**spoiler alert** Approximately 22% of my youth was spent reading fantasy fiction. Like many young people, my introduction to fantasy was Tolkien’s ub**spoiler alert** Approximately 22% of my youth was spent reading fantasy fiction. Like many young people, my introduction to fantasy was Tolkien’s ubiquitous “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. After that I moved on to Raymond E. Feist and the (still active) adventures in Midkemia and Kelewan. Then the next several years of my life was paved (or not) with the static world mainstays (Dragonlance & Forgotten Realms) and its various offshoots. It was not until I started reading Robert Jordan’s overrated but still superb The Wheel of Time series that I realized that all fantasy does not have to be diluted Tolkien knockoffs or recycled stories in the established Hero’s Quest archetype (although touching on the archetype itself is impossible to avoid)
Of course throughout the years I discovered that there were other authors that pushed the envelope. Ursula K Le Guin, George RR Martin, and others can write a traditional trilogy or epic cycles and bring something new to the genre.
The best fantasy book that I have read since Tolkien is The Name of he Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. When I have a few hours to write my master 10,000 word essay on why “The Name of the Wind” is the best modern fantasy book, you that subscribe to this blog will be the first to know. Possibly the second best fantasy book – and the start to a brilliant trilogy – that I have read since Tolkien is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn as the introduction to “The Final Empire” trilogy. The entire trilogy must be read. There is not a weak book in the series. Typically the second book of a trilogy is its weakest link as the stage is set for the finale. However, Sanderson magnificently produces a second book that builds on the first and becomes transforming instead of transitional. And then, remarkably, does it again with the third and final book.
Published by Tor Fantasy Written by Brandon Sanderson
Although this series, starting with “Mistborn,” came highly recommended, there were two things that almost kept me from buying it. Those two things are the cover that I have showing here (earlier covers are much better) and a blurb review by Romantic Times. The cover is hazy pink and purple, as one can see, and does not look that removed from covers in the romantic fantasy genre. The blurb from Romantic Times – which one has to assume is a service that deals primarily in romances (I wouldn’t know) and that cover was a mite bit suspicious to me. The last thing that I’m going to read is romantic fantasy (well, the last thing next to paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and historical romance – but you get the drift). Luckily I sent my friend who recommended it to me an email which read, “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU IF THIS IS A ROMANCE. AND KILL YOU AGAIN IF IT MENTIONS ANYTHING TO DO WITH A SHAFT OR BEING MOIST.” He wrote me back to tell me to chill out – that there is nary even the hint of sex and the only romance is quite a believable one involving the protagonist. And that relationship is needed for subsequent books and is quite the fulcrum for the remaining story. Whew. Ok, so that is out of the way.
So far one knows that “Mistborn” is not romance, but what is it? It is a richly conceived world with amazingly developed primary characters and a unique “magic” system that is exhilarating to read in action. “Mistborn” is written in a professionally steady prose that allows the events to develop naturally with no distraction. The story is amazingly plotted so that each word leading to each event is the natural evolution of the narrative. Absolutely nothing is contrived. It’s like an excellent director and cinematographer for a movie. When those two work together well the viewer is allowed absorption into the story. That is the talent of Sanderson’s writing. It does not stand in the way of the story and is always just as complex or as simple as it needs to be. That is a rare talent.
The trilogy tells the story of Vin whose cliche description as a poor abused street urchin girl just trying to survive but then is swept up in a world changing adventure is transcended by Sanderson as he creates a uniquely real character where emotions, decisions, and reactions are smoothly transcribed to the page like organic occurrences. The strength of the Vin character is her growth and development which leads to transcendental realism. It’s the perfect character to build a series around.
The Final Empire is bleakly plagued with giant ash pits which cause ash to fall from the sky like snow and the sun to be filtered to a sickly, pale light. Plants struggle to survive and many Skaa slaves spend their lives cleaning water supplies and shoveling ash off of city streets and trade routes. There is also an ever-present mist that comes at sundown. The Skaa are fearful of the mist, but nobles walk at night boldly. There something about the mist; legendary things or old wives tales.
Vin’s world is dominated by The Lord Ruler – an eon old God-King who rules The Final Empire with an iron fist. Nobles in The Final Empire are descendants of those that helped The Lord Ruler ascend to the throne and save the world a thousand years ago. Only those with noble blood can be gifted with the skill of Allomancy. Allomancy allows the Allomancer to “burn” (or use) ingested metals, thereby enhancing various physical and mental capacities. For an additional burst of power, an Allomancer may burn their metal(s) especially quickly, consuming them at an accelerated rate, but gaining greater benefits from them; this is referred to as “flaring” metals. A person who is only able to burn one of the metals listed below is known as a Misting. Anyone capable of burning more than one metal is capable of burning all of them; these people are known as Mistborn.** Allomancers of any kind are rare, though the existence of half breed noble bastards with some allomaic talent are more numerous in the peasant ranks than the Lord Ruler believes. The Great Houses and land owners of the Final Empire live like typical royalty. Those that are not of noble blood are of a proletarian slave class called Skaa. Very few Skaa raise above being a poverty stricken and enslaved work force.
Each chapter of all the books are accompanied by entries from various journals from a different perspective of the world near The Lord Ruler’s age old climb to power. These entries are crucial to the development of the story as they contain clues (and possibly red herrings) that are elemental to The Lord Ruler, all the Lands, and the prophetical hero who is destined to save it all.
The journal entries and discoveries in the narrative itself combine to provide an in-depth mystery to the land, the hero, and the rise of the Lord Ruler to a god. Seeds are planted throughout with great care. Sanderson’s mastery of his own world becomes startlingly evident as small details and threads from early in the series become paramount revelations and clues to solve the mystery by the end of the third book.
Such painstaking planning and detail is impressive and its conclusions jaw dropping. Book 1: Mistborn
Vin is rescued from her street life by Kelsier and his crew of thieves. There is something special about Vin as one of Kelsier’s crew discovers that sets her apart from most street Skaa. This is not a typical thieving nest as one is likely to find in most fantasy writing, but rather a specialized group with varying areas of talent that is known for great strikes and con operations. Think of Kelsier’s crew as something along the lines of “Ocean’s 11″ or “The Sting.” And that is where some of the originality of “Mistborn” comes in to play.
Kelsier’s crew includes a brilliant Keeper of the Terris People called Sazed. The Terris are an indentured race of humans who serve as the ultimate man servant, but secretly cultivate lost and dying knowledge through leaders called Keepers. Sazed’s specialty is archaic religions. His character is charmingly similar to the PG Wodehouse character Jeeves from the loved series of stories with a dash of Nessus the Puppeteer from Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Some Terris people are possessed of a power similar to allomancy but primarily used to record and maintain knowledge that spans the history of the Land – even prior to the Lord Ruler’s Final Empire.
Rounding out Kelsier’s crew of mostly half-breed allomancer mistings are Breeze, an outwardly selfish soother with a heart of gold; Clubbs who has the ability to screen allomancers from being detected and provides safe houses; Ham, a Thug warrior and inquisitive philosopher; Dockson, a non allomancer but Kelsier’s right hand man and organizer; Marsh, Kelsier’s severe brother; and Spook, Clubbs’ shy and awkward young nephew whose allomaic enhanced ability to see and hear is perfect for his role of look out and informant.
“The Final Empire” trilogy is not a standard sword and magic fantasy tale. Instead Kelsier, Vin, and the crew are pulling off a great con job – the grift of the ages – the greatest heist of history – they want to bankrupt, subvert, rebel against, and topple The Final Empire. The plot focusing on The Job streaks along with humor, intrigue, and tension while carrying the brunt of character development. It’s mesmerizing. Some of my favorite movies are con and heist movies where the a group of suave players scam the system and the bad guys while staying a step ahead – even if no one knows it. Sanderson captures that spirit cleanly and with panache.
Kelsier was once the most feared crew leader in the Imperial city of Luthadel. Just as he was about to strike a blow and retire rich with his wife and crew-mate, he was betrayed, caught by The Lord Ruler himself, and sent to a work camp to die. Kelsier, a rare Skaa-Noble halfbreed, escapes the work camp when tragedy strikes and his allomantic talent “breaks” (allomantic talent only surfaces after trauma). Kelsier discovers that not only is he a Allomancer, but he is one of the few that are able to use all metal enhancements, known as Mistborn.
If Kelsier was feared by the nobles and held in awe by the Skaa before escaping and becoming an Mistborn, then afterward he is a ruthlessly serious threat to the nobles (though they are unaware) and ascending to near divine reputation with the Skaa. Kelsier’s crew walks the line between daring and reckless which lead even his most loyal crew-mates to question his sanity and ego. A major set back nearly destroys the crews plan and its lead rebellion and Kelsier’s leadership is questioned even more as he pushes forward.
What are Kelsier’s motives? Is there always another secret? Is he a step ahead like any master con man? ...more
**spoiler alert** A year ago at this time I had been amidst a five year abstinence from the fantasy genre. I felt the genre was tired, unexceptional,**spoiler alert** A year ago at this time I had been amidst a five year abstinence from the fantasy genre. I felt the genre was tired, unexceptional, and hackneyed. My faith in the genre has been (selectively) reborn since then due to the efforts from Patrick Rothfuss (”The Name of the Wind”), Brandon Sanderson (The Final Empire Trilogy), and now John D Brown and the first entry in his new trilogy, “Servant of a Dark God.”
First of all let me say that I love the fact that serious and erudite fantasy is making the move back toward shorter series (and in some cases even stand-alone books). It doesn’t matter how good of a writer one is, carrying a series to 7, 8, 12, or more books is going to lead to duds, delays, alienated fans, and an uneven overall narrative. No one has done it well. Beyond that I enjoy reading an author’s idea for more than just one world and concept.
Brown advised me on Twitter (he is @authorjohnbrown) that “Servant of a Dark God” is book one of a trilogy. I’m looking forward to the other two with great anticipation. In interest of full disclosure, Brown sent me a gratis copy of the book, but this is the same review I would have written even if he would not have.
Perhaps my favorite thing about “Servant” is its pace. A lot happens during the course of a narrative, but it is over a relatively short amount of time and the writing lets the events unfold naturally. One is introduced to the protagonists in the form of an extended family and their friends. The impression that one gets while reading is that the land and its people would feel right at home in “A Little House on the Prairie.” It is simple folks that are introduced to the reader and one understands that their world is confined to a small crumb of the greater world outside. But that larger world is only hinted at and never shown.
The given names in “Servant of a Dark God” are supremely organic and lend a touch of authenticity. Names like River, and Sugar, and Legs seem to frame a place uninfluenced by the real world but at the same time familiar and relateable.
Talen is a teenager living life relatively drama-free on his Da’s farm. The region is under constant attack from the Bone Faces, a barbarian race of invaders, but those skirmishes have become a way of life for Talen and his family (Talen, his Da – Hogan, and brother Ke have all fought in the skirmishes) and days bleed out slowly in an otherwise comfortable manner.
Talen is not immediately likeable in the sense of a traditional Hero’s Quest plot device. However, he is instantly recognizable being an awful lot like most teenage boys. There is more than a little of oneself that shows in Talen’s stubbornness, childish presumptions, and lofty views of his own cleverness. That makes the goodness of his family even more profound. Hogan is a stern father with a hint of humor and obviously adores his family. River, Talen’s sister, is an industrious and quick-witted girl whom everyone looks to as a problem solver. Talen’s bull of a brother, Ke, is already an accomplished warrior of great strength like their Da. Talen’s best friend and cousin, the loyal but sheltered Nettle, is also present at the farm.
The quiet of Talen’s life is shattered one day while running a simple errand. Talen’s people are a conquered race that live in tentative civility with its conquerors (perhaps somewhat similar to Native Americans in the first half of the 20th Century). While on errand, Talen is chased down by the roused townsmen and officials from a nearby town and savagely beaten before the Bailiff intervenes. It seems that some of Talen’s people (his race) were found to be practicing sleth (unauthorized users of magic only allowed to superior religious-like leaders) and that the children of the sleth, called hatchlings, had fled into the surrounding forest. All of Talen’s race are considered complicit in the offense, and possible harborers of the hatchlings, by towns-folk and tensions are running high. After the beating Talen decides to honor his family and race by doing what he can to track down the hatchlings.
The magic system in “Servant of a Dark God,” is interestingly complicated and purposely left obscured by the author. It is revealed to the reader that most of the magic is based on Fire and Soul and Earth, though Fire is by far the most used and explained. A man’s Fire is the energy contained in his remaining days. When one is able to channel Fire, he is also burning off hours, days, or weeks of his life. The effect is called multiplying, which simply means present physical attributes are enhanced by the amount of Fire one can channel. Fire can be woven into items so a normally mundane user can take advantage of the Fire taken from another. An elite class of fighters called Dreadmen use such Weaves to become super-soldiers.
“Servant of a Dark God” continues it pitch-perfect pacing to the very end. The reader is left unaware of much, but other things are revealed along the way in natural course. Many times the reader and Talen share in discoveries which strengthens the reader-protagonist bond. What is partially revealed is a world mired in a pyramidal caste system based on tribute and withheld knowledge. Near the top of the pyramid are Masters that are allowed to practice the outlawed magic that they claim is granted only to them by the Creators.
There is a hidden group that calls itself The Grove that fights counter to the established hierarchy. This group is reminiscent of druid-like fantasy elements. The Grove’s first goal is to preserve itself, but it also works to uncover the lost knowledge and magic that they know was once shared by everyone. They are waiting in the shadows, hidden amongst the people, keeping watch for the chance to move against the oppressors, or flee and re-group if necessary.
Everything is not as it should be to Talen after his beating. His family is acting strange and seems not to take the hatchling escape or hunt seriously. Worse yet, Talen finds small clues that he believes point to the hatchlings being near by, but his family remains incredulous. Tensions are boiling over and there is a shadow of secrecy dogging Talen’s every step. Does he know who he can trust? Is his very family putting him at danger?
The reader along with Talen learns little by little more about the larger world. Regions fight regions and each level pays tribute to the station above them. But what is it all for? If authority is deferred ascending to the top, then whose orders do those at the top follow?
“Servant of a Dark God” does not answer all of these questions, but the book works well enough as a self-contained novel. The reader, once done with the satisfying ending, is left to wonder about what was not disclosed. And on re-appraising the information given, one wonders, did the author plant some red herrings?
“The Well of Ascension” deals primarily with young idealist noble Eland Venture and his quest to stabilize the lands he cBook 2: The Well of Ascension
“The Well of Ascension” deals primarily with young idealist noble Eland Venture and his quest to stabilize the lands he claims as his own. Unfortunately there are many folks that believe they should be recognized the same. And Eland, even with Kelsier’s crew helping, is out manned and trapped in a defensive position.
As Eland works to find a way out of his position, Vin discovers that she is conflicted as to what role she should play in the New Empire which she helped create. Additionally a religious cult worshiping one they call “The Survivor” is gaining ground and it places Vin as an icon of importance. And there is something strange about the ever present mist; something that seems to call to her. These strange events and emotions gives Vin a bad feeling. Vin’s way is to always trust her instinct; but what does it mean?
Meanwhile Keeper Sazed reverts to his people’s duty – which is to teach that which has been forgotten. But Sazed stumbles upon mysterious episodes that seem to defy the very nature of the world in which he lives. The rubbing from a metal plate obtained at a forbidden place sends Sazed, ever questing for knowledge, back to his friends in Luthadel in a desperate attempt to decipher what is happening to the world. Is there a Hero of the Ages? And could it be Vin?
As the armies of nations descend on Eland and Kelsier’s crew in Luthadel and that which has been obtained is perilously close to being lost in a massive slaughter, are there other forces at work? Are there bigger stakes than anyone is aware?
If Vin becomes the weapon Eland needs to stabilize the empire, will she lose something of herself? And if she is the Hero of the Ages, where is the Well of Ascension?...more
Dark and gritty fantasist Richard Kadrey does not re-invent the genre with bad dude magician turned sleuth and hit-man James Stark. Instead Kadrey putDark and gritty fantasist Richard Kadrey does not re-invent the genre with bad dude magician turned sleuth and hit-man James Stark. Instead Kadrey puts his decidedly adult stamp on the genre that was once Buffy-like and frankly a little too cute for its own good. Stark is not cute. No sir. “Harry Potter is a wizard, I’m a magician,” stated Stark with barely concealed contempt. And the difference implied by the character manifests itself with dirty bluntness as the story runs its course.
Stark is also known as Sandman Slim. Know as Sandman Slim to the denizens of Hell where he worked as a hit-man for one of the favored generals of Lucifer. But Stark’s not dead or the living dead. Oh no. See, Stark was alive when he went to Hell due to falling for power grab ploy by a one time collaborator – a peer in the mystical Sub Rosa (a clandestine group of magical beings). So Stark fought his way out of hell and he’s back. He’s mad. He’s going to get what’s his.
There is subtle craft to Kadrey’s creation that might get lost in the fantastical elements that drive the writing. Stark was 19 when he was tricked into Hell. He spent 11 years there and now he’s 30 – but still with the temperament of an arrogant aged 19 rebel. I think this might be in part a wink by the author to the demographic of the books likely readers. This selfish attitude gets Stark into trouble – especially with the few allies that he has; But it also leads to the best and most testosterone driven confrontations that drive the pacing of the book.
Dark and nearly blasphemous rivers of humor run through the book like flows from the Amazon, Nile, and Mississippi combined. Like Edward Lee’s mythos, the Kadrey written Stark world is not for those with a weak conscience with regard to, excuse me, Devil-may-care attitudes involving religious dogma. The Good News is that Kadrey credits there being a Heaven and Hell; The Bad News is that the difference between the two may be a tad more undefined than one may like. Also like Edward Lee’s mythos – I loved it.
Sandman Slim encounters magicians, demons, detached talking heads, black magic, alchemy, an Angelic government agency, and the Devil himself. All of these encounters are handled with whatever the exact opposite of pluck and grace would be; Ham-fisted butchery? Close enough. And it’s a Hell of a ride.
I notice a lot of reviews like to use the if ______ wrote _______ and crossed it with _______ to try to explain what type of work is Sandman Slim. To add my two cents, I’d say if Spawn and Jack Reacher had a child and its exploits were written by Edward Lee, it might be close to what one would expect of Kadrey’s James Stark aka Sandman Slim....more
**spoiler alert** The story of Rant Casey will likely be the key to Palahniuk’s reality in which he writes. Perhaps like Stephen King’s Darktower seri**spoiler alert** The story of Rant Casey will likely be the key to Palahniuk’s reality in which he writes. Perhaps like Stephen King’s Darktower series, Rant Casey’s world and narrative will be the primer to all else that happens in the world of fight clubs and party crashing. There will be other stories and other arcs, but it may be just possible that all of them in some way will touch on the themes and events that transpire in Casey’s hometown of Middleton and The City which in turn may give hints or compliment the other stories and arcs.
But I don’t know.
“Rant” is a real snorter in concept and execution. In short we will call it a near future medium-grade sci-fi dystopian novel. In saying that, I could possibly spoil the first quarter of the book for Palahniuk gleefully plays with the reader of “Rant” by dabbling in subtle misdirection and information starvation.
“Rant” is formatted like an oral biography or memorandum. The subject, Rant, is stated to dead right at the beginning. What follows are short alternating statements, musings, theories, memories, and tirades involving or alluding to Rant and his life.
References made by the “speakers” regarding many things are completely left to the reader to figure out as the novel moves along. Want to know what the moon and sun symbols mean that accompany a person’s name? Keep reading. You’ll figure it out. Think you know what “Party Crashing” is? I doubt it. Keep reading. What’s this with ports? You get the idea.
Rant was the product of rural America but the practitioner of esoteric hobbies and possessor of rare talents. Rant is not a prodigy in this way, but rather an outcast from society. One odd hobby of Rant’s was to go fishing. No, this is not the type of fishing where one baits a hook and sits on the riverbank all day; rather Rant’s way of fishing was to grind meatloaf in his hands and stick them down hole containing all sorts of critters and varmint . Rant would often get stung or bitten while fishing, but he called it getting vaccinated against life. The imprint that Rant leaves on the Middleton community builds to zany, uncomfortable, funny, disturbing levels. One may not be able to think of the tooth fairy or a community haunted house again.
Rant had the ability to tell many things through taste. From the taste of ones saliva, for instance, or other bodily fluids, Rant might be able to tell that a person has an unburned scented candle by her bedside. Yeah, really.
Rant, apparently is also Patient Zero of a widespread rabies epidemic threatening the entire country. It is for this that he has gained much notoriety. Or is that why? Keep reading.
Rant eventually escapes (or quests?) out of small town America with puzzling words and references from his father leading the way. Among them: that Rant’s real father is to be found in The City.
Not much else can be told about Rant’s story. Part of the fun and part of the point is to figure things out as one goes along. Slowly society is revealed and everything the reader thought he understood is suddenly stood on its ear. I will make one suggestion: Do not get frustrated with the Party Crashing bits half way through the book. That section is a bit long and languishes in tedium, but the payoff that it leads to in the last quarter of the book is worth it and the information becomes crucial.
Rant’s story unfolds with oblique idleness. A reader feels that he reaches conclusions accidentally or deciphers ambiguity via dogged mental activity, but that is the aim of the story. Palahniuk knows that we are most affected by the things that we ourselves come to believe, so he makes us think that his conclusions are our own. Crafty.
The story ends as something so far from where it begins that one might wonder if he missed something at the beginning; something that would have given a clue to the mind bend and commentary that was ahead. The answer is no. The reader falls unavoidably into Palahniuk’s trap. It’s a fun ride and one that is worthwhile enough to forgive what comes to be the story’s preachy and repetitive message....more
Vin did as the Hero of Ages was supposed to do at the Well of Ascension, but something went wrong.
Prophecy and the unknown dog each step of Eland andVin did as the Hero of Ages was supposed to do at the Well of Ascension, but something went wrong.
Prophecy and the unknown dog each step of Eland and Vin’s path as the thin alliances formed to create an empire tremble when rebellion looms in two cities – each claiming faith to gods that Vin and Eland know to be dead.
Forces are being identified that that play with the mind of the Just and the Evil alike. What are the real differences? Was the Lord Ruler truly evil, or only neurotic planner waging a war against the force of nature itself?
Sazed, left faithless and alone, struggles in his duty to the New Empire while trying to stop, ironically, a rebellion in a far away city. A rebellion that claims Sazed’s only friends as its inspiration. And during this time of crisis Sazed finds little reason to go on, his faith in everything he once believed shattered; each belief summarily dismissed one-by-one in methodical fashion.
Subsequently a new icon to the people gains power right under Sazed’s vacant gaze. Is this icon the rebirth of “The Survivor?” Will the city be torn apart or saved by the new icon’s aggressive fight against the rebellious city?
One the other side of the Empire, Vin and Eland fight against a leader more cunning than they, one who seems to be able to anticipate their every move. Is his hand guided by his lost god? Or, as Vin feels, is she finally starting to be able to counter and understand the forces that only she believes exist? If she figures it out, will it be in time? The nature of ruin and creation itself dictates and push Vin and her friends to serve its needs. And Vin has decided to push back. Hard. As she tries to capture the power that belongs to the Hero of Ages....more
Nick Hornby is a favorite author of mine. There is something so tactile and uncompromising about the themes of his novels that they bleed into one’s tNick Hornby is a favorite author of mine. There is something so tactile and uncompromising about the themes of his novels that they bleed into one’s thoughts and the impact ranges from deft to pummeling.
A book like High Fidelity has more of the deft touch whereas “A Long Way Down” pummels one, gently, but by the end leaves one with the same feeling: Life affirmation. Real life affirmation. Not Dr. Phil or Wayne Dyer hocus pocus.
Alternating between protagonist narratives (used the entire novel to give four different perspectives to events), Hornby opens “A Long Way Down” by introducing us to four despondent people whose lives are falling apart. They are unknown to each other, but coincidently meet on New Year’s Eve at the top of London’s most popular suicide spot – each ready, they believe, to end their lives.
We are treated to the back story of each of the four from the first-person:
Martin – a famous TV presenter (like Regis, according to J.J., the American) whose life has been ruined by scandal.
J.J. – An American, once the member of an upcoming Rock & Roll Band, who has now lost his band and his girl.
Maureen – A middle aged recluse where her only life is that in support of her aged 30 comatose son.
Jess – An aged 18 flame-tongued anti-social instigator scorned by her first love, deserted by her beloved sister, and the plague of her politically active parents.
After meeting at the top of the building, the novel continues the narrative as each character narrates their life as it is interwoven with the other three.
The journey related by Hornby is a carefully constructed as both allegorical and literal transliterations of an average life for four very different types of people. Paradoxically, in Hornby’s story, the largest philosophical breakthrough can come from the most cloistered; the most absurd decision can come from the most sanguine; the greatest sustained effort from the most neurotic; the most stupidity from the best educated. These are not always the roles assumed, but the variance and randomness underlines the common thread of humanity and life for all types of people.
These four people thrown together in the ultimate occurrence of random device are nothing alike. At best they don’t much like each other; at worst they are hostile. For some reason, though, they keep arranging to see each other; scheme together; and find something in themselves through the others. The book also lays bare the common meanness of people; as well as the little kindnesses that can propel lives forward at a much greater velocity than one could possibly explain. Then there is the scope of tragedy, both self-afflicted and wildly unpredictable.
“A Long Way Down” is at times laugh out loud funny and deeply profound. Typical as Hornby’s style, the key to the symbolism of the narrative is summarized in the last sentence of the book. The meaning resonates like echoes from the deep cavern of our lives.
By the way, I’m on goodreads.com now. Keep up with what I am reading, what’s in my library, and what I’m planning on reading. Can you keep up? Find me here.
If you have ever known anyone that may have been called crazy by others or themselves; or someone who sought help for mental conditions with ever-chanIf you have ever known anyone that may have been called crazy by others or themselves; or someone who sought help for mental conditions with ever-changing diagnosis and powerful medications handed our by seemingly out-of-touch doctors that never seem to find a clue. Then you might have some empathy for someone that was in Kaysen's situation. I've personally had someone close to me that has shared some of the same thought patterns, perceptions, and symptoms as Kaysen. This person though for a while that she might be insane, but could never describe what she felt or thought or put anything into words that would accurately reflect the lonelines of what she felt.
In "Girl, Interrupted," Susanna Kaysen is able to do many of the things that others, possibly less eloquent or less in-touch with clinical vernacular, are unable to do; and that is to put into words, anecdotes, and self-meditations just what it was like to be "crazy" and "get better."
The scope of the book covers just short of two years of Kaysen's life starting at the time that she checked herself into the renowned McLean Hospital for psychiatric help. There are sketches of other patients, nurses, doctors, and therapists at the hospital included in the memoir. Kaysen is always brutally honest regarding herself and avoids whimsy when discussing her fellow patients. However, the other patients, etc. are only touched on for depth and to help with understanding certain reactions, conversations, and anecdotes involving Kaysen herself. This is not a tell-all or scandalous book or one that exploits those of which she shared her time.
This is not an easy book to do a full review on because it is so personal and direct; any parsing of its contents would be simply quoting from the book. It is not hyperbole to say that Kaysen provides a translation for those that may have at some point had trouble discussing getting other to understand their problems. Eerily, Kaysen even has some experiences similar to a person close to me where it seems almost exact; and Kaysen's explanations are so simple but poignant, that I feel for the first time that I actually understand what had been explained to me dozens of times before.
One example I will paraphrase from Kaysen is regarding what she simply referred to as the difference between being crazy and not crazy. Kaysen wrote that the mind works on at least two levels - where there is Interpreter #1 and Interpreter #2. At any given time, #1 is making observations and judgments, then #2 filters those judgments and either kicks em out or agrees. So if a "not crazy" looks to a corner where there is a chair and Interpreter #1 sees a lion, then #2 will examine that information, maybe advise to get a closer look, and will then kick out the information from #1 and conclude, no, its not a lion, its a chair. A "crazy" person, on the other hand, has something wrong with Interpreter #2. When it gets to the filtering stage after #1 thought the chair was a lion, it will either agree or not disagree. That is what's it's like to have a break from reality or some personality disorders, etc.
Even after reading Kaysen's brilliant memoir, I still have a hard time putting what I learned into words. That is the power and clarity of this personal narrative.
"Girl, Interrupted," was adapted into a movie starring Winonna Ryder. I remember seeing it years ago and I remember I liked it; I don't remember it having near the effect on me as the book.
Gorgeous and touching and frustrating, Hornby hits the right mix of likability and detectability while revealing a little that we share in common withGorgeous and touching and frustrating, Hornby hits the right mix of likability and detectability while revealing a little that we share in common with each of the characters. In life no one is completely innocent or completely to blame. ...more
Great Scott! Anyone who loves the movie should certainly read this; it's a whole different experience to the point of almost being a completely differGreat Scott! Anyone who loves the movie should certainly read this; it's a whole different experience to the point of almost being a completely different story - but in a good way. The movie was certainly a better move that the book would have been, but the book is a better book that then movie -- dig it?!...more