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
First off, in case you didn't know Craig Davidson is also horror writer Nick Cutter who blasted onto the scene in 2014 with The Troop -- the book Step First off, in case you didn't know Craig Davidson is also horror writer Nick Cutter who blasted onto the scene in 2014 with The Troop -- the book Stephen King declared scared him. Davidson, writing as Cutter, then went on to publish two more horror novels in quick succession -- The Deep and The Acolyte. I binge read all of them as fast as he could get them published (actually, truth be told I couldn't even wait for the books to be published; so smitten was I from the start I begged, borrowed, stole advance reading copies any way I could get them).
You could say Nick Cutter was my gateway drug to finding Craig Davidson. Once the connection was made it was only a matter of time before I picked up a Davidson novel to see what his other more literary, less genre focused, alter ego was capable of. Let me just say, no complaints here. Not a single one.
If like me, you're finding your way to this book because you've loved any or all of Davidson's Cutter books, just know that Cataract City is not graphic horror but rather contemporary literature. Yet, there is a lot of similarities in the intensity and emotionality of the writing. The character development that defines his horror writing is present here as well, taking possession of the narrative and of the reader in a way that's as addicting as it is signature.
These are tales about ordinary folk trapped in dead-end places 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. No matter how beautifully written — the stories reveal a kind of brutalization lined with a deep and abiding sadness. People are desperate — or deranged — and behave accordingly. Sometimes it’s because of crushing poverty, other times it is because of inheriting a mantle of family violence that stretches back countless generations. 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.
Cataract City is not rural noir in the strictest definition, but it is close enough to get you a cigar. It's small town life, it's being trapped, it's facing lack of opportunity and tragedy with grace, or reckless ineptitude. And reading it is going to break your heart.
This book is many books in one. It starts out a coming-of-age story worthy of Stephen King -- two 12 year old boys, best friends, lost and starving in the woods. Then Davidson moves his narrative along to include dog racing, dog fighting, and bare-knuckle brawling. The stakes are always high, the details so sharp and expansive that vivid pictures are created in your head whether you want them there or not. Davidson is not shy about being graphic -- this is cinematic, visceral writing at its finest. You will feel the blood spatter across your face, you will taste the aluminum tang of adrenaline. You will grip this book in your hands white-knuckled and hang on for dear life.
I couldn't put it down. I could have binge read this in a few days, but I was glad life and work got in the way. Because it forced me to slow down. I was able to savour the prose -- let the sentences roll around in my mind and on my reader palate like smooth whiskey and unfiltered cigarettes. I am in love with Nick Cutter, but I will gladly have a torrid affair with Craig Davidson.
I gushed over Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham, her debut foray into the dark heart of New York City 1845 and the violent and inauspicious origins ofI gushed over Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham, her debut foray into the dark heart of New York City 1845 and the violent and inauspicious origins of its first police force -- the copper stars. In its pages Faye strikes a remarkable balance between the thrilling and cerebral aspects of a good mystery and blends it with the rich detail and sumptuous atmosphere of the best historical fiction.
More than the mystery and the historical details, what really makes this series a great read is Faye's colorful cast of characters. Timothy Wilde is flawed and sympathetic. For all of his bravado and prickly self-righteousness, I have such a soft spot for Tim because I know how much room there is for him to grow into the man he's supposed to be.
But who I was really excited to get more of this time around is Tim's drinking, whoring, brawling older brother Valentine. Val is one of the most scurrilous, scandalous, lovable characters I've had the pleasure of reading in a long, long, time. While Tim is over-serious and pining after a woman he can't have, Valentine is a man of huge appetites and humor, chasing after his demons with alcohol and drugs and any warm body he can find to curl up next to. The two brothers together are a yin and yang of contradiction and chemistry. A study in the unbreakable bonds of brotherly love (and all the hate, hurt and simmering resentment contained therein).
The things my brother and I don't say could pave over the Atlantic Ocean.
I am a huge fan of Faye's prose style as well, but I can see how some readers might be put off as at times it does flirt with superfluous and 'purple'. But I lick all that historical detail up as if it were buttercream icing and it is a marvel to me how she can write about the most despicable, tragic things in such a beautiful, luscious way.
I don't think the mystery was quite as strong in this second book as in Gotham, and the ending felt a tad drawn out (twice I thought I had read the final sentence only to have to keep turning the pages). But other than those quibbles, this is a very strong second book in a series that I cannot wait to get more of.
There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial kille There's a buzz book for the summer - you might have heard of it already -- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Featuring a time traveling serial killer, it has huge potential for a beach read thriller, but I don't know. Despite enjoying the main character, I felt it was missing something and my overall reaction after reading it was lukewarm.
This book on the other hand is much more to my liking. Probably closer to three and a half stars, it's an easy four in my books because it features all the elements I adore -- suburban New England setting, family secrets and lies, prepubescent girls doing naughty things with tragic consequence. It's an "all grown up and looking back" story as the adult tries to untangle the mysterious events of a dark childhood summer. It's a dual narrative that flips back and forth in time -- from the summer of 1979 to the summer of 2003. There's mood and atmosphere and dread and intrigue. It's a voyeuristic look into the oft-twisted and inappropriate shenanigans of life in the 'burbs.
Sadie is a pushy, bratty kid, with razor sharp smarts and a vivid imagination that's only going to get her into trouble. Her mother is a domineering, manic depressive drunk who isn't going to be there for Sadie when she needs her the most. Out of boredom and as an act of rebellion, Sadie hatches an elaborate ruse to amuse herself and her best friend. It's the summer of 1979 and her victim is the neighborhood outcast, a young girl with a miserable home life. The consequences of this cruel prank will have a tragic ripple effect.
Sadie grows up. The memory of that time is locked away in a deep, dark corner of her mind. She has a husband and two beautiful children. But sorrow has found Sadie. She is grieving her miscarriage and in this vulnerable state, back walks the boy she crushed on as a young girl. He's all grown up and stirring up more than the overwhelming sexual attraction she feels for him. Sadie begins to think about that summer long ago, seeking truth to all the unanswered questions she's lived with her entire life.
For a debut novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (great title) shows a lot of promise. In the best ways, I was reminded of Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Author Karen Brown is on my radar now and I will definitely be seeking out more of her writing.
This book has everything I love -- a Southern setting, secrets, family tragedy, religious zealotry run amok, and strong narrative voices. If I had reaThis 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 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....more
Just before picking this book up - my first Lehane (it won't be my last) - I came across a quote by him illuminating the working-class, blue-collar na Just before picking this book up - my first Lehane (it won't be my last) - I came across a quote by him illuminating the working-class, blue-collar nature of noir:
In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb.
I love this quote. It slices right to the heart of who we are reading about, and even why we are reading about them.
In Mystic River, Lehane is shooting from both barrels; he intuitively knows who he is writing about and where -- the gritty, depressed, working-class neighborhoods of South Boston and the largely white, blue-collar families who live there. These are residents bound to one another when not by blood, then by loyalties forged from childhood friendships and the kinship that comes from growing up in the same neighborhood. A shared history, a sense of community, no matter how co-dependent, damaging or predatory.
Lehane's characters are so vivid and three-dimensional they sigh and bleed across the pages. But you won't love them. They are beyond flawed, and you could even argue beyond redemption. Lehane is not writing about beauty and love or hope and healing. Lehane is painting a portrait of despair and guilt. His characters are damaged goods in many ways, with painful histories that have consumed them with a slow-burning rage.
The love Jimmy Marcus has for his eldest daughter Katie is primal, almost animalistic in its fierceness. When a savage beating and shooting violently rips her away from him, Jimmy vows to see her killer brought to justice, one way or another. Who could have killed Katie Marcus? Nineteen years old, sweet and non-threatening, a good friend, a loving sister, working part-time in her father's neighborhood corner store. When Jimmy's childhood friend Sean is brought in to lead the investigation, there are more questions than answers to be found. It doesn't take long however, before Sean and his senior partner Whitey begin looking hard at Dave Boyle - another childhood friend from the neighborhood with dark secrets of his own.
The handling of the mystery here, the construction, the pacing, the clues and final reveal, it's all flawlessly done. My only regret reading this novel is that I had seen the film first. While already knowing who killed Katie did not diminish my enjoyment, I can only imagine the sheer thrill this book delivers at the moment of climax if you didn't know.
I found the women in this story to be at least as interesting as the men, if not more so. (view spoiler)[While I could sympathize with Celeste's confusion and doubt about Dave, I questioned her motives for going to Jimmy with her suspicions. Why go to the father? Why not the police? What did she think was going to happen? She knew the rules of the neighborhood. Did she really imagine Jimmy would not act, unequivocally and ruthlessly? She signed Dave's death warrant the moment she decided to tell Jimmy what she thought she knew. She got her husband killed and unraveled her own life, perhaps even her own sanity, in one careless impulse.
Jimmy's wife Annabeth is ruthless in her own way, thinking only of her own family and status in the neighborhood. Her acceptance of Jimmy's violence, her pride in it, is practically sociopathic. Her husband won't find the cure for cancer, but dammit, he looks after his own. He does what needs to be done, like a King that rules over his realm. Her support is icky but oh so very real. Her disdain of Celeste's weakness, and her betrayal of her husband, more revealing of character than any other act or a thousand words. (hide spoiler)]
This is a story that starts with tragedy and ends tragically. It is immensely engrossing and immeasurably rewarding. I did not just love it, I lived it.
A word on the audiobook: There is an abridged version available out there with a very poor reader. Avoid that one. I listened to the unabridged version and it is fantastic. The reader's voice is strong and he carries the Boston accent nicely without it overpowering the story.
"I was half asleep but I smiled. In spite of all his irritating qualities, I couldn't help liking a man who despised a fictional character with such
"I was half asleep but I smiled. In spite of all his irritating qualities, I couldn't help liking a man who despised a fictional character with such passion."
"There isn't any good news. Just because there's bad news doesn't mean there's good news, too."
I loved this book. So much. In fact, I'm in real danger of descending into embarrassing fangirl babble and I really don't want to put you through that. This book deserves so much more than my barely coherent praise I want to heap on top of its modest, unassuming frame. So before I proceed any further I want to draw your attention to two excellent reviews that made me want to pick up City of Thieves and read it in the first place -- Maciek and Steve. Thank you gentlemen.
During my university days, I majored in 20th century military history. To say I was vastly outnumbered by my male classmates would be an understatement. I was -- for a time anyway -- a curious anomaly, one who was more often humored and patronized, than taken seriously. While my interests would eventually bring me to a focus on Ireland and the IRA, I did spend a fair amount of time up to my eyeballs in everything World War II. But with a subject so vast and sprawling you have to pick your concentration or you'll walk away from it having learned nothing of value. So I chose the Western Front because that's mainly where my countrymen fought and bled and died.
But it was so easy to become distracted by this WHOLE OTHER FRONT -- the Eastern Front -- where soldiers and civilians were dying by the millions. While I did my due diligence to keep my attention fixated on the Battles of Britain and the Atlantic, Dieppe and Normandy, I couldn't shake the desire to read more about the 900 day siege of Leningrad -- the starvation, the desperation, the cannibalism. Conditions on every front were a nightmare tableau of death and destruction, but the Eastern Front had the added torture of the bitter, savage cold. Bullets, bombs, starvation were one thing -- that frigid biting air able to cut a man in half and take his fingers and toes on a whim was something else.
In City of Thieves, Benioff transports us to the Eastern Front, into the frozen streets of Leningrad in the midst of the German's siege. Here we meet two boys -- Lev, 17 and Kolya, 19. Strangers to one another when the story begins, Lev and Kolya will have just one week filled with peril, misadventure, terror, laughter and tears to forge a bond that normally would take decades. The boys do not have decades however. They have just one week. And what a week it will be.
Lev is the quiet, shy virgin Jew, often serious but with a desire to uncover in himself some level of courage and charisma, to perhaps get a pretty girl to notice him. Kolya, the older of the two, is brash and boisterous, filled with a lust for life and for any pretty girl he can get his hands on. Upon meeting Lev he feels it is his duty to help the hapless virgin find his way into the arms of an accommodating lover. It won't be easy.
The two boys have also been tasked by a high-ranking military officer to head behind enemy lines in search of a dozen eggs. Where does one even begin to look for luscious eggs in the land of the freezing and starving, where sane people are eating book glue for protein and the insane have started to eat each other?
This book is about the horrors of war, and yes, sad and horrific things do happen. But this is mostly a joyful novel filled with heart and humor. I laughed many, many times at Kolya's never-ending antics and stream of profanities, his perpetual teasing of Lev and his insatiable lusty appetites even in the face of war and death.
Big spoiler under tag: (view spoiler)[WHY DO AUTHORS LOVE TO MAKE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH CHARACTERS JUST SO THEY CAN KILL THEM?! Argghhhh! So angry and heartbroken. I should have seen Kolya's death coming a mile away. He was just too full of life and love to survive to the end of the book. I guess Benioff could not resist breaking our reader hearts. Damn you Benioff!!! ::sob:: (hide spoiler)]
Adding to the utter enjoyment of this book was having it read aloud by actor Ron Perlman. Ron! Where have you been my whole life? If it were only possible, I would make you read all of my books for me from now on. You bring depth and nuance to this story with every breath, every lilt of Russian. You are the man.
Read this book. Or even better, listen to it. It's wonderful.
The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible.
The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible. ~Tell the Wolves I'm Home
I don't know how to write a review for this book. I've made a few false starts already. It's always SO HARD to review the exceptional, the beautiful, the sincere and heartfelt. When what you've just read humbles you, when it so keenly reminds you of the raw power of storytelling -- of why we read in the first place -- it can leave you floundering without any words to describe the experience (a cruel irony if there ever was one).
I have no words, or I feel like I don't have enough, or know the right ones to use to capture the intensity and sweetness of Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Like Mozart's Requiem, it's meant to be experienced. It's the really funny joke that "you had to be there" to find funny at all.
I can tell you it's a coming of age story that hits all the right notes regarding that excruciating, confusing transition between childhood and adulthood, from innocence to innocence lost. June is fourteen and bright and funny and loveable, but also fierce and stubborn and selfish. She's prideful and lacks confidence, while at the same time marches to the beat of her own romantic drum. She's learning to love, not just perfection, but flaws and failures -- discovering that real beauty, real love, has scars and history, mistakes and disappointments.
There is so much character in this story -- not just June, but her sister Greta, their beloved uncle Finn, and his beloved Toby. Each character is whole with lives and souls to call their own. Their voices are distinct, their points of view crystalline and unique. It makes you care, it makes you feel and cry, and sigh and laugh out loud.
There's also a sense of place -- a time really -- that's so vivid it acts as a powerful subtext to the entire novel. June is growing up in the 1980's while her uncle is dying from AIDS. We remember the music, the clothes, the movies and that makes us smile. But then we remember the ignorance and fear, the prejudice and cruelty -- as much a part of the disease as its auto-immune deficiency -- and we weep. Toby and Finn, with genuine humanity, symbolize the tragic loss of so many young men in the early days of AIDS, before anyone really understood what was happening, before anyone had the courage to do anything about it when they finally knew exactly what was happening.
Ultimately, this book is about profound loss and the giant grief that accompanies it. It's about finding yourself in that loss, and then finding your way through it. If you've been there, you know. There are no shortcuts. It is what it is and it's you and it. But if we're lucky, if we're really lucky, there will be someone beside us to hold our hand, to pull us in, to catch our tears, to guide us back to the land of the living.
This is an emotional story, but it is in no way maudlin or melodramatic. It could be that book, that smacks of manipulation and exploits tragedy for the big win. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is not that book. It is the very opposite of that book. I'm going to end this review with a Hemingway quote that I would like to dedicate to June and Greta and Finn and Toby. “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”...more
The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love all these stories equally. In fact, several verged on epic fail for me. Which is not hard to do. I am probably the worst reader of short stories. However, those that did work sent me into such shuddering, paroxysms of delight there are no words to express my infinite admiration. My favorites worked so exquisitely on a sub-atomic, cellular level that I immediately wanted to catch a red eye to Vegas and marry them no questions asked, no pre-nup, with Elvis Presley looking on curling his lip in approval. Thank you, thank you very much. My five stars is the only way I can think of to reflect that boundless joy. Is it for every story? Absolutely not. But I have no problem letting those five stars stand.
My first introduction to Kij Johnson was in June 2011 when I read her short story Ponies. It tickled something very profound in my imagination and gave a real goose to my pleasure center (at least the part of my brain that perpetually craves dark and disturbed). Funny thing is, I picked up this collection based solely on the cover and title. I didn't even notice that the author is the very same author who had impressed me with her little diddy about prepubescent girls and their pet ponies. When I finally put the two together in an "a-ha, duh" moment, saying I was pleased would be quite an understatement.
Kij Johnson is a bit of a mad scientist in her approach to storytelling. There is folklore, magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, fable, myth and legend. That sounds messy and confusing, and it should be. It should be a disastrous, alchemical experiment that blows the whole meth lab sky high. But somehow she makes it work, each story its own landscape playing by its own rules. She blends things in ways that made me think of how van Gogh saw sunflowers and starry nights. Even where I floundered, and did not appreciate the final destination, her prose ran like silk across the neurons of my brain, stroking them into a blissed out reader high.
Kij Johnson is on my radar. I will most definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her strange and wonderful words.
My two favorite stories of the collection are available online for free:
Ponies: If you haven't already, read this weird and deranged tale about youthful female rites of passage and the more brutal realities of fitting in. This is a macabre spin on the innocence lost theme delivered with cutting precision that slices deep.
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss: This one made me laugh with its whimsy and weep with its melancholy. I don't even know how to describe everything it made me feel actually. Aimee becomes the proprietor of 26 monkeys and a series of circus acts. Her biggest trick is that she makes all the monkeys vanish onstage. Where do the monkeys go? She does not know. All Aimee knows is that they return to her a few hours later bearing little trinkets from wherever they have been. The ending? Perfection in eight little words.
Honorable mentions must go to:
Names for Water - a phone call from unknown origin that whispers like water. I don't know if everyone will love the resolution here, but it gave me goosebumps.
Fox Magic - an Asian-themed fable about love's blindness. A fox falls in love with a man and lures him away from his human life.
Dia Chjerman's Tale - short, almost purely science fiction tale with apocalyptic overtones. There is a vibe of dread here that I really grooved on.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees - I'm usually not one for magical realism (sometimes I'm not even sure if I'm applying the term correctly), but there's a real dreamy quality to this one that almost hypnotized me. A woman follows a literal river of bees to its mouth. What will be waiting for her when she finally gets there? I'm thinking pet owners (and dog lovers) will find this one especially poignant. ...more
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
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. ...more
I've never read anything by Ambrose Bierce and this was a great place to start. It is a very immediate, visceral sort of story that's all about the seI've never read anything by Ambrose Bierce and this was a great place to start. It is a very immediate, visceral sort of story that's all about the senses. There is nothing like being so close to Death that you can reach out and shake his hand to bring everything into sharp focus. Bierce's vivid prose captures the desperation and drive of a man about to be hanged, who may just be given a second chance after all. It's a story filled with dramatic flair and urgent energy. Thanks for the rec, Stephen!
Whoah ... just ... whoah. I sense there is much beauty and truth contained in this story, the understated power of which danced across my neurons and tickled my neocortex several times, with mischief and brilliance and wild abandon. I also sense this story is just a hair's breath -- achingly -- out of my reach. Several times I thought I had it -- right there -- right on the tips of my fingers only to feel it slip away like wisps of smoke or melting snowflakes. The language is vibrant, pulsating and vivid. While the landscapes remained strange and unknowable to me I was still taken there -- even when my brain resisted, my body responded.
My reading brain itched to discern knowable patterns and logic, it craved narrative. There is a story here, but it is wrapped in the coda of fairy tale, folklore, mythology, and philosophy -- an enigmatic exploration of what it is to be human -- to be alive -- to love, to remember, to be family. If human is feeling than do feelings make us human? Does it have to be all or nothing? Human or machine? Perhaps there is room for something else ... something other. Valente is not offering up any trite or definitive answers, and the reader will have to make up his or her own mind.
There is an abiding melancholy that ebbs and flows over this entire story. Something terrible has happened, there are hints, but it is also hidden and unknowable, especially to Elefsis. She/he/it has suddenly and violently been removed from Ravan only to be forcefully "merged" with Neva -- who has no choice "because there was no one else". Neva explains to Elefsis:
I have always been spare parts. Owned by you before I was born....I know it was like this for you, too. You wanted Ravan; you did not ask for me. We are an arranged marriage.
As for Elefsis, she/he/it forms a unique and binding relationship to each family member during their tenure as host. It is a transformative, organic, chemical and mechanical cleaving that is "lost" to Elefsis with each inevitable human death.
When I became Elefsis again, I was immediately aware that parts of me had been vandalized. My systems juddered, and I could not find Ceno in the Interior. I ran through the Monochromatic Desert and the Village of Mollusks, through the endless heaving mass of data-kelp and infinite hallways of memory-frescoes calling for her.
And then there is the unexpected loss of Ravan:
But Ravan was with me and now he is not. I was inside him and now I am inside of Neva. I have lost a certain amount of memory and storage capacity in the transfer. I experience holes in myself. They feel ragged and raw. If I were human, you would say that my twin disappeared, and took one of my hands with him.
This isn't an easily accessible book shall we say, and I don't think it was written with me in mind. I'm not the ideal audience and I struggled to reach into the story and have it reach into me. But gosh damn, it is beautiful and unique and it's made me wonder and consider and ponder. That's pretty awesome. ...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 w 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. ...more
Hope, I've discovered, is a sad nuisance. Hope is a horse with a broken leg. ~The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye
New York City, 1845. Helped by an explo
Hope, I've discovered, is a sad nuisance. Hope is a horse with a broken leg. ~The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye
New York City, 1845. Helped by an explosion of combustible saltpeter, a great fire has once again decimated Lower Manhattan, claiming the lives of four fireman and 26 civilians.
Across the Atlantic, a terrible potato blight is beginning to take its toll, and shiploads of desperate, starving Irish pour into the city despised for their race and religion. Despite having traveled so far, work and food continue to be scarce commodities. Gang violence is commonplace as Dead Rabbits clash with the infamous Bowery Boys.
The city forms its first police department. The men are greeted with a mixture of fear, hostility and suspicion. Pinned to the men's chests is a roughly cut copper star.
Welcome to Gotham, where the streets of Five Points are plagued with filth, prostitution, spilled blood and political corruption. Children are left to fend for themselves hunted by disease, hunger and predators who will draft them into a life of thievery or sexual exploitation.
The Gods of Gotham is historical fiction at its best -- filled to the brim with vivid characters, authentic dialogue, and a sense of place so strong you can taste it in the back of your throat. As an audiobook, it is a marvel, drawing you in, caressing your ear, transporting you back in time.
In one fell swoop, Timothy Wilde is left unemployed, disfigured and penniless. In an attempt to save his brother from utter desperation, Valentine gets Tim a job on the newly drafted New York City police force. One fateful evening walking home to his modest lodgings atop a bakery, Tim crashes into a young girl clad in a blood-soaked nightdress. She is frantic, almost delirious, and murmurs "They will tear him apart." And so Tim is pulled into a tangled and depraved web of conspiracy and unholy murder. It will change him irrevocably, as the streets of New York hold their own council and wait to see what the remaining 19th century has in store.
I loved this story, everything about it. Timothy Wilde is a great character as is his vice-ridden, brawling brother Valentine and the prickly relationship they share, weakened by years of mistrust and animosity. Little Bird Daly, just ten years old, is memorably precocious and heart-breakingly real, a symbol of the abominable acts perpetrated on orphaned children in the years before the law started to identify and protect them in earnest.
And New York City -- how grand and tawdry and exciting and perilous you really are. You've been romanticized as often as you've been vilified. You are notorious, legendary, epic, and any story set in your streets must be all of these things too or become lost in your long shadow. The Gods of Gotham is that story. You two are well-met and well-matched. I cannot wait to return.
***For anyone interested, BBC America has created the series Copper set in 1860's New York featuring a young Irish cop tasked with policing in the Five Points. I haven't seen an episode yet, but you can bet I'm going to give it a try....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 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.
I don't want my three-star rating to give you the wrong impression of this book which is pure, magical loveliness. Emily does an amazing job3.5 stars
I don't want my three-star rating to give you the wrong impression of this book which is pure, magical loveliness. Emily does an amazing job in her review capturing the nature of that loveliness, more than I could ever do here. What I can say is that this is a character-driven story where not a lot happens, yet the story always feels pregnant with melancholy and a distracted expectation that something is going to happen, any minute now, right around the corner.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet-natured people that populate the book's remote 1920s Alaskan setting. I was never bored reading about their humble, honest, hardworking lives. Or their heartache. Because in any life, there is always going to be some of that. Despite the prevailing melancholy that runs through the narrative, there is humor too, and I found myself chuckling a few times which is always nice.
And I guess that's why I'm not going to rate this book any higher than 3.5. It's a nice story in every way, but not once did I ever feel shaken or swept along -- and the ending completely underwhelmed me and left me with a "huh?" feeling, as in "really? that's it?"
Still, I'm glad to have read it and I am recommending it. For its loveliness and beautiful prose. For its calming simplicity and charming whimsy. ...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 start 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.
I really wanted to love this book. I was so excited to finally have a copy in my hands; its whimsical cover seemed portent with loveliness and wondermI really wanted to love this book. I was so excited to finally have a copy in my hands; its whimsical cover seemed portent with loveliness and wonderment. Alas, some love affairs just aren't meant to be.
Morgenstern has written a novel where the prose in places achieves vivid and sensual, but far too often is so overdone -- so purple -- that I still can't shut my eyes and not see this guy:
Despite the big, purple dinosaur in the room, it's not all bad. Morgenstern proves herself to be a bit of a magician herself in the way she crafts her circus out of thin air. That impressed me. The rich, decadent imagery of the circus grounds, conjuring it for the reader so that you can smell the caramel popcorn and taste the mulled cider is a marvelous feat. Do I want to go to Le Cirque des Reves? Hell yeah!
Once Morgenstern gets started with her descriptions though, she can't stop herself. Every illusion must be deconstructed down to the minutest of details, every midnight Dinner Party edified and presented like a rich oil painting (and I'm a foodie! I love having delectable dishes described but this was even a bit much for me). Unfortunately, all of this curlicued prose comes at the cost of plot and character development. What you're left with is a huge, decadent wedding cake that's all frosting and no ... well ... cake.
I didn't feel emotionally connected to the story at all, and for one that is so beautifully imagined that's a real shame. The rivalry of the two magicians lacks any urgency and peril. The love story (late to get started) lacks substance and believability. I just wasn't convinced.
Laini Taylor can string words together like pearls, her paragraphs glittering like diamonds on black velvet. She builds landscapes out of the ether an Laini Taylor can string words together like pearls, her paragraphs glittering like diamonds on black velvet. She builds landscapes out of the ether and births characters of blood and solidity. When I read her I am a woman possessed -- consumed, enchanted and enthralled. I am a child, gripped by a child's wonder and insatiable hunger for stories. I am in love with this woman and her pink hair and beautiful, crazy mind (where I would live if it were only possible).
What kills me is that some of the most heart-stuttering gorgeous prose I've ever read is to be found hiding behind some truly awful, misleading covers. It's amazing to me that Laini Taylor's fledgling, phenom writing career hasn't been completely sabotaged by the cover art chosen on her behalf.
Take this book for instance: the first cover is ... adequate, yet still terribly misleading of content and themes, while the second is just plain bad. Quite frankly, it stinks -- a Twilight-ish, vampish, Fifty Shades of Lipstick embarrassment.
That's just one example. Then came along the cover for Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Seriously? Try convincing someone that they MUST read this book working only with that confused and stupid cover.
Despite being constantly cover-challenged, Laini Taylor is blazing a permanent mark on the literary trail traveled by unique and intrepid storytellers. In the Author's Note, Ms. Taylor describes herself this way:
Like a magpie, I am a scavenger of shiny things: fairy tales, dead languages, weird folk beliefs, fascinating religions, and more.
I, for one, cannot wait to find out about the and more....more