This is a master class in mood and tone, as the entire novel just drips with foreboding. I had no idea what was going to happen, but damn if I didn'tThis is a master class in mood and tone, as the entire novel just drips with foreboding. I had no idea what was going to happen, but damn if I didn't know it was going to suck for someone. The most likely candidates to absorb the suck were those who crossed the path of Beth, a viper masquerading as the captain of the local cheerleading team.
With its heavy dose of sex appeal, it would be easy to dismiss this novel as pandering to the h4wt quality of its subject matter - high school cheerleaders -- but Abbott is too good of a writer for that. Instead, she spins a tale about obsession, crushes (sexual or otherwise), high school power struggles, and the havoc all of the above can create.
Addy was a fun character to follow for a few hundred pages, and there was real skill to how Abbott distills the team to a few important characters -- Tacy, Emily, Ri-Ri (my favorite), etc. Writing about groups of people without getting bogged down in each one is a challenge, and Dare Me handles it all well....more
While not the surging masterpiece that Gone Girl is, Sharp Objects is still a brilliant character study. As a mystery, it's fairly flaccid, but thereWhile not the surging masterpiece that Gone Girl is, Sharp Objects is still a brilliant character study. As a mystery, it's fairly flaccid, but there are so many memorable and satisfying characters here that it's well worth the read. I most enjoyed the unsettling and (I assume) very realistic portrayal of teenage sexuality and its destructive possibilities, both to the self and to others.
I also really loved reading a female protagonist who was free to fail, to flail, and to fuck up with abandon. This is a great starter-Flynn before moving on to Gone Girl. ...more
Gillian Flynn super fan, right here. Dark Places lacked the propulsive narrative of Gone Girl, but in many ways, it's the tighter-plotted of the two bGillian Flynn super fan, right here. Dark Places lacked the propulsive narrative of Gone Girl, but in many ways, it's the tighter-plotted of the two books. It's ending is much tighter and has that tuning-fork-ringing quality that I look for in mysteries. All the seemingly disparate threads come together in a surprising and inevitable way.
While I didn't find Libby tremendously compelling (one of the faults of the novel, to me, is that the stakes feel more in the past than they should...can't put my finger on why, exactly), Diondra is one of the most off the wall creepy characters I've ever encountered. Every moment she's on the page just burns. (view spoiler)[The scene in which she reveals her pregnancy made my skin crawl. (hide spoiler)] Ultimately a very creepy, very fun book.["br"]>["br"]>...more
The funniest book I've read this year, and a criminally underrated novel. The narrator, a nameless young woman, finds inspiration in the classic novelThe funniest book I've read this year, and a criminally underrated novel. The narrator, a nameless young woman, finds inspiration in the classic novel Treasure Island. She decides to use the book as a blueprint, a template for how to be a different sort of person. Drawing from Jim Hawkins' four core principles -- boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing -- she sets out to remake herself. But what she succeeds in doing is unmaking her life. She essentially steals money from her employer to buy a parrot named Little Richard. She loses her job at the "pet library" (a business where patrons can borrow an animal for 48 hours), breaks up with her live-in boyfriend, and is forced to move in with her parents and her sister. There, she proceeds to destroy everyone's lives in horrific (and hilarious!) fashion.
As I read on, it became clear that the protagonist was possibly (probably?) insane. And even worse, she was probably tragically misreading Treasure Island (She barely remembers the character of Long John Silver). As she digs herself further and further into lunacy, the more it becomes obvious how terribly delusional she is, how woefully ill-conceived her sense of self is. And the crazier she gets, the funnier and more entertaining this novel becomes.
This was a fascinating book to read immediately after Gone Girl, as both books feature female narrators who have an idea of themselves that's radically different from the one the reader forms. Of course, in Treasure Island!!!, it's played for laughs (though there is some death in the book (view spoiler)[If you are a person who absolutely cannot handle violence against animals, you might want to think twice about this book (hide spoiler)]), while in Gone Girl...well, fewer laughs, I guess. I was never sure whether the woman in Treasure Island!!! was a psychopath in the vein of Amy in Gone Girl. She has a bottomless capacity to trample other people's feelings, to be sure, but she seems to have some remorse about it, from time to time. More likely, I think, she's some sort of autistic. She can't read social cues and seems surprised when people react with horror to horrifying things.
Whatever her mental health status, she was a wonderful mind to inhabit for the few days it took me to read this book. Highly recommended. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This both a snapshot of New York City circa 2009 -- the height of the financial crisis, with layoffs looming like hurricanes over every desk -- and thThis both a snapshot of New York City circa 2009 -- the height of the financial crisis, with layoffs looming like hurricanes over every desk -- and the story of a guy named John. It is also the debut of a tremendously original voice in fiction. Sicha has cultivated his own idiosyncratic style through years of online writing at Gawker and The Awl (of which he's co-founder), and the confidence of his style shows through here. Some may find the almost bewildering dialog at bar and party scenes (of which there are many) off-putting but I though it perfectly captured the dizzy feeling of being a little drunk in a crowd of people, many of whom you think are hot. It reminded me of how party scenes are often handled in a certain kind movie -- a roaming camera following a person or group of people through various little snippets of conversation (My favorite conversation in the book is one character insulting another character's tennis grip.).
This is also -- maybe? -- a Marxist novel. Are those out of fashion now? I can't keep track. Anyway, the way in it which it relentlessly skewers Mayor Bloomberg and other uber-wealthy characters (there's a sideways mention of Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka, by way of her marriage to Jared Kushner...oh my god, maybe this book is "entirely factual"?!) coupled with its obsessive chronicling of John's spiraling health care and education-related debts makes this book a compelling critique of post-capitalism.
Lastly, I have to commend this book for finally stating what I've felt and said for so long: The entire Dick Whitman/Don Draper storyline of Mad Men is an embarrassingly obvious rip-off of the Principal Skinner/Armen Tamzarian plotline from the Simpsons. Finally, somebody else said it!...more
This is a fun book with elements of a coming of age story mixed with a mystery with some spy fiction thrown in, for good measure. If that sounds likeThis is a fun book with elements of a coming of age story mixed with a mystery with some spy fiction thrown in, for good measure. If that sounds like it might be a mess, it's not, largely because Holt does a great job of grounding the story in Sarah, a protagonist who manages to be both unique and relatable. I love the sub-genre of books about people going to exotic locales to find long lost friends/enemies/mysterious people (Heart of Darkness, State of Wonder, The Third Man, most of my unproduced screenplays), so Sarah's journey to Moscow to uncover the truth about her friend Jennifer was an easy sell for me. But I think even if I weren't a sucker for the genre, I'd have enjoyed this one. The atmosphere of anticipation and its sinister brother, dread, serve this book so well, and the themes of identity and ambiguity are persistent without being too obvious. And there's also Cold War nostalgia (is nostalgia the right word?) and great Russian malapropisms and interesting jumps in time in this book, and so much to recommend it. A very strong debut....more
What do you want from fiction? The more I read, the more I realize that what I want, what fiction does for me, is allows me to live in another person'What do you want from fiction? The more I read, the more I realize that what I want, what fiction does for me, is allows me to live in another person's mind. To be able to see the world as someone else sees it, that's what I'm looking for when I open a novel. The other pleasures of the novel -- style, voice, etc. -- all flow from the consciousness of the characters.
In recent years, very few books have given me the glimpse into a character that The Patrick Melrose novels have. Told over a period of 50 or so years, these books follow the life of Patrick Melrose, the only child of David and Eleanor Melrose. And while Patrick himself would be worth the price of admission, it's the cast around him that really brings the picture to life. The grand snob Nicholas Pratt is especially wonderful to read, though any of a number of characters would make a fine protagonist in another novel.
The tone of these books -- at once contemplative and witty -- is a miracle unto itself. The first book in the series, Never Mind, reads, at times, like a horror novel. Terrifying things happen in it, and yet, one finds oneself laughing on nearly every page (emphasis on the nearly). St. Aubyn not only has a master's grasp on character and dialog, but he changes perspective in surprising and daring ways. It's not uncommon in these books to be in the head of Patrick's son Robert for a few paragraphs and then to suddenly find oneself seeing the scene through the eyes of Patrick's wife, Mary. If this sounds like it might be jarring, it isn't, though don't ask me how that's possible.
These books feel so lived, so alive and authentic, that, cliche as it sounds, I didn't want them to end and dragged out the reading of At Last, the final book in the series, for as long as I could. Don't deprive yourself any longer--read them today!...more
**spoiler alert** I just finished this book in a burst, a sprint of reading. I like to say I don't read quickly (I can only move my mouth so fast, you**spoiler alert** I just finished this book in a burst, a sprint of reading. I like to say I don't read quickly (I can only move my mouth so fast, you know?), but this book tested that, as I could think of little else other than reading it for the few days I was in the story. An absolute tour de force of storytelling, voice, plotting, and tone.
Here are a few disjointed thoughts about this book, presented in bullet point form so as to avoid having to craft an actual review that flows:
* Is this an anti-feminist book? Amy is the very definition of a 'psycho bitch,' so I'm tempted to say yes, and yet characters like Boney and, to a lesser extent, Go, suggest otherwise. And so much of what Amy rants about in her first non-diary section--the "Cool Girl" stuff--is 100% true. Additionally, by the end of the book, am I supposed to be rooting for Nick, who says this of his younger lover: "It was one of the things I liked best about us, that I could show her things." This is the worst sort of sexism, the paternalistic "let me take you under my wing, and oh yeah, here's my dick, too" sort of thing. Ugh.
* Amy's narrative in the second half of the book reminded me so much of Patricia Highsmith, particularly the Ripley novels. It's the deluded, twisted sense of self that shines through.
* I loved how vulgar Amy's real voice was. It's so much more pornographic than Nick's. All the 'twat,''cum,''anal,' etc. So good.
* In the acknowledgements of this book, the author thanks the Inner Town Pub in Chicago, where I used to occasionally drink.
* This was that rare book that made me want to a) see how it would be adapted as a movie, b) read the author's other novels as soon as possible, and c) read all kinds of other reviews of the book, interviews with the author, etc. That has to mean it's a 5-star book, right? In my opinion, it deserves every ounce of praise it gets....more
I realized I've fallen terribly, terribly behind on my Goodreads reviews. Anyway, trying to get caught up.
I'm a Kate Christensen super fan, so my opinI realized I've fallen terribly, terribly behind on my Goodreads reviews. Anyway, trying to get caught up.
I'm a Kate Christensen super fan, so my opinion might be a touch biased. I've always admired the way she's written about food in her fiction, so this was right up my alley. The book really picked up after Christensen's childhood was over (important though that was to describe). Christensen is such a great stylist that even sections that didn't hold my attention with narrative drive were fun to read.
Weirdly enough, the food writing in this didn't jump out at me....more
A fascinating meditation on memory and narrative. Denise is the sister of Nik, a rock star in his own mind and obsessive chronicler of his own stardomA fascinating meditation on memory and narrative. Denise is the sister of Nik, a rock star in his own mind and obsessive chronicler of his own stardom. The prose in this book is wonderful. Lots of people mention Don DeLillo as an influence (and he's thanked in the acknowledgments), and I can see why. The mixture of sparse, declarative sentences with more angular stuff really makes the paragraphs click.
I found myself thinking a lot about Daniel Johnston, the great singer/songwriter/outsider artist from Austin whose songs have a major cult following. It's never entirely clear how much recognition Nik has in the music world. I think it's entirely possible the only people who listen to his music are Denise and her daughter. But if his music is good, it seems very likely that it's good in the timeless, pop-y way that Johnston's is good.
That I read this book in a narcotic haze after surgery only added to the effect that Spiotta is able to spin here.
Recommended for anyone who loves rock and roll, punk, underground culture, etc. Also a great companion piece to another great book that tackles memory, narrative, and rock, albeit in a very different manner, A Visit from the Goon Squad....more