you.
Who the hell is Pablo D'Stair? What kind of a mad maniac is he anyway? Jesus wept. The four novellas brought together in this collection represent som...more Who the hell is Pablo D'Stair? What kind of a mad maniac is he anyway? Jesus wept. The four novellas brought together in this collection represent some pretty messed up shit, but the writing (as unpolished as it can be at times) represents the REALDEAL people. There is a palpable energy to the prose and a paranoia that drips over everything that cuts so deep like acid it will unsettle you in ways I can't even begin to describe.
First of all, I think it is important to establish whether this collection is for you (because I will be the first to admit it certainly isn't for everyone).
1) If you require prose that has been put through the editorial rock polisher to produce a perfectly smooth reading experience, then this collection might be hard for you to swallow. There are misspelled words, missing words, made up words and the like, that sporadically pop up. As for myself, this kind of thing usually jars me, taking me out of the story. What can I say? It works here. Whether intentional on the author's part or not, D'Stair's narrators use a stream-of-consciousness style and the "broken" words and sentences perfectly capture minds on the cusp of breaking. You could just see it as sloppy and one of the drawbacks of ill-edited self-published fiction. I think in this case you would be missing the point though.
2) If you derive much of your reading enjoyment from having all your questions answered, than this may not be the collection for you. Each novella deals with a narrator who has become "unhinged" shall we say, causing said narrator to act out in very real and unpredictable ways. We don't know why, they don't know why. There is no rumination on the dark heart of man or any such thing. Shit happens and then it's done. There is none of that satisfying resolution that comes with the linear progression from unexpected chaos to the reestablishment of order. All four endings will leave you with more questions than answers, that I can promise.
3) If graphic descriptions of bodily functions like vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and excess saliva make you queasy than this book is probably not for you. You have been warned.
Okay, if you have made it this far into the review and you're still with me, what comes next is the best part. D'Stair plumbs the depths of human paranoia and anxiety, the overall result an exceptional effort that's as unshakable and easily as memorable as Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I'm not shitting you.
These are stories about following and being followed -- about fear of discovery and the siren song of confession. I think Megan hits it perfectly when she writes: "I could see these characters come to life, to the point of waking up at 3 am and thinking one of them might be shuffling around in my bedroom closet." These stories are so steeped in paranoia, that your brain will succumb to the itchy fingers of paranoia as a result. You will be like Michael Douglas' character in The Game, where everyone around you is suspect and a possible threat.
I'm also going to throw out two other cinematic gems that these novellas caused me to think about: Memento and Jacob's Ladder. The former because of the stream-of-consciousness narration by an untrustworthy and possibly delusional narrator; the latter because of the sensation of absolute mindfuck (pardon my French).
Okay, I'm beginning to feel paranoid that this review has gone on too long. One more thing before I wrap this up though; I would never have even known of this book's existence if it weren't for Jacob first bringing it to my attention. When Jacob gives anything five stars I perk up and pay attention. When he said he needed to "gather his brain chunks back together" before he could write a review, reading this was a foregone conclusion (though he tried to warn me!)
Eyes adjusting to the dark, I looked at the closed door to the room, half expecting the knob to jiggle, for there to be some pock-marked face behind the opening, a face as large as a train station clock...
...thought about my hand to the peephole of thirteen, someone's eye to the other side of the hole, only a door thick of wood separating their blinking lash from my sweating palm.
...it seemed if I could stay awake I could bear it, but if forced to wake to it I'd disintegrate utterly, whatever crumb of me was left moistened, pulped, mawed and gone.
This book ::flails helplessly:: How do I begin to review these raw and ruthless stories and do them justice? I probably can't ladies and gents, but I...moreThis book ::flails helplessly:: How do I begin to review these raw and ruthless stories and do them justice? I probably can't ladies and gents, but I want to try goddammit. Frank Bill's collection of crazies and crimes in southern Indiana deserves that much at least.
This is prose that sings -- not with the sweetness and harmony of a Mama Cass, but rather a whiskey-soaked growl and feverish screech of a Janis Joplin. It's jagged, fragmented, and toothsome; at any point ready and able to tear a chunk out of the reader and leave him or her panting and bleeding like the sordid cast of cutthroat characters that populate the pages of these 17 inter-connected stories.
The stories piece together a harsh portrait of poor, scrabbling, backwoods people -- where victims become victimizers, and the brutalized do their fair share of brutalizing in return. As Frank Bill weaves together his tales of madness and mayhem, he is not interested in telling mere exploitative snapshots of gratuitous violence; his carefully crafted stories resonate with gritty themes of PTSD, poverty, domestic violence, addiction, greed and corruption. Each story flashes bright and fierce, a powerhouse on its own, but when melded with its brethren, the sum definitely becomes more awesome than the parts.
Frank Bill is writing Southern Noir and making it his bitch. This is Quentin Tarantino meets Cormac McCarthy. For certain Frank Bill convinces his readers that his Indiana landscape is also no country for old men. How is this for a descriptive simile: Jagged marrow lined his gums like he'd tried to huff a stick of dynamite. But when he stuttered into Medford's ear he sounded like a drunk who had Frenched a running chainsaw.
This isn't a collection to love per se; it certainly won't leave you with the warm and fuzzies. It will shake you up and smack you around a bit though, and you definitely won't forget it easily. It also made me green with envy over how easy Frank Bill makes it all seem. What he accomplishes isn't easy; if it were we'd see the likes of this kind of writing more often.
Iris kept driving. Turned onto the county road, glanced over the field and acres of cedar, saw the smoke rising above the land. He reached over and rubbed Spade between his black ears, not knowing where he was headed, but knowing he wouldn't stop until he was several states shy of the crimes in southern Indiana.
Cormac McCarthy is a goddamned poet with some mad, kick-ass storytelling skills. Speechless for the moment. Brain is goo. Please stand by.
This book br...moreCormac McCarthy is a goddamned poet with some mad, kick-ass storytelling skills. Speechless for the moment. Brain is goo. Please stand by.
This book broke my brain. On the surface, McCarthy is weaving a modern day western aptly soaked in blood and ruthlessness, where the line between hero and villain is sharply drawn. On that same surface, what we have is a cast of archetypes – the weary sheriff who has stayed too long and seen too much; the everyday man living right until he is undone by greed; the young and dutiful wife committed to “standing by her man” no matter what; and finally, the relentless villain who will cut down any and all who cross his path.
That’s on the surface.
Even if you only read the book for that tale it is an awesome and rewarding one – tense, violent, dark, oppressive. Who will live? Who will die?
But as you read, your brain is going to want to do a lot more thinking about the story; in fact, the story will demand it. Those archetypical characters will demand it too. Like a hologram, just shift them a few degrees to the right or left and they become much more nuanced than you first thought, showing other angles and deeper reflections.
Who is Anton Chigurh? A blood-thirsty villain? an amoral badass? a demented sociopath? ... yes, yes and yes. But he also walks through the story doling out justice Old Testament style. There is that Biblical quality to him. You’ve committed your sins, and now the reaper has come a-calling. Not for vengeance, not for his pleasure, but for justice. There is a debt to pay that is non-negotiable. Chigurh does not like loose ends. There are “rules” to death and dying. But that is part of his mad psychology (and his hubris).
Chigurh's character made me think about free will versus destiny. What are the choices any man or woman makes to get them to the exact moment he or she is now? Is it all random or has it been predestined all along? I’m not sure what Chigurh believes; he is definitely an enigma on this point. (view spoiler)[Certainly if Carla Jean had called the coin correctly, Chigurh would have let her live. He seems to deeply respect the other “laws” at work around him. The moment that Llewellyn takes the money, his fate is sealed. There is nothing from that moment on that will ever deter Chigurh from collecting on Llewellyn’s death. That debt must be paid. It is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is Carla Jean’s life: if Llewellyn had returned the money as requested, Chigurh would have let her live. (hide spoiler)]
There is a randomness to his killing philosophy in the sense that like the proverbial Hand of Death, there will always be innocent bystanders. “Innocence” does not compute, nor is it ever a factor. Bad things happen to good people all the time, even when you’re minding your own business you can be violently drawn into someone else’s.
I love Carla Jean. She is a heap of contradictions: innocent but knowing, vulnerable but strong, naïve but wise. She is loyal and loving and though she finds herself in a heap of trouble, does not buckle under the pressure. (view spoiler)[Her confrontation with Chigurh is my favorite scene of the entire novel. I find it heartbreaking. This is an innocent facing death. It’s not fair, it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. Chigurh offers her a faint hope with the coin toss, but even that does not pan out for her. What breaks my heart the most about her death is that she went out of this life believing Llewellyn did not love her, that he had betrayed her. (hide spoiler)] Llewellyn is a good man. I don’t believe it was naked greed that makes him run off with the money, but a hope for a better life, an easier life for him and Carla Jean. I think he is a man filled with love and a lot of the choices he makes in this novel he makes thinking only of his young wife and the life he wants to give her.
I love, love, love this exchange between the two of them that comes early on in the novel; as subtle as it is I think it screams volumes about their relationship. For me, it reads as such a tender and playful moment.
Where have you been all day? Went to get you some cigarettes. I don’t even want to know. I don’t even want to know what you all been up to. He sipped the beer and nodded. That’ll work, he said. I think it’s better just to not even know even. You keep runnin that mouth and I’m goin to take you back there and screw you. Big talk. Just keep it up. That’s what she said. Just let me finish this beer. We’ll see what she said and what she didn’t say.
This novel made my head explode with questions. McCarthy gives the reader a lot to ponder and chew on, but there are just as many places where McCarthy is mute and leaves it up to the reader to do all the work and come up with some answers, and, as in life, answers are not easy to come by. ["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"]>(less)
Jesus wept, but this is the real goods people -- gritty, raw, uncompromising prose that snaps and bites at your soft spots. I find it curious that so...moreJesus wept, but this is the real goods people -- gritty, raw, uncompromising prose that snaps and bites at your soft spots. I find it curious that so many people have shelved Pollock's sophomore novel as horror, because while it is horrifying in places, and deals with some chilling characters, horror it is not. In his review of Pollock's debut Knockemstiff, Kemper uses the terms redneck noir and hick lit and that's much closer to capturing what this novel is offering to anyone who dares pick it up.
One of the things that impressed me so much here is how well Pollock is able to juggle multiple narrative threads, do each of them justice, and have them collide and intersect with one another in a convincing, satisfying way. He makes it look so easy. Of course it all comes together in the end, but I can't help but think how easily this could have been majorly flubbed, or how forced and deus ex machina it could have read in the hands of a lesser writer.
This is a dark novel, full of dark deeds, it almost suffocates you. This is not a novel of redemption or hope but an unflinching look into the dark heart of man (and woman), bringing all the monsters that lurk there out into the light, into the open to be seen and feared. I found parts of this novel very difficult to read, and not because Pollock is explicit in his descriptions, because he isn’t. He refrains from showing the reader everything, leaving room for what you can imagine -- and isn’t that always worse? I know it is for me. He gives you just enough rope to hang yourself with. But his prose is vivid nevertheless, and there are scenes from this novel that I will never forget.
Unlike Frank Bill's short story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana , Pollock injects an emotionality here and manages to humanize his characters even as he shows how monstrous they can be. While I absolutely loved Crimes, there is a humanity distinctly missing from Bill's characters -- the violence and hatred taking precedence over everything else. Pollock's writing here is closer to Woodrell's Winter's Bone, another outstanding piece of writing in this vein of small town, hardscrabble folk. All men represent the very best of their craft however, when it comes to capturing a sense of place and the people who live there.
Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn't know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the Devil all the time. ~The Devil All The Time