Shane Hinton has a bit of Jon Konrath in him, or maybe Jon has a bit of Shane in him. Or maybe they both have a bit of someone I have yet to read in tShane Hinton has a bit of Jon Konrath in him, or maybe Jon has a bit of Shane in him. Or maybe they both have a bit of someone I have yet to read in them both. But this collection shows that Hinton has an eye and ear for the absurd in daily life, though he ventures into the speculative more than Konrath does. And I only mention Konrath because I found myself chugging NyQuil Cough formula like it was soda the other day and ended up having a bad dream about that infant-mouse-covered snake on the front of this book. In my dream the snake had charmed the mice like a sort of reptilian Charles Manson and they were ready to do his bidding, except I also think the snake was female. A lot of it I’ve forgotten, which is probably a good thing. But I did have the nightmare. That much I do know.
Before I begin to discuss this book in earnest, I want to mention that there is some interesting meta going on in this collection, and meta I have seen in other books recently. I don’t think it’s happening enough to call it a trend, but this summer I managed to read three books wherein the characters were named for the authors. Hank Kirton named a couple of characters in his short story collection Bleak Holiday after himself. Brian Whitney’s Raping the Gods sports a protagonist named Brian Whitney, which may be because the book is autobiographical (and I am afraid to find out if it is indeed autobiographical). And every male protagonist in Pinkies is Shane Hinton. One story boasts dozens of Shane Hintons.
I can feel the desire to go on at extraordinary lengths rising up because I genuinely enjoyed this collection, so I’m going to limit myself to the stories I liked best. Every story works on some level – there wasn’t a clunker to be found – but I decided to limit myself to four of the sixteen stories in this slim volume. Let us all cross our fingers that such a measure keeps my verbosity more or less in check, but I think it’s safe to say this is going to be very long, because this is a good collection and because this is the first book review on Odd Things Considered and I feel self-indulgent with celebratory bookishness.
The first story I want to share is “All the Shane Hintons.” In this story, Shane Hinton is concerned that his wife regrets her choice in Shane Hintons and wants to be married to one of several more successful or good-looking Shane Hintons. He sends all the Shane Hintons he can find a questionnaire:
Do you realize that your initials are the same as the first two letters of your first name?
Do people always call you Sean? How do you respond?
Has my wife tried to contact you?
Of course I trust my wife, but sometimes it’s good to make sure.
Shane Hinton sends a five dollar check enclosed with the questionnaire to the Shane Hinton who is a “charity marathon organizer in Tennessee.” That Shane Hinton replies to the questionnaire:
“About six months ago, your wife sent a check for twenty dollars. People always call me Sean. It kind of hurts my feelings.”
Sarah Perry wrote this book from a place of philosophical intellectualism and factual integrity. She exhaustively researched the hows and whys of suicSarah Perry wrote this book from a place of philosophical intellectualism and factual integrity. She exhaustively researched the hows and whys of suicide and procreation and makes a very compelling case for making suicide accessible for people who do not want to live and for considering whether or not it is ethical to continue to create new humans whose lives may be more a burden to them than a gift. As she deftly picks apart the arguments against suicide and antinatalism, she bestows upon mankind a dignity and respect for self that anti-suicide and pro-birth crusaders deny us as we are asked to suffer and to mindlessly recreate ourselves because of tyrannies of tradition and religious mores.
So basically this is a dogpatch Julius Evola-esque rage against a modern, soft, leftist machine with lots and lots of specialized information about guSo basically this is a dogpatch Julius Evola-esque rage against a modern, soft, leftist machine with lots and lots of specialized information about guns. It is utterly hilarious in the way that your insane racist Uncle Jack can get after he’s had a few too many beers – drunk enough to be willing to say all sorts of horrible things with interesting comedic timing but not so drunk you’re in danger of getting your ass beat. Or shot. There is a lot of dark humor in this collection, very dark humor, but very funny nonetheless. At times my inner prig reared her head, and sometimes she was sorely provoked, but if you keep in mind context, time and authorial frame of mind, it’s clear that even the most ardent Commie-hating, feminist-loathing, Congress-despising gun-toter would see this as satire, not an accurate look at right-wing reactions to a changing and at times degenerate culture.
Hank Kirton may be the best odd short story writer you’ve never heard of, and that sucks because he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. ThHank Kirton may be the best odd short story writer you’ve never heard of, and that sucks because he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. This is a near-flawless collection of short stories. Of course, since it is a small press release it could be better edited, but even with that caveat this is still an excellent book. Kirton has a style that is immediately identifiable as being Hank-like, yet his stories cover a lot of intellectual and literary ground. He handles magical realism in a manner that I generally don’t expect from male authors, and some of his stories reminded me a bit of the sort of work Amelia Gray puts out – a sort of amusing, fey and ultimately good-spirited weirdness. Then at other times he manages the dark, nasty, post-modern flatness I associate with the mundane horror of A.M. Homes. His stories evoke some of the best work done by some of the best odd writers, infused with the uneasy strangeness and overall noir I’ve come to associate with Kirton’s work. I fancy I can see the veins Kirton mines for inspiration – one story even reminded me so much of an old R. Crumb comic that I had to scour the Internet to make sure I was remembering it correctly – but who knows? That’s the danger of writing – you never know what a demented Pflugervillian housewife will think of when she reads your stories.
Kirton’s voice remains very strong, even as he reminds me of other artists, and with one exception, every story in this collection soars because the eclectic nature of these stories definitely works in its favor. And the one story I didn’t particularly care for was because of my own deep distaste for the old Nancy Drew books. The story, “Janet Pepper, Girl Detective: The Mystery of the Kitchen Cabinet,” is a parody of those tiresome books with a very adult twist and I can see how it’s amusing and how others would find it very funny. I just remember all those gormless books being foisted upon me in grade school and how awful I found them, how boring they were, like chewing microwaved oatmeal, so this parody wasn’t that subversive to me given how little I could tolerate the original source.
So with that criticism out of the way, let me discuss the stories that I liked best in this 21-story collection.
“Jelly” is the story of two friends who discover a bizarre, dead creature and undergo a transformative experience. It’s a very simple story but the transformation is unusual and open to a lot of interpretation.
He looked at the pine tree in front of him, suddenly seized with an overriding impulse to touch the rough bark. He reached out and his fingertips stretched like upspearing tendrils until they circled the tree. He felt the whorls and arches of his fingertips merge with the grains of the wood and experienced a spiraling wave of pure pleasure so intense he was rendered blind with bliss.
Music and light. He was becoming music and light.
This story brought to mind a song from Ulver’s album, Perdition City. “Nowhere/Catastrophe” is a celebratory death song, a song of final transformation.
You fly, or rather float, drift Through an enormous dark room A room of noises
No planets, no meteorites If anything, perhaps fine dust clouds of exploded music
You float there, somewhere between pleasure and fear
And your last thought is that you have become a noise A thin, nameless noise among all the others Howling in the empty dark room.
There is a sense, when one is reading well-crafted fiction or listening to well-composed music, that there is a confluence of ideas that run their course in writers and artists, and you find them all drawing from the same well, that their works are trees growing from the same roots. There’s even an ee cummings element to this story, with word creation (“upspearing”) that generally causes me despair when others do it, but it worked really well in this piece. In a story wherein people disintegrate into music, this neologism ensured a melodic meter in the sentence.
My love for short story collections has been firmly established by now, so, in spite of the picture of the deformed kitten on the cover, I was alreadyMy love for short story collections has been firmly established by now, so, in spite of the picture of the deformed kitten on the cover, I was already inclined toward liking this book. I was somewhat disappointed. Bingham’s prose style is similar to my own when I write fiction – Bingham relishes ridiculous and horrible details yet writes about them in a spare, concise manner. He eschews over-use of adjectives and adverbs, which gives his prose an immediacy, a sort of direct punch that doesn’t get dragged down by needless scene setting or excessive characterization. This is not beautiful prose; rather, this is effective prose. But even as the prose is effective, I still found it difficult to like this collection as much as the solid writing would ordinarily inspire in me.
The book consists of four stories and the first, “Population I” verges dangerously into cliched territory, yet is the best story in the collection. The protagonist, The Writer, is suffering from writer’s block and every bit of success other writers receive, however small those successes may be, cause him anguish. Like many blocked writers, The Writer is sort of pompous, certain other writers are useless hacks. He loathes almost everyone around him, except for a black convict named Jamal, who was sent to prison for deliberately spreading HIV to not-so-unsuspecting sex partners. Jamal is The Writer’s Jack Henry Abbott, a conveniently locked-up substitution for his own thwarted id. However, if Jamal were ever paroled, one very much gets the sense that The Writer would be Jamal’s next victim, and, in fact, The Writer craves the humiliation and personal destruction that would come from being raped by a man with HIV. Such an obliteration would finally give a focus to his own pointlessness.
There are two reasons to read this book. The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sThere are two reasons to read this book. The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sorts of men who really love Jonathan Franzen, a sort of Lester Burnham-esque unhappiness that can only be cured by having sex with a much-younger woman and sneering at the daily grind and everyday domesticity. She distills this generational malaise through a single character and refuses to show us the way out, because, most of the time there isn’t one. The other reason to read it is because it is so very funny. Seriously, Sterzinger has the sort of intelligent, acerbic wit that I imagined I had back when I was a drunk.
I think this is a book that will read differently to every person who picks it up. Women of a certain age (hi!) will want to take the protagonist and swat him with a newspaper until he stops pissing and moaning about his life and either accept it or change it in a meaningful way, and I wanted to swat him all the more because Lester (yep, Lester) Reichartsen is himself a man of a certain age. He embodies the Gen-X confusion-burnout that I see plaguing so many of my age-peers, coupled with a longing for an edgy past because their passivity and entitlement meant they ended up in a life they really never wanted but didn’t have the balls to reject along the way.
In the beginning, Lester is just one of those people. You know, the ones for whom everything happens to them and they actually do very little. They feel very put-upon. Lester is more or less living a life he hates that he feels happened to him due to no actions or faults of his own. He hates everyone around him – especially his only child and the religious mid-westerners who surround his college town – and the only things he really accomplishes, aside from a prolonged, drunken nervous breakdown, are taking long walks and engaging in an affair.
Though I find Lester largely irritating and unlikeable, he is not unique in his passive, seething uselessness. Jesus, so many young people born to baby boomer parents ended up like this. Almost all of us were latch-key kids, the post-Reagan economic state seemed hopeless, and we had Pearl Jam running across the stage in baggy shorts making millions of dollars moaning about their mothers, which was sort of understandable because so many of us were raised in divorced, single-parent, female-headed households. Some young men raised in such an environment felt buffeted by fate, as if everything they wanted would never happen and they entered a post-collegiate life with no idea what to do next. Get married? Yeah, that worked so well for our parents. Get a good job? But aren’t we supposed to find our bliss and honor our talents? Didn’t our parents raise us to honor our deep individuality (while giving us little assistance in determining how to put that individuality to use)? Get a factory job? None are left. The world changed so much in such a short period of time that all the lessons many Gen-xers were taught were obsolete the day after they became adults.
It’s tempting to write Lester off as a self-involved crap-fest of a human being, but even as I wanted to grab his nose between my index and middle finger and twist it violently, I felt a certain level of empathy for him. He almost seems like an embodiment of the sentiment expressed in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club – we were all told we were going to be rock stars and when that didn’t happen it pissed off large segments of this generation. So many of us feel like we have failed our families, ourselves and especially our past, idealistic selves. What do we do about that rage and real failure? To avoid that sense of failure, wounded egos become passive, taking paths of least resistance, so they can say that they aren’t responsible for anything in their lives – that’s how we end up with Lesters. Lester Reichartsen is a self-absorbed, largely useless asshole but he’s our asshole, my generation’s asshole. You can’t hobble large segments of a generation and then hold them completely responsible for limping.
Yep, the odd broad read this bestseller pot boiler and I really liked it. I had assiduously avoided all spoilers before reading it and was impressed aYep, the odd broad read this bestseller pot boiler and I really liked it. I had assiduously avoided all spoilers before reading it and was impressed at how Flynn handled her plot and characterization. Enough has been said about this book so I'm not going to add much to the review-noise around this book, but I liked it so much I bought another Flynn title knowing little about it and am excited about reading it soon. ...more
This is the second installment of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy. You know, it is what it is – a decently executed young adult novel.This is the second installment of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy. You know, it is what it is – a decently executed young adult novel. Quick synopsis: The peculiar children (peculiars are people who have strange, extraordinary powers) have left their Loop, a sort of place wherein time is frozen, and are trying to save Miss Peregrine, their adult caretaker, while saving themselves. It’s formulaic but it has some interesting elements that, if detected by readers, can raise some interesting questions. For example, the protagonist, Jacob, became sucked into events because his grandfather was a peculiar who decided to leave the Loop and live amongst normal people. When his grandfather is murdered, Jacob finds the Loop wherein his grandfather had lived and meets the peculiar children who live there. The Loop is frozen right before World War Two in England, and there Jacob meets Emma, a young teenage peculiar girl. Emma was once his grandfather’s girlfriend. In this book, Jacob and Emma become boyfriend and girlfriend.
All sorts of questions crop up in this pairing. Emma, despite being frozen in time for over 70 years, has nonetheless been alive and presumably engaging in activities that have advanced her character and experience beyond those of the average teen girl. Jacob, however, is chronologically a teenage boy. He has not lived those extra 70 years and the experience gap seemed strange, no matter how girlish Emma behaves. Stranger and more uncomfortable is the notion that Jacob is dating his grandfather’s ex-girlfriend. Worse, Jacob’s grandfather was a cad and left Emma brokenhearted. Jacob is cleaning up his late-pop-pop’s romantic mess. That’s sort of… unusual to find in a young adult book.
But that mild squick aside, the main reason to read Riggs’ books is because of the manipulated photos that Riggs uses to illustrate his stories. They add a visceral element to the book because this is a book of teenagers and very young children fighting a battle of good and evil wherein they can very easily be killed. The faces of real children give the dangerous actions they engage in a sobering context. Better than that, the pictures are visually interesting. Some are quite beautiful. Genuine pictures from appropriate eras are altered in creepy, elegant ways and the pictures are the “price of admission” for Riggs’ books. For Christmas I got a copy of Ransom Riggs’ Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past, a collection of found, candid photographs. It’s a compelling collection. While the Peculiar Children series is interesting enough, I guess, I think the use of the altered photographs, of the sort I associate with very arty collages, set the books apart from most young adult, and it seems like it’s more than just a jaded hook to distinguish Riggs from other, more talented writers. The pictures are as important as the text and the books would suffer without them. Luckily the pictures are evocative, unique and at times disturbing and I have enough invested that when the third and final book is available, I will buy it. But if you aren’t tolerant of young adult reading and don’t care about photo manipulations, you aren’t going to want to read these books....more
I purchased this book on a whim and because several people I like and respect thought highly of the book, I wanted to like it (though it should be menI purchased this book on a whim and because several people I like and respect thought highly of the book, I wanted to like it (though it should be mentioned that Cory Doctorow likes this book and the Venn diagram that shows in common the literature we like is generally two circles that never overlap and I should bear that in mind the next time I buy a book that has a front page blurb from him). And I did like the first part of the book. I really liked the female protagonist, Emily, and the notion of an elite corps of spies recruited and trained on the basis of their ability to persuade with words, including magic words and phrases that can quite literally destroy the world. She is on a traditional thriller collision course with the other protagonist, Wil Parke, a man immune to extreme persuasion, and that’s where things started falling apart for me. Others have commented on how this was a intricate plot that still somehow managed to remain simple for the reader. That was not my experience with this book.
The plot even now doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t recall why Emily did as she was told by the agency that recruited her and the plot wasn’t helped by the fact that the people working for this agency all took the names of authors and, you know, since there was more than one Bronte writer, we had a couple of Brontes in the mix. I lost track of who was who at times because of their assumptions of new names. There was a Fight Club-esque twist that irritated me and it’s hard to remember a book in recent memory that left so many open threads at the end.
What makes this book so frustrating to discuss is that the concept is great and elements of this book are very gripping, while character motivations and the plot were weak. This novel is both excellent and terrible.
I also want to answer the questions presented in the book, questions that when answered honestly can evidently enable people to know you and control you.
1. What do you do in your spare time.
Answer: Two prong answer:
a. All my time is spare time so I guess I do everything.
b. If all my time is spare time, then spare time is my real time, so I guess I don’t actually have any spare time.
2. What would you do if you had a year to live.
Answer: This assumes I have a year to live. Trick question.
3. What are you most proud of?
Answer: How organized my books are.
4) What do you want?
Answer: The Voynich Manuscript. In my hands. Right now....more
It’s not so surprising that I adored this collection – I raved about Nutting’s look at a female sexual predator and had high expectations for this booIt’s not so surprising that I adored this collection – I raved about Nutting’s look at a female sexual predator and had high expectations for this book. This collection is less concentrated in terms of content and style than Tampa and the varied nature of this collection shows Nutting’s skill as a teller of many types of stories. She handles mundane yet self-aware neuroticism like an updated Tama Janowitz (whose seminal summation of ’80s New York, Slaves of New York, I will be discussing here soon). She dips in and out of fantasy and magical realism with a deft hand and plenty of humor. She is a keen observer of the human condition and tells her stories with great sympathy for her characters, even the ridiculous ones.
Book stores really need to shelf this book in young adult and not in regular fiction and literature sections. That way middle-aged women who routinelyBook stores really need to shelf this book in young adult and not in regular fiction and literature sections. That way middle-aged women who routinely buy books on a whim won’t end up with another young adult series on their hands. Because even if this is marketed as adult fiction, it’s young adult, and while I am not a snob against young adult, it’s not my first choice when deciding to read a book. So that was the first strike against the book and I guess we can blame that on Barnes and Noble instead of Wells.
But Wells has some marks against him, too. Overall, the idea is interesting – a kid who believes he is a soul-less psychopath and destined to become a serial killer finds out the real thing is living very near him and he is obsessed with finding out who is responsible for the string of gory murders plaguing his town. He lives with his mother above their mortuary business and for a while you think this book is going to be a nice blend of Catcher in the Rye, Dexter and Mary Roach’s Stiff. And it is for a bit. But then you notice that the protagonist teenager really doesn’t seem to meet the criteria for psychopathy and not in a “wink-wink, the kid really isn’t a psychopath but doesn’t know it” sort of way, but rather in a “crap, read the goddamn DSM, please” kind of way. Still, Wells didn’t go off the rails as badly as some writers do when trying to write about mentally unstable characters.
But the real problem with this book was the supernatural element that Wells imbued in the killer. We went from a real kid with real problems inserting himself into a real crime spree to a questionable episode of True Blood, but since it is a young adult novel, we don’t even have Alexander Skarsgard’s ass or random breast shots to try to distract us from what a bad decision the supernatural element is. And this is all the worse because the book remained more or less readable, in that I didn’t put it down even as I cursed inside at the really crappy plot twist. So buyer beware – not the worst book ever and it has some interesting, visceral moments, but I’m totally not reading the rest of the books in this series....more