i picked this up misshelved with the fiction, so i spent the first half of the book thinking it was fiction. i wish it had been.
it's a kind of travel...morei picked this up misshelved with the fiction, so i spent the first half of the book thinking it was fiction. i wish it had been.
it's a kind of travel book without any of the things you read a travel book for: description, a sense of dislocation. what things look like Over There. how being knocked clean out of one's usual routines makes one see something anew.
but not for our Gideon.
most of the book he spends whining. whining about his paternal unit, his lack of love, his physical discomforts. he displays his cleverness, writes endlessly about his emails and Facebook postings and how he disdains the people who don't read to the bitter end of all his missives.
the first chapters of the book are about Gideon's appallingly self-involved adventures in various places, ending in Berlin. he decides the solution to his various over-prolonged teenaged angsts are to take a walk, go on a pilgrimage.
the first pilgrimage part of the book is about the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. you, the reader, will end up with almost no feeling for what being on an ancient Spanish pilgrimage looked like, smelled like, sounded like.
the middle part of the book is about his pilgrimage around Shikoku, the 88 Temples. it's a 1,200-kilometer pilgrimage--no mean feat. reading Gideon's description of it will leave you with approximately three fleeting mental images of the place. you are better off having looked it up in wikipedia.
couldn't handle reading the third part, where he goes on a walk with his dad, whom he doesn't much seem to like. i fear he's going to rake the poor guy over more coals than i can stand to observe.
the entire book tells you absolutely nothing noteworthy about any of the places he goes; the camera is always relentlessly focused on him, him, him. and the fact is, he's boring. how on earth can you walk around to 88 temples and find not one thing to offer up a prayer, a wish, a gee-it's-good-to-be-alive moment? but between checking his daily mileage and composing the emails he will send when he gets to the next wi-fi spot, he doesn't seem to see much of anything, or at least nothing he cares to relate.
a very very iffy read/listen, and one i personally couldn't finish.
a pity! i so loved My Year of Meats that i've read her other works on its strengths alone, but i fear i have fallen off the fan list with this most recent work.
the book is divided into three main parts: Nao, a Japanese teen; Ruth, a writer living on the Canadian coast; and Haruki #1, a kamikaze pilot in WWII.
Ruth's story really doesn't add a damned thing to the book except explaining how all these things connect and why we should care, which could have been dispensed with in a few short sentences in the middle of Nao's narrative. Ruth is actually quite a boring character, until the last part of the book, where she goes off the deep end into dime-store-zen philosophizing. which is the point at which i lost patience and stopped listening to the book altogether.
Haruki #1's story doesn't add a whole lot to the book or to my own historical understanding of kamikaze pilots. maybe if you are near-virginal on this subject, it would tell you something new or at least make a different sort of sense to you.
Nao's story is the only one that really got my interest, and then only intermittently. but it's a pretty horrible story--a young girl trapped in a horrible school that seems to encourage the nastiest forms of bullying, with a suicidal father and an absent mother who apparently would rather hack off a body part rather than face up to what's happening to her family. but still, Nao tries to overcome, or at least keep her head above water, and ya gotta honor that effort.
as to the audiobook, Ruth Ozeki herself read it, and for the most part she did a really good job. the voices are clear and one never needs to ask who's who, and she reads with better-calibrated emotion than most audiobook readers. the only quibble i have is with Jiku's voice: as Jiku is presumably speaking Japanese, why is she speaking with an accent? it's her native language.
on the whole though, i'd say give it a pass or get it from the library. (less)
so this is not the sort of thing i usually gravitate toward--i don't like dystopian novels, am leery of self-pubbed stuff. i like stuff an actual edit...moreso this is not the sort of thing i usually gravitate toward--i don't like dystopian novels, am leery of self-pubbed stuff. i like stuff an actual editor has gotten pencil marks all over, because yes, professionals do that shit for a reason, especially for first-time authors. it's cause editors have skills, they have expertise sharpened over years about what works and what doesn't, they know how to fix a flawed book, and best of all, they know the difference between a good first draft and a finished work.
which Howey does not.
i am puzzling over what makes a book a good popcorn book and what makes a book just... crap. (for me, a popcorn book is one that may not be well-written, might have clunky sentences or occasionally outrageous plot devices, but is still a fun read.) 14 is a really fun popcorn book. Wool just sucks.
so... follows, my opinion. but then this is my review, so there.
14 had a whole bunch of mostly-decently-drawn characters, for one. not particularly insightful, but they were individual, they had lives beyond that necessary for the plot, and they were occasionally funny. the plot itself was a rehash of every BEM (and gamer) trope you can imagine, but it moved along at a great pace and contained some surprises. it didn't linger over the useless, for the most part; the words on the page either told you something about the characters, or they furthered the plot without much ado.
Wool's characters are all uni-dimensional. they are their jobs--even the metaphors/similes used around them come from their work (Juliette the mechanic gets nothing but mechanical imagery, for example, which gets soooooo old.) here's one.
Juliette is swimming:
A never-ending stream of bubbles rolled up her visor like beads of solder, drifting up in defiance of gravity.
Juliette watched these silver spheres chase one another and play like children through the metal stairs. They broke up where they touched the railing, leaving just minuscule dots of gas stuck to the surface..."
so, are the bubbles like solder bubbles, rising up and playing like happy children? are the children like gas, smeared on the metal steps? are they solder children, a new silo lifeform that somehow makes solder lighter than water?
the characters say exactly what they're thinking, every time. there's no subtlety, no misdirection, no pause to see if their interlocutors might want to fill in a blank. and there are no blanks for the reader to fill in, either--the author will insist on telling you everything you should feel.
Wool's plot is also... woolly. there are endless moments of dinner-tasting (thank you Daniel for pointing that out), grease under the fingernails, pointless internal rambling on the characters' parts that do nothing to forward the plot or illuminate the character. and the plot itself... i do realize that this was not written as one novel, but really. so much improbable shit. as if the author felt a slow patch coming on, and just tossed a kitchen sink full of plot devices at it.
this book is a first draft. with a couple of rewrites, it might have made a decent popcorn book, if the author had had an editor to go whackjobby with the blue pencil.
maybe Howey can write, i don't know. i hope before he does it again, though, he'll get an editor. (less)
so i was thinking last night about what differentiates a book like this from a book by Kurt Vonnegut or by Tom Sharpe. they're all funny--Kurt in his...moreso i was thinking last night about what differentiates a book like this from a book by Kurt Vonnegut or by Tom Sharpe. they're all funny--Kurt in his deadpan glory, Sharpe wicked and relentless. Ericson is funny, but it's like stand-up--a bunch of what are basically one-liners that don't really connect to the larger story.
whether there is a larger story here is the big question. our protagonist Orange Whippey is an island-dwelling slacker, which might be ok if the island were tropical. but his is a New England-ish island, and 30-ish men who live for beer and excel only in the avoidance of paid labor are not admired.
i can admire those skills, personally. but even Orange didn't seem to really want to do his utmost at them. he keeps getting pulled in one direction or another by people using him for their own schemes.
maybe it's not possible to write an interesting book about someone who has no drive in any direction, nor is looking for one. aimless and feckless could be made interesting, i suppose, but not only as byproducts. anyway the crows of the literary establishment will witter on about how a protagonist must want something, be willing to sacrifice his/her/its all for that something. Orange doesn't, and there's nothing he really loves, and in the end, his aimlessness just makes him profoundly uninteresting.
i got about 2/3 of the way through this one and threw it in the resell pile. it's not a bad book in a lot of ways, and it was the very funny one-liners that got me as far as i did. i did enjoy the quite bent humor. but i like my novels to have a story in them, too, and this one does not.(less)
one of the great thrills of reading international fiction is that when the writers are good and you are lucky, you run across a lot of jui...morewhat a pity.
one of the great thrills of reading international fiction is that when the writers are good and you are lucky, you run across a lot of juicy new ideas, new takes on old ones, a different slant of seeing that more than makes up for any effort expended on trying to understand a different culture or viewpoint.
you won't get that here.
the main character, Egert, is about as stereotypical as a young swordsman can be. vain, thoughtless, and cruel, but lovely and skilled with a blade, yadda yadda yadda... anyway Egert gets the first big chunk of the book, and gets his pretty butt whupped up on by a mysterious stranger, and gets cursed as an added bonus.
the main female character--what was her name? gets a couple scenes where she grieves over a murdered fiancee, and then, when we get to the section with her name on it (yippee!), we find she gets two pages and then it's back to Egert. sigh.
then there's her dad, the archmage... and some rose-tattooed baddies... and you know what, after the first third of the book, i found myself asking: why am i reading this? like, really? there's nothing illuminating here. no new viewpoints, no new characters, just the stock going through the stock motions.
i don't know, maybe it gets better, but i am no longer interested enough to find out. the writing's decently crafted, and the plotting is ok (a little draggy sometimes)... but if nobody's going to show me something i haven't seen 1000 times, then i'm outta here.
maybe i'm just on a cranky binge lately, but i couldn't finish this.
there are three stories in this collection. i did finish the first, which had its...moremaybe i'm just on a cranky binge lately, but i couldn't finish this.
there are three stories in this collection. i did finish the first, which had its moments, some of them poetic, some polemic. the second i got halfway through, and expired from boredom and confusion. the third i have run out of patience for.
not my words, but i don't think i can express my view of the work better than this:
ever wonder if you're abandoning a book just when it's about to get good? that's where i am with this one. but it can't be said i didn't give it a fai...moreever wonder if you're abandoning a book just when it's about to get good? that's where i am with this one. but it can't be said i didn't give it a fair go! i'm tossing it in the resell pile at page 351.
so the thing that kept me reading this far was our young heroine. the back cover says she gets shafted and vows revenge, and for a young girl in the 1850-somethings, that sounds interesting. and she does start out rather unusual--full of an electric vitality, prone to getting her way, not at all a shrinking violet.
and ya, then she (and her sister) get shafted.
she does set out to get her revenge, altho in a roundabout way at first. this is where the book started to lose me... cause she apparently really liked acting and had a gift for it before the shafting, but now she's just using it. after a few more disappointments, she's just all about the revenge.
but the fire has gone out of her by page 351. and as none of the other characters really had any to begin with, i just can't see any point in going on.
frankly, i can't see what mr. dickens saw in mr. collins' work.(less)
sort of like The Road--i don't get what all the fuss is about.
i read a long article recently (wish i could remember where--if my brain belatedly pukes...moresort of like The Road--i don't get what all the fuss is about.
i read a long article recently (wish i could remember where--if my brain belatedly pukes it up, i'll post the URL) about literary fiction writers who try to write genre, and the pitfalls they fall into. chief among them was not really understanding the history of the genre--not grasping what's been said 1,000 times, and how it's been said. i get that feeling a lot with this novel.
post-apocalyptica? check. zombies? check. point of view of some low-level grunt? check. the combination is not new.
i can't find any new message in the combination this time, either. i read the first 100 pages and could not stop my mind wandering. (in truth, i tried reading it like 3 or 4 times, because it came highly recommended by a reader whose discernment i trust). but every time... it was like the literary equivalent of a chicken salad sandwich, probably with too much mayo--i kept sliding off into thoughts of--well, anything else.
science fiction is supposed to take you to a new nexus of humans and technology, or a future you had not imagined, or give you a genuinely alien thought, to name a few. (i'm quite certain sf is broader than this, but those are the high points, i think). this book just gives you mayo.
i read a short story from Maureen F. McHugh's After the Apocalypse not too long ago about a guy who has been dropped into a city full of zombies, and it was absolutely hair-raising. it can be done. i'm just pretty convinced it wasn't done, here in Zone One.
i may give this book one more try, in a few months. if i find something in the second half to redeem the first, i will post an update.(less)
ok, so: comparing this to Jane Austen is like comparing the proverbial lighting bug to lightning.
and granted, the author didn't put all those Austen c...moreok, so: comparing this to Jane Austen is like comparing the proverbial lighting bug to lightning.
and granted, the author didn't put all those Austen comparisons on the cover, the publisher did. but!
these people are boring! our heroine has nothing of the fire of an Austen heroine. at one point she says, "I cannot imagine a cat snoring," and i believe it. i can't imagine her imagining anything.
the book is certainly intended to be a period piece, but it's Period Piece Lite: forget the social issues! forget the deep dissatisfactions! forget the boxing of men and women into tiny, suffocating roles they may not be constructed to play! and toss the servants off the canvas altogether!
i gave up on page 173. you can't say i didn't give it a fair go.
it's not a case of being unattuned to the style--i adore Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and 100 other writers both of that time and around it. but this novel hasn't half the heart, a quarter of the fire, or even a whisper of the steel that the least of those writers have.
so, we are left with the gowns, and the hair, and the insipid romance. the addition of "glamour" does (by page 173) absolutely nothing to enliven an otherwise enervating and pointless book.
i've read the first 4 or 5 stories, and while they are good-enough stories (as some mothers are good-enough mothers), there...morei can't make myself finish.
i've read the first 4 or 5 stories, and while they are good-enough stories (as some mothers are good-enough mothers), there just isn't any payoff. the prose is ok. the images are ok. the characters are ok, and the plot notions are... ok.
but a book of short stories should have at least one in the first 4 or 5 that leaves one reeling, even just a little bit. short stories are supposed to abuse a reader a little--they have to have punch. not plot-level punch, either; they have to show you something that you had never considered before.
these stories just don't have that, for me. (less)
i don't know if it's possible to have fit any more cliched characters in a book.
plus, what is it with fantasy writers feeling obliged to force their y...morei don't know if it's possible to have fit any more cliched characters in a book.
plus, what is it with fantasy writers feeling obliged to force their young women into sexual slavery of one sort or another? it seems to happen so often in fantasy that i can't decide whether to yawn or go take a shower.
plus, our main romance is between a eunuch whose default mode is "rage" (well, i guess i would angry be too, but it gets old) and a young woman who doesn't give a rat's ass about him, but he somehow keeps risking his neck for her. it's waaaaaaay beyond credulity.
nope, don't go looking for any 3D characters here. couldn't tell you how it all comes out in the end, cause i'm giving up halfway through.(less)
okay, if you loved this book, you may wish to stop reading this review instantly.
still here? okay, with the caveat that all books have thei...moreokay, if you loved this book, you may wish to stop reading this review instantly.
still here? okay, with the caveat that all books have their readers--
boy, was this one a stinker, imho.
i got 42 pages into this book and tossed it. i considered checking in to the local emergency clinic for the number of welts i'd accrued from the author bashing me over the head to make a point. i can't recall the last time i read a book that had so little faith that the reader wasn't a total moron. the writer gives the reader not one square centimeter to make a heavily foreshadowed non-guess about a circumstance or what a person is feeling--should a moment arrive when the reader is inhaling in preparation for such a guess, the writer quickly bludgeons said reader with just the facts, ma'am.
thus the dazed reader stumbles on, tucking up the scalp wounds with some handy first-aid tape, to the next moment of reflexive guessing, and WHAM! another blow.
don't believe me? here's a couple examples (from the paperback version).
(p. 6, at the scene of a murder, our mortician arrives to pick up the body): " ' Did you already collect evidence or ...?' Byron halted before he'd finished the sentence. He didn't know what all needed to be done. He'd picked up more bodies than he could count, but never from a still-fresh crime scene. He wasn't a pathologist or in any way involved in forensic investigation. His job commenced afterward, not at the scene of a homicide."
hurts, don't it? first that halt before he'd finished the sentence, which we could tell because of the punctuation, that three-dot thingy, that ellipsis. good thing we are told he didn't know what needed to be done, because his hesitation certainly would not have clued us in. and yes, as a mortician we can assume he's picked up some bodies; and yes, we could probably have figured out that morticians don't generally pick up crime-scene victims, but ok, i'll give the author a pass on the last one. not everybody is steeped in police procedure. but then he isn't a pathologist? don't crime-scene bodies usually get picked up by Medical Examiners or coroners? and it's so good that we are given to understand that Byron is not only not a pathologist (he's a mortician! mortician!), he's also not involved in any way with forensic investigation (because he's a mortician! a mortician!). and then, the coup de grace: we are told his job commences after.
by now we could be forgiven for semi-conscious reeling from the blows and wondering what the afterward refers to, but fortunately we are reminded: not at the scene of a homicide.
one more example, and then i shall leave you to your own conclusions. Byron and Rebekkah get reacquainted after some separation, and the romantic tension begins.
(p. 41): "After a few moments, he held out a hand for her bag. 'Let me get that.'
When he reached out, she jerked her hand away quickly so as to avoid touching him.
The tightening of his expression made clear that he noticed, but" blah blah blah.
he held a hand out for her bag, and when he reached out--fortunately the author signposts this instant for us, likely as we are to irresponsibly assume that a time warp would certainly occur in this split second, stretching out to infinity.
she jerks her hand away so as to avoid touching him. thank god i stand corrected! i thought it was because our heroine had developed a virulent and instantaneous spastic disease and was therefore doomed. that would make this a tragedy.
but of course it already is a tiny tragedy, for the trees that were killed to produce this book.
it's always hard to know what to say about a well-written book having characters so repulsive, or boring, or odious in one way or another that you as...moreit's always hard to know what to say about a well-written book having characters so repulsive, or boring, or odious in one way or another that you as a reader just don't want to spend any more time with them.
i've no bone to pick at all with Dee's writing: he does the plot thing well, the characterization thing quite well, all the craftsman things are in place, and he can turn a phrase with very high style. it was his skill that got me through 176 pages of this book.
but i just can't bear being around these people any more. they have no heart. their money insulates them from every sort of challenge and from Real Life as the rest of us know it. i have no point of connection with them at all--they might as well be tralfamadorians, except that tralfamadorians were at least kind of funny, and polite.
i don't know what point Dee was trying to make with this book--perhaps that the rich are not like you and me--but after the last few years that has become quite abundantly clear. all i know is, i'd far rather hang out with the folks in The Round House, who for all their poverty, have not sold off their hearts.(less)
couldn't finish it. tried very hard. but i don't like any of the characters, the protag's point of view is too limited to allow me to see the world, a...morecouldn't finish it. tried very hard. but i don't like any of the characters, the protag's point of view is too limited to allow me to see the world, and a majority of the time i can't figure out what's going on.
WWII books of any stripe are never my favorite (can we just get over WWII, already???) but this one hit a new low. couldn't even finish it... couldn't...moreWWII books of any stripe are never my favorite (can we just get over WWII, already???) but this one hit a new low. couldn't even finish it... couldn't even get halfway thru it.
the characters totally reminded me of those stand-up cardboard cutouts you see in movie theaters. really, dahling, they just couldn't have been more cliche, oh do shut up. i wanted a G&T and a pith helmet. plus i don't think people in the 40s were that 40s-ish, you know? they had depth and range and contained surprises... but not in this book.
i try to find something good in every book i read, even the ones i can't finish. but i'll be damned if i just couldn't find it here.(less)