This book was a favorite of a great friend of mine (who gifted it to me in high school, incidentally) and I just now decided to dip back into it becauThis book was a favorite of a great friend of mine (who gifted it to me in high school, incidentally) and I just now decided to dip back into it because I've been trying to do more narrative non-fiction reading and White's essay "Death of a Pig" was referenced by two different authors (Geraldine Brooks and Ian Reid) during a writing workshop I attended in the spring.
There are some lovely essays here—the paean to the pig, yes, but I was also in a bit of a country mode and really enjoyed "Coon Tree" (the bit where he realizes that his poetical description of how raccoons descend from trees is actually just how this one raccoon descends is great) and "The Eye of Edna." And, of course, I have a great soft spot for "Here is New York" with its nearly perfect first line, "On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy."
You do have to be in a mood for 'ol E.B., however, as he can be a great curmudgeon, grumbling about punctuation marks and those galdurn politicians and rambling on at length about his old wood fire stove and The Way Things Were. This isn't to say he's not a nice curmudgeon—he's a curmudgeon I would have gladly spent time with. But sometimes he takes on a sort of muttering, folksy provincialism that can be quite trying.
All the same, a wonderful—and instructive—collection when you're in the mood. ...more
On the incredibly enthusiastic recommendation of my mother and ten-year-old sister (my mom actually surprised me by sending me a copy of the book--thaOn the incredibly enthusiastic recommendation of my mother and ten-year-old sister (my mom actually surprised me by sending me a copy of the book--that's how much she wanted me to read it), I picked up Wonderstruck. I was not familiar with Brian Selznick's previous novel, but I will definitely be reading it now. This was an absolute treat, and I finished the whole (rather extensive book) in two days--less than two if you consider that I was working.
Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories of Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927 who runs away from her home in Hoboken to New York City, and in 1977, Ben, a young boy from Gunflint, Minnesota who was born deaf in one ear and then loses hearing in his other ear after being indirectly hit by lightning in a rainstorm. After his mother's death, Ben runs away to New York to find the father he's never known. And although the two stories are separated by 50 years, they run surprisingly parallel throughout the novel, until they eventually--and beautifully--connect.
Selznick excels on so many levels: his pencil drawings are vivid and richly detailed, and are have an incredible nuance with light that I would not have expected from pencil drawings. He also has a very cinematic way of leading you through the visual part of his stories--he uses close ups particularly well.
His writing is also fantastic--what a great vocabulary to find in a kid's book! His characters are three-dimensional and he balances tough themes (a parent's death, an unknown parent, loneliness, isolation, an inability to communicate) with a general sense of hope and well-bring. The children in both stories have their fair share of problems and need to both grow a lot throughout the story, but Selznick is able to capture these transformations without trauma. I didn't spend the whole book worried that something terrible was going to happen to both of these kids--on their own in New York City, without money or friends, or really any way of communicating with most people. I knew that they were going to be okay--that everything was going to turn out for the best. And sometimes, that's exactly what you need from a book. Enough reality and seriousness that it isn't total fluff, but balanced with a general feeling of ease and enjoyment. They are, after all, both on huge adventures.
The other great thing about Wonderstruck is all the great references and intricate details. Selznick obviously did extensive research (his acknowledgments and partial bibliography in the back are impressive) and folded in not only accurate portrayals of things like the Museum of Natural History in both 1927 and 1977, but also the blackout in 1977, and tons of factoids about Deaf culture, wonder cabinets, and more. He's got lines from "Space Oddity" by David Bowie all over in the first part of Ben's story (loved that) and also--apparently--makes a lot of references to E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. (I haven't read that book, but my sister is reading it right now in her 5th grade class and it is definitely on my list now.)
Selznick also makes me want to discover and rediscover parts of New York now. I want to go back and see all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and I finally want to go out to Queens and see the Panorama. And there's a high commendation: a book that makes a jaded New Yorker get excited all over again about all the wonders there are in her city. ...more
I heard about Allison Espach's debut novel, The Adults because, as a resident of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Brooklyn herself,(Yes, there are spoilers.)
I heard about Allison Espach's debut novel, The Adults because, as a resident of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Brooklyn herself, she was going to be reading at my local bookstore. Her novel--and its heroine, the disenchanted fourteen-year-old Emily Vidal--seem to promise a fresh take on that oh-so-recurrent plotline: Rich Girl from Connecticut Isn't Buying It and Rebels. So I went down to the bookstore and grabbed a copy off the shelf, just to give the first page a test-read, of sorts. And within several paragraphs, I was sold:
"They arrived in bulk, in Black Tie Preferred, in one large clump behind our wooden fence, peering over each other's shoulders and into our backyard like people at the zoo who wanted a better view of the animals.
My father's fiftieth birthday party had begun.
It's true that I was expecting something. I was just fourteen, my hair still sticky with lemon from the beach, my lips maroon and pulpy and full like a woman's, red and smothered like "a giant wound," my mother said earlier that day. She disapproved of my getup...but I didn't care; I disapproved of this party, this whole at-home affair that would mark the last of its kind.
The women walked through the gate in black and blue and gray and brown pumps, the party already proving unsuccessful at the grass level. The men wore sharp dark ties like swords and said predictable things like, 'Hello.'
'Welcome to our lawn,' I said back, with a goofy grin, and none of them looked me in the eye because it was rude or something."
It's a good start, right? To me, the kind of start that promises crisp prose and creative dialog, and a young character who, in typical bildungsroman fashion, is going to learn that society--and the adults who live in it--haven't figured everything out, and are (as she already thinks) frauds and just muddling around themselves, but she can still find an acceptable place for herself--either in or out of this world, as she chooses.
For awhile the book holds to this preliminary promise: Emily is told right before the party that her parents are getting divorced and her father is moving to Prague for his job. This is delivered, again, with great aplomb: "'Your father and I are getting a divorce,' my mother had shouted at my back that morning as I went upstairs to bathe for the party. My mother believed that...bad news felt better when it came at you fast, from behind, like a bullet."
But if that piece of news doesn't upset Emily's world enough, her father is discovered to have been sleeping with the next door neighbor. And then the next door neighbor's ailing husband kills himself--while Emily watches, from afar--and then the next door neighbor ends up being pregnant, with Emily's half-sister.
This all happens within the 75 or so pages, and is, I think, an extreme overloading of Dramatic Plot Elements. One--maybe two--of these elements can start a book, can be the genesis of a character's growth and development. More, and it sort of becomes like watching a soap opera, and the elemental punch of all of these emotional events diminishes until the author really starts losing credibility.
But Espach doesn't stop here, she keeps piling things on. She creates a few semi-horrific scenes exemplifying the cruelty of high school students (as if we forgot), such as an attempted nose job in an unattended science class on a universally mocked and hated teen girl. And then, Emily--at 15 now--begins a sexual affair with her 26-year-old English teacher. This affair will be recreated throughout the novel, at four year increments, as Emily gets older. And while she seems to recognize that their 'relationship' constitutes statutory rape, she romanticizes this man throughout it all and continues to be manipulated by him well into her late 20s in a rather disturbing fashion. And we're not dealing with a psychological masterpiece on par with Lolita here, so really--it's just kind of ridiculous. She introduces the teacher to her father in her mid-twenties as her boyfriend, and when the father recognizes him as a teacher from her high school, the whole thing merits some tears, but really gets shrugged off rather quickly.
All of this is unfortunate, because one can easily see that Espach has talent. She has a great way of compressing and mixing chronology--allowing Emily to drift into memories of the past while going through something in the present, or pausing in the middle of a present event to fast forward into a character's future. And she has a real sense for teenage characters--their speaking patterns, their simultaneous fascination and horror with sex, their vulnerability and the ease with which they are frequently written off or ignored by adults. As a great example of both, look at the Halloween-in-Spring dance scene: Emily dresses like a "super-hot kitten" and another girl as a "slutty banana." One of their friends is taken to the hospital for drinking too much vermouth before the dance, but Espach assures us mid-scene that her life will go on and still be rich despite this troubling episode:
"An ambulance was sent for Martha, who would eventually be fine, who would never drink that much vermouth again. She would become the president of the Spanish Club and get into the University of Rochester, where she would lose her virginity to a thirty-year-old from Cork, Ireland."
In the end, however, everything comes full circle, and this is the most irritating thing of all. The book begins at a party, and ends at a party (of sorts) in the same house in Greenwich. Nothing much seems to have changed. Which just makes the whole reading experience that much more exhausting. ...more
In Lester's Turn, Jan Slepian returns to Brighton Beach, "the old neighborhood," where The Alfred Summer took place. Although only a few years have paIn Lester's Turn, Jan Slepian returns to Brighton Beach, "the old neighborhood," where The Alfred Summer took place. Although only a few years have passed, there have been many changes since we last saw Lester, Alfred, Myron, and Claire. For one, Myron and Claire have moved away. Even more difficult, however, is that Alfred's mother has died. Alfred's epilepsy has worsened and his father spends a lot of time away from home on business. So Alfred has to live in a special hospital, where, to Lester's eyes, he's wasting away.
Lonely without the friends he had finally made and struggling with the idea that he'll be graduating from high school soon, Lester decides that he is going to quit school and take Alfred away from the hospital. He envisions his new life--working a full time job and caring for Alfie, just the two of them together. His plan becomes big news for Claire (who he still sees), and his new acquaintances--a mother and son who live upstairs from Claire in her new home, and Tillie Rose, a neighborhood teenager who works in Alfie's hospital. But after a special weekend outing with Alfred, something terrible happens, and Lester must face his own insecurities and start planning for his own future.
Although darker in themes (and plot line) than The Alfred Summer, Lester's Turn maintains the frank honesty and perceptive empathy of its predecessor. Lester's fear of facing his own future and making plans for his life after graduation will be familiar to older teens who are struggling to make their own choices. Alfred's death, though difficult, also emphasizes the importance of making the most of one's life, no matter the circumstances, and considering the impact that anyone can have on others' lives. ...more
Four Brighton Beach teens--Lester, Alfred, Myron, and Claire--are all outcasts in some way. Lester has cerebral palsy and although he is smart, and wiFour Brighton Beach teens--Lester, Alfred, Myron, and Claire--are all outcasts in some way. Lester has cerebral palsy and although he is smart, and witty, and insightful, all the people around him see is his physical disability. Alfred is learning disabled, a fact which leads many people to disregard his kind spirit and label him as a "retard" or "slow." Myron is clumsy and overweight and spends his days being teased and pushed around by his mother and sisters, expected to fill the shoes of his deceased father, even though he's only a teenager. And Claire is a champion runner on her track team, but she dresses like a boy, which many of her neighbors and peers find very disconcerting.
These four become unlikely friends, joining together to help Myron build a boat--The Getaway--which they hope will help them escape from their problems. What they find in the process is that with their new-found friendships, is that they no longer want to escape. Rather, spending time together, they discover the capacity to challenge not only the perceptions of people around them, but also the perceptions they have of themselves.
In Lester, Slepian has created a dynamic and unique voice--a smart, sarcastic, and cynical teen who has become resentful after years of being patronized by his parents, ignored by his peers, and unable to do the things he so wants to do. Although his experiences and feelings are very specific to those of an individual with cerebral palsy, many of his problems (an overbearing mother, a distant father) are common with teens and incredibly sympathetic. None of Slepian's characters are pitiable, but rather, she shows them each to have their own strengths and gifts, failings and fears. As Lester's father says in a rare show of attentiveness, "Sure people can be rotten. But at the same time people can be good. A little of both, son, a little of both...Just like me, Lester. And like your mother...and you," (98).
This is a story which emphasizes the importance of taking charge of oneself, of learning how to cope with circumstances that are out of one's control and making the best of them. This is not to say that The Alfred Summer is unrealistically optimistic or cheery. It's actually anything but. Slepian acknowledges that these kids will face difficulties and prejudice and that sometimes, unpredictable, awful things happen to very good people. But her characters find strength within themselves to deal with the challenges that face them--they tap into Claire's "Azzif Theory" and start to become the people that they want to be. It's a great lesson for any child who feels alienated or without control in his/her own life. ...more
I read Monster as part of a week in my YA class focusing on "The Grim and The Bleak." (Other suggested titles included Laure Halse Anderson's Speak anI read Monster as part of a week in my YA class focusing on "The Grim and The Bleak." (Other suggested titles included Laure Halse Anderson's Speak and Robert Cormier's Tenderness.) This is my first Walter Dean Myers novel and knowing that his books are beloved by some of my particularly YA-Savvy friends, I was really looking forward to it. Plus, it received boat-loads of high praise from all sorts of trusted sources. So yes, I had high expectations.
Luckily, these expectations did not fall short. Myers created a dynamic and empathetic story here, but one which really resists a straightforward interpretation or overall moral. The story is written like a screenplay (the main character was taking a film class in high school) and therefore reads at a really quick pace. (Moreover, it occurred to me while reading the book that this sort of format would surely appeal to teens who are not only well-versed in film cues and language, and may also relate better to a more media-based format than they might to a traditional narrative. I bet that one could integrate some really interesting film-based exercises into a lesson plan with this book as the focal point.)
Anyway, in the book, 16 year-old Steve Harmon is being charged with felony murder--possible sentence of life imprisonment--for his role in the fatal shooting of a convenience store owner in his neighborhood. Now, Steve didn't actually shoot the man, but he did act as a lookout, letting the guys holding up the convenience store know that the coast was clear and no cops were around. The fact that Steve is being charged with murder and may face a life in prison, automatically reads as frighteningly harsh, but that doesn't really mean, as Steve contends, that he's "innocent." There's a great piece of dialog to this effect between Steve and his lawyer. Steve tells her that he's innocent, and she replies: "You should have said you didn't do it."
This is what it really comes down to--Steve didn't kill the man, but his actions allowed that murder to take place. He begins to recognize this over the course of his trial--and tries to make sense of it afterward, to little effect. And the cause-and-effect/moral ambiguity is no more simple for the reader. For instance, a witness is put on the stand who testifies that she was in the convenience store when the guys robbing it began to get rough. She says that she sees this, gets scared, and leaves, but doesn't say anything about calling the police. Isn't she as much to blame as Steve for the man's death? She saw more of how the situation was escalating than he did. There's the other neighborhood kid whose job it was to obstruct police officers, should anyone try and stop the robbers once they'd left the store. He's not on trial like Steve because he made a deal with the prosecution. The murder may only be the 'fault' of the man who actually shot him, but the complicity of many other people--besides Steve--allowed it to occur.
This is a delightful book! I came to it via Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck and my eleven-year-old sister's enthusiastic recommendation, but I never ranThis is a delightful book! I came to it via Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck and my eleven-year-old sister's enthusiastic recommendation, but I never ran into it as a child. As a kid, I always had fantasies about hiding out somewhere overnight (the grocery store, actually, was a really appealing prospect), but if a place like the Metropolitan Museum of Art had been on my radar (it wasn't), I would have been extremely enthusiastic about Claudia and James' great escape. The characters are delightful and so wonderfully quirky, and the interactions between them are unique without feeling forced (I love the exchanges where the kids talk to each other as 'Lady Claudia' and 'Sir James' because they are feeling very flush with their $24.)
This is also just a great snapshot of New York in the 60s--automats, .75 cent lunches, card catalogs and all. It gave my heartstrings a little tug when the now-closed Donnell Branch of the NYPL, where the kids do their research, was mentioned.
And, on principal, my heart thrilled when Mrs. Frankenweiler pointed out that visitors "all enter free of charge because that's what the museum is: great and large and wonderful and free to all." (In her Afterword commemorating the 35th anniversary of the book, E.L. Konigsburg says that one of the things that's changed since the book was first published is that the MET is no longer free. But that *is not true.* Let all New Yorkers and visitors to New York take note: the museum still is free. They try to trick you with the admission lines and the buttons, but it's all donation-based. You can go up and get your admission button for a quarter, and you should. So go visit the MET and wander about and discover something spectacular: it's still "great and large and wonderful and free for all."
Again--my kudos to Westerfeld for his well-wrought, fast-paced, book-in-a-day sci-fi inspired adventures. Peeps is a nice spin on the vampire genre, wAgain--my kudos to Westerfeld for his well-wrought, fast-paced, book-in-a-day sci-fi inspired adventures. Peeps is a nice spin on the vampire genre, with Westerfeld elaborating on what has become a relatively common adjustment to vampire mythology--that vampirism is a disease (see I Am Legend and Already Dead for previous examples)--and makes it his own.
In Peeps, vampirism is actually a parasite, feeding on its hosts and adjusting their behavior in order to facilitate its own procreation. Most people who come into contact with the parasite are turned within days, but a lucky few--including our intrepid protagonist, 'Cal from Texas'--are carriers. They are infected by the parasite, but are not affected by it, like Typhoid Mary.
The gist is thus: Cal comes to New York from Texas for college, but after a long night drinking novelty cocktails in a gay bar, looses his virginity in a haze of unprotected sex with a mysterious woman. Thus infected with vampirism, he then proceeds to make out with/have sex with a few unlucky ladies before someone finally catches up with him and lets him know that he is turning all of his unfortunate lovers into monsters. So now he has to go out and find all of these women before they wreak havoc on New York.
Cleverly, because Cal was supposedly a Bio major--and because his new vampire-hunting agency puts him into special crash courses in tracking techniques and understanding parasites--the book alternates between its main action and rather diverting, if not rather disgusting, discussions of parasites in the natural world. Westerfeld does a good job of integrating vampirism into this context, explaining typical vampire myths--such as a fear of crucifixes, inability to go out during the day, and even just the biting itself--in terms of natural selection, evolution, and parasitic behavior. It sets a nice tone for the book, giving the whole thing an air of possibility, and grounding well-known superstitions in far more logical, scientific fears.
A few quibbles:
This is the second Westerfeld book I've read where clever words and phrases get repeated to a sometimes annoying degree. The vocabulary is generally of a multi-syllabic, creative variety, but if the same words are used over and over, they loose their freshness really quickly.
Also, I think the 'unprotected sex is bad' theme could have actually been brought out a little. As I've said a kazillion times, I'm all for books that comfortably and reasonably approach teen sexuality, and I've generally been very pleased with Westerfeld's incorporation of sex and sexual attraction in his novels. But given that the plot hinges on this kid going around and having no-condom sex with a bunch of women, I think the ultimate consequence scenario could have reflected on this a bit more. There's a small disclaimer in the back of the book--along with helpful tips to avoid parasitic infection--but I don't actually think that the book emphasizes this enough. We don't have to necessarily beat them young people over the head with the capital M Moral, but having Cal actually show some measure of realization--"If I had worn a condom, this would not have happened"--would not have been difficult.
I know that this book is considered something of a classic and teens love it, so forgive me for being heretical, but Nick and Norah was pretty ho humI know that this book is considered something of a classic and teens love it, so forgive me for being heretical, but Nick and Norah was pretty ho hum for me. In part, I think this can be chalked up to a few of my own inescapable biases (more anon), but honestly, I think that the quality of the writing had more to do with it. And that's not to say that both authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (of Boy Meets Boy fame) aren't talented writers. It's simply that the general prose style--aggressively clever dialog, laden with cultural references which were trendy about two decades ago, and dripping in irony, delivered via the mouths of super-informed, super-progressive, super-cute teens--doesn't work for me. It's a little irksome to have a couple of teenagers holding forth on The Cure while cruising around in a Yugo to various amazing Lower East Side hot spots. But, in fairness, teenagers can be irksome, and in double fairness, I would have cut off my big toe to be able to hold forth on The Cure while cruising around in a Yugo to various amazing Lower East Side hot spots when I was 16, no questions asked.
So in order to give the book a fair shake, I'm simply going to provide a Pro/Con Playlist, if you will:
Pro: Rachel Cohn has amazing taste in apparently everything. Her Norah quotes My So-Called Life at length, which I think sums it up for me.
Con: Rachel Cohn writes annoying females. They use the word 'bitch' all the time--for friends and enemies, when happy and angry. They are also devious, manipulative, and not terribly loyal to each other. I know teen girls are like this, but honestly, even Norah, who is supposed to be above all this, is constantly sunk in the mire of girl-drama. Oh, and she is constantly referred to as being 'totally stacked,' but has a front-clasp bra. Both things cannot be possible. It's a little thing, but it bothered me to no end.
Pro: Both Cohn and Levithan really 'get it' in terms of the immediacy of teen emotions--particularly love and heartbreak. Nick is crushed because his girlfriend--of six whole months!--breaks up with him and life as he knows and remembers it will never be the same. Likewise, both Nick and Norah fall head-over-horny-heels for one another after spending one ebullient night together wandering around New York. And it's true--spending a whole night with a crush is overwhelmingly sexy when you're young. It all happens, like that.
Con: Everyone in this book is too goddamn cool. Norah's father is a record exec and her godfather owns punk clubs. Nick is the 'non-queer bassist in a queercore band.' They all know everything about great music and movies and places to hang out in New York. Even when they are awkward and nervous and totally freaking out on their wacked-out hormones, they have something extremely funny and sophisticated to say to one another.
Pro: The characters have a refreshing approach to sex. Straight, gay, gals, guys, in relationships and out--characters have an open, embracing, safe, but not ridiculously advanced relationship to sex.
Con: The whole 'Nick and Norah' homage falls terribly short of its reference.
Pro: The Nick sections were written by David Levithan and the Norah sections by Rachel Cohn. This creates unique voices for each, a nice little dash of gendered perspective, and a cute method of rendering moments in which both characters basically want the same thing but can't figure out how to communicate this to each other.
Con: Nick and Norah are both self-righteously straight-edge. I went to high school with those kids. They annoyed me then, they annoy me now.
Pro: Any books taking place over the course of one night and involving punk clubs, drag queens dressed in nun garb and singing The Sound of Music tunes, underground secret shows, and Velselka is inherently at least a bit fun. ...more
**spoiler alert** My reactions to Already Dead varied significantly as I progressed through the book. Initially, I was simply flabbergasted by the pur**spoiler alert** My reactions to Already Dead varied significantly as I progressed through the book. Initially, I was simply flabbergasted by the pure awesomeness of a plot starring a rogue 'Vampyre' (Huston's spelling, not mine) Private Eye who exists in a world that simultaneously gives The Warriors a run for its costumed, turf-staking, New-York-as-Battleground title supremacy, while retaining the ultra-specific shout-outs to East Village landmarks (the community garden on Ave. B with the huge tower; Doc Holliday's bar).
Then, about mid-way through, I was wishing that I had read this novel prior to having read the first two books in Huston's Hank Thompson trilogy, because it seemed like he'd effectively just written the same book all over again...but now, with vampires. Which really seems to negate the point of the non-vamp precursors, right?
Not really. Because upon finishing Already Dead I'm fairly certain that Mr. Huston has some not-so-latent chauvinist and sadist tendencies that may have been given a bit too free a rein in this setting. It's true that noir and pulp and crime fictions have always been at their best when revealing the true debasement of such grand ideas as 'The Human Condition.' And fantasy/horror/alternate-reality novels maybe even more so. But that doesn't mean you have to revel in the slime.
The novel's protagonist here is Joe Pitt, a Vampyre whose been living under the influence of a blood-craving 'Vyrus' for about 30 years. Living in a Manhattan which is almost entirely controlled by a handful of Vampyre Clans, in which one's party alliance is paramount to remaining well-fed and protected, Pitt nevertheless 'goes rogue'--one lone cowboy roughing it in the wilds of Alphabet City. He lives by doing free-lance assignments for the various clans, but eventually finds himself at odds with two of the larger groups, who are both bent on destroying him. Slowly. And Painfully. For a little over 260 pages.
Huston loves the lone wolf. The man's man who doesn't need to integrate himself into a group for protection and doesn't abide by anyone's rule. Come to think of it, he'd probably have a pretty good time writing neo-Libertarian political thrillers (you know, like Point of Impact), but that wouldn't really give him the chance to run wild with his other great love: Witty Comebacks and Toughguy Oneliners. Banter of the "Fuck with me and I'll...stuff you in a cubbyhole and flush the card so no one can claim your ass..." variety.
Besides both having a penchant for rejoinders, both Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt are Dudes. Dudes who can take and dole out an unreasonable amount of pain. But where there is actually a limit to the damage that you can inflict on a human man, there is practically limitless potential for a Vampyre. As Pitt explains, "[the Vyrus:] clots [my blood:] in seconds and knits my flesh and if you want to kill me you will have to blow up my heart or head or cut me in half or otherwise annihilate my body in blow before it can heal." Huston seems to take this as a challenge. He starves his anti-hero into a mere shadow of himself, burns him, beats him, knifes him, shoots him, etc. etc. etc. before gifting him an uber-vampire strength that only the blood-deprived can attain.
But we already knew that Huston has a thing for abusing his protagonists. What kicks Already Dead into a higher sphere of sadism is its treatment of the book's women. Though tucked under the guise of vengeful empathy for the abused and downtrodden, Huston can't seem to help himself from peppering his novels with violated, abused women just waiting to be saved. In Caught Stealing Hank's girlfriend has her arms and legs strapped to the corners of a table before being beaten to death. In Six Bad Things, he adopts a drug- addled, abused stripper. Here, we have a whole cast: an HIV positive girlfriend; a teenage porn star who is raped while being infected with a Zombie-virus; a drunken mother whose husband seduced her when she was underage, only to toss her aside when she got too old; and her teenage daughter who runs away because, among other things, her father wants to have sex with her. And in our climactic scene? Pitt's great moment of victory? Check out the set-up: Father has his lackey not only inject mother with a zombie drug, but also one which causes limb paralysis. He then commands said lackey to rape the mother, while making sure that she watches as he strips his anesthetized daughter and rapes her at the same time.
But while this scenario sends Joe Pitt into crazed mind-karate antics, it seems to positively titillate Huston: "The goon...grabs a fistful of Marilee's hair and twists her face towards her husband. Horde is roped with lean muscle and pelted with graying hair. He squats next to Amanda, his penis sharply erect between his knees, and begins to undo the button and zipper of her jeans...He opens his daughter's fly slowly, then butterflies it and pauses, gazing at the triangle of white cotton beneath."
But consider that this setup is then paired with positively carnal violence. As the brawl heats up, Pitt narrates. "There is a tingling along my jaw and in my hand. I feel the flesh knitting, the Vyrus in overdrive, closing my wounds as they are inflicted...the stiletto enters my back, is plunged into my liver twice before I can seize his arm, hunch forward and toss the enforcer to a far corner of the room. The pain is more persistent this time. The healing tickle not such a balm. The Vyrus is fighting a losing battle against the damage I'm absorbing. I must feed."
Hmmm. A character remarks of evil-father Horde at the end of the novel that "his taste for youth seemed to have more to do with inflicting pain than receiving pleasure." Based on Already Dead, this seems a relatively apt assessment of Huston's own predilections. ...more
This book was suggested to me by a professor friend of mine after I admitted to having a deep love of morbid crime novels. Turns out, this is a preferThis book was suggested to me by a professor friend of mine after I admitted to having a deep love of morbid crime novels. Turns out, this is a preference shared by a good number of highbrow university folks. Because, according to my friend, 'academics love violence!'
Caught Stealing certainly won't disappoint in the violence and mayhem catagories. This is the first novel in awhile that Ive found myself skimming over sections for the sheer pain of imagining the multitudinous ways that the human body can be broken down. Hank Thompson, the novel's victimized man-on-the-run, starts the book as an ex-baseball star with bad feet and a life-threatening drinking problem. As the novel goes on, he loses a kidney, is roundly beaten by Russian mafioso, tortured by a techno-punk teenager, picked up by pair of psychotic cowboy-hatted bank-robbing brothers, and blamed for the murders of pretty much everyone he knows. He goes from a regretful, but relatively decent, sad-sack to a hardcore vigilante within about a week (and less than 300 pages). As one character remarks, with rather endearing cheesiness, "...Watchin' you, it's like watchin' a egg get all hard boiled."
From its opening pages straight through to the conclusion, this is a book that thrives arrow escapes, deus ex machinas, lucky (and mostly unlucky) coincidences, quick thinking, and minor slip-ups--basically, on a handful of well-appointed, fluid plot pivots. Huston likes to pull the rug out from under his character every ten pages or so, keeping both Hank and the reader wondering who can be trusted, who will be betrayed, and who will save the day--only to then fuck it up all over again. It's a fun, fast read that can be easily finished over the course of several long train rides in one weekend.
The fact that it bounces all over New York City (and mainly the village) with such geographic accuracy is one of the book's more pleasant features--shootouts and brawls take place at the cube at Astor Place, the churchyard at St. Mark's church, up and down Ave. A, on the L train, in a Manhattan Mini Storage, the Fresh Kills landfill, The Chelsea Hotel, the movie theater on 14th and Broadway, etc. etc. A New Yorker also has to appreciate Huston's fondness for insider jokes: "I sit in the window at the Starbucks, the one on Astor Place as opposed to the one a block away on 3rd Avenue. New Yorkers like to complain about the proliferation of Starbucks and Barnes & Noble shops...But me? I'm all in favor of anyplace in this city that has a public bathroom." (There are also a few clever surveys of paper headlines as Hank becomes more infamous: "The Daily News: MANHUNT! The Post: MANHUNT!!! The New York Times: Suspect Sought in Barroom Slayings.")
Apparently, Caught Stealing is the first installment of a trilogy. The next time I need a good 'palate cleanser' in between reads, I'll certainly check out the next book....more