This is probably the worst Tom Robbins I've ever read. Which isn't to say that it isn't funny. It is. It is very funny, with lots of excellent lines aThis is probably the worst Tom Robbins I've ever read. Which isn't to say that it isn't funny. It is. It is very funny, with lots of excellent lines and clever little observations. The problem is that the characterizations, even for parody, even for humor, are flat and contrived, the philosophy espoused is pedestrian, even for a college freshman (seriously, can't people just get over their realizations that Columbus didn't "discover" the Americas? Is it really so profound that you have been told a lie of fact even as you are being told a truth of consequences?), and the political commentary is so incensed that it lies down on the traintracks of talking head babble.
Tom Robbins is better than this. I found myself agreeing with all of his views and disagreeing with nearly all of the ways that he said things. Gone from this novel is the depth of characterization and the complexity of the absurdity of the situations. Here things mostly just happen, largely to characters that end up not mattering at all, almost entirely for reasons that are arbitrary. Coincidence is fine when it brings to a head a point or a revelation of character, but herein there is coincidence simply to move things forward (the greatest sin there is), and while a mystic refusal to answer questions can create a sense of deeper intellectual exploration, here it is simply a refusal to ask or answer the questions that could have been posed. As it is, these unanswered mysteries are simply just things that happen.
In honesty, it is a novel worth reading, if you like these kind of novels, because it is funny and because it is fun (I enjoyed it all of the way through). The problem is that it is empty where it is trying to be full, leaving the reader, in the end, feeling likewise....more
When this works, it works very well. When it doesn't, it is still a good read. It is a gimmick that only sometimes works, to be honest. Too often theWhen this works, it works very well. When it doesn't, it is still a good read. It is a gimmick that only sometimes works, to be honest. Too often the recollections, though beautifully rendered in a mostly punctuation-less run-on, are merely accounts of how the person got to where they were, leading up to the moment of beheading. It doesn't shine, it doesn't illuminate, it doesn't philosophize or ruminate or make wonder: it renders. Butler is a wonderfully talented writer and has exploited the gimmick in the past to great ends, but here he struggles mostly in vain.
Which isn't to say that it is a failure. There are some truly beautiful moments and perhaps a half dozen of these flashfiction pieces is executed nearly flawlessly and, again, what doesn't work is always at least interesting and well written. ...more
For those familiar with McCarthy, you will recognize in this novel his particular lyrical style (though without the brilliance he had reached by BloodFor those familiar with McCarthy, you will recognize in this novel his particular lyrical style (though without the brilliance he had reached by Blood Meridian), but it is a novel not entirely his own. It feels like Light in August has been overlaid with Wise Blood with an outer layer of the dark. This largely works within the novel, its brooding journey and mythological religious questionings are the type of struggle and search that McCarthy does so well, but there is humor here of the non-morbid sense, of the absurd, of the ridiculous, and while it works on its own, it mostly feels out of place, confusing as to its intent.
What holds it together is the journey of the soul that these two characters must undergo, especially as it comes into affirmation and/or conflict with the world, the darkness of one or the other bleeding over in this world of quiet, murderous Appalachia....more
It must be said how incredibly delightful these monologues are. They are almost all very funny and a good number of them are likewise poignant and strIt must be said how incredibly delightful these monologues are. They are almost all very funny and a good number of them are likewise poignant and striking. But like most flash fiction, to me, it is too often too little. And like a snippet from McSweenies online, many of the great pieces of humor have little else to them--there is a knowing nod and a smirk, but nothing underneath. Which sounds so critical, though I do not mean it that way. I recommend this to everyone who likes delightful flash fiction and to those that like a good little laugh, even if it fails to really get further beyond that for me....more
This is a novel that is very problematic. In it, a lot of people make a lot of very stupid mistakes. Sometimes they are stupid mistakes made reasonablThis is a novel that is very problematic. In it, a lot of people make a lot of very stupid mistakes. Sometimes they are stupid mistakes made reasonably (the aha moment about what sparked riots), but mostly they are just stupid. Things like a decade long expedition having a crew of 8 friends, and that's it. Things like an absolute lack of planning. Things that are convenient for plot at the expense of common sense (and, seriously, those vines must be something!).
But beyond these problems of science that get in the way a little bit, and beyond further problems such as frustratingly hack writing, where characters are always declaring to the reader what has been perfectly obvious within the dialog, or going too far and hitting the point too squarely on the nose, this is an excellent novel. Most easily described as Jesuits in Space, it is a long meditation on the importance, fallibility and difficult nature of personal faith--both religious and not. It ruminates on this, it lets it seep through, letting us understand the levels of faith that one can have and seeing how this faith is sapped and strengthened and lost and grown(in no particular order). And this rumination is not the typical kind. It does not attempt to indoctrinate people, as so many religious books (or books by religious people) attempt to do--poorly. It also does not attempt to slander religion as almost every other book about religion (this time by atheists/agnostics) tries to do. Rather it is a philosophical question that is rooted in humanity and in the characters in a very real, very meaningful way.
So I excuse the excesses of poor suspense methods, the cheesy moments, the stupidity arisen solely of plot device, the false teases of misinformation, etc. They are there and they are prevalent, and they frustrated me, but it is just as apparent that they aren't what this book is about and the path it wants to take, while poorly hewn, is a new and interesting one. ...more
If you, like me, come to this from more recent Bryson (A walk in the woods, a brief history of nearly everything, home, etc.), go ahead and skip this.If you, like me, come to this from more recent Bryson (A walk in the woods, a brief history of nearly everything, home, etc.), go ahead and skip this. If you REALLY love small town america, skip it. If you are republican, skip it, if you are offended by the crude, skip it.
Still there? Okay, there is a lot to like about this book, but it is smothered in a large helping of overwrought, overly self-indulgent cynicism. Bryson is funny, at times uproariously hilarious, and these moments just work. Read the first chapter. If you find his description of Des Moines insulting, you won't like this, but if you can see past the gruffness, amid the hilarity is a love of this town he simultaneously cannot help but hate. These are the moments that work well, where Bryson sees past the schmaltz of small town charm and exposes what is wrong with it. There is something wrong with everything, and he really wants to get at it and rip it to shreds in hilarious ways.
When the book doesn't work, however, is when it is too self-important. Listening, for example, to Bryson proclaim about race is pitiful. He is so disconnected from the history or racial tensions in the US that every time he opens his mouth he is wrong. He is trying to get at the tensions, to expose hypocritical behavior, but he is unaware or willfully ignoring so much nuance that feels like being berated by an ignorant church lady. This applies elsewhere. He is so intent, for instance, on making an American's Don't Exercise screed that while driving through the Smoky Mountains, which he doesn't walk through, he stops at a few scenic overlooks, notices other cars at them and claims that there were no hikers at all. This occurs numerous times. It isn't like he is exactly wrong--American's don't hike that much--it is that he is going so far outside of reason to make his point that it fails to work. This is a tactic that works fine for humor (and when he is exaggerating for the sake of a joke, you will laugh out loud and frighten the people at Starbucks), but less so for social critique.
Bryson as a younger man is too bitter, too compelled to make his points and too ready to bend the truth for everything to come off very well. Later on, when he stopped trying to make political points for the sake of his own agenda and used the absurdities of human behavior (which is inherently political when one chooses a side to laugh at) as fodder for smart comedy or exasperated guffaws about humanity, Bryson became someone that you NEEDED to read. This early on, however, he is funny, he is smart and he has things to say--it's just that he's so sure that what he has to say is brilliant that he bludgeons his readers with self-righteous banality.
So gird your loins if you want to read this: there is plenty to get from this, plenty of laughs, many poignant pieces about his father and some interesting examination on nostalgia, but they're buried in some real stinkers of self-indulgent, unwitty snark....more
If you want to hear a bunch of mediocre (though definitely interesting) conversations about the multiverse (except by conversation--or dialog as theyIf you want to hear a bunch of mediocre (though definitely interesting) conversations about the multiverse (except by conversation--or dialog as they are called in the novel--I don't mean a discussion where two peers engage in a topic in an intelligent manner. That doesn't happen here. Instead, what happens is that one person lectures the other person, who exists only to ask mediocre questions from time to time or to put up completely ineffectual rebuttals that are easily smashed down), you are in luck! This book has them in spades. In fact, it is nearly the entire novel!
If you want to read a story filled with interesting characters, turn around. Sorry. The main character is selected for a super-important convention despite not being particularly good at anything (the only thing he actually does is pilot a ship in the last 100 pages, and he's essentially there by accident) and has no real personality. He has a mentor, who's semi-interesting, but who exists simply to lecture people (having no life outside of that, essentially). He gets a girlfriend, except that doesn't happen until 400 pages in, with almost no preface, then two pages of thought is given to their relationship (by relationship, I mean that they kiss once) before it is over. Then the girl dates a friend of the main character's, despite having shown no interest in him, then inexplicably dumps the friend for the main character. And they get married. WHAT?
Let's just say that the characters exist merely to have conversations about the multiverse. There are only 3 women in this novel (there are others, but their roles are limited to a few pages), except they don't really do anything. Sure, they're competent individuals, but they are excluded. They are excluded entirely from the beginning, introduced for a few pages before leaving, left out of the road trip entirely (except as a romantic liason with a male character) and then come back at the end. Why? Yep, to date the male characters. This would have been fine if...
The plot. The plot is terrible. Almost nothing that happens in this novel actually matters. The massive descriptions of the Convent like location that make up the first 100 pages end up having nothing to do with the rest of the book. The information learned in the first 400 pages ends up having nothing to do with anything at the end. The entire travelogue of the journey has no effect on the rest of the book, etc. Only the final expedition actually matters, and it would have been accomplished without the help of any of the main characters (the entirety of the worthwhile action being done by a group of warrior monks that have nothing to do with the main characters except incidentally).
But there is the multiverse! Unfortunately, it's garbage. I'm gonna spoiler this paragraph, so dont' read it if you want to read this novel. Okay, the only people here are the people that have read it, right? So the aliens are just from another parallel universe, having come "up" right? Okay, sure. Except that the novel is only resolved by another character visiting and rearranging other parallel universes at will. Yeah, that's right, apparently the giant ship that is needed...isn't needed. Except that novel doesn't seem to realize this. It's like an xzibit yo dawg meme, only it's supposed to be the turning point of the novel.
I don't mind sci-fi bending the sci part of the equation. It's part of the game, it happens, we learn to deal. Whenever that is all that matters, however, and I've been lectured at for 600 out of 900 pages about it, I do expect the reveal to not be completely undermined.
Stephenson is a very smart writer and he is really excited about the multiverse (it is exciting!), which is great, and he even has some really great snatches of thought that break down complex physics quite elegantly, but they are few and far between in a novel that makes little sense and is too long by 600 pages. That's right. This novel could have accomplished everything that this does in a mere 300 pages. Sure, we wouldn't have endless pages of someone breaking something down to an idiot who keeps asking dumb questions, but would we really miss it? Anything of Stephenson's earlier work is worth checking out, but skip Anathem unless you are a devotee or don't mind boring conversations (and to clarify: their subject is fascinating, their execution is tedious, overwrought and full of lame questions by idiots, mostly bad analogies and overlong, underwhelming explanations) and lacking characters. Blargh....more
Most people will read this because of what they think it is. A funny, whimsical book about the dating (and kissing!) life of a young mormon woman in NMost people will read this because of what they think it is. A funny, whimsical book about the dating (and kissing!) life of a young mormon woman in New York city, paired with the tale of how she dropped over eighty pounds almost overnight. It does a good job at this. It is appropriately vain and self deprecating, digging into the details of her crushes, her failures and her successes and glorying in its tell-all nature. Oh, there are celebrities behaving badly as well.
And while that part works just fine, especially as carried by Baker's wry humor, what is much more interesting about this book is its reminiscence on faith. There is no actual, cerebral reminiscing in this (don't worry beach readers!), but the book is structured entirely about faith. Even though it spends gads of time talking about being fat, about losing weight and then the author's vanity (the hissy fit she throws when she realizes her older sister is still the pretty one is wonderful), etc., even as it is composing chapter interlude lists of men she's kissed, where she met them and etc., it is a ploy. It is entirely about faith. Being overweight is part of her struggle with faith, just as losing that weight is the same. Her dating life is likewise a struggle with faith, of being unable to properly negotiate the path between wants and desires, even when they sometimes overlap.
What is surprising is how persistent this thread is, how it is everything in here. This is why we see almost nothing about Baker's professional life, even though it would be, I'm sure, fascinating to see, because her professional life wasn't tied into this mode of thinking as much, it wasn't something that shook her at the core of her religious beliefs in the ways that appearances, fitting in and dating did. Baker would make a terrible spokesperson for any of the groups that she belongs to, because she cannot commit to anything wholeheartedly; it is because of this failure, however, that her journey is all the more relateable and poignant....more
If this had skipped narrative completely, I would have enjoyed it more. If it had embraced it more fully, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, theIf this had skipped narrative completely, I would have enjoyed it more. If it had embraced it more fully, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, the collage feels tightly gathered, but lacking in meaning. It is full of emotion and words, but the words are merely scraps and while they would like to edge us, through compilation, towards a kind of emotional understanding (it has nothing to do with plot or character understanding), but these goals are, sadly, simply not met. It comes off as a beautiful attempt, a noble try, but it is hamstrung between its impulses to tell and to show, doing not enough, in the end, of either to leave the reader/viewer satisfied. It is interesting, it is worth a look, but it is, ultimately, something that I will put down and forget about....more
Let me be blunt: Charles Baxter is not my favorite author. Sometimes his stories don't move as much as I would really like them to and often they areLet me be blunt: Charles Baxter is not my favorite author. Sometimes his stories don't move as much as I would really like them to and often they are too long for my tastes. Let me be honest: Charles Baxter is a master writer, and if you aren't getting much from his stories, it is because you aren't putting much in. There is a lot to appreciate, a lot to enjoy and a lot to learn. This is a great collection that I didn't love, but I liked it a lot and I am still learning from it....more
Some of the stories in this collection simply appealed to me on a shallow level: the funny quips and the beautiful prose. Most of them, however, madeSome of the stories in this collection simply appealed to me on a shallow level: the funny quips and the beautiful prose. Most of them, however, made me stop reading and think; and after I had gotten lost in my thoughts, and had looped around back to the story, I realized that there was so much more.
I cannot do it justice in this little review blurb, but here is a brief impression: Enright is unsentimental, but very emotional, she is witty, clever and cruel, she is kind and giving. Her characters feel very, very connected to her, but they seem also to veer away into their own lives and their own mistakes. What is striking is not the funny things a character says or the heartbreaking things that they do, but rather, what is striking is the fierce intellect that drives everything so that when you have finished the story and begin rereading you realize that there is an entire submerged narrative, a philosophy, a critique, an amazement, that has been hiding in there the whole time, waiting for you to uncover it. I read Enright and I feel stupid, but I keep reading and I realize that she is simply so clever and that if I give myself a little time, she has planted the seeds for my own understanding and I feel, if not elated (there are some depressing stories here), then at least illuminated....more
There is a lot to love here, and many do, but it just didn't gel to me. Shteyngart is funny and interesting, and his dystopia hits hard when it postulThere is a lot to love here, and many do, but it just didn't gel to me. Shteyngart is funny and interesting, and his dystopia hits hard when it postulates such insidiously clever ideas such as credit poles, its jabs at consumer fetishes are interesting and it's prediction of future smartphones feels clever, if not revolutionary. But most of the jokes fall flat, the idea that people are backwards idiots without books, the extent of the social media critique, jokes such as Putingrad, etc, all feel like easy, low-hanging fruit that has little reward and makes the world feel like a skit more than a well-thought out, amusing kind of a warning.
What saves the book is the super sad true love story at its heart. The sad reader and his unlikely beautiful girlfriend. It mostly works. We know, quickly, their ultimate fate, but there is something in how it is portrayed that really shines through and makes us root for them as the US falls apart around them and their relationship. It mostly works very well and it mostly covers up for the other, less striking parts.
I liked this book, I thought it was interesting and touching. It just wasn't nearly as good as I had hoped that it would be....more
This is a truly heartbreaking novel. While it begins in a way that is tried, true, and frankly almost boring (the young man at school), it moves on frThis is a truly heartbreaking novel. While it begins in a way that is tried, true, and frankly almost boring (the young man at school), it moves on from this in surprising, engaging ways. This slender novel spends a good amount of time navel-gazing, pondering time and memory, justifying actions and lauding particular trains of thought. It is all very proper. What begins happening, however, is that halfway through the novel the assumptions that seemed so set in stone begin crumbling. We begin to see, truthfully, how correct the narrator has been about memory, and how wrong he has been (and continues to be) about himself. His narrative collapses and so he builds a new one, but this process only repeats. It is a self-reflecting novel in which the character's reflection is what is being called into question.
What this all adds up to is that the novel is a striking meditation on what it is like to be a person, particularly when we can fall so easily and so often, and what it is like to realize how far we have fallen, at times, even when that realization, it turns out, is just as wrong, as hopeful and deluded as the last....more
This novel misses a few ripe, juicy moments, it lingers a little long in some of its scenes, it goes for some low hanging fruit, from time to time, buThis novel misses a few ripe, juicy moments, it lingers a little long in some of its scenes, it goes for some low hanging fruit, from time to time, but it is strong and interesting nevertheless.
It is the tale of the end of humanity, which means it is a tale about the future of society (what must we do to put our species at risk?) and it is a meditation on the afterlife. Sure, the concept of the afterlife is a little silly (and is contained in the epigraph in a way that's a little too pat), but it is written about so beautifully (Brockmeier sometimes guilds the lily, but he can turn some beautiful phrases) and so passionately that you are willing to let these things go. You want to find out, you want to know, you want to read on and you want to simply savor the moments. This is the point....more
While this collection stumbles at times, with some stories that are a little too pat and trite (the Foxconn story--though not called that--comes to miWhile this collection stumbles at times, with some stories that are a little too pat and trite (the Foxconn story--though not called that--comes to mind) or some endings that are a little too easy, McHugh does a great job with these short stories. They avoid the easy questions and answers, the simple solutions to problems. They are interesting examinations of human character, sometimes good and sometimes not. It is a collection about who we are and who we might become. The tone ranges, which is nice, but the humanity of the piece holds the line. It is not excellent, but it is good, and it is worth your time if the premise excites you....more