-It's a surprisingly experimental crime thriller, flirting with meta-fiction as it explores movie people whoThree disconnected thoughts on Get Shorty:
-It's a surprisingly experimental crime thriller, flirting with meta-fiction as it explores movie people who can't quite tell the difference between make-believe and reality. Everyone who comes into contact with Hollywood begins to experience this dissolving border between real and fake almost immediately - they start re-scripting the scenes of their life, imagining the different camera angles from which they could be captured, and are never sure if they're being themselves or playing a part. At one point four chapters go by, and a good deal of plot is developed, and you realize the characters have been sitting at the kitchen island the whole time.
-A good crime writer takes a bunch of cliches and makes them interesting again. Elmore Leonard is a very good crime writer. There's an airport locker in this novel for God's sake - nobody but drug dealers in books and movies ever use those things. I'm surprised there aren't federal agents watching all airport lockers at all times, just arresting anyone who opens them. (In this novel, actually, that's exactly what happens.)
-Conventional wisdom is that Elmore Leonard is really good at dialogue, and it's true. One of the reasons he's so good is that he never lets a character answer a mundane question. A chauffeur holding a name placard at the airport asks his client, "How was your flight?" 99/100 crime writers out have the client say, "Not bad," or "It was a flight, how do you think it was?" Leonard's guy says: "I hope you drive better than you fuckin spell." Genius....more
The best satires make you feel compromised for enjoying them so heartily. This book is a withering critique of British imperialism that seduces you wiThe best satires make you feel compromised for enjoying them so heartily. This book is a withering critique of British imperialism that seduces you with its propulsive narrative of adventure rendered in note-perfect period prose.
Harry Flashman is racist, arrogant, and cowardly, a liar, cheater, and abuser of women. He takes advantage of his friends, happily receives credit for others' bravery, and never gets what he deserves. Looking back as an old man, he cheerfully admits his flaws while remaining unrepentant. In other words, he is the British Empire in miniature.
I loved this book, but I wouldn't blame anyone for getting their hackles up at it. When you find yourself rooting for this appalling human being to get out of another scrape, it definitely pricks the conscience. Look through the reviews and you'll find them full of people grappling with this cognitive dissonance - I don't have an adequate response other than to say it got me to think critically about imperialism and America's own, present-day meddling in Afghanistan and neighboring countries....more
What I love about Dan Simmons is that he pursues his fascinations wherever they lead him, without embarrassment or restraint. And this guy is fascinatWhat I love about Dan Simmons is that he pursues his fascinations wherever they lead him, without embarrassment or restraint. And this guy is fascinated by just about everything.
He's a devotedly genre author with significantly above-average writing chops, so you know you'll always get an unusual premise drawn from multiple traditions, a meticulously crafted world, and complex, layered characters.
For the first two-thirds of The Fifth Heart I was convinced I was reading one of his best. He does a wonderful job portraying the brilliant, prissy, insecure Henry James, and the mystery builds and deepens promisingly. But, as is often the case with Simmons, I'm afraid, the crescendo to the finale takes too long, loses steam, and ultimately underwhelms. That's a big problem in a mystery-thriller. At the same time, the emotional notes he's going for in the final third don't land the way he wants them to, which is a problem for a literary novel.
The Fifth Heart is still worth reading, because like all of Simmons' work, when it's good, it's very very good....more
Listened to this during a grueling two-day wintertime drive up the eastern seaboard. Performed with plenty of flair by Dan Stevens (of Downtown AbbeyListened to this during a grueling two-day wintertime drive up the eastern seaboard. Performed with plenty of flair by Dan Stevens (of Downtown Abbey fame), this ingenious locked-room mystery was the perfect antidote to the grim monotony of the DC beltway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Danbury, Connecticut Arby's drive-thru, among other iconic American thoroughfares. Deserves its reputation as one of the best pure mysteries ever written, and I highly recommend seeking out the Stevens audiobook version for your next road trip through bleak, anonymous territories....more
By nature I'm suspicious of "self-discovery" memoirs, in which some middle-aged person from a privileged background discovers just how happy they coulBy nature I'm suspicious of "self-discovery" memoirs, in which some middle-aged person from a privileged background discovers just how happy they could be if they really embraced their privilege for once and spent a year restoring a Swiss alpine chalet or grooming llamas in Finland.
This is not one of those. Even though it appears to be. A middle-aged American living in Paris stumbles upon a magical little piano shop and rediscovers the joy of music? God help us.
But, somehow, this little book avoids all the pitfalls of the genre -- navel-gazing, preciousness, sentimentality -- and ends up being a superbly entertaining and enlightening story.
It helps a lot that Carhart is a working writer, not just some vain dilettante who snared a book deal. He writes with great clarity about music in general and pianos in particular, and keeps the focus there rather than on himself. The vignettes from his life that he does offer never feel self-serving, but illustrate something about pianos and their place in people's lives.
The book evokes wonder and a sense of possibility without really seeming like it's trying to, and that makes all the difference....more
If this were written any less masterfully, it would be a complete disaster. The narrative, after all, is essentially just one wave after another, setIf this were written any less masterfully, it would be a complete disaster. The narrative, after all, is essentially just one wave after another, set after set, their cobalt-blue walls and feathery tips coming at you endlessly. I can think of few things less interesting than some surfer's catalogue of every wave he's ever ridden, which is more or less what this memoir is.
But, happily, Barbarian Days a beautifully written, absorbing, at times hypnotic work. Finnegan's surfing descriptions are jargon-filled and esoteric, but somehow visceral and crystal-clear at the same time. His wave catalogue (there must be at least a hundred in here, maybe more) gets repetitive but never stops being engaging, especially when someone either has a transcendent ride or gets absolutely battered. And he's wonderful at describing people - in a few sentences, he gives you a lively, often unexpected picture of both their physicality and personality. In some cases (like Bryan Di Salvatore) he fleshes them out over hundreds of pages, until you feel as if they're your friend and surfing buddy, too.
It's not perfect. The book is overly long and begins to wear on you in the final third, as we find Finnegan, now in his forties and fifties, still in the thrall of the same obsession that drove him in teens and twenties, only now that he's an adult it feels less excusably narcissistic. I don't have any problem with a guy going around the world surfing his favorite spots every year, banging out New Yorker essays at night - nice work if you can get it - but I was annoyed at his insistence that his yearly surfing retreats were "not vacations." Just because you choose to spend it getting pummeled by breakers doesn't make it not a vacation, Bill.
It also seemed like an oversight that, in a book that interrogates nearly every aspect of surfing and surf culture, he doesn't spare a single paragraph on the fact that there are no female surfers whatsoever in his sphere. Maleness (and whiteness) is assumed almost everywhere in this book. To me this seems like something worth at least a little reflection. If nothing else, it points to the fact that, in order to live the life of a destitute beach bum chasing endless winter, one must be very privileged indeed. Finnegan's not oblivious to this - he writes incisively about the racialized world of surfing in Hawaii, for example - but I just think he missed the mark slightly in some places.
It never fails - every time you begin to believe you've read all the good books, that there's nothing left out there but dolorous tomes and grocery chIt never fails - every time you begin to believe you've read all the good books, that there's nothing left out there but dolorous tomes and grocery checkout trash, and that you'll never again feel the exhilaration of finding a book that is exactly, perfectly what you didn't know you were looking for, something appears to prove you wrong.
That has happened to me with the discovery of Michael Malone and Uncivil Seasons, which immediately becomes one of my favorite detective novels of all time. It actually combines elements of three distinct genres: the mismatched buddy-cop mystery, the comic novel of small-town life, and the Southern gothic, with the end result that it's just a really good novel.
As a mystery, Uncivil Seasons is first-rate. It's intricate without becoming convoluted, surprising but logical. The plot somehow manages to rope in labor politics, petty crime, Shakespeare, and actual sorcery without abandoning plausibility.
But it's the array of characters--and especially the two protagonists, Justin and Cuddy--that make it special. Malone's style reminds me of Robert Penn Warren, a little less baroque, but with the same dry wit and lyricism that animates All the King's Men. He wonderfully evokes the North Carolina Piedmont, and dialogue is a particular highlight--I couldn't get enough of the repartee between Justin and Cuddy. Lucky for me this is the first in a trilogy....more
Listening to the audiobook of this was an altogether miserable experience, like being trapped in a small room for 12 hours with a bunch of cops who caListening to the audiobook of this was an altogether miserable experience, like being trapped in a small room for 12 hours with a bunch of cops who can't stop arguing.
I thought the audio format might make Connelly's wooden prose more tolerable, but actually it was the opposite. Every stilted phrase was enunciated to perfection by the gravelly-voiced actor. Connelly's bizarre aversion to using contractions made the dialogue feel particularly unnatural.
The story also felt slow and interminable: Bosch driving from one office to another, having one procedural conversation after the next. Occasionally someone you didn't really care about/actively despised dies. Edgar pops up every now and then to make a misogynistic joke, and Rider earns Bosch's respect through her ability to "take it."
The Lincoln Lawyer was pretty enjoyable, but I'm taking a hard pass on the rest of the Bosch series....more