I wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience wasI wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience was one in which I remember where I was during the story, one in which I sat in my car after the commute from the office, unable to move until the story had completed. I remember sitting there, in that car, as Gemma looked out over the icy river after her father. "I was his eldest child, and he taught me what he knew," one of the closing lines of the story, still echoes around my head. I searched out the story that same evening, and purchased this collection simply because of it.
I think the reason that "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" caught me so by surprise, struck me so where I live, is because of the intricate, fragile relationship between father and daughter that the story portrays. I read it shortly after the birth of our daughter, and in the midst of attempting to imagine our future and the care with which I was attempting to craft my relationship with her from the beginning, this story was...shaking...to me as Vaughn so clearly painted each character through the other's eyes.
This collection is filled with just that...moments that are familiar to each of us in some capacity, not in their setting but in their events, capturing the one through the eyes of the other. I found myself examining many of the moments through which I have already traveled, and anticipating those through which I still must, looking to the other individuals that inhabit my own narrative with fresh perspective. The events that Vaughn captures are astounding in their normalcy, familiar in their commonality. There are no moments here in which I found myself closing the book to examine what the author meant. What Vaughn is doing, and what she is doing well, is placing each of us, either retroactively or predictively, into these situations through her characters and giving us the opportunity to explore ourselves.
Vaughn is following the same cast of characters here through various settings and stages of life. I immediately equated this with Salinger's Nine Stories, but don't, because, while parallels are easily drawn to the approach, there is nothing nearly as metaphysical going on in Vaughn's collection. It's absence is in no way a detractor. Vaughn's stories are complex but never overwhelming. The timbre of her language resonates with a uniqueness, her prose is concise but never succinct, and always original. Her wit is quick, leaving the reader with a smile but never quite laughing aloud. This is not a lengthy read at just under 200 pages, but you may find yourself spacing it out into a story per evening as I did for over a week. This is because, what I did find myself pondering after each...the relationships in my own life...was worth the time to digest.
I wasn't aware of Vaughn prior to that podcast. I'm certainly glad that has changed. Sweet Talk is a touching and sincere addition to your shelf that you will find quite necessary. ...more
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just nThis is a bad land for gods.
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just north of 400 pages that alternatively was either difficult to pick up or difficult to put down.
I had never experienced Gaiman in literary form before this book. I knew him from his comics writing, most notably The Sandman, and was curious as to his other writing. The title of this one arrested my attention, and it took me a bit to decipher what's going on within the pages.
I'll set the stage: Our protagonist, Shadow, is released from prison days early because his wife has been killed. He encounters a gentleman who wants to hire him as a sort of bodyguard while traveling to the funeral, and he agrees. He is then caught up in a brewing war...a war between the old gods, those of Norse, Roman, Greek pantheons as well as from various other traditions and countries...and the new gods, the gods of technology, of media, of all the things that America holds dear. Those are the gods that Americans have come to worship, and leave the old gods are fighting for their survival.
Yet...this is a bad land for gods.
It sounds gripping, right? And certainly, at the end, you're drawn into the climactic conflicts in true graphic novel style. The book takes a while to pick up momentum...I was over 150 pages in before I felt like I was really moving, and after that point it was very start-and-stop. I found the novel outright difficult to continue at times, and, at around 250 pages or so, I was forcing my way through only because I refuse, on principle, to stop reading a book that I have started. Now, while that sounds bad, I'll say also that the pacing is my only complaint about Gaiman's craft here. His narrative is clear and imaginative, his dialogue nothing short of brilliant at times. I'm perfectly willing to concede that the pacing problem was me, not the author, and his craft at painting these gods...these gods in our country...is original, resourceful, and thought-provoking. Gaiman weaves in ancient religious traditions throughout the novel that I found myself wishing I knew more of, and I'm left with the feeling that these were frequently over my head.
So, my disappointment in the novel has nothing to do with Gaiman's skill as a writer. What gives me pause is the discontinuity is what the novel says, the commentary (if I may over-use that word) that it makes. America is, in fact, a bad land for gods, as Gaiman states. It is a country of mis-matched origins, of disconnected histories woven into one, each bringing with it its own beliefs and traditions that have melded in a collision with a lack of history. Thus, traditions have been forgotten, and, in the rush of modern life, former religions are left by the wayside, discarded as futile and ancient, while new religions of business and technology replace them. Yet, even these religions hold little power, and are quickly forgotten as new religions are spun to take their places. And so, we reap the fruits of a shallow existence, of one without history or tradition or belief in anything other than what is most convenient. This is the world that Gaiman gives us in American Gods, and this is the critique that I find most true and lasting. And, in fact, had it been left there, I think that this would have been an outstanding novel because, agree with the statement or not, it is a powerful statement to make.
This, however, is merely (if I can apply that descriptor) the foundation for Gaiman to explore the concept and power of worship. The gods are left with power only when they are worshipped. The gods worshipped the most have the most power. As the protagonist tells us, human beings believe...it's what we do, and thus we will believe in something, however shallow that something is as the former things fade into the background.
Is it, then this scattershot belief that makes this such a bad land for gods?
Again, that question is worth unpacking, and is enough for two novels. I applaud Gaiman for letting this circulate through his story.
Then, however...then comes the excessively didactic proclamation that the gods are, in fact, created by man, and only have power when man worships them...that man has not accepted responsibility for his inventions of belief, which now run amok and do damage while left unattended, eventually withering and dying away, impotent and powerless when forgotten. The breadth of Gaiman's closure here seems to sweep all religions into this net, no faiths excluded, thus diminishing the very metaphysical statement that he makes earlier. Man, then, is the being with all the power, here, and the only true worship is self-worship...a remarkably shallow statement that leaves the reader empty after so much promise.
And yet...Gaiman hints at surprisingly redemptive moments through human belief. Shadow's relating of the account of the thieves hanging on either side of Christ during the crucifixion, and reminding that the thieves should perhaps be remembered because perhaps they know spiritual realities more than many others, is quick, simple, and wants to be powerful. Later, the gods tell Shadow that it didn't matter that he didn't believe in them, because they believed in him...both stories of faith in something larger that ourselves that can salvage us despite our inability to do anything in our own favor. Is this fundamental state of the human condition also manufactured, left empty as it relies only on gods that we have created and are thus less than are we? Perhaps then, we are sacrifical to ourselves, or to our own creations, as would seem to be the case when Shadow hangs on the tree in the final chapters, an attempt at a Christological metaphor so obvious and so dysfunctional that I couldn't have handled anything more glaring and in our face than it was.
I had read and heard much praise about this novel and, while certainly well-written, it left me profoundly disappointed in it's lack of coherency and connectivity. Gaiman's prose adeptly proclaims one thing, only to contradict it later. Perhaps that's the point, and I'm missing something larger here, but I expected more of Gaiman. This novel is worth exploring...sort of. If your curiosity isn't nagging you to read it, though, I can't say that you'll be happy it's on your shelf....more
The Leftovers was an unknown book to me until a friend mentioned over coffee one evening this confusing book that had been loaned to him by one of hisThe Leftovers was an unknown book to me until a friend mentioned over coffee one evening this confusing book that had been loaned to him by one of his friends. He mentioned it a couple of times over the next few weeks, and consistently referenced that, while it was an easy read, he just couldn't figure out what it was that the author was up to. Because of my background, though, he had sought his friend's permission to loan the book to me in turn when he finished, because he was interested in my opinion.
The premise of the Leftovers is this: a Rapture-like event called the Great Departure has occurred, and the story picks up with those who have been (pardon the cliche) left behind. Except this event didn't mesh with the Rapture of Christian theology, because people of all faiths are missing, just as many Christians are left behind. Obviously, the world toys with falling apart, and many individuals do just that. Perrotta centers his story on the citizens of one mid-western U.S. town, Mapleton, and how they survive and move forward.
Many religious cults begin to manifest in this future world that Perrotta spins, and all of them seem to emerge from a similar motivation: they are all attempting to correct whatever it was that had been missed in the first place. There's the Guilty Remnant, a fascinating idea for a group of characters, consisting of white-clad watchers that smoke cigarettes and mutely stare at you to remind you that you shouldn't be moving on with life or forgetting what they feel God has done. There's the more humorous Holy Wayne, who marries a few teenage girls and manages to get one pregnant with what he predicts will be the miracle child that will save the world. And, there's the more down to earth pastor whom, unbelieving that he has devoted his whole life to God and yet been deserted, begins to self-publish a newsletter exposing all the sins of the people who vanished, as though to find an outlet for his bitterness.
The Leftovers isn't a heavy read at all, but each evening I picked it up was a struggle. I hefted the book from the coffee table and generally grumbled about how unfair life was and why I should have my head examined for pushing through this thing. In fact, I have difficulty remembering the last time I struggled so much to simply finish a book. This is in contrast, however, to the last twenty pages, which I suddenly found nearly impossible to put down. So, to say that the pacing felt a bit odd to me would be an understatement.
One of the reviews on the book jacket describes Perrotta as the "Steinbeck of Suburbia," and I'll draw this comparison to Steinbeck's work immediately: this novel is supremely depressing (and this coming from someone who enjoys dystopian concepts). What Perrotta does masterfully is weave thoroughly developed characters who are working, some successfully and some not, through the grief process. I found myself heartbroken for some of them, and the touching descriptions of their most intimate struggles and attempts to cope were perhaps what made the book difficult to take in longer sittings.
The friend who loaned this book to me? He told me that his friend had told him that, for him, the entire novel came down to the last sentence. He urged me to resist the urge to look forward, and to wait for it to arrive. So I did. My friend also told me that, if that last sentence is really what the novel is working toward, then it didn't have much. I'll just say that it fell hopelessly flat.
And that, ultimately, is my description of much the book: hopelessly flat. That has a great deal to do with the fact that the reader finishes with absolutely no clue what Perrotta is trying to accomplish here. I've heard others say that he doesn't have an axe to grind, but I'm not so convinced. I would have walked away from the book much more fulfilled had I simply been able to get some glimpse of what axe it was, but Perrotta, perhaps intentionally, leaves it obscured. What seems most likely to me is a treatment of the shortfalls of organized religion, but even this reading runs into difficulties soon enough. I finished this book emotionally wrung out, but more bemused than I have been by a work of literary fiction in some time.
Perhaps I'm looking too deeply, and Perrotta is simply painting a picture of working through the grief of sudden and enormous loss, and how some always find ways to hope and move forward, while some become twisted and forever fractured, all againt an imaginative premise as a backdrop. If this is the case, then he certainly writes his characters beautifully, but to a shallow end. If this is what Perrotta wanted to accomplish, then he certainly did so, but I found it wanting. I have difficulty recommending this book to anyone. ...more
"The Night Circus" began as a book club nomination, and is yet another example of why I love my book club, as this was likely not a book that I would"The Night Circus" began as a book club nomination, and is yet another example of why I love my book club, as this was likely not a book that I would have picked up to read on my own. Discovering that the author lives in an area with which I am familiar adds a degree of connectedness to the book, and the first 100 pages drew me into this quirky and unusual story so completely that I imagine one could hear the vacuum as I left reality. I remember sitting on the sofa with my wife, who was also beginning a new book, and reading nearly the first quarter of this novel in one sitting.
Which speaks to the aspect of "The Night Circus" that I think is its strongest, and that is the originality of the concept. This is the most original idea for a story that I have read in over a year, and that alone made the book difficult to put down, at least initially. Morgenstern introduces us to a magician and illusionist whose stage name is Prospero the Enchanter. Prospero, while in his dressing room in the theatre, is introduced one night to a daughter he didn't know he had, and who has been left with him. The interesting thing that the reader learns about Prospero is that his illusions are not tricks of mirrors and distraction, but actual magic. We soon discover that there are many in the world who can manipulate various forms of magic, and that Prospero's daughter is particularly gifted. So gifted, in fact, that an agreement is made between Prospero and a man we initially believe is his colleague or long-time friend (no spoilers from me here) for a competition, pitting their students against each other in a duel of magical skill that lasts until one of them no longer stands. Prospero's daughter and her competitor, Marco, are unwittingly and irrevocably bound to this competition, unable to withdraw, having no choice but to complete the contest until only one of them survives.
Which is complicated by the fact that they fall very much in love with each other.
The circus, which appears without warning, is the venue for this competition. The circus only operates at night, opening at dusk and closing at dawn. It leaves as suddenly as it appeared, traveling around the world, and dazzling curious audiences with feats that could only be magical...and which, of course, are exactly that.
The issue with the plot is that it is its own worst enemy at times. It was around 100 pages from the end when it began to feel like a "love conquers all" story, which made me nearly not want to pick the book up again. And, in the end, it was a struggle to finish the book. Part of this is because explorations of magical illusions, tarot cards, and enchanting spells really aren't my cup of tea. That said, the plot really did slow down in the end, although, to Morgenstern's credit, it managed to conclude in a way that I found I hadn't seen coming.
Morgenstern writes with the annoying habit of substituting commas for periods, creating run-on sentences that walk a thin line between being the signature style of a writer and a perpetual grammatical error. I'm not sure I decided on which it is, but it drove me to distraction throughout the novel, forcing me to stop and re-read sentences that sounded like a mash-up in my head. Which is a shame, because Morgenstern has a true descriptive genius in her narrative, invoking scenes in such sensory detail that I can still close my eyes and know what it would be like to walk through this circus. She quite deftly uses a technique of inserting the reader into the circus through short explorations of different tents at the beginning of each section of the book, walking the reader through what you see as you explore the circus, and combines these scenes with some foreshadowing that, on at least one occasion, was quite clever. Her dialogue, also, flows easily and has flashes of brilliance that caused me to stop and take note of the sorts of lines that you really have to digest before you can more forward.
Her characters are very well developed, and the reader has no issue knowing them at the end of the ebook's 384 pages. Particularly, I found myself mourning their deaths, almost moreso than applauding their successes.
Perhaps a more substantive critique of the novel than stories about love and dark magic not suiting my particular palette, is that a theme never really develops by the end. Unless "love conquers all" is what Morgenstern was going for, she missed. Or she never intended a theme to be present. This, however, seems unlikely, as several potential themes manifest throughout the novel, but are never fleshed out into any complete thoughts. The closest I could get is that love empowers us to choose our own destiny over that which is written for us, but even that is shaky.
The novel would have been more satisfying had I been able to walk away with some sort of meta-message, but here it disappoints. If you're interested in reading a debut novel that has achieved some popularity in popular circles, then "The Night Circus" might be a book you would enjoy. In fact, if you follow popular new releases, then you likely have it on your list already. If not, though, I'm hesitant to recommend it. I am, however, interested to see how Morgenstern's career develops from here. ...more
I was hesitant to write a review of the novel that won the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year, partly because I don't have the space for the analysiI was hesitant to write a review of the novel that won the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year, partly because I don't have the space for the analysis that I'd love to see this book receive here (not that I would be capable of that even if I did), but mostly because I'm just not sure I have the chops for it. My interest in A Visit from the Goon Squad was piqued by the title, and solidified by its winning the Pulitzer. Now that I've finished it, though, there is simply too much to say about this novel, which is nothing short of phenomenal and left me nothing short of breathless with the completely satiated feeling that comes when you recognize that you've just read something better than the last two years' worth of books all put together. So, while others will and have doubtlessly reviewed this better than I will, this one, at the end of the day, is just too good to keep.
"Time's a goon," or at least that's what more than one character says through the course of this book, and this, apparently, is the important thing that Egan is attempting to say in her novel. To narrow this down as the only theme would be a mistake, however, but it appears to at least be the characters' most obvious and existential struggle. We begin with Sasha, a kleptomaniac who works for a record producer named Bennie in New York City. Sasha remains the closest thing to a single protagonist that we'll get in the novel, as the novel is actually a collection of short stories through which Egan deftly and creatively switches protagonists as easily as she does time periods. The incidental character in the chapter you're reading will become the protagonist in the next chapter, and some mental gymnastics are occasionally required to keep up with who has said what to whom and when several chapters previously. The stories jump backward and forward in time, gently revealing how each of the characters impact each other throughout their lives in a manner that calls to mind Salinger's Nine Stories, and with wildly improbable events occurring (like someone being mauled by a lion during an African safari, or the futuristic addiction to handsets that appears in the end of the novel) that actually don't feel quite so improbable at the time. What remains constant, though, is that time and age are profoundly impacting the characters' lives, and they all struggle to survive and thrive in one way or another, some to more success than others. Some even manage to do so redemptively. Sasha and Bennie remain the constants, and, while not appearing in every story, are the obvious connections between the characters. This is especially true of Sasha, who leaves her mark on both the other characters and the reader as a girl you just can't help but love, despite her shortcomings, as she searches for herself and somehow manages to bring out something good in those around her.
Early in the book, I started to realize that things were beginning to sound familiar, and found myself thinking that I had read this before. I then remembered that I had, as short fiction in The New Yorker a little over a year ago. I remembered the story because, standing alone, it made no sense to me other than being a well-crafted portrait of teenage angst. That, however, is part of the beauty of Egan's craft. Each chapter can stand alone as a self-contained story. The genius, though, is how each one interweaves with all of the others in ways that you never quite expect but that you can't help but love. Again, this is what leaves me reminiscent of Salinger, and may be part of why I loved this book so much.
Perhaps a deeper theme that lies not so subtly beneath the surface of Egan's writing is that of a culture of public relations, which becomes very apparent about halfway through the novel when we are introduced to one of our characters who does public relations for a living. Manufacturing an image is something that all of these characters do to simply survive, growing their personal brands now and struggling to resurrect them when they die, as if doing so is to resurrect themselves. This exploration of image management ends in its logical conclusion in a futuristic New York City as Egan abruptly launches her final chapter into the realm of speculative fiction while losing none of her unique, literary zest.
And did I mention the music? The music that rings through this novel is a self-contained tour of rock history that will just bring smiles to your face as you recall these amazing songs. One reviewer wrote that he regretted that the book didn't come with a soundtrack. I have to echo that sentiment, but also point out how the rhythms of music, right down to the pauses (which will play a major role as Egan explores the mind of an Autistic child...yes, she does that too) seem to move the plot along with the rise and fall in tempo that's the mark of any good album. There's music to Egan's prose. The plot centers around the music industry and its peripheral components, following characters that become involved with music as children and follow it through their lives as the goon that is time fights them, some to more success than others. One of the most poignant moments for me was the character who, becoming a custodian in his later life but still playing his guitar and writing music, recognizes that there is no difference between the record producer in the shiny office building and the school custodian, that both are people, and both are equal.
There really isn't much that Egan doesn't tackle here. To list the themes and ideas with which she experiments would leave the reader shaking her head at first blush, thinking that it is too much, that no author can explore that many things in one novel, at least not well. Never once, though, did I feel that while reading. Somehow, Egan does it all well, in exactly the right amounts, as though mixing just the right sound for her album. And, even though each chapter left me pausing to digest what I had just read, the book also moves easily, because you'll find that you really can't put it down once you've started until you've reached its end, back where it started, glimpsing the characters with whom we started as they are in the future, somehow still managing to survive and re-invent themselves in the face of that goon. In fact, they've even managed to make a difference, to change the world around them for the better despite their previous mistakes. That redemption is what left this one in the realm of the amazing for me.
A Visit from the Good Squad is one of those works that dispels the myth that real literature isn't written any more. No matter your taste, you need to read this book, because you will be better for having done so. ...more
Fictional stories that spin off of historical events are always fascinating. I don't mean fictional accounts of the lives of historical people...althoFictional stories that spin off of historical events are always fascinating. I don't mean fictional accounts of the lives of historical people...although those are fascinating as well. I mean novels that take a historical event and ask, "what if?" That is what Tom Cain does with The Accident Man, and he chooses a particularly sensitive subject historically: the death of Princess Diana. Specifically, Cain uses the fictional premise (although he specifically denies attempting to set forth or support any sort of conspiracy theory in his preface) that Princess Diana's death was not accidental, but rather an assassination. His protagonist, Samuel Carver (who will debut here and will recur in future novels), is the assassin. He specializes in making his hits look like accidents, and only assassinates people whom he deems to truly deserve their fate, without knowing from whom his orders come. With this job, however, Carver has been double-crossed, and unknowingly murders one of the world's most loved public figures, in order to further the political and financial goals of his employers. The rest of the book is about his discovery of this, his employers' attempts to in turn kill him when he displays a conscience, and his quest for revenge.
I've always loved the espionage and suspense genre, and have gravitated toward books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or the Bourne trilogy. I grew up devouring the entirety of the James Bond library, from Ian Fleming's original works forward. What strikes me the most about this book is the consistency between Cain's world and Fleming's world for Bond. For example, when Carver takes a shower, he first takes a steaming hot shower, followed by an ice cold shower. This was a trademark of James Bond when Ian Fleming wrote him; Bond always took his showers this way. I was also struck by the female character's (an unwitting spy who is drawn into a job she hates by people she hates) line after they sleep together, something to the effect of "it's never been like that before." I thought to myself, if that wasn't a James Bond-like line, I don't know what is.
The reason that I find this fascinating is because this is the first of Cain's books featuring Carver's character. He is creating a character much like Bond, and doing it well. However, he is creating a darker version of Bond, one that doesn't function with patriotic allegiance, but rather with allegiance to the highest bidder, justifying his relativistic ethics with a survival instinct. This can be taken as an interesting commentary on how our world is now as opposed to the Cold War era of Fleming. In essence, Cain is asking a second question in this novel: what would James Bond look like in a modern world of blurred lines between nations where patriotism is no longer an acceptable motive and anyone or anything can be purchased, including life and death?
Cain develops his protagonist fully as he follows a very Bond-like plot, mastering what Fleming did so well with his master spy: balancing his human vulnerability with his deadly professional expertise. Carver's backstory is interspersed well throughout the book, never bogging the reader down and always contributing to what Carver is doing at that moment. Cain uses interesting language choices for his narration, drawing emotional analogies to the sorts of physical items that would appear in a spy's life, for example. Cain also develops his other characters, although his villain is not nearly as original or even as memorable as a Bond villain. He makes up for this, however, in the brutality of his villain.
And therein lies part of the problem. The story absorbs the reader breathlessly until around page 300. From that point until the end of the book, Cain moves the plot in a direction that is decidedly like Casino Royale, with some notable differences: the twist with the female character doubles back on itself, the torture scene is even more savage (as unbelievable as that sounds), and the protagonist is not pictured as recovering well. In fact, we wonder how he will return in future books at all after the abuse he survives and the condition in which it leaves him. The interrogation and torture scene goes on for multiple chapters, and left me disturbed well into the next day. I found this to be un-necessary (especially as other characters undergo interrogation during the course of the book, with significantly less graphic descriptions) and so long that it completely robbed the story of its momentum in the closing chapters. The plot line for these adventures, after all, is relatively predictable: we know the protagonist will be captured and interrogated. That's just part of the genre. This is one area, however, in which Cain shouldn't have attempted to out-do Fleming, especially as Cain had done so well at making his violence succinct and effective up until this point.
Cain's dark, post-modern version of Bond is worth reading, if only to experience this contemporary take on the master-spy character in literature. If you like the genre, and can handle the graphic violence in the closing chapters, this would be a good book for you. Tom Cain has given us a character to consider, and Samuel Carver may well be a spy that will be mentioned in all future discussions of the genre. Time will tell. Will I read another Samuel Carver novel? Only time will tell that, as well. ...more
Epistolary books aren't generally my taste, but this one surprised me. As with most books that take me aback, I read this at the suggestion of friendsEpistolary books aren't generally my taste, but this one surprised me. As with most books that take me aback, I read this at the suggestion of friends...it was nominated by popular vote in a book club in which I participate. First off, the narrator of the audiobook version adds an amazing amount of depth to the book, even to the point of leading me to pick up on some British humor that I might otherwise not have grasped. The book is a relatively quick read, weighing in at just over 300 pages in paperback, or 8 hours in audio.
And it is funny!
In fact, Cleave is amazingly adept at stepping between dry, witty humor and poignant explorations of loss that leaves the reader wanting to cry. The narrator, during a sexual romp with her lover, loses her husband and son to an al Queda terrorist attack on London. This book is her letter to Osama bin Laden following that attack. As you can see, the premise is humorous from the beginning, and it only gets funnier...and more heartbreaking.
On the surface, this is a gripping story about a woman who has lost everything to a senseless act of terror, and, while traveling a grief-stricken journey to determine who to blame, slowly loses her grip on her sanity. At a deeper level, there is cultural critique here: not just on the barbarity of terrorists, but on the barbarity of the civilized world's response. As Cleave's protagonist loses her sanity to grief, the world around her (read: us) loses its sanity to fear. The image of a dark, near-future London with balloons hanging over the city bearing painted images of the dead haunts the reader for some time.
The fascinating development of characters runs even deeper, however. The protagonist's lover's girlfriend is nearly a mirror image of our distraught narrator, and the juxtaposition of a woman who loses while holding onto her core values against another version of herself who wins through self-serving, opportunistic means is amazingly well done. This, I think, is what stayed with me the longest from this book.
Incendiary is a quick read that will take you through an emotional journey that is well worth your time. The mirror that this novel holds to a post-September 11 world is provocative, and the conspiracy theorist twist at the end...well, let's just say that it is all too believable. ...more
Amazingly, amazingly disappointing. The publisher obviously hired a great copywriter to generate the book jacket, because it lures you into a story thAmazingly, amazingly disappointing. The publisher obviously hired a great copywriter to generate the book jacket, because it lures you into a story that almost is and never quite materializes.
In the first fifteen pages or so, I came to the conclusion that Goolrick has some mastery of language, but that the story was not going to move me. In fact, the story is worse than boring...it's packed full of potential that it never fulfills, teasing the reader with something profound that waits just over the horizon and never materializes. Periodic breaks of character don't help, and the editor certainly missed some critical copy mistakes that pull you out of the story at times.
Speaking of the characters, they were so complex...potentially. But it's never realized. There were so many themes that could have been explored...despair, a messy theological statement about redemption, even a commentary on the evils of captialism and an industrialized culture...and none of them received more than a surface gloss.
The plot had me at moments, it did. But then it didn't. Goolrick tried really hard to make this a work of fiction that could be a thriller, but couldn't quite pull of the pacing or the descriptive prose. Yet, he toyed with character development and thematic issues that begged (and leaves the reader aching for) more development. One of Goolrick's strengths as a writer is his dialogue. The dialogue flows like a good play, and you can't just read it...you have to pause and hear it. The moments when he permits the characters to speak are golden...and the moments when he attempts to prosaically bring the reader into their thoughts fall hopelessly flat, or become terribly cliche. I imagine seeing this story performed on the stage, because the themes could be treated so much more in depth, and the characters could be permitted to come alive. I think Goolrick would make a much better playwright than novelist. This was a great effort at an interesting story that fell victim to the wrong medium of delivery. ...more
The second book in Larsson's Millennium Series is just as lengthy as the first, weighing in at over 500 pages, or somewhere around 23 hours if you optThe second book in Larsson's Millennium Series is just as lengthy as the first, weighing in at over 500 pages, or somewhere around 23 hours if you opt for the unabridged audiobook. You'll find it is also just as riveting and well-written as the first. This series began as a curiosity for me, and has developed into an addiction as Lisbeth Salander has become one of my favorite characters in contemporary literature. Her character is developed in significantly more depth in this novel as the guardian who so horribly abused her in the first installment of the trilogy returns for vengeance. With each glimpse into her past, we find ourselves agreeing with the justice she delivers to those who wrong her and others, even though we feel as though we shouldn't. Larsson continues the themes of a scarcity of forgiveness and the nature of justice through this novel. He also continues his perplexing habit of exhaustive descriptions of relatively minor details (when Salander furnishes her new apartment, the reader is walked through a descriptive itemization of each item she purchases and how she transports it back to the apartment) that could perhaps have been excluded in the editing process without loss to the reader or the story (and, I imagine, an abridged audio version would cut exactly these sections).
This novel walks through some events in Salander's life taking place after the conclusion "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" that provide insight into her character from the beginning. She is drawn into a murder investigation that again crosses her paths with Blomkvist, and reveals details of her past that leave the reader unable to put the book down. Like any good mystery, the plot involves a substantial number of characters that weave into and out of the narrative in intriguing ways, and more than once left me pausing and thinking, "wait...this guy is who, again?" There is substantially less sexual violence in this novel, which is more focused on dealing with the outcomes of said violence. Aptly so, Salander is described by Blomkvist as the "woman who hates men who hate women." These, then, are her adventures.
In the same vein as "Dragon Tattoo," though, this novel is more than just a well-crafted mystery. Larsson also makes bold social commentary, both on the sex trade industry and the reality of an innocent girl who has been, quite literally, raped of her innocence in the name of homeland security.
Read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" first. Although this novel will stand alone, the background gained from the first novel will be most important to the reader. Then sit back, and try to keep up as the mystery unfolds. ...more
I read this book at the suggestion of a friend, and approached having scanned some reviews and thinking it was a story speaking of animal cruelty. InI read this book at the suggestion of a friend, and approached having scanned some reviews and thinking it was a story speaking of animal cruelty. In my first setting, I lost track of time and had extreme difficulty putting the book down. It was finished days later. The story is touching, and the treatment of animals and each other develops into a parallel story of supporting each other through the oppressive environments in which we find ourselves trapped through the unfairness of life. Gruen spins her tale with a painstaking attention to the detail of her characters and their lives, while writing in a clean, descriptive prose that I found flowing and easy to read. Her attention to research of circus life during the Depression is obviously just as painstaking. You will not be disappointed in this book....more