What a nasty piece of work this turned out to be living as it does at the seedy intersection of pulp and pornography, violence and depravity. I though...more What a nasty piece of work this turned out to be living as it does at the seedy intersection of pulp and pornography, violence and depravity. I thought I was a big girl and could handle stepping over the borderline into such dark corners, but this one shook me up quite a bit and left me feeling a bit sick and dirty. The only thing I can compare it to is how I felt after watching Requiem for a Dream.
I blithely walked into this one expecting a lighter, fluffier piece of pulp fiction -- an exaggerated "put your lips together and blow" Hollywood-style noir. Instead I got closer to a Larry Flynt fantasy than I ever wanted to get in this life. Kemper perfectly describes the experience this way:
This is a solid little piece of pulp with an edgy nastiness to it, like popping a piece of candy in your mouth and finding out it was actually a hunk of broken glass.
Yup. And I can still taste the blood.
So giving this a star rating is tough. I didn't enjoy it and found most of the story and the characters vile and despicable. However, the fact that I was so unsettled and left feeling so out of sorts is a testament to Block's ability as a writer. I'm really, really happy he found another way to make his living as a novelist however. (less)
It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label...more It puzzles me -- and sometimes frustrates me to no end -- how or why some books get categorized/released as Young Adult. These days it seems the label has become so loosey-goosey all that's required is that there be a teen protagonist. Content, language, themes -- all of the meatier, important elements of any book are blithely ignored in the rush to market and movie deals.
There are definitely books that walk the hinterland -- the very, very outer reaches of YA and upon reading them you realize that there's way more 'Adult' in the pages than 'Young'. On any given Sunday it shouldn't really matter ....except for when it does. In the case of Scowler it makes me think about how many people will ignore it and miss out turned off by its YA label, and then it makes me think about the young teen readers who will lack the emotional maturity and mental resilience to process such a dark and disturbing tale.
Yes, it's that good and that dark. Patriarch Marvin Burke is as chilling and disturbing a villain as any I've encountered and belongs in the pages of a Frank Bill novel. The language is vibrant and pulsing -- a living, breathing thing:
The cracks in the dirt now yawned to proportions slutty with thirst...
There it was. A miracle, really, finding this speck of bone in a world of dust. There was a brown spot of blood on the tooth's root, and to Ry it seemed the encapsulation of the bum deal of life: a once-perfect thing plucked and bloodied and tossed to the dirt.
I had originally shelved this as 'horror' but am now removing it because while Scowler is horrific in parts, it has much more in common with realistic, gritty fiction that has a psychological underbelly.
If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, m...more If the plethora of J-horror coming out of Japan the last 15 years hasn't convinced you of the country's own unique brand of crazy pants in the best, most entertaining way, then this book will. And there's a movie! Which I now have to hunt down.
Because crazy pants, did I mention? So much crazy pants.
This isn't horror, but it is really messed up. It's a revenge tale about screwed up, damaged narrators who each get to tell a piece of the story, so you won't have all the pieces of the puzzle until the very end.
No one is likable. If you are a reader who wants an emotional story and characters that you can relate to, then skip this one.
But if you're like me, and you like the crazy pants, then definitely check this one out.
Is it wrong to be totally fangirling over such depraved and bloody storytelling? Probably. But fuck it. I'm not going to apologize. PREACHER is like n...more Is it wrong to be totally fangirling over such depraved and bloody storytelling? Probably. But fuck it. I'm not going to apologize. PREACHER is like nothing else I've ever read or seen, crossing boundaries of decency and good taste while at the same time offering up compelling characters and kickass world building.
This volume brings together two very different storylines each with its own sense of brutality and redemption. The first half is the revelation of Jesse Custer's twisted and blood soaked past, a family tree steeped in abomination and cruelty, abuse and murder. It's anything but pretty, as heartbreaking as it is frightening and sickening. Having met evil incarnate Grandma L'Angelle and her trusty sadistic sidekicks Jody and T.C. I can say with all honesty I'd rather take my chances dining with Hannibal Lecter or spending the weekend with Leatherface.
The 'Angelville' subplot has a distinctive backwoods, Southern Gothic meets Deliverance vibe that reminded me a lot of today's redneck noir or hillbilly lit. It's gritty realism shot through with supernatural elements that play as straight and normal. None of those elements, including appearances by God and The Duke himself feel out of place or ridiculous. They're seamlessly woven into the story's patchwork without any self-consciousness whatsoever. They belong there, just like the Genesis entity riding Custer's ass imbuing him with the power to bend minds to his will and words.
Custer's ex, Tulip has a much more defining role in this volume. Actually, she's pretty awesome; I just hope she turns out to be more than just Jesse's snuggle bunny. The vampire Cass also returns in all his drunken Irish glory injecting much needed comic relief. The scene with the cat and the toilet made me howl. Bad kitty!
The second half of this volume is quite the departure from the first, introducing a whole new cast of characters including a super secret religious group known as the Grail (think Da Vinci Code) and a pasty white, rich lunatic who could pass for Caligula calling himself Jesus De Sade. If the first half is rural The Walton's meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second half is all urban decay and hedonism. It's the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah in 20th century America and Jesse Custer is all tangled up in the thick of it, whether he wants to be or not.
And oh yeah, he's still got that bone to pick with God, now more than ever.
Do I want more PREACHER? You're goddam right I do.
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.