I feel guilty. I've been handing out five star ratings like candy lately. I'm sorry denizens of GR. I simply can't help it. It's one of my literary si...moreI feel guilty. I've been handing out five star ratings like candy lately. I'm sorry denizens of GR. I simply can't help it. It's one of my literary sins. Like how I read too much male American literature and how I still haven't gotten around to finishing The Brothers Karamazov. But the new year is a time for change GR, and as a resolution I've decided be more critical and selective with these barbarous reading habits of mine! To start this off I've decided to read some Margaret Atwood, who is not only a woman but Canadian to top it off. And she's really good and classy and wonderfully literary as well. And of course you're thinking: "Josh, you're crazy! Women can't write literary fiction! It's against the law or something." But set your fears to rest (you prejudiced dirt-bag), she really is awesome.
This novel has fragments of another novel in it, except this novel-within-the-novel corresponds to events and characters in the book, and it's all very original and creative and pretty much impossible for me to convey how awesome and intricate this was, except that it was very well written and compelling and right after finishing it I feel a strong urge to read more of her work.(less)
It's been a looong time since I've found a book compelling enough to keep me up into the wee small hours of the morning, but this book did it for me--...moreIt's been a looong time since I've found a book compelling enough to keep me up into the wee small hours of the morning, but this book did it for me--twice! Incredibly powerful stuff, this.(less)
Essentially Gravity's Rainbow lite, in the sense that it's easier to read and has all the seeds of greatness that really blossomed as Pynchon matured...moreEssentially Gravity's Rainbow lite, in the sense that it's easier to read and has all the seeds of greatness that really blossomed as Pynchon matured as a novelist. Which is not to say that this novel should be overlooked--it's still a great book and shouldn't be ignored any more than Joyce's Portrait should be because of Ulysses. A very powerful novel and an example of the medium at its best, provided you don't mind the manic prose and Pynchon's distinct brand of paranoia.(less)
I'm only technically finished this. But then, I don't think it's really possible to finish a book of poetry like you would a novel. I've finished it i...moreI'm only technically finished this. But then, I don't think it's really possible to finish a book of poetry like you would a novel. I've finished it in the sense that I've read every poem in here at least once. But Whitman spent his whole life writing these poems, so I don't think that quite cuts it. Whatever.
This being such a huge collection, the quality of these poems is understandably mixed. And Whitman seems like the kind of insufferable narcissist who would probably be awful to be around in real life. But that's O.K.. Because the aesthetic highs this book reaches are higher than any poetry I've read before. And it's one of the first collections that's really justified poetry as an art form for me.
So it's pretty good, in case you couldn't guess.(less)
There's something wrong with judging books entirely by some presupposed standard of literary merit. Because it seems to me that a lot of the time the...moreThere's something wrong with judging books entirely by some presupposed standard of literary merit. Because it seems to me that a lot of the time the most cliche-ridden and intellectually barren books are the best. Not that cliches are all good, but they're cliches because they've managed to resonate with enough people to be deemed worthy of imitation. There's probably some Campbellian monomyth type of explanation for this, but what I'm getting at it is that they're the currency of our stories, and in good check they can be used very effectively.
In so many words, Swan Song is a cliche-ridden mess, and that it happens to be a very good book. Pretty much every action movie trope imaginable is utilized here, the characters are all archetypes with almost no personality, and the moral spectrum in post-apocalyptic America is pretty much relegated to black and white. We've all seen these characters and situations before. And normally, I would throw the book down in disgust and write strongly-worded letters to the author, but McCammon does something right. It's never too over-the-top and he doesn't rely of any his tropes to carry the story. It's really well-balanced.
And the story. It's basically The Stand with nuclear bombs instead of superviruses. The characters and plot structure are a bit too similar for this to be a coincidence. No, McCammon unabashedly borrows from The Stand, and does something that makes this totally acceptable: he improves it. Where King overwrites and overdevelops characters, McCammon writes with a remarkable subtlety. Where King makes the apocalypse out to be a minor annoyance, McCammon paints a picture of a hellish nightmare. Where King tells, McCammon shows.
That's another thing. McCammon is an excellent writer. The novel is ~1000 pages and there's no lag time. There was no point where I felt that I was growing tired of the book. Also, just check out the opening line:
"Once upon a time we had a love affair with fire, the president of the United States thought as the match that he'd just struck to light his pipe flared beneath his fingers."
Daaaayum. King ain't got nothin' on this guy.
But I think the most important this about this is just that is was a joy to read. It's dark visions regularly sent shivers down my spine. It has a really deep sense of beauty and a lot of really touching scenes. I have to admit my eyes were watering up quite a bit while reading and I even cried a bit at the ending, tropey action scenes and all.