In this quasi-dystopian and poetically rendered, if uneven, book of five interlinked stories, we are introduced to a new era of the world, dubbed by j...moreIn this quasi-dystopian and poetically rendered, if uneven, book of five interlinked stories, we are introduced to a new era of the world, dubbed by journalists as The Illumination, whereby pain is illuminated like a neon glow, so that everyone's physical torments are seen by others, and there is no camouflage for people's physical (and, in some cases, emotional) afflictions. You glow brightly wherever there is pain in your body. As a motif, it is a mixture of fascination and gimmick.
A journal of love notes written by a young husband to his wife over their years together provides a connection between all the stories, and a weaker, less effective thematic link. The journal symbolizes a poignant and authentic love, and the etch of great loss. Almost every sentence in the journal begins with "I love it when you...", which becomes cloying.
So now there are two gimmicks to this story, and it was important to me that the author rise above this conceit and give me something above the vehicles he used. He accomplished that well in the first story, and the journal (beyond the passages) becomes more than mere device. Additionally, Carol Ann's emotional fatigue paired with her almost childlike hope engaged me. Her awkwardness and reticence was genuine; the story of her injury was potent.
The second story, Jason, pertains to the author of the journal. It was unnecessary and heavy-handed, as it (over)explained the journal's incipience and felt contextually repetitive. It was as if Brockmeier didn't trust that the rest of the book would properly convey this information.
Chuck is the mute ten-year-old of the third story. It was the most maladroit of all the tales, too earnestly trying to convince the reader of Chuck's endearing precocity. It was also exhausting, as it repeatedly reminded the reader of what we already understood about the widespread "Illumination."
The next story, about the evangelist, Ryan, was heavy-handed. Besides the repetition of the "Illumination" syndrome without any further insight, the authorial management was too pronounced. Additionally, Ryan's lifetime grief was quite a stretch that didn't transcend for me.
The best story of the five was Nina, an author suffering from chronic lip ulcers. It felt organic, and Brockmeier's poetics was wonderfully hungry and haunting instead of his tendency towards sententious cliché. I engaged emotionally and admired the author's figurative language. I didn't feel that Brockmeier relied on the journal or the "Illumination" pandemic to convey a powerful theme of *pain as the most beautiful thing about us.*
The final story, about a homeless street vendor, Morse, was tedious and static. The idea of an Empath, which could have added perspective, blandly overreached.
Brockmeier has a rich, dream-like imagination, but this 250+ page dilatory book could have been shortened into a brief novella, with the stale excess and repetition removed. A deft edit to eliminate the saggy elements and boilerplate platitudes would leave us with the unflinching, vibrant parts. (less)
Epic, savage, surly, and brimming with ideas, Philipp Meyer's sweeping historical tale of Texas demands shelf space with Cormac McCarthy and Larry McM...moreEpic, savage, surly, and brimming with ideas, Philipp Meyer's sweeping historical tale of Texas demands shelf space with Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurty. Like his predecessors, Meyer illustrates the ruthless, violent forms of blood-spilling murder it takes to build the future of a land. Death begets life.
People are conditioned to believe in their rights of land possession, and history point fingers at those who stole land from those that used to occupy it. Wars are fought over territory, and arguments continue on the authority of the privileged. But, as Meyer blazingly illuminates, the rights of possession were stolen from others, who scalped it from others, who poached it from others...
"...he thought only of the Texans who had stolen it from his people. And the Indians from whom his people had stolen it had themselves stolen it from other Indians."
"The Americans...They thought that simply because they had stolen something, no one should be allowed to steal it from them."
Told from the perspective of three narrators representing three generations of the Texas cattle baron and then oil baron McCullough family, and spanning the 19th-21st century, the tale takes the reader on a ferocious adventure of the birth and expansion of the Texas frontier. The legacies of fathers to sons (and one narrator, a daughter) are tough and soul scorching. The prose is as muscular and sinewy as a prized thoroughbred, the story as pitiless as a rattlesnake in a desert. And yet, there's an undulating tenderness, a tremendous amount of empathy that is elicited from the reader.
"A man, a life--it was barely worth mentioning. The Visigoths had destroyed the Romans, and themselves been destroyed by the Muslims. Who were destroyed by the Spanish and Portugese. You did not need Hitler to see that it was not a pleasant story...The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were." (less)