My only regret about this book is having read it all at one go, rather than doling out these stories as little treats between other books, as there isMy only regret about this book is having read it all at one go, rather than doling out these stories as little treats between other books, as there is so much richness here that as beautifully poised as these stories are, the whole experience winds up being a bit cloying by the end. This one begs a return journey, but suffice it to say these are among the best short stories I've read. ...more
I always enjoy it when an author strays perhaps not so very far from the reality of life as we know it (the cheap lives of migrant workers, drug addicI always enjoy it when an author strays perhaps not so very far from the reality of life as we know it (the cheap lives of migrant workers, drug addiction, institutionalized racism, slavery), just turning things at an angle, mixing them up a tiny bit to make them feel a bit less commonplace, a bit more improbable (although this is inspired by an actual case) and so that much more revelatory. I feel this way about some of George Saunders' stories too: as different as they are from this grim and gripping odyssey, they tell us just how things are by twisting them just a little bit, enhancing the view with an added element of strangeness. Hannaham's writing and narrative drive is tremendous, doing a neat job of propelling the reader through some very grim and horrific territory, and the voice of Scotty - aka Crack - is a brilliant device for beguiling the reader into some nightmarish realities, but also reflecting just how heavenly hell can seem to junkies on the pipe. It feels like a narrative feat on a par with the voice of Huckleberry Finn in charming the reader into a disconcerting ambivalence about matters one might be otherwise prone to pious judgements over. ...more
I had a couple of major frustrations with this book that I had a hard time getting past. I felt the style, a choppy sometimes self-consciously HemingwI had a couple of major frustrations with this book that I had a hard time getting past. I felt the style, a choppy sometimes self-consciously Hemingwayesque mumble, didn't really work. Very spare writing is, I think, deceptively simple. Whether one likes Hemingway's style (and there are plenty of reasons not to), he usually does a very good job of making his terse prose seem like a distilled or boiled down kind of reality, words that hint at some great unspoken realities. It is "tip of the iceberg" writing, as it were, and I think it is very hard to do well. To me, Heller's rendition of this style feels gimmicky and put-on, straining after an effect without having fully realized the underlying reality: there are a few spots that feel like a bad Hemingway contest.
This became less problematic for me when the plot kicked in, but here's where my bigger issue with the book came in. Heller's novel is a book about a man who commits one or perhaps more acts of murder. It is a crime novel. I read quite a bit of crime fiction, written by literary and genre writers such as Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, George Pelicanos, Ruth Rendell, Graham Greene, S.J. Rozan, Henning Mankell, P.D. James, Ken Bruen, and many more. And almost every single one of these bring to their subject in title after title far more moral and psychological complexity than Heller brings to his story. I was disappointed at how what should be deeply troubling realities - questions of cruelty, violence, guilt - are rendered with almost cartoonish simplicity. The men who are killed are cardboard villains. The protagonist's struggle is resolved in a seemingly obligatory fit of remorse, and even that seems more like a fit of self-pity. I'm not saying I expect the hero (or anti-hero) to meet with my moral approval - far from it. But I do expect a book that so clearly purports to be about certain issues to actually engage those issues. There just seemed to be whole missing layers of psychological and moral depth here that made this feel like a sketch....more
4 stars for the stories and 5 for pulling them together in this great collection. (I'm pleased to note that almost all of these writers have been feat4 stars for the stories and 5 for pulling them together in this great collection. (I'm pleased to note that almost all of these writers have been featured in Thrilling Tales, my story time for grown ups at Seattle Public Library - and just as pleased to see most of these hard-to-find stories are new to me ; I'll definitely be sharing some of them in the future). If you like this, be sure to check out another great anthology of women crime writers: A Moment on the Edge, edited by Elizabeth George....more
I've decided this summer to go back and indulge in some favorite series back to back to back - Ian Fleming's Bonds, Freemantle's Charlie Muffin books,I've decided this summer to go back and indulge in some favorite series back to back to back - Ian Fleming's Bonds, Freemantle's Charlie Muffin books, O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise series, Travis McGee, Vachss, and I thought I'd start with a return visit to Lew Griffin. Sallis hits the sweet spot for me as an author who honors the genre while using it to express his own personality and take on the world. Sallis is continually paying tribute - to New Orleans, to interesting books and authors, to music - and I wonder how much of my appreciation for this series stems from the fact that he and I (or Lew Griffin and I) seem to enjoy the same things. Among the many literary references made here are Kenneth Fearing (an author with a similar approach to genre, as Sallis notes, playing with "the great divide between high and low art") Blaise Cendrars, Montaigne, Blake, Agee, Whitman, etc etc. - and as often as not he's mentioning some of my favorite folks. I'm not always sure I know what Sallis is up to in this series, and at a second reading I suspect he wasn't always sure either, and I enjoy and respect that. Chandler wasn't always sure either - this business of being a tarnished knight has more to do with an attitude and a way of being right with oneself in a world full of wrong than with any snappy resolutions of plot. (I would suggest - to fans of Lew Griffin - The Driftless Zone and its sequels by Rick Harsch)....more
These are some really good stories. I was so totally going to use the terrific terror tale "Evelyn Grace" for my library storytime, until I got to theThese are some really good stories. I was so totally going to use the terrific terror tale "Evelyn Grace" for my library storytime, until I got to the very last word of the story, which would probably get me fired. (-: ...more
I'm immersing myself in Dorothy L. Sayers right now, although starting at the end and moving backwards. "Gaudy Night" is a fine, introspective piece oI'm immersing myself in Dorothy L. Sayers right now, although starting at the end and moving backwards. "Gaudy Night" is a fine, introspective piece of fiction exploring the independence of women, as a series of increasingly malicious poison-pen attacks breaks out at Shrewsbury College, and Harriet Vane is drawn in to trying to identify the culprit. The clashing personalities of the college are reflected in Harriet's own deeply conflicted inner struggle as she attempts to come to terms with her feelings regarding her erstwhile savior and desultory suitor Lord Peter Wimsey. Harriet is a beautifully rounded character - smart, funny, and convincingly perplexed by her own and her paramour's emotions, and the conflicting demands of her life as a woman, an artist, a friend, and a lover. She is the real draw here, and should be quite a surprise for readers used to more formulaic classic mysteries. (Very many mystery writers today invest a good deal of insight and psychological detail in their characters and their detectives from book to book, and it is often thought that much of this approach got started with Ross MacDonald's psycholigically rich mysteries, but here is a mystery novel with a lead character of unrivalled humanity). This really has to be one of the landmarks of mystery fiction, and I think works equally well for puzzle fans and readers of stylish literary fiction, as well as those who love academic stories and veddy British settings.
Lord Peter Wimsey proposes marriage, oh, four or five times during the course of this book. And even as the perplexities mount at the ladies' college and the mysterious perpetrator of the attacks threatens to tip over into violence, we struggle with Harriet to cope with her quandary, whether as very much her own woman she should allow herself to become the wife of a rich, noble Alpha Male - a perplexity that includes her charming struggle with her own insecurities and perhaps her fear of intimacy. The book bristles with intellect right down to its frequent epigrammes, and yet ultimately it is less a novel of ideas than a satisfying battle between the heart and the head.
A good batch this year - I read these every year to find stories for Thrilling Tales, so I'm reading with a focus on more inherently clear and satisfyA good batch this year - I read these every year to find stories for Thrilling Tales, so I'm reading with a focus on more inherently clear and satisfying stories - and Coben has a fair number of these. I've been wanting to do a Brendan DuBois story in the storytime for some years now, and I think "Ridealong" is finally one that will work w/ the format, as there are some very good twists. Less certain about risking a story co-written by Tom Franklin ("What His Hands had been Waiting For") about two ruthless lawmen patrolling the wastes of a big delta flood who wind up with a dead looter's baby on their hands - it is kind of McCarthy-esque in its funkiness and even some alluded baby cannibalism and people freak out about a babe in jeopardy, BUT it still might work. One great uncanny piece - "Last Cottage," told in the plural first person voice of villagers who are trying to oust a happy family - very odd but I still might try it for TT. And finally one of the Max Alan Collins / Mickey Spillane 'collabos' that is classic Mike Hammer, and that I think I will do, even though it has a perfectly stomach churning sadistic climax. A good bet every year, but this is a pretty strong year....more
Nesbit really had the gift for stirring a bit of real charm and humor into her unsettling stories: try "In the Dark," for a good example. I'm going toNesbit really had the gift for stirring a bit of real charm and humor into her unsettling stories: try "In the Dark," for a good example. I'm going to read this one for our Thrilling Tales adult storytime podcast for May, and it should be spooky fun....more