I’m not one to read any Oprah Book Club books, but when it was selected for my wife’s book discussion group, and when I learned that it was a pseudo r...moreI’m not one to read any Oprah Book Club books, but when it was selected for my wife’s book discussion group, and when I learned that it was a pseudo retelling of Hamlet, and that it involved the relationship between a boy and his dogs, I figured I would give it a go. If nothing else, the supernatural events in the book would keep my interest, I thought.
In the end, I was pretty caught up with the story and the book. I’ve been known to show more empathy for animals than humans, so seeing the relationship between Edgar and Almondine (as unrealistic as some of that relationship seemed to me at times) was something I could relate to and understand. That alone kept me reading, even when the story got to be really slow. And it got really, really slow during Edgar’s exile. I sort of wanted to give up on it at that point, but I was already more than halfway through the book, and my wife was encouraging me to finish it so we could talk about it.
In the end, I didn’t finish the book in time to discuss it in my wife’s book club, but I did eventually finish it, on New Year’s Eve. I figured that it would be a good idea to finish the book in the same year in which I started reading it, and I had started reading it back in November. And while I really enjoyed the relationships, and was impressed with the narrative and language that the author used in the book, I was incredibly disappointed with the ending. It’s depressing as hell, so it’s not a book I would recommend reading while on the second floor of a building, unless it doesn’t have any windows. It made the entire effort of reading the book seem pointless, and I hate feeling like that. It wasn’t quite as bad as the ending to Son of Rosemary, but come on; you have to make a concerted effort to be worse than that.
I don’t really know if I would recommend this book or not. I might feel differently if I had participated in the discussion, and had an idea of what topics were discussed, but when I finished it and said to my wife how depressing the ending was, she agreed, and we didn’t talk about it much more than that. It was just such a let down, for both of us, I think.(less)
For a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels. What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat serie...moreFor a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels. What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat series, paired with the success of his earlier dark fantasy novel for a younger audience, The Thief of Always, I thought maybe he was going to take the route of other horror authors, and focus on writing for teens. Mister B. Gone marks his return to adult horror, and I’m pleased to say that it’s pretty good.
Barker has always been a little hit-or-miss with me. On the one hand, I enjoy his knack for finding the disturbing without having to be grotesque about it. One of my favorite scenes from any novel is the way that one creature’s eyes from Arabat crawl around on his face like insects, and even have the ability to crawl right off his body, and still see for him. It sends one of those pleasant shivers down my spine, because it genuinely creeps me out, without being violent or graphic. What’s odd about saying that is that Barker is known for being a progenitor of the “Splatterpunk” genre, where the graphic, detailed, violent imagery is as much a character of the stories as the people populating them. So, in a way, part of me enjoyed the YA-focus of his other novels, since it seemed to distill the violence down to something more effective. But that’s where it has always been hit-or-miss with me.
Mister B. Gone hits and misses, as well, for the same reasons. The hit is a good one, and is the main premise of the novel: A demon is speaking to us from within the prison of the very book we’re reading. In fact, it’s not really a book we’re reading, as it is a story we’re hearing told from the demon himself. Barker uses this premise to full effect, finding ways to disturb us with this connection. Just as we start to lose ourselves in the story, the demon comes back to speak to us, directly, and reminds us that we might have to pay a small price for hearing this story. It works, and it works well. I don’t think it will have anyone convinced that the premise could possibly be true, but like any good horror novel, it will make you wonder if you shouldn’t be listening to the demon’s entreaties a little more seriously….
The miss, though, is in the violence. Graphic depictions seem unnecessary to me, even when they fit in with the stories (Charlie Huston, I’m looking in your direction…). In this story, oddly enough, they seemed gratuitous, even if they were supposed to be spoken by a demon. Those moments were gross-outs, not creep-outs, and I always prefer the latter to the former. Gross-outs are cop-outs, to me, and are a cheap way of being “horror” when you can’t find enough of an emotional connection to truly frighten someone. It’s like the difference between the movies The Haunting and Friday the 13th; one is an effective story of psychological manipulation, while the other is just a slasher flick.
Luckily, the violence isn’t as over-the-top as it could have been, and the premise of the story carries it well enough to compensate for what violence is in the book. If you’re looking for a good, short scare, this might fit the bill. It’s a good read that won’t keep you thinking for too long after the story ends, but the short time that it will take you to finish the book will more than make up for that fact. It’s no Imajica or “In the Hills, the Cities,” but it shows that Barker hasn’t lost his touch just yet.(less)
I’m trying to remember the last time I read a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I’m drawing a blank. The truth is, I don’t read much “literary” fictio...moreI’m trying to remember the last time I read a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I’m drawing a blank. The truth is, I don’t read much “literary” fiction, and I rarely read books that become the subject of book clubs, discussion groups, or literary canon. I’m a genre fiction reader, and those books don’t typically lend themselves to heavy discussions.
The Road caught my attention because it reminded me of a lot of the horror/science fiction books I’ve read, due to its post-apocalyptic setting. I believe it was Poe who noted that the most interesting stories came from characters who were put up against the most challenging situations, and who had to test their own nature over the course of the story’s events. The Road places its characters in those sorts of situations, forcing them to come to terms with themselves in ways they never imagined before.
The story (if you’ve somehow missed out on the summary by now) is about a man and his son, walking the roads to the south in an effort to find a warmer place to survive after the world has burned and lost most of its traces of humanity. This is the source material for most post-apocalyptic novels, but this one is more powerful and effective, in part because it’s being written by a talented, lyrical author. The Stand and Swan Song are both stories with theme and depth, but comparing them to The Road is like comparing Metallica with Tool; they’re both in the same general ballpark, but the differences between the talent are tremendous.
Cormac McCarthy is a poetic writer, and his narrative lulls you into a sense of complacency, because his gift for words draws you in to the story. You want to keep reading, partly because you want to remain exposed to his narrative to see what he has to tell you next. The fact that the story is told in a stripped-down, bare-bones style has little to no impact on the power of his words. The rub lies in the gentle, mesmerizing way he tells the story, contrasted sharply with the harsh, brutal nature of his story. The world of The Road is one that has been stripped of humanity, both through its population and through its nature. The main characters are “the good guys,” but you won’t always agree with their approach to survival. Sometimes, the characters can’t agree with it, either.
This is a powerful, effective book, and is deserving of its praise. You really should read this book. It won’t become a “favorite,” I don’t think, because of its nature. It’s not a book that begs being re-read, much in the way that you won’t find yourself watching and re-watching Schindler’s List like you might watch a Disney movie. The book will drain you, and touch you, but revisiting the world of the book may not be high on your list of priorities.
Read it. Discuss it. You owe it to yourself to do so.(less)
Michael Marshall Smith is a dark, dark author. Most of his works are nihilistic and hopeless, even when they have a happy ending, so it was a bit of a...moreMichael Marshall Smith is a dark, dark author. Most of his works are nihilistic and hopeless, even when they have a happy ending, so it was a bit of a shock to read a comment about The Servants describing it as a children’s book. Having finished it, I wouldn’t necessarily agree, if only because of a few choice pieces of language (the kind that would get it rated R f it were a movie, or labeled with a “Parental Advisory” sticker if it were a CD), but I do think that there is a brilliant presentation of an unstable family dynamic, and the way that an eleven year-old responds to it. Young teen readers, or even more mature younger readers, would possibly find a very important message in this book.
Mark has just moved to seaside Brighton with his mother and new stepfather, and things are not going well for him. He doesn’t like his stepfather, he misses his father, and his relationship with his mother is changing. He sees things that he and his mother used to share, and he sees his new stepfather controlling his mother and Mark in such a way that Mark feels that his stepfather is doing everything in his power to keep him and his mother apart. Considering that Brighton used to be where he vacationed with his parents when they were still married, he is constantly reminded of the happy, idyllic life he once had, and the miserable, depressing one he currently has. Even when his stepfather breaks down the walls between him and Mark, and tries to explain what’s really happening with his mother, he refuses to believe or understand, and continues to blame his stepfather for all the bad things that are happening in his life. At its core, the story is about Mark, his mother, and his stepfather, and the way that Mark is forced to come of age far sooner than he expected to. And that family relationship and how it’s presented seem so true, so genuine, that it’s very easy to get caught up in that story.
Unfortunately, there is also a supernatural element to the book (enough so for my local library to plaster a “Science Fiction” sticker on the spine) that seems tacked on and superfluous. It’s not that I don’t understand its place in the story; it just seems to detract from the otherwise brilliant portrayal of a family in peril. Mark’s misplaced anger and the means by which he has to deal with it is far, far more interesting than the underlying mechanism by which the author chooses to correct that dynamic. It’s not so bad that I wouldn’t recommend the book, but it does seem slightly silly, in retrospect.
I’ve said in previous reviews of Smith’s works that, dark as they might be, they still zoom in on human nature, enough so that you feel like the author is a resident expert. He also crafts a mean plot, and realistic characters, so if you have to start somewhere, The Servants would be a good place. At the very least, it’s the “happiest” book of his that I’ve read so far.(less)
This was one of the many, many books that I’ve picked up from a recommendation on Boing Boing. For the most part, this is a good thing. Without those...moreThis was one of the many, many books that I’ve picked up from a recommendation on Boing Boing. For the most part, this is a good thing. Without those recommendations, I wouldn’t have read The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl or Rainbows End, and while I wouldn’t have missed them for not knowing about them, I feel better off having read both novels. The thing is, it’s statistically improbable that I will like everything that comes recommended by the editors, and Sandman Slim is one of those novels that didn’t really grab me.
It actually has a lot going for it that I should have liked. It’s about a magician who was banished to Hell 11 years ago, and then arrives back on Earth with one goal in mind: Kill everyone who was involved with his banishment. It sounds like this guy would wind up being the bad guy, but in this case, he’s more of an anti-hero. It’s not just that he was banished to Hell to survive by battling in a gladiatorial arena almost daily, and wants to take that out on those who banished him; those people also killed his girlfriend, so his motive is a little more noble than it first appears.
The thing is, the risk you run with creating an anti-hero is that he winds up not being sympathetic enough, and I think that’s what happened in this story. You can understand the reasons behind his motivation, but in the end he winds up being incredibly selfish and boorish in his methods. After a while, it got to be very tiring, and it made me wonder what his friends saw in him to keep coming back and supporting him, even when he was being a major PITA.
In addition, the story started off well, but fizzled near the middle, and then petered out entirely by the end. I think part of it was that I was disappointed that the author intended for the book to be the first in a series, which is made clear by what becomes a larger plotline that extends beyond this particular novel. The story took some serious turns near the end of the story, as well. I think it was the author attempting to turn a singular novel into a series, but when you start off with a simple premise — take revenge on those who wronged him — and then turn it into a more grandiose, save-the-world, good-versus-evil sort of plot, it takes something away from the story. It tries to be two things at once, and I’m not sure if it works well.
It was still a compelling read, but I found myself wishing he had stuck with a more action-centered storyline, instead of attempting something bigger. If I’ve learned anything from the brutal noir style that Charlie Huston writes, it’s that you want to keep the story moving, not bog it down with a bunch of extraneous stuff.(less)
This is what I thought was the last book in the Joe Pitt/Vampyre series, and it’s a book that I’ve had hanging around the house for several months. I...moreThis is what I thought was the last book in the Joe Pitt/Vampyre series, and it’s a book that I’ve had hanging around the house for several months. I mean, I like Charlie Huston’s stories, and when it comes to dialog, I honestly can’t think of anyone who writes it sharper and more effectively than he does, but the gritty, dark-noir novels he get tend to get repetitious. At this point, I was just reading this book to finish out the series and see how certain things that happened at the end of the last novel got resolved. Now, I feel like I’m going to need to read the next one, too, since not a whole lot gets resolved in this novel.
Things start off dark and serious in this book, and then just keep going in that direction. It reminded me a little of the final volume in the Hank Thompson trilogy, also by Huston. The main character in both had been taken along a dark journey, mostly by accident, partly by making some pretty dumb decisions, and wound up at their lowest points by the last book. I guess that makes sense, dramatically — you want to see the protagonist redeem himself by the end of it all — but sometimes it’s hard to be sympathetic with him, since a lot of the terrible things happening to him are happening because of his own actions. With Every Last Drop, I feel like little happens. Like every other Fables collection, this book felt more like a transitional novel to help set up the events of the next book.
There’s nothing new with this book, as far as Huston’s books go, but that’s not really a bad thing. His stories still read with a clarity that I don’t see in many writers’ books, and they rarely disappoint. Sometimes just knowing that you can depend on a writer to tell a good tale, without getting hung up on how original or important it may be, is all you need.(less)
Reading this novel was a no-brainer, since I’ve been so impressed with nearly everything else Charlie Huston has written. This was the first book he w...moreReading this novel was a no-brainer, since I’ve been so impressed with nearly everything else Charlie Huston has written. This was the first book he wrote not as part of a series, so I figured this would be as gripping and compelling and gritty as the other books. And, well, I was a little disappointed.
I can’t quite finger why. The prose is about the same. The dialogue is sharp. The story is about as noir as modern literature can get, and it maintains the same level of brutality of his previous books, so I wasn’t shocked or put off by it all. It just lacked a lot of what the other books had. I think it had to do with the main characters and their methods for eliciting sympathy. In the other books, the main characters were hard-asses, but they at least did what they did for the right reasons. In The Shotgun Rule, I couldn’t quite feel as much for the characters.
Is it because the main characters are kids? I don’t think so. I’ve read other books with despicable characters being young, and it hasn’t fazed me. Is it because of the violence? Again, I doubt it. I’ve read other violent books, and even though they turn my stomach sometimes, if the character is doing what needs to be done, for the right reasons, then it holds true for me. I just couldn’t believe that these kids were doing anything more than being troublesome, for the sake of being troublesome. One of the characters was defending his brother, so that was an honorable motivation, but overall, for all that they do during the story, the motivation was weak. I mean, one character could have avoided all the trouble he encountered if he hadn’t stolen a bag of meth. So, yeah. Not too sympathetic.
I was hoping this would be a good recommendation for someone new to Huston, but I would recommend the Dirk Pitt series before this book. If you like the author’s style, though, and want something to calm your fix, then you probably won’t go wrong with reading this one, too. Just don’t expect something as novel and exciting as the Hank Thompson or Dirk Pitt series.(less)
Charlie Huston has a voice all his own. He’s clearly a noir writer, and clearly has an ear for dialogue. I’m a fan of Ed Gorman for the same reasons,...moreCharlie Huston has a voice all his own. He’s clearly a noir writer, and clearly has an ear for dialogue. I’m a fan of Ed Gorman for the same reasons, but Charlie Huston makes Ed Gorman look like Dr. Seuss, because Charlie Huston writes about some bad-ass sons-of-bitches. Joe Pitt, a Vampyre in New York City, is one of those SOBs.
Huston introduced us to Joe Pitt in Already Dead, and he sort of introduced us to him in the Hank Thompson trilogy, since the main characters in both series are very much alike: tough, street-wise, and loyal to his loved ones. Being a tough, street-wise Vampyre, it’s hard to imagine him having loved ones, but his girlfriend has no idea that Pitt is a Vampyre, and never questions why he doesn’t go out during the day, and why he has a refrigerator with a padlock on it (though she often wonders). That she’s HIV-positive means that they never have sex, and besides, if it ever came to where Pitt has to make a choice, the Vampyre virus will take care of her illness, anyway.
Structurally, and plot-wise, No Dominion is similar to the second book in the Hank Thompson trilogy, Caught Stealing. The similarities may have more to do with the structure of trilogies than anything that Huston may have borrowed from one series to another, but to be honest, I don’t really care. I love reading Huston’s stories, because they’re gritty, realistic, and still manage to keep me engaged. Similar or not, the book is still a great read.
Be forewarned, though: The books are brutal and violent, and explicit in every detail. If that sort of thing makes you queasy, then you should probably avoid Huston’s books. If Pulp Fiction, though, seemed a little tame to you, then Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt could probably be good friends of yours. Find them, read them, and appreciate them.(less)
This book, the third in the Hank Thompson trilogy, brings the entire, brutal story to rest. What started out as a error in judgment (agreeing to catsi...moreThis book, the third in the Hank Thompson trilogy, brings the entire, brutal story to rest. What started out as a error in judgment (agreeing to catsit a neighbor’s pet) led to a string of murders, a life on the lam, and an eventual job with the Russian mafia. Now, in the final volume, Charlie Huston brings Hank full circle, and tries to make him a sympathetic character all over again.
It isn’t an easy thing to do. What drove Hank in the previous two books was a desperation to survive, and a desire to protect his parents. Now, all that’s left for him is to protect his parents. He’s a hit man, the muscle, the guy that you don’t want to show up at your door to collect on a debt. Think Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction and you might have an idea of what he’s like. But only a little.
See, Hank’s been having a hard time dealing with his new life, and he’s developed a dependency to painkillers. He’s becoming more and more lackadaisical in his approach to his assignments, and now he’s having to prove himself with one last job. If he’s successful, then he can rest knowing that his parents will be safe. If he messes up … well, he’s working for the Russian mafia. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the outcome would be bad.
Charlie Huston writes some gritty, disturbing fiction. It’s about as coarse as it gets, and makes standard noir fiction look like Mary Poppins. This is some dark, heavy, serious fiction, and it’s not for the queasy. A Dangerous Man isn’t quite as brutal as the book’s predecessors (Caught Stealing and Six Bad Things), but it follows in the same vein, and depicts some very graphic scenes. Huston doesn’t flinch when he portrays the world of a mafia hit man, even if he is as low and depressed as Hank Thompson.
The story is compelling and interesting, even if it is dark. Huston has a knack for dialogue and pacing, and doesn’t hold back when he’s writing the action scenes. The story never seems forced, and even when Hank isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, Huston still manages to make him likeable. Sort of. It’s a fine balance, and I think he does it well.
If you like your crime fiction hard, dark, and nasty, then it wouldn’t hurt you to check out the Hank Thompson trilogy. Just don’t start here, or else it will spoil the set up for the other two books. This book ends the story with the most logical conclusion, but you’ll probably still be surprised with how the author pulls it all together.(less)
Do I need to go into Charlie Huston’s brutal, compelling, post-noir world of fiction again? Probably not. This is the seventh book of his I’ve read, a...moreDo I need to go into Charlie Huston’s brutal, compelling, post-noir world of fiction again? Probably not. This is the seventh book of his I’ve read, and the seventh that I’ve reviewed here. Regardless, I shouldn’t gloss over the most important point whenever I talk about his novels: Don’t read them if you’re squeamish. The graphic violence is one thing, but the cruelty is another. I think a lot of people would be put off by the terrible, awful things that happen to people for (sometimes) no good reason.
That being said, though, if you’ve read his previous works, and can tolerate the content, then by all means, read this one, too. This is the third book in the Joe Pitt series, the vampire-slash-hitman-slash-boyfriend-slash-sociopath who’s the titular, sympathetic character of the series. It doesn’t break any new ground, either in the vampire or post-noir genres, but it’s a good, compelling story nonetheless.
My biggest complaint? That stupid cover. I’m not sure which graphic artist thought that some pudgy dude with fangs painted on his lips and holding his gun sideways screamed “ultra noir,” but he needs to be fired. It looks like something you might find on the Cracked Website.(less)
I bought this book years ago (over 10 at the very least), when I was seriously into horror. The premise was enough to interest me (a husband and wife,...moreI bought this book years ago (over 10 at the very least), when I was seriously into horror. The premise was enough to interest me (a husband and wife, looking to preserve their traveling carnival, breed their own freaks by having the wife take a variety of poisons during her pregnancies), and I figured since it was a National Book Award nominee, I could show off how literate I was by reading something I would be reading anyway. Or something like that. I never did get around to reading it, but I’ve held on to the book for a long time. As mentioned several times before, I’m still a fan of horror, when it’s “done right,” and I thought, this book being a National Book Award nominee, this would be one of those horror novels. When it was selected for my wife’s book club, I figured it was time for me to find out.
One definition of perverse is “persistent or obstinate in what is wrong,” and I think that best describes Geek Love, or better yet, that of the main character, Arturo Binewski. He is the armless, legless wonder of the family, dubbed “Aqua Boy” for the carnival, and he slowly, methodically takes over the family during the course of the story. He is a willful character with no remorse, no regrets, and no affections save for himself. In short, he is a textbook sociopath. I have to give the author credit in the way that she draws the character; it’s like she had some psychology textbook right at hand as she developed him. Most of the other characters are just there as filler, and they aren’t nearly as developed as Arturo, but they all serve as some important way to show how deranged Arturo is. Elly and Iphy, the conjoined twins, are there as separate personalities to make them part of the Binewski family, but their real purpose is to highlight how far Arturo is willing to go for revenge and punishment. Thankfully, that doesn’t come to light until the end of the book; if it came any sooner, I imagine most people would put the book down in disgust.
The book is complex, with strange asides that seem to have nothing to do with the main plot, but every character and every event in the story is important. Ms. Dunn is very efficient that way, so be forewarned to pay attention to everything and try not to forget all the things that happen in the story. One might be tempted to skim over portions of the novel (most likely when the author gets into her “flowing prose” style), but you should resist that temptation. If a character sees any page time in this book, rest assured that you will see him or her again.
Geek Love is a twisted commentary on the nuclear family in the modern day, made much more prominent by the ways that the “nuclear” has affected the development of the characters. This point is made especially well by the second story, told in modern times and narrated by Oly, the albino hunchback dwarf of the family all grown up. This subplot revolves around Oly’s daughter wishing to have her vestigial tail removed, and Oly trying to convince her that it makes her unique and special. In fact, this is a theme that comes up throughout the novel. Oly is asked several times if she’s ever wanted to be normal, and she is always surprised by the question. To her, her deformities, and those of all her family members, are what makes her a part of the family. To change her state is to change who she is, and what her family means to her. It’s quite an achievement on the author’s part that she was able to capture that theme so well, and so timelessly. The novel was published in 1989, and it’s still relevant 20 years later.
So, the question remains: Was this book horror “done right”? Well, simply put, this was almost the first book that I ever put down, never to finish, simply because the content offended me. I had real issues with the character of Arturo, and the lengths to which he would go to satisfy his curiosity and his ego. It begs comparisons to the experiments that Nazi doctors performed on the interred at concentration camps, which I imagine was very intentional on the author’s part. It’s disturbing, foul, haunting, and profane, and it really sums up how a person should feel after reading a horror novel. On the other hand, I would have serious reservations recommending this book to anyone. It’s well written and raises some interesting points, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Charlie Huston’s stuff is brutal, true, but I would have fewer reservations recommending his work over this. Charlie Huston is visceral and intense, but Geek Love is offensive and emotionally draining in its portrayal of cruelty and misguided devotion. As much as I thought about the book and will continue to think about it, I will likely never read this book again. It’s simply too much for me to process more than once.(less)