A well-formed, suspenseful mystery, part of a current trend of Irish crime novels. The narrator, Adam "Rob" Ryan, is hard-boiled and intense--bordersA well-formed, suspenseful mystery, part of a current trend of Irish crime novels. The narrator, Adam "Rob" Ryan, is hard-boiled and intense--borders on cliched, but his back story is fresh, all his own. As a preteen, he played with his friends in the woods. One day, he was the only one who came back, his shoes soaked with blood and a big, gaping hole in his memory. As a grown-up, he works as a detective, partnered with Cassie Maddox. She’s spunky and competent but not annoying, a major achievement for author French. They have a Mulder & Scully-esque platonic codependence. They sleep on each others' couches, they are inseparable. Cassie is the only person who knows about Ryan’s past.
The crime they’re investigating—for this is a procedural, and there must be a too-close-to-home crime—is the murder of a little girl who had a bright future as a dancer. Her body is found right outside the same woods where Ryan lost his friends years earlier. Her dad is strangely familiar to Ryan. And so this modern crime invokes memories of Ryan’s past. It all sounds incredibly rote, I know, but it works. It’s got excellent pacing and the characters are compelling. The detectives are actually intelligent; they actually pore over paperwork and evidence and make logical connections, instead of solving everything due to contrivance. Also, French makes an elegant connection between the general idea of a loss of innocence (crucial to both mysteries) and the ominous unexplored territory of the woods.
French’s decision not to resolve the woods mystery is a bold one. I can’t be alone in feeling that it was the stronger of the two mysteries, the one whose answer I was more invested in. And although I was frustrated (I want to know, dammit!) I respect the choice. It fits the character of Ryan to suppress his memories, to avoid delving into them.
Also, she’s written two sequels and now I really want to read them, look for hints, wait for a reveal. So, just in terms of marketing, it was a smart thing to do....more
I am always picking up books like this--mysteries with intriguing premises like vanished-without-a-trace disappearances--and when I read them I am disI am always picking up books like this--mysteries with intriguing premises like vanished-without-a-trace disappearances--and when I read them I am disappointed by the inevitable practical conclusion. I think only Agatha Christie has sufficiently dazzled me with the inventiveness of her resolutions (like Sparkling Cyanide, although I haven't read that since I was a teen, and maybe it's not as clever as I remember). Don't Breathe a Word sets up a supernatural-tinged disappearance (a little girl who says she's going to live with the fairy king) and manages, more or less, to stick the landing, so I was hugely pleased.
The main character is Phoebe, a sensitive drifter, who is dating Sam, a guy whose sister may have been abducted when they were children. Or she may have crossed over into the land of fairies, as she often professed to want to do. The mystery is reopened and immediately complicated by anonymous phone calls, imposters, criminal set-ups, a magical pregnancy. I started keeping a list about halfway through of all the mysterious elements to which I expected answers. McMahon came in at about 95% there. The only mystery that was not solved--and which may have simply been a continuity error--is this: did Evie have her own bike or not?
Ultimately, the mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion, and even though there are practical resolutions, as is necessary, the supernatural elements are not forgotten. The closing moments of the book are chilling. A great read....more
Lord, was I relieved to finish this book finally. I did not enjoy it.
First, let’s get this all out of the way: 1984 is a masterpiece. I see it, I knowLord, was I relieved to finish this book finally. I did not enjoy it.
First, let’s get this all out of the way: 1984 is a masterpiece. I see it, I know it. The ideas that were presented in this book, when it came out in the years immediately following the Second World War, must have been alarming and exciting and breathtaking and humbling and poignant and everything that is the best that literature can do for our brains. We need books like this to point mirrors at ourselves and our cultural behaviors and get us to see what slippery slopes we’re on all the time.
But I’m not someone who can read for ideas alone; I never have been. This book is so narratively clumsy I could not fathom how it got from one part to the next. The pacing was glacial. The story lacks action precisely because our protagonist rebel, Winston Smith, is almost a totally internal character. He observes without acting. He seethes without breaking. His thoughts are not interesting enough—or varied enough—to support this narrative.
How about the repetition problem? Over the first fifty percent of the book, Orwell describes, at length, the world in which our characters are living, both through narration and through what we see of the world and Winston’s place in it. That’s great, that’s fine. But then, for some reason, the next quarter of the book goes by while Winston reads from Goldstein’s book, which repeats—at length—everything we learned already, except in even more encyclopedic terms than before. Then he has a brief conversation with Julia, and then he reads more. Another good five to ten percent of the text. And then, when the story has finally ended, the book adds another lengthy essay on Newspeak, again to describe things we have already heard, both used in practice by the characters and described firsthand, way back in Part 1, by Syme.
The Newspeak essay is actually labeled as an appendix, so, OK, that’s all right. I can live with that. What it felt like to me was one of those internet guides for die-hard fans. The Fanatic’s Guide to 1984. Can’t you see it? A guy on a message board writes: “Hey, everybody, I put together an essay that delineates all the rules of grammar and usage for Newspeak.” Comment: “That’s awesome dude!” Comment: “Plusgood!” Inevitable snide dismissive comment: “You have too much time on your hands.”
I cannot even conceive why so much time was devoted to Winston reading the rebel book, however. It’s smack in the middle of the text, and lets all of the narrative tension dribble away minute by minute while it’s becoming caught up in this needless detail. I didn’t think I would ever get through this section. I thought I might die first.
Though Winston was a moderately complicated, conflicted lead character, the people who surrounded him were not special. I would have liked more of O’Brien before his major character shift. A better indication of why Winston thought he could trust him; something other than that there was just something in his face. I actually liked poor Syme in his one scene, although I guess his quick, clean demise made the desired impact better than anything else.
Julia was the worst. A symbol, not a woman. Winston “falls in love” with her because she is sexually promiscuous and he lacks human connection, not because there is anything special about her, because there is nothing there. She doesn’t say a single interesting thing throughout the entire book. She’s a rebel with no fire. She’s like of those talking dolls with the three set phrases they can say, and one of hers is “Let’s have sex.” We’re supposed to feel allied with her! We’re supposed to think she’s on the side of right! Aren’t we? I don’t even know. And let’s not even get started on the proles, and the dripping condescension the narrative has for those dumb, animal creatures and their beer and their gambling and their wide, wide asses.
It gets two stars because the world would not be the same without it. It gets two stars because I hated everything else about it....more
A beautiful modern novel, full of all the most irresistible types of heartbreak. I love a gorgeously-written downer, myself.
Main character Rachel openA beautiful modern novel, full of all the most irresistible types of heartbreak. I love a gorgeously-written downer, myself.
Main character Rachel opens the story having just moved in with her grandmother, beginning a new life in Seattle (Portland? one of those) and leaving something in Chicago behind. The mystery of Chicago is filled in piece by piece, and the tragedy is shocking when it comes into full view. Or it would be shocking for those who hadn't read Beloved.
Rachel has more immediate concerns: the already fraught period of adolescence is difficult for her because she's biracial. She lives with her father's mother, who is black and who lives in a determinedly black society, but Rachel spent most of her childhood being raised by her white European mother. Learning how to be black is a major part of her coming-of-age, as is getting along with her tempestuous grandmother, figuring out where she belongs and what she's been put on this planet, in this body, to do.
A secondary storyline plays out alongside Rachel's, following a boy whose name is Jamie, but who calls himself Brick because he needs the rhetorical armor. He is back in Chicago, he is somehow involved in the tragedy that befell Rachel's family, and he has a journey of his own to take. Both Rachel and Jamie/Brick are sweet, engaging, wonderful characters to follow. All the characters are well-drawn, really, from Rachel's feisty grandmother and her glamorous aunt Loretta, to Loretta's boyfriend Drew and his confident daughter. I forget her name, but she was a firecracker. The kind of girl who has no doubts whatsoever about herself, a great foil for Rachel.
This would have been a five-star read for me except for one thing. I've read (and loved) a lot of Toni Morrison. And so has Heidi Durrow, apparently. There is a major strain of Beloved in here, as I mentioned above, as well as The Bluest Eye. A little bit of Sula, too, mostly within Loretta. If Durrow is going to borrow from modern literature, she really couldn't be choosing better, but still....more
My attempts to be more worldly with my reading sometimes lead to great discoveries, and sometimes they lead me here. Not that Assia Djebar is not a fiMy attempts to be more worldly with my reading sometimes lead to great discoveries, and sometimes they lead me here. Not that Assia Djebar is not a fine writer; her prose is lovely, if a bit joyless. I did not care for this book, however.
One thing I would have appreciated would have been Djebar establishing a stronger narrative through-line. There are many first-person narrators in this book, from all eras, and I couldn't keep them all clear. Is the one who played with her cousins in the opening chapter the same one who later got married in Paris? Whose brother died in the siege? Was it hers or someone else's, or maybe even someone's grandmother's?
Maybe the point Djebar intended to make her was that the land--Algeria--is the real star here. I definitely got a feel for the constant turmoil of the area, from the French invasion in 1830 up until their war for independence in the 1950s and 60s. Djebar weaves a nice correspondence between this land teeming with contradictory traditions and the Muslim women, full of conflicting emotions about their lives, their bodies, and their relationships with men.
But when the book moves back into the battlefield--oh, so boring. And the battlefield occupies at least 50% of the narrative. So, ultimately, not a win for me....more
I like Sloane Crosley's books because I appreciate her point of view, and because we are exactly the same age, so her references to her childhood areI like Sloane Crosley's books because I appreciate her point of view, and because we are exactly the same age, so her references to her childhood are sources of nostalgia for me. In her last book, it was Caboodles makeup carriers; in this book it was the Girl Talk board game with the zit stickers. Comparing Crosley to more successful essayists is a fool's errand. She's no David Sedaris. Her work is less insightful, and not as tightly narrated. But it is witty and diverting, and sometimes that's good enough.
The best essays in this book are the ones where Crosley travels: the first essay is about a spur-of-the-moment trip to Portugal, another describes a trip to visit a friend in Paris, and another details a trip to a friend's wedding in Alaska. Crosley's wit is strongest when she's a fish-out-of-water, and Alaska as well as most of Europe seems to flummox her entertainingly. Alaska especially seems like a bewildering wonderland of trees, lakes, wildlife, and big puffy jackets.
Unfortunately, Crosley ends the book on the worst of her essays--or more specifically, a fine essay that highlights Crosley's most objectionable qualities. "Off the Back of a Truck" tells the dual stories of Crosley's adventures furnishing her apartment with stolen merchandise and a disastrous relationship with a dishonest guy. The narrative is very yuppified New York, and makes Sloane the protagonist look callous where she seems to want to present herself as conflicted. The wailing about the man who betrayed her is a bit insufferable. There's insight to be had from a broken relationship but I don't think she finds it. (Also, I don't generally criticize the life choices of memoirists--that's not what literary criticism is, and most authors aren't writing for general approval--but there are some elements in Sloane's relationship with that guy that are fishy. She describes how she gets set up with him because they have literally dozens of friends in common. But then she is shocked after a year of dating him to find that he has a live-in girlfriend. How did not a single one of those common friends tell her this right away?)...more