I've for quite a long time kept Stephen Dobyns' name filed away as someone to try, after fellow suspense writer (and fellow Stephen) King lau2.5 stars
I've for quite a long time kept Stephen Dobyns' name filed away as someone to try, after fellow suspense writer (and fellow Stephen) King lauded Dobyns' The Church of Dead Girls in King's Entertainment Weekly article. That title wasn't available at the library but Boy In The Water was.
The set-up was really well done. A prologue introduces the titular boy floating dead in a swimming pool, then gives us a glimpse into the lives of a really creepy, joke telling assassin-for-hire, then an underage stripper, then our protagonist, clinical psychologist Dr. Jim Hawthorne, who's trying to rebuild his life after losing his wife and daughter in a fire in San Diego (that he feels responsible for) and takes a badly underpaid, thankless job as headmaster for a a failing reform/boarding school acoss the country in New Hampshire. We learn that Dr. Hawthorne's got his work cut out for him, with plenty of jealous dissension of the other teachers, a board of trustees that is rumored to be closing the school soon, whilst contending with his own personal demons.
I was riveted throughout much of the first half of this, trying to figure out where Dobyns was going with this thing. Creepy lurid thriller? Ghost-y old-school goings-on? A psychological examination into greed and malfeasance? All-of-the-above, most likely, but my attention really started waning at about the midpoint, when it became painfully clear Dobyns had no idea how to end this thing. A book that.was already feeling a little bloated (not unlike the condition of boy's body floating in the svhool's natatorium) really started getting stinky when Dobyns kept having his protagonst Dr. Hawthorne present the same facts over and over again (perhaps to wring every drop from the suspense dishrag). All I know is, what started out an engaging and interesting thriller began boring me with every repetition of Dr. Hawthorne's actions, with every reiteration of a factoid. Oh yeah, and that ending...yikes.
Yet, there was enough good stuff here to keep me entertained throughout much of it. The premise was somewhat original, and I was a bit creeped out at times. While I didn't love this, I will definitely try one of Dobyns' (well over a dozen) other titles in the future....more
I'm trebly daunted to write a coherent review of Zadie Smith's Swing Time. A) It's hard to be objective when I've got a serious crush on Ms.3.5 stars
I'm trebly daunted to write a coherent review of Zadie Smith's Swing Time. A) It's hard to be objective when I've got a serious crush on Ms. Smith's writing style (only a select handful of authors can make me swoon just by their effortless sentence construction, and she's one of them). B.) Novels with racial dynamics at their core (particularly those written from a black perspective about the white world around them) certainly pique my interest, but my inability to put myself completely in a black person's shoes (be it a mixed-race 'estate'-girl from London like Swing Time, a Nigerian woman émigré to the US in Americanah, or a girl grappling with Deep South prejudice, poverty, and Hurricane Katrina in Salvage the Bones) makes me a terrible arbiter of such works. And C.) My GR friend Jenna has already written an amazing 3-star review of this book (which I'd love to link you to, but HTML utterly confounds me) that really captures the essence of the book, and its faults) way better than I ever could.
Swing Time is pretty wonderful when Ms. Smith sticks with her two principal protagonists: Two mixed race young girls in the '80s living in the "estates" (Brit-speak, I think, for lower class tenement buildings) in London, both with aspirations to be famous dancers. Tracey, with a boorish white mom and absentee black dad (and supposed Michael Jackson touring dancer), is the natural talent of the two friends; and the unnamed narrator, with a Nefertiti-looking civic-minded black mom, a milquetoast white dad, a love for old musicals (particularly those with Fred Astaire), and, thanks to flat feet, very little talent. Ms. Smith is all about dichotomies of duality here: Whites vs. Blacks, Haves vs. Have-nots, Americans vs. British, Celebrity vs. Anonymity, Tracey vs. Ms. Narrator. As long as Ms. Smith stays within her bailiwicks of London and class and race awareness, the novel soars.
As the friendship drifts apart and the girls zoom through adolescence toward their adult lives, though, when Ms. Smith introduces an internationally famous pop singer named Aimee to the mix (who the narrator lands a job with as a personal assistant), the novel starts to sputter. Though still quite readable, these parts of the novel (particularly when an enlightened Angelina Jolie-esque celebrity like Aimee decides out of nowhere to establish a girls school in the wretchedly impoverished Gambia, West Africa) that things start feeling flimsy and contrived, throwing the book out of kilter. (It doesn't help matters that the narrative bounces back and forth in time, triangulating from London, New York and Africa; the differences in the quality of the narrative are glaring with each chapter bounce back and forth: London sections vibrant, Africa sections meh) A salacious ending (actually two endings, hinted at from the beginning) between both Ms Narrator and Aimee and Ms.Narrator and Tracey both kinda fizzle. The central dancing theme got somewhat lost in the drama.
Still, I liked parts of this enough to be glad that I read it; I just wish it could've evoked in me a Snoopy "happy dance" rather than the Michael Jackson's Thriller Zombie Shuffle-feeling I'm left with instead....more
You gotta admire Colson Whitehead's creative tightrope act here. He puts a hyperreal spin on the scourge of slavery (and all the concomitant in4 stars
You gotta admire Colson Whitehead's creative tightrope act here. He puts a hyperreal spin on the scourge of slavery (and all the concomitant indignities stemming therefrom) wrought upon blacks by whites. That he achieves this hyperreality without compromising historicity is remarkable.
The Underground Railroad, as you certainly can imagine from a novel about the slavery era, is not easy to stomach. Whitehead pulls no punches here: the slave life depicted on the Georgia plantation is gruesome, and matter of fact. Cora (born on the plantation) has her passions inflamed to escape after a horrific beating she receives, coupled with the idea that her mother Mabel had years earlier escaped, and at the urging of her friend Caesar that there's an "Underground Railroad" awaiting them to transport slaves to the "Free States" in the North.
That's when Whitehead makes his departure from established history (and when his tightrope act begins), imagining the railroad as a real, Nineteenth Century underground slave subway-slash-time machine, with each station serving as portal to a subtly-tweaked alternate era of racial indignity. Historical time lines are ignored and warped as Cora wends her way North from station to station, as she's on the run from master slave catcher Ridgeway, hot on her trail.
This could've been a mess, but Whitehead, with an appropriate modicum of restraint, keeps things lively and sharp without becoming farcical and steam-punky. The transitions from the plantation to the various stations north are seamless (though a less-talented author probably wouldn't have been able to pull it off.) I deducted a star for a few poky bits midway through, but I was consistently entranced by Colson Whitehead's vision and audacity here. With Oprah's aegis, this novel hopefully will bring Whitehead some well-earned (and overdue) recognition....more
It took the glowing reviews of a Canadian (thank you, Jaidee!) and a South Carolinian (thank you, Clarice!) to finally give local (as in hai3.5 stars
It took the glowing reviews of a Canadian (thank you, Jaidee!) and a South Carolinian (thank you, Clarice!) to finally give local (as in hailing from a town a few miles from here in NE Alabama) author Thomas H. Cook a chance. The three small-town libraries around here all have a wide array of this guy's catalogue, but I never gave him more than a passing glance until my dear GR friends' seals of approval.
The Last Talk With Lola Faye is somewhat unconventional, for a "murder mystery" (which I'm guessing is Cook's usual forté given his bio boasting seven Edgar nominations, and one win). This is suspenseful in a David Mamet-esque sense; I can easily see this converted into a taut, crunchy, Southern Gothic stage play, or (as another friend aptly described) an "indie film". Lots of chewy dialogue, not a whole bunch of action. I think this element is what I most liked (though might also explain the novel's somewhat piddly GR average). Most people would probably prefer their mysteries more plot-driven. I'm perfectly happy with two well-defined characters (with varying levels of unreliability) having a tête-à-tête about a murder, especially when one of the characters is the son of the murder victim, and the other is a woman presumed by the son to have caused the murder to happen.
Lucas Paige is the son, a semi-successful Harvard doctorate, author of history books, and born and raised in fictional Glenville, Alabama, While on a book signing tour at a St. Louis bookstore, he's approached by Lola Faye Gilroy, a "hayseed" Glenville woman who Lucas has long blamed for his father's murder several decades prior. Why does she show up out the blue in St. Louis? It's unclear at first, but as intimated by the title, they go to a cocktail lounge...and talk. There's this uneasy tension between the two that intensifies as they replay the events that led to the murder.
This isn't the flashiest mystery you're likely to read, but the queasy uncertainty is as palpable (or perhaps more so) than any conventional mystery out there. It kindled a slow burn, and I was riveted most of the way. I hope the quality of writing on display here is indicative of Cook's overall talent, as he's got plenty of titles to choose from. Consider me hooked....more
Barkskins, Annie Proulx's three century-long fictionalized homage to the "New France" (i.e. Quebecois Canadian) indigenous (Mi'kmaw Indians) and tran Barkskins, Annie Proulx's three century-long fictionalized homage to the "New France" (i.e. Quebecois Canadian) indigenous (Mi'kmaw Indians) and transplanted (Indentured servants from France working for their freedom and a plot of land) forest denizens integral to the logging trade, is much easier to admire than laud. If I was a gifted novelist in my eighties, and had a family I wished to celebrate and immortalize, I'd want to do exactly what Ms. Proulx seemed to accomplish here: preserve my family's legacy by writing a parallel-historied James Michener-esque epic saga. The end result here, however, while occasionally fascinating, often feels choppy and muddled. Just when Proulx would hit her narrative stride in introducing an umpteenth new character and I'd finally start feeling an affinity for him or her, Proulx would abruptly kill them off, either by logging accident or smallpox (for example) in a way that seemed like Proulx was bored and wanted to move on (leaving the reader in the lurch). That seeming feeling (of Proulx's abandoning characters at her whim), was just too difficult to reconcile.(Like: If she doesn't give a shit about her characters, why should I be expected to?)
There are, however, a few of the qualities on display here that were distinctive in some of her past successful novels (The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes among two of them that I read and enjoyed) like her ability to make the past come alive in a compelling way. I never really thought I'd find myself immersed in a novel about the history of logging (of all subjects) before reading this, but Proulx's prose never failed to draw me back into the story (even as my attention started to wander from its repetitive subject matter.)
I was chided when I wrote a (rather scathing) review a few years ago for Bird Cloud (Ms. Proulx's memoir/bitchfest about her acquiring a massive ranch in Wyoming to facilitate her loves of solitude and bird watching). My fellow Goodreader reminded me to (with words to the effect of) 'judge the art, not the artist'. I couldn't help, the whole time I was reading this, thinking of my reaction to Bird Cloud. The memoir (and the ensuing ranch it chronicled, which, fittingly enough was almost entirely devoid of trees in its gazillion acres) were (to me) a narcissistic blotch on what had been until then a stellar writing career. While I can't endorse Barkskins outright, I do think that she erased some of that icky beshitted-upon feeling I had of her after reading Bird Cloud. This too, I'm guessing, was in its own way an act of (epic) narcissism, but ultimately I think she (in creating her fictional parallel lineage) did herself and her real families) proud. I just wish I could have loved it more, though....more
I was unable to connect with one at all. So shoot me. Or behead me. Or cage me up with the village idiot and stuff ocotillo bulbs and azotea up my hidI was unable to connect with one at all. So shoot me. Or behead me. Or cage me up with the village idiot and stuff ocotillo bulbs and azotea up my hideyhole. I've read enough McCarthy to last me a lifetime. No más, por favor. I'm officially done torturing myself trying to get what others find so great about his writing....more
In case you haven't read Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo's well-regarded prequel to this, fear not: it's not remotely necessary to have read it before reIn case you haven't read Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo's well-regarded prequel to this, fear not: it's not remotely necessary to have read it before reading (and enjoying) Everybody's Fool. I barely remember the precursor, (which I think I liked; not really sure). There'll be no room for doubt on this one: without a doubt, one of the best books I've read this year. Perhaps as good as his 2002 Pulitzer Winner Empire Falls. Maybe even a teensy bit better, as it's...okay, not compact (at close to 500 pages), but it just flows like spun silk. It's (from what I recall of Empire Falls) much more character-driven. They're all pretty flawed characters (so much so that the title begs to have an article inserted: "Everyone's A Fool") but their flaws (while driving the plot in often hilarious ways) are (for the most part, with one glaring exception) relatable, if not universally likable. From the North Bath (New York) Chief of Police Doug Raymer (who's going nuts and hearing voices on and off the job, obsessing over the potential dalliances of his recently deceased wife); to Donald "Sully" Sullivan (central to the plot of Nobody's Fool a perennially poor, congenial jack of all trades who's come into some money just as he's diagnosed with with potentially terminal illness) to Gus Moynihan (msyor of North Bath, whose wife roams the town talking on a pink conventional landline phone): to sadsack Rub Squeers, gravedigger and shitslinger with a bad stutter and no friends at all except for Sully, who treats the guy like crap (even. naming his piss-pot dog (the cover hound?) "Rub" after him; Carl Roebuck (whose construction company may well be the worst one ever, addicted either to porn or Audrey Hepburn movies); to...oh hell, everyone's got something off kilter about them, but not in a obnoxiously mawkish sort of way, just in a often-funny-but-very-human manner that makes the book utterly delicious and unputdownable. Believe the mildly hyperbolic hype of the first line of the book jacket blurb: "Richard Russo at the very top of his game..." and, for once, believe the 4.24-star GR cume rating: This is pretty damn fine reading. Highly Recommended....more