I really love Kelly Link's writing style. It falls somewhere between magical realist and full-blown surreal, and it manages to be very emotionally aff...moreI really love Kelly Link's writing style. It falls somewhere between magical realist and full-blown surreal, and it manages to be very emotionally affecting without sacrificing subtlety. It is frequently surprising, often delightful, occasionally horrific. Link can get me to agree to suspend my disbelief in some of the most wildly imaginative and implausible situations, and she has a real knack for being gently disturbing.
However, I am only giving this collection, Link's earliest, (which focuses largely on referenced, re-imagined, and re-arranged fairy tales, myths, and legends) 3 stars, because 3.5 isn't an option, and I loved her collection Magic for Beginners considerably more. (It was simply stellar.) These stories are worth the reader's time, and some are downright brilliant. But some left me neutral, and the overall feeling I was left with was one less bowled-over than when I'd finished Magic For Beginners.
My recommendation: If you've never read Kelly Link, start with Magic for Beginners, as it was wonderful and whimsical and weird and freaky and creepy across the board. Then, if you enjoy that, explore her earlier work in this collection, Stranger Things Happen. (less)
This book is short on pages but feels much fuller due to the author's command of language. This is not an easy read. It is not as difficult stylistically to slog through as the source material (Beowulf), but the wordage is quite florid, often astonishing for its deft use of metaphor, as well as filled with unusual word choice and unconventional phrasing. It is also frequently and surprisingly crude and nasty - not in a sexual way but in an earthy or bloody way. The ugliness of certain images is enhanced a hundred-fold by the simply beautiful language surrounding them.
This is largely a character study, as well as an existentialist tale, concerning Grendel's questions and angst and ramblings and rumblings, with musings on Being and the Self and the Other. Grendel is deeply unlikable, but you root for the bloody, smelly lout all the same, because he is somehow noble in his great savagery. (As eloquent as he is gross and horrible, he is not completely dissimilar to an unwashed Hannibal Lector in a fur coat, although less of a manipulator and more of a head-smasher.) He may eat men alive, but then he navel-gazes and philosophizes on not only why he did eat, but also on why the men existed in the first place. (He holds a very low opinion of humans in general, and "hates" everything/everyone from animals to trees to the sky. He is a bit of a nihilist.)
Grendel is involved in a 12-year war with the local humans, who fear and loathe him on principle, and is deeply devoted to, although he does not fully understand, his mute, incurious Mother. He is curious, quizzical, wry, furious, licentious, bitter, pitiful, jealous, greedy, childish, gluttonous, vulgar, brutish, violent, callous, and loud. Yet he is also true to himself, honest about himself, and often sees through to the heart of things in ways more sophisticated beings might not. He is at the same time the most inhuman and human being of all - the Beast inside us all.(less)
This was a thoroughly delightful read. Subtly funny, warm and believable, this brisk little book charmed me from start to finish. I can see it becomin...moreThis was a thoroughly delightful read. Subtly funny, warm and believable, this brisk little book charmed me from start to finish. I can see it becoming a recurring comfort read for me.(less)
After Dark by Haruki Murakami reminded me of carefully-shuffled cards. Two decks representing two separate (yet ultimately and intimately related) sto...moreAfter Dark by Haruki Murakami reminded me of carefully-shuffled cards. Two decks representing two separate (yet ultimately and intimately related) stories are slowly merged, chapter by chapter, until they make one cohesive whole that is far more beautiful and evocative than either story would be if taken alone. Murakami is a master of this technique, and he is in fine form here.
Story one: It is midnight in downtown Tokyo. An introverted, bookish, somewhat cynical young woman drinks coffee and reads in an all-night diner, escaping into her book, retreating from the world, hiding from phantoms. She encounters several quirky and unexpected other late-night souls and has conversations and adventures, forming serendipitous attachments and revealing more about herself as the story progresses.
Story two: A beautiful young woman sleeps…and sleeps…and sleeps, still as stone in her bed. A quiet (David) Lynchian drama unfolds which may be literal or metaphor, dream, hallucination, or reality, or a bit of each. Any details I could give might spoil the story for potential readers, so I’ll simply say it is subtly surreal, atmospheric, and rich in symbolism.
I mentioned David Lynch, and although he is a bit more in-your-face than Murakami, I feel the points of comparison are strong. There is a magical realist air all through the book, where the mundane takes stranger and less expected turns as the story progresses. This is not a work of horror fiction, yet there are several instances of imagery that would be right at home in one of the finer, more understated Japanese horror films. This book felt very cinematic to me, and I can very much see it being adapted for the screen by one of Japan’s avant-garde and visionary auteurs. (I’d suggest Katsuhito Ishii, or perhaps Takashi Miike in one of his thoughtful, introspective phases.)
Murakami has created a lovely, unusual book full of surprises, wry humor, gorgeous prose, artful dialogue, poetic metaphor, and cinema-worthy scene-building. Read this if you love the author or Japanese literature in general, multi-layered meaning that will keep you thinking and re-evaluating long after you’ve finished reading, deftness of language, colorful and theater-quality casts of characters, or plots that coil labyrinth-like back and around and onto and into themselves. Read this if you are looking for the perfect book to escape into over coffee, in an all-night diner, after dark. (less)
Such lovely micro-stories! This collection reads more like free-form prose poetry than fiction. There's no real plot here, per se, so a conventional r...moreSuch lovely micro-stories! This collection reads more like free-form prose poetry than fiction. There's no real plot here, per se, so a conventional review isn't terribly practical. Each 1-1.5 page vignette tells of the wonders of a different city, and the central unifying premise is that each is a travel tale told by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan while a guest at the Khan's palace. Italo Calvino is a master of lyricism, and he knows exactly how to get the reader daydreaming and feeling homesick for places they've never visited, and which may not have ever existed. This collection is terrifically imaginative, greatly inspiring, and highly recommended.(less)
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman is a thought-provoking little volume filled with poetic imagery and dreamy (no pun intended) musings on the possibl...moreEinstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman is a thought-provoking little volume filled with poetic imagery and dreamy (no pun intended) musings on the possible nature(s) of Time. It doesn’t rely heavily on plot, although theoretically the assorted vignettes are intended to be the literal dreams of one man, a young Albert Einstein. His nocturnal wanderings and ponderings relate to his work on his Theory of Relativity at the dawn of the 20th century.
In these various dreams, different conceptions of Time are presented, and we are taken on a what-if ride through the philosophical and practical implications of each. I found each concept both plausible and graspable, and although I am already comfortable with both scientific and philosophical writing, I think most any reader should be able to approach this book comfortably, as the ideas are presented in a down-to-earth, non-technical fashion, with a gently hallucinatory quality that makes them believable as someone’s actual dreams.
Although technically a work of fiction, this book serves more as a philosophy-of-science study and a brain stretcher than an entertainment, even as the words themselves are lyrical and lovely. I will surely revisit this slim volume again, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with a healthy curiosity who is looking for an enchanting diversion that might just teach something, too. (less)
For a story detailing something so bleak as life in a Soviet-era work camp, this novel is surprisingly hope-filled. Ivan Denisovich lives every moment...moreFor a story detailing something so bleak as life in a Soviet-era work camp, this novel is surprisingly hope-filled. Ivan Denisovich lives every moment to the fullest, and although he and his fellow prisoners are certainly cynical and weary, they are also still living, and more fully so than many "free" people, I dare say. Each mouthful of poor-quality gruel, each drag of a newspaper-rolled cigarette, each tiny rebellion is savored to the upmost. In a situation most of us would find intolerable, in which many would surely give up or be ground down, Ivan holds on day after day, year after year, not only to his life and sanity, but also to some measure of pride, a sense of humor, the will to persevere...and even what I can only describe as the virtue of grace. While suffering more than a decade of incarceration in the harshest of conditions, where an individual's basic needs come down to having just enough food to remain conscious, keeping just warm enough to retain the ability to move, and hopefully staying below the radar of the scrutiny of superiors, Ivan triumphs by simply being. His story is harsh, but inspiring, and makes for a true classic of Russian literature.(less)