Well, this was the most civil bookclub discussion ever. I think the most dramatic element of the night was the debate over whether or not June was a gWell, this was the most civil bookclub discussion ever. I think the most dramatic element of the night was the debate over whether or not June was a good mom. (She was! Total Martyr Mom.) That conversation lasted about four minutes.
There's something about so much back-to-back tragedy, so many people with such bad "luck" all being linked to one another, that makes me feel a little bit dirty to read for enjoyment. Like, I'll watch a horror movie without batting an eyelash (OK, probably I do blink at some point in those 1½-2 hours), which is clearly a scenario where a bunch of connected people are having a really shitty time simultaneously, but this is like emotional axe-murder, in a land where everybody has their own little collection of miniature homicidal maniacs, fussing around their little lives with their little axes, making everything really hard for them all the time with the little cutting. Bills maniacs, beat-y husband maniacs, gossip maniacs, bad gas stove maniacs, mom's shitty boyfriend maniacs, telephone scam artist maniacs, high school bully maniacs, dirty cop and crooked lawyer maniacs, stoner screw-up maniacs, punchy stranger maniacs with their maniac babies, daughter who just doesn't get it maniacs, actual stabby murderer maniacs; it's exhausting, and like: how do you guys all know each other? Did you ever have a family? More like, did you ever have a relationship with a single human being who wasn't a trainwreck? Not as catchy a title, I'll admit. Anyway, it makes me feel a little bit guilty, like I'm just reading this to feel better about my life not sucking this bad, and for the lives of everyone I know also not sucking this bad. Then again, with books like this, I think it really comes down to how you wrap it all up. And I am good with how this was wrapped.
This book is confidently yet simply written, and just zoooooms by because you do get invested in the characters and want them to just stop getting axed, please. I chose my rating not to reflect some kind of "meh" stance, but rather because the words "I liked it" are exactly correct....more
Perfect for the weird lady from a screwed-up and unusual childhood—and who has a penchant for flights of fancy—in your life! I personally loved this oPerfect for the weird lady from a screwed-up and unusual childhood—and who has a penchant for flights of fancy—in your life! I personally loved this one, which is, I can assure you, quite telling....more
I'm working on a longer review for another thing, but in short: this is a book about a lowlife who goes from living with his mom, working a shitty jobI'm working on a longer review for another thing, but in short: this is a book about a lowlife who goes from living with his mom, working a shitty job, and wishing he was a real writer, to playing a pretend real writer for the Stasi in order to spy on real writers*. We come in right around the point where he starts losing his shit.**
*Maybe they're real writers. **Where everybody starts losing their shit. ...more
I wasn't big on the strict realist stuff, the "here is a person of privilege working through some emotions and dealing with some social situations" biI wasn't big on the strict realist stuff, the "here is a person of privilege working through some emotions and dealing with some social situations" bits that made up the middle of the book, but August Eschenburg is masterful, and its place as story one casts a long shadow on the rest of the collection. Cathay has its Borgesian moments, resplendant, magestic, luscious, easily the runner-up. The demurely magical-realist pieces In the Penny Arcade and Snowmen are rich with the wonders of childhood hitting the hard reality of lost innocence and cold, calculating adulthood, and segue nicely with the aforementioned stories. Unfortunately, those bits in the middle—The Sledding Party being especially weak—drag the collection down as a whole enough that were it not for August Eschenburg, a story I seriously can't sing the praises of loudly enough, I would have probably dropped a three on this thing and then remembered it in only blurry bits a mere few months from now. I'm assuming the arrangement was a matter of quantity over quality, considering this book is slim even with the filler, but I really think that yanking the middle out of this would've been a good call, if only for the purpose of cohesion. Even as it stands, though, I am very intrigued by Millhauser's style, and will be reading on. Whew, that first story? Swoosh-swoosh....more
Bureaucracy is so maddening. If you're a paper-pusher like me, welcome to your nightmare day-scream. The best way to describe this novella is to say iBureaucracy is so maddening. If you're a paper-pusher like me, welcome to your nightmare day-scream. The best way to describe this novella is to say it's basically the Irish Change For A Dollar, but written years before Cross and Odenkirk were even born. A civil servant gets locked in the office, and it takes days of phone calls and climbing the whole chain of command to get him out...rather than just breaking down the door, because that would make too much sense to meet protocol. Tragedy and hilarity ensue.
I'm delighted to report that I'm soon to begin writing some reviews here and there for an excellent old publication called World Literature Today. While that's certainly going to be fun, so far the best part has been getting to walk up to the shelf of, for various reasons, passed-up or no longer needed reviewables and pluck Dalkey titles off like berries. Those poor little orphan books once destined for a trash bin will always find a welcoming home on my bookshelf. This is one of those titles, and it is a gem. And a berry. And an orphan....more
Well, I already knew that Season Two of True Detective is a poorly written, criminally boring, badly acted puzzle that no one in their right mind wantWell, I already knew that Season Two of True Detective is a poorly written, criminally boring, badly acted puzzle that no one in their right mind wants to bother solving, full of stupid lines that no one in their right mind wants to bother making sense of, generously assuming there even is any sense to be made of them. Now I also know, hey, it is kinda derivative, too! I mean, that was obvious, but to be more specific: it is a half-assed homage to what appears to be one of the most amateur of books by Daniel Woodrell, a writer juuuust unknown enough that a google search for "daniel woodrell true detective" did not pop up any noteworthy comparisons, by which I mean any comparisons. Due to the sheer coincidence of me reading this around the same time I've been hate-watching Season Two, I had my suspicions that Woodrell has been a big influence on Pizzolatto for probably a long time. Little things, like one of the not-quite-baddest-badguys in this novel being named "Pete LEDOUX" and the backwoods Loooseana setting and the hardened, drearily witty cop taking on the two-headed beast of corruption that is city government and the criminal underworld, of the latter making the actions of the former look like something they are not before brushing them under the rug, etc. Hell, there's even a stray character with the surname "Fontenot," which you may recall was also the last name of poor little Marie from ickyvideo:
Maybe you're thinking that's all pretty circumstantial, but in that scene a couple of weeks ago where Vince Vaughn looks around and delivers the line "Here we are, under the bright lights" (you know, the title of this fucking book), I actually whooped aloud all "BOOM, MUTHAFUCKA! I KNEW IT!!" Of course, I was really just talking to myself since this season sucks so bad that no one will watch it with me. The plots are notably similar (high-profile murder of dirty city employee, let's cover it up, cop wants the real truth, etc). It's like he went from subtle nods to Woodrell in badass Season One, to borderline-theft in Season Two.
Now that I've let out some of my pent-up rage, I should address more than the fact that this book has been half-heartedly plagiarized to make the most disappointing mash-up shitshow Season Two ever, and I'm saying this as a defender of the tail-end of Twin Peaks, if that tells you anything about how far my generosity extends for previously groundbreaking television on the slump. Oh, and speaking of Twin Peaks, how about True Detective Season Two's watered down Julee Cruise Roadhouse scenes where two of the main characters sit in a smoky dive drinking whiskey and staring into each other's eyes as the room fills with the gloomy music of a strange-looking woman who seems totally, almost Lynchianly out of place, or that part where the detective got shot by a faceless stranger at the end of the episode and left us on a cliffhanger until the next episode which opens with a revelatory dream sequence? Oh my god, talk about Daniel Woodrell, talk about Daniel Woodrell, this is a review of Rene Shade #1, not the second season of True Detective. Let me try again.
This book is really fun, and I fully intend to read all three now that I've randomly found a copy of the whole series for pretty cheap. It made me understand a little better why people totally eat up crime fiction, especially from folks who are allegedly especially good writers like, umm, Raymond Chandler, right? Right. There are precisely three reasons this book is getting such a flippant rating from me: 1) It consistently has that too clever Ocean's Eleven style dialogue, where even the most minor character is your sharpest-witted friend, exchanges that would be perhaps believable on the internet where time and consideration CAN be used in order to compose measured responses and/or witty banter, but is hard to buy as real-time exchanges between cops and crooks and scapegoat rednecks, especially not every time they open their mouths. I gather that this is a trend in gumshoe fiction, though, but I haven't read enough to say. Even my gold standard that is True Detective Season One was guilty of this at times (see: every exchange between Marty and Rust regarding religion, for example), but coasted for me since the subjects tended to be ones that the two men had pretty clearly given a lot of thought to (see: every exchange between Marty and Rust regarding religion, for example). I'll grant that dynamic back-and-forths make for fast and entertaining reading, though. I mean, at least it's not full of absurd, nonsensical metaphor and weak, nonsensical insults, and boring, nonsensical characters with shoddy, nonsensical motives where people go around fucking their enemies with their enemies' mothers' headless corpses, since that's somehow scientifically possible without the attachment of a dildo to said headless corpse, and remind me why the corpse has to be headless? Fuck, where was I? Right, two. 2) Some pretty intensely overwritten parts, where the metaphors just ran and ran and ran all day, hammering home the comparisons they were drawing which were already wince-inducing even before they were home-runned for team purple. To be fair, there is also an awful lot of wonderful imagery contained within the florid parts because, duh, it's Daniel Woodrell, a man who could describe your face off all day long and make it look easy. In his later books, he has tamed this and learned to use it in a more spare and effective way, but early on (such as this book), it could get pretty vulgar at times, the whole descriptions thing. At least they always make sense, though, unlike when a person says your walk sounds like erasers clapping or whatever. 3) It made me think about True Detective Season Two too much. I just couldn't have a pure reading experience with the book for that simple fact. Unfair? Yes. Sorry, Daniel Woodrell. Sorry if I've made you feel a little "apoplectic."...more
While trudging through a craggy cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi a few weeks ago, I realized I had forgotten to pick up some flowers, a pretty ridiculoWhile trudging through a craggy cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi a few weeks ago, I realized I had forgotten to pick up some flowers, a pretty ridiculous oversight on my part considering that delivery of said flowers had been the entire purpose of this trip to said cemetery. I stopped underneath a tree to collect some trumpet flowers that had dropped from their vine in the middle of its strangulation act, and was given a nasty bite by this monstrously large black carpenter ant that had been hiding in one of them. In that moment, I knew that, in a world with an afterlife, the old bastard I was coming to see would have been having a good laugh at my expense.
The feller and I were on an anniversary road trip of the nerdiest variety, coming to hang around in the old stomping grounds of several literary giants, and to spend time and far too much money in one of the better bookstores I've ever entered. One thing we were going to do per his request was see the famous whiskey-bottled tomb of William Faulkner, and, at my request, the shamefully less-trafficked burial plot of Barry Hannah, who had died in that very town just five years prior after shoving the likes of Wells Tower and Donna Tartt out into the written world, along with a generous body of some of the most soulfully flamboyant and singular works of fiction composed in the English language over the last hundred years or more.
I decided that a single plastic flower would have to do, one which had been blown from elsewhere in the cemetery and left to collect dirt on an otherwise bare patch of grass. After finally locating in the most, no pun intended, buried back part of the graveyard, his headstone - mysteriously shared with a woman who died mere months after him in some ominously romantic June and Johnny twist of fate, perhaps - I planted the flower like a flag at the base of a tree growing strong on the couple's fertilizing remains.
After sitting for a while on the provided cement bench, we decided to leave and save Faulkner and further cemeterying for another day, as we did not know yet that ole Bill was actually this same place's showpiece, since graveyards apparently have those. We had come in from the side and so had noticed neither the giant plaque in Faulkner's honor, nor the tiny marble steps leading to his larger, fancier plot placed prominently at the front of the grounds. It's easy to read into the disparities between the two men's locations in death, like as some illustration of unsung heroes overshadowed by another hero's accolades or whatever, but I'm sure it's really more an issue of the two men dying fifty years apart from one another, and many other people dying in-between.
After some Faulknering and more book-purchasing, we departed Yoknapatawpha County and headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas, an area just shy of Drake's Creek, the alleged basis for Donald Harington's fictional town of Stay More. Before this trip, what I knew of Fayetteville was basically this: somethingsomething Bill Clinton. But ohhh boy, howdy, that place is gorgeous with nature and culturally thriving and adorable and, as it turns out, the home of Barry Hannah's alma mater, he having graduated from the MFA program at University of Arkansas after being its very first graduate-level creative writing student. Big shoes, boy. In a cutesy bookstore in that cutesy town, we met a chatty former Okie and bookseller who was, somewhat of a coincidence, not just familiar with Hannah's work, but very familiar indeed, and told some fun and predictably crazy tales about him. How he used to ride around Oxford Square with an oxygen tank strapped to his motorcycle, smoking cigarettes, likely drunk, offering rides like some Southern Hunter Thompson. Or how he was fired by one of the universities he had worked for after pulling a handgun out in class in order to illustrate some point about what it takes to be a real writer. He was everywhere on that trip, on posters around Fayetteville for a band coming through town who go by the name "Water Liars" (a wonderful story in Airships), and even happenstancing the week or so before when the feller found this used for just a few bucks in an OKC book shop, calling us out with its pure generosity of spirit:
So, this book. Once again, Hannah's fresh voice was miraculously capable of invoking in me a feeling akin to those early years of readerly entrancement, back as a kid tearing through series books and marveling at what a wonderful thing it is to fall under the spell of words printed on a page, and for all else to simultaneously slip away and fall into proper place, a joyful reader once more. Ya know, except the adult version who actually has some idea what incredible writing looks like, and how rare a thing it is. This is not my favorite collection by Hannah so far, and I would by no means recommend it as a starting place. I would encourage you (again) to read Airships, or the splendorous insanity that is Ray. Hell, just read this, the previously mentioned first story in Airships, and make your decision. And then read Ray. Dear goodness gracious, read Ray. Then and only then, read this. You will have a better idea what you are seeing by then, and hopefully won't be so put off by the offensive language and the occasional squick. You'll maybe even be excited about all the Hannah reading to come for you, and go so far as to purchase nerdy little trinkets like this:
I am rating this based on other Hannah books rather than all other books, which is not terribly fair to Barry, but is nothing but a favor to those other writers out there, trying and trying again to tap out something special. Read 'em and weep....more
Maybe reading this and Blueprints of the Afterlife at the same time, two blue text covered dystopian-ish novels about not the complete annihilation ofMaybe reading this and Blueprints of the Afterlife at the same time, two blue text covered dystopian-ish novels about not the complete annihilation of society, but rather the irreversable and extremely obvious altering of it, was a bit of an overload. Or maybe the quiet yet somehow also too painterly indie film feel of Find Me never stood a chance against Boudinot's refreshingly inventive swing-dancey writing style, but this one started up high on the mountain, and then dove straight off. I was really into it for just over a third, and then it became more and more of a chore to read until at the end I was just itchy and eager for it to be done. People you have not seen and have been constantly thinking about do not show up in the middle of nowhere on buses you happen to be riding on. From my experience, life does not just hand you fast cash opportunities when you start running desparately low on money. People in (literally) angel wings don't offer you shelter from the cold when you are cold and in need of shelter. Did she ever get found? Good question. In short, I just didn't get it, or into it, or some combination of the two. Or maybe I've read too many books of this type by now, and have totally unfair standards. I will say, though, that the hardcover of this book smells incredibly good. My greatest enjoyment was occasionally covering my face with it and just breathing it in.
Incidentally, there's this scene in Blueprints at a Science Fair where a perfect symbol of this book is described: it's a machine whose singular purpose is to completely destroy itself until every part is separated from every other part, and all you are left with is a pile of seemingly unrelated pieces of scrap. Reading this felt like watching that happen, except not on purpose.
Whew. This is gonna make some people angry. Audiences don't always take well to certain nuances of characters' character, creations neither despicableWhew. This is gonna make some people angry. Audiences don't always take well to certain nuances of characters' character, creations neither despicable nor admirable, especially in scenarios begging for a hero. Sometimes the nuance of the character is that he or she is, in certain regards, simple or selfish or superficial or mentally weak, or all of the above. This can be pot-stirring particularly in the case of a female character. All the female characters in this case, and many of the males, as well. Everybody has been thrust into a catastrophic situation, with only their naturally limited resources of character in order to survive, constantly being forced to come to terms with conflicting demands such as their own survival (both physical and emotional) and the survival of those they care about. Of course, that is a common conundrum addressed by the speculative/dystopian genre, but there often seems to be a too clear line drawn between the goodies and the baddies, the willing to starve first and the too-willing cannibals, the pure of heart who gravitate toward one another, and the lacking in heart who do the same. This is not a book about that divide. This is about the baddies and the accidental baddies, the people who make the wrong choices because they are not made up of enough of the right materials to make the right choice all the time, and so they fall victim to the magnetic pull of the baddies. Sometimes.
I didn't want to have to mention this again, and to be truthful, it really didn't even dawn on me anew until I was about 75% through this book, but Watkins' biography should be taken into consideration in a critical reading of this novel. In particular, the fact that Watkins' father was a penitent former member of the Manson Family. A girl-scouter, if you'll pardon the accidental pun, a finder of wayward souls and heavy-handed doser of drugs. A seducer for Manson, selling the lie of a coming apocalypse and a new world in which the cult would be both the refuge and the path forward, a polyamorous utopia of carnal-spiritual sensation helmed by a charismatic prophet. I'm actually amazed that it took me so long to remember that fact, considering that the vast majority of this novel takes place after the apocalypse in a new world in which there's this cult selling itself as both the refuge and the path forward, a polyamorous utopia of carnal-spiritual sensation helmed by a charistmatic prophet, a finder of wayward souls and heavy-handed doser of drugs. Durp.
Our "hero" is one of those wayward souls. Maybe that gives you an idea of why I say this book is going to piss some people off. Throughout my reading, I increasingly thought about this story in Maureen McHugh's excellent collection titled (aptly) After the Apocalypse. The titular story, in fact, in which a mother's fragile loyalty is tested in the face of her family's desparate need. It rang those bells so much that I started thinking maybe I was confused, and it was actually a story in Battleborn, Watkins' collection of short stories, until I pulled the McHugh out of the stacks to fact-check my memory. Though the stories are from different voices, they touch on similar themes. Of course, Watkins had what McHugh did not: hundreds of pages in which to expand on her characterization, to strip away simple surface-level selfishness and reveal all those layers underneath: remorse, self-hatred, self-aggrandizement, rationalizations, emotional pulls, biological pulls, the bane of bad memories, the tendency to also do the right effing thing sometimes. All this compounded by drug-addiction and calculated manipulation. It's a nuanced portrait, if not a pretty one.
Though the actual scientific validity of this doomsday scenario is not for little old me to say, I will say that it's convincingly - if at times a wittle bit excrutiatingly - sold, and topical to boot. Basically the California drought has stretched its way across the continental United States, leaving behind a dried up wasteland of dust, a "dune sea", powered by the decreasingly blocked winds which shove it ever inland, passing over and destroying cities, leaving behind a desert. It never rains, there is no life, there are only a few stragglers surviving on rations, etc, and a cult who follow the dune sea around like it's a/the god, raiding the remaining ghost towns as the tide recedes. Their leader is either a dowser in a waterless world, or a snakeoil salesman with moves. But that's also not for me to say.
As before, Watkins' prose is electric, yet controlled, confident, consistent. This does not read like a first novel, but rather a beloved project from a seasoned writer. I'll slap some quotes on here once the book drops next month, but until then I'll refrain out of respect for the fact that it's still potentially on the cutting table. If you like somewhat depressing, intricately constructed dystopian novels with strong, lyrical writing and shifty, realistic characters facing typical human issues in an inhumane world without heroes, then voilà, your book has arrived.
Oh, and there was some nonsense here before about winning the goodreads giveaway by fighting terrorists or something (oh, uh, disclosure), but I took it out due to my fear that the review would look so long that no one would read it, and my goal of selling it to as much of the right audience as possible would never be realized...just to clear up any potentially confusing or seemingly out-of-nowhere comments in the comment thread....more
One of my presents from AWP! I should have finished this a week ago, but I heard about the leak of the first four episodes of the new Game of ThronesOne of my presents from AWP! I should have finished this a week ago, but I heard about the leak of the first four episodes of the new Game of Thrones season, and spent several of my reading hours meditating on that terrible tragedy, not reading this awesome story collection, planning my month-long G.O.T. hunger-strike, wishing I hadn't done that to myself...
I don't really have a review in me this morning, but I did feel compelled to jump on here and advise you against unquestioningly believing analyses claiming that this whole book is just rape and murder, all hinged on shock-value over artistic merit, and passing on it due to said claims. It is a bit darker than her other stuff, but it's not like she was ever writing Precious Moments copy to begin with. One of the first stories I ever read by her was about a foodie couple chopping off their (well, her) toes for stew. I mean, c'mon. Anyway, she has always managed to be playful in the all-consuming muck of oft-shitty existence, and I find a comforting balance in that, a hopeful practicality which I haven't had sufficient coffee to describe at this juncture. But so yeah, it's Amelia Gray. Recommended for those of you who love Amelia Gray, and also for those of you who like Amelia Gray. And since quite a few of these stories appear to be the product of heartbreak, you hurty-hearts should maybe read it, too.
Oh, and I also wanted to tell anyone interested that the back cover claims she is currently working on another novel, which is exciting for those of you who loved the other one as much as I.
Thanks for that, Goodreads Trending. That was...well, that was something, all right. I especially thank you for adding to my deep-seated fears about hThanks for that, Goodreads Trending. That was...well, that was something, all right. I especially thank you for adding to my deep-seated fears about how everyone is awful to everyone forever and ever and ever. And because I love having even my self-destructive, paranoia-induced cynicism validated? And because it was good? On to the next one!
Oh, and don't be fooled by the cover; I assure you this is not a Pottery Barn catalog....more