If you are looking for a funny book about school shootings, child molestation, police misconduct, and society's desensitization to violence, then VernIf you are looking for a funny book about school shootings, child molestation, police misconduct, and society's desensitization to violence, then Vernon God Little would be the book for you. Otherwise, you might not care very much.
Not that Vernon God Little is really about any of that, even though the story's opening in the aftermath of seventeen teenagers being killed by a classmate and ending with a Death Row reality show where viewers vote on which inmate will be the next to be executed might lead you to think so. What the book is centrally about is how to find peace in the face of injustices both small, like having to wait forever for your side-by-side refrigerator/freezer to be delivered, and large, like being tried for 31 killings that you didn't commit. Vernon eventually figures things out, as does the town, but it's all a moot point by then, as you are already thinking about what else you have to read.
Nonetheless, Vernon is a likable -- if somewhat dim -- young man and DBC Pierre has a way of sneaking in subtle and poignant plot points in between scenes of gore and general grossness. I didn't have an extreme reaction to this book, either for or against, which makes me think that I'm not the audience Pierre was seeking. ...more
The plot of Joe College is more cliche than classic. We're set up to root for Danny, a Yale junior from working class New Jersey who spends his vacatiThe plot of Joe College is more cliche than classic. We're set up to root for Danny, a Yale junior from working class New Jersey who spends his vacations driving his dad's lunch truck to office parks and construction sites. Our sympathy for him is presumably supposed to increase when Danny learns that the secretary he dated over summer break, managed to get into bed over winter break, and whose phone calls he's assiduously avoided since returning to school is pregnant with his child. Except you don't want to root for Danny; in fact, you kind of hope that one of the many people who, during the course of the novel, want to kick Danny's ass are wildly successful at the task.
All of the characters in this book are cookie-cutter. Danny's college friends are mostly interchangeable and except for minor distinctions like which one hates his parents and which one is Korean and which one is always in the bedroom having sex with his girlfriend, Matt might as well be Max, and Sang might as well be Ted. The working-class guys, both on the lunch truck route and in the dining hall kitchen at Yale where Danny has a part-time dishwashing job are all vaguely menacing, and bitter about feeling inferior to guys like Danny. And the women seem to exist only in relation to how attractive Danny does or does not find them. Then there are the mob figures who are looking to monopolize the New Jersey lunch truck routes, one of whom Perotta has christened Vito "Meatballs" Scalzone. Not that it's not catchy, but it is the kind of name you'd expect to hear in a National Lampoon parody of a Mafia movie.
Superficial characterization and Danny's dinkery aside, I enjoyed the book. It's stronger in the Yale scenes, and Perotta gets some aspects of college life exactly right: the interminable conversations with pseudo-intellectual classmates about topics such as whether Less is Indeed More, ritualistic alcohol consumption, and grad school dropouts who remain on the fringes of university life by taking jobs as off-campus apartment managers or dining hall cooks. And Danny's sang-froid in absurd situations is often laugh-out-loud funny, if not exactly credible. As much as I was indifferent to Danny, I kind of wish there were a sequel to Joe College. I think that at middle age, after life has knocked the snot out of him a few times, Danny might be a lot more likable. ...more
If there's a theme to this collection, it might be How Difficult Christmas Can Be For the Bourgeoisie. The writing is good, as one would expect, but rIf there's a theme to this collection, it might be How Difficult Christmas Can Be For the Bourgeoisie. The writing is good, as one would expect, but really how many melancholy stories do we need about how lonely and alienated many people feel over the holidays? There are a couple of grimly humorous pieces, but, overall, unless you are one of those people who enjoy hating Christmas, this book is fairly depressing. ...more
Dying in a Strange Land is the final book in Murayama's tetralogy of the Oyama family, and it's told from three different points of view: mother Sawa'Dying in a Strange Land is the final book in Murayama's tetralogy of the Oyama family, and it's told from three different points of view: mother Sawa's, eldest son Toshio's (who also goes by Steven), and third son Kiyoshi's (aka Morris). This coincides with the perspectives of the three earlier books, All I Asking for Is My Body being Kiyo's story, Five Years on a Rock Sawa's, and Plantation Boy Toshio's. The shifting perspectives in Dying are sometimes effective and sometimes just repetitive; although I liked this book a lot, I thought it was the weakest of the four.
Dying covers roughly a 40-year period, from the end of World War II through the mid 1980s. For anyone who has not read the earlier books, much of it will be confusing. The rhetorical tension in the saga has always been based on Toshio and Kiyoshi's respective relationships with their parents, Sawa and Isao, and explores the concept of filial duty that often becomes a source of conflict between Issei parents and their Nisei children. For the Oyamas in particular, the conflict centers around a $6000 debt incurred by Isao's father and passed down to him and later to his sons. Although the debt has long since been paid off, it is referenced more than once and remains a symbol and a sore point, particularly for Toshio. Dying continues to examine the idea of filial duty, but perhaps because this novel has become more clearly autobiographical (Kiyoshi/Morris's life mirrors Murayama's in many respects, including the publication of a novel that is identical to All I Asking), the tone has shifted away from the more subtle stance taken in the earlier novels that each of the children has been filial in his or her own way. The character of Toshio suffers the most from Murayama's harder line; in Dying, he has become consumed by bitterness that plays out in cruelty. Arguably the most sympathetic of the Oyama children in the earlier books, he becomes, towards the end of Dying almost one-note in his hatefulness, and he probably will be hated by anyone who hasn't read the earlier books.
Dying's major flaw is that Murayama either explains way too much or way too little. Too little, in the sense that this book does not stand on its own without the other three, and too much in that Murayama is overly detailed, particularly in the Kiyoshi chapters, when trying to set the time and place. He starts many of the chapters with a laundry list of current events, and I get that he's trying to show that Kiyo's outlook, unlike Tosh's, is concerned with more than just his own business and success, but once he's getting down to things like how many electoral votes McGovern got in the 1972 election, your eyes can't help but glaze over. Similarly in the Sawa chapters, there's a ton of detail about who's related to whom and which cousin was adopted out to whose family after their son died, etc. but since none of these people are important to the story (or even get mentioned again), it's a distraction. Nonetheless, I think this is an excellent and important book, particularly for anyone interested in Japanese-American and/or Hawaiian history and literature....more
Yokohama, California is the first published collection of short stories by a Japanese American. Originally slated for publication in 1942, publicationYokohama, California is the first published collection of short stories by a Japanese American. Originally slated for publication in 1942, publication was delayed until 1949 due to the onset of WWII and anti-Japanese sentiment. It contains 22 stories of uneven quality, and many of the pieces can't properly be considered short stories but rather character studies or vignettes. Of the fuller pieces, "Say It With Flowers," "Nodas in America" and "Business at Eleven" are especially good.
What was more interesting to me were the two introductions. Appearing first is the 1985 introduction written by Lawson Fusao Inada, a poet and Professor of English at Oregon State, followed by the 1949 introduction by author William Saroyan. Inada's introduction is fulsome, to say the least:
This is more than a book. This is legacy, tradition. This is the enduring strength, the embodiment of a people. This is the spirit, the soul. This is the community, the identity. This is the pride, the joy, the love. This is Yokohama, California. This is Japanese America.
Well okay, but no. This is Japanese America at a specific time and in a specific place as seen through the lens of Toshio Mori. Let's not get crazy and overstate things.
But contrast that with Saroyan's introduction, which is at best condescending and at worst insulting:
Of the thousands of unpublished writers in America there are probably no more than three who cannot write better English than Toshio Mori. His stories are full of grammatical errors. His use of English, especially when he is most eager to say something good, is very bad. Any high-school teacher of English would flunk him in grammar and punctuation. ... All I can do is hope that Toshio Mori will become more lucid ...
Yikes. Although Saroyan also praises Mori as "an important American writer," I do think he comes perilously close to, "he wrote a book, even though he can't even speak English!" Mori was a second-generation Japanese American, born and raised in the United States. His English is fine. The weird thing is that Mori and Saroyan were quite good friends, which is good I suppose. I'd hate to see what Saroyan would say if he didn't like Mori.
Three stars for the stories themselves, and an extra star for the nutty introductions. ...more
One of the more uneven collections of short stories I've read. Of the nine stories included here, two are very good ("Saint Paul in the Promised Land"One of the more uneven collections of short stories I've read. Of the nine stories included here, two are very good ("Saint Paul in the Promised Land" and "Miles Away"), two are terrible ("Clear Acrylic Enamel" and "Daybreak Over Haleakala/Heartbreak Memories (A Two-Sided Hit)") and the rest are either not at all memorable or are just structured so oddly that the often beautiful writing is overshadowed. One thing all the stories share is that they don't seem like short stories so much as they seem to be extremely filled-out outlines of ideas that Morales had for various novels. Almost all of the stories cover years, if not decades, and use of the flashback/flashforward figures prominently and, after awhile, somewhat annoyingly. ...more