In fact, I just climbed out of my bed late at night due to intrusive, spinning thoughts about how greTHIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME!
I LOVE THIS AWESOME BOOK!
In fact, I just climbed out of my bed late at night due to intrusive, spinning thoughts about how great this book was, and as it seems I can't sleep from the excitement, hopefully writing this will help. I got this out of the library but now that I'm done I think I'd better buy my own copy, not so much because I need to own it as because I should give the lovely and talented Anna Freeman some money. She's almost certainly a wonderful person and deserves handsome remuneration and many prestigious honors and awards! I definitely feel in her debt having enjoyed so much what she's written.
Okay so at first glance this isn't a book I'd normally pick up, I guess because books about certain old-timey eras and topics make me think of those other books we used to pass around in sixth grade... you know, the ones with gold foil cutaway covers that depicted a breathtakingly lovely lady with amazing boobs spilling out of her gown as she clung rapturously to Fabio's loins? Yes I know not all historical novels are salacious tales of indomitable heiresses being deliciously savaged by "purple-headed warriors" and then teaching great hairy brutes how to love, but I'll admit to being suspicious and judging by its cover, this looked like an upmarket version of those, with a bust of an old-timey pretty lady melded into an impressionistic skyline, bleagh. I never would've chosen this on the cover alone, only a friend recommended it because in actual fact it is about a LADY BOXER and I am a lady boxer of sorts, though certainly not like the one in this book and after reading all that she went through I've resolved to stop whining so much about how I can't get good sparring at my gym.
So, The Fair Fight is just a ridiculous amount of fun. It's fun in the way that Dickens is fun, if you crossed Dickens with Rocky and, I don't know, The Slits?
My favorite thing about this book (and there are so many other things in it I love) is that neither of the two main female characters is attractive. This is ridiculously rare and incredibly important, and is the reason I hope to God they never make a Hollywood movie of this book even though I do badly want Anna Freeman to become rich. Much has been made recently of the new Mad Max remake's pop-feminist cred, to which I would point out that the movie is about a truckful of models and that those characters only matter because of their perfect looks. It's almost unheard of for a Hollywood movie to treat a female character as important if she isn't gorgeous, and the same is true for a lot of books and not just those aforementioned bodice-rippers with their creamy-skinned emerald-eyed ingenues. Having recently become a mother, I think even more than I did before about how screwed up I've been by all of this my whole life and I worry about my daughter. I don't want her to spend the amount of time I have agonizing about how she doesn't look like Charlize Theron and feeling like her story means less than those of girls who do (this is assuming my daughter does not, in fact, grow up to look like Charlize Theron, which, well, I guess we don't know for sure yet but I'd feel pretty safe betting with those odds).
The heroines of The Fair Fight aren't just "not beautiful' in the way we were promised Scarlett O'Hara wasn't; they're terrible looking by the standards of their day and ours. Ruth, the boxer born in a brothel, is missing most of her teeth and has a nose that's been knocked sideways in addition to all the other scars and damage inflicted by her brutal pre-Queensberry fight career. All this after not being initially attractive enough as a ten-year-old to follow her prettier thirteen-year-old sister into the family prostitution business... Our other girl -- awkward, lonely drunk Charlotte -- starts off with all the advantages of wealth and good looks but is horribly scarred by the smallpox that kills most of her family and (spoiler alert!) unlike Esther Summerson of Bleak House her scars don't magically fade away towards the end of the book.
These two narrators and a third, handsome bisexual gambling addict and layabout George Bowdon, take their turns relaying the action. There are three other central characters -- Ruth's sister Dora; Charlotte's brother Perry; and George's schoolmate Granville, who arguably does most structurally to tie all the characters together -- who we don't hear from directly but get to know well, who interact with each other in various complex ways. The world they live in has shades of Mad Max in a sense, not in being a dystopian Australian future (it's set in Bristol around the beginning of the nineteenth century) but in being an extremely brutal and unforgiving environment. The characters experience mostly hostility, neglect, and even violence from their families and a lot of the people in their lives, and all (in particular the women and the poor ones) are terribly constrained by their circumstances.
Yet the novel isn't a sob story but instead is rough after rough and tough round of pure fun. That's because Freeman can sure write and she's nailed the voices here, in particular Ruth's. Her use of slang in particular stands out (at the gym this afternoon I kept calling punches "fibs" in my head, as she does!) but all the diction throughout it is just so fucking great and I should think of another way to say this but I can't: FUN. This book was just so much fun! And that's great.
If you're not interested in boxing you might not be quite as ridiculously, idiotically thrilled over this as I am, but that is certainly no obstacle to your enjoyment at all. I don't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book -- it was infinitely more fun than that Mad Max remake, which I personally found dull and not nearly as good as its incredible preview. You might disagree with me about that and you might not be so crazy about A Fair Fight, but if you like the idea of an updated Dickensy/Thackerayish/whatever British novelist of two-hundred-or-so-years-ago kind of thing with every kind of scum and underbelly and vice they could only allude to in most books written at that time and a grimy spirited feminist kick to it, I'd recommend buying (not just checking out) this book.
A delightful collection. I get serious short story burnout when I try reading too many in a row and I've been reading a lot of them lately, but not onA delightful collection. I get serious short story burnout when I try reading too many in a row and I've been reading a lot of them lately, but not one of these made my eyes glaze over or my mouth snarl into a cynical complaint about contemporary fiction. Each of these stories was interesting, fresh, and amusing, and nearly all of them surprised or moved me in some way. The standouts were "The Infection Scene," which tells the story of the villainous Lord Alfred Douglas (famous for ruining Oscar Wilde and played on film by too-pretty-to-live Jude Law so that's how I'll always picture him, for better or worse) interwoven with a story about a young man in 1990s San Francisco who wants his boyfriend to infect him with HIV; "Black Box," about a man whose partner is killed in a plane crash; "The Scruff of the Neck," about an elderly woman in Florida who is given surprising information about her family; "Heaped Earth," where a piano player entertains guests at a 1960 Hollywood party; and the title story, in which a man is interviewed by police in Rome after the violent murder of his marble-obsessed ex.
Hey, there are only nine stories in this book and I just listed five as "the best"! That means it won. Also, I woke up in the middle of the night last night convinced I was a character in a David Leavitt story -- not a specific one, but I was under the impression that I was a gay man that someone was being weird about leaving their baby with, which sort of seems like something that might happen in his stories, or did at 3:30am anyway....more
I loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regimI loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regime is like one of those psychos who's kidnapped a bunch of little kids and keeps them chained in the basement their whole lives so they never know anything of the outside world, only unlike when psychos do this everyone else in the global neighborhood basically knows what's going on in that creepy house.
Demick's book relies on extensive interviews with defectors, and tells the story of six North Koreans' lives in the northern industrial city of Chongjin and of their defections to South Korea. The thing that's so great about Nothing to Envy is that it presents its subjects as so easy to relate to and to care about, that it avoids the compassion fatigue, detachment, and defensive lack of empathy that can accompany reading about such horrors. There are portions of this book that are harrowing to read and difficult to imagine, but we can process the idea of witnessing a nation starve to death because we see it through the eyes and the reactions of people we've come to feel we know and understand. The book seems very well-researched and is certainly not a fluff piece by anyone's standards, but for me it was this triumph of the human interest angle that made it so effective. I felt that Demick really got to know her subjects and that she presented them as interesting and complex people, without shying away from an acknowledgment -- familiar from stories of Holocaust survivors -- of how those individuals with the wits, strength, and courage to survive and defect often differ from the general population in sometimes unattractive ways. I was hugely moved by their stories and impressed by their bravery, but also saw them as real human beings with both good and bad traits, which is part of what made the book work so well.
In short, this book is interesting and engaging and I'd recommend it to pretty much anyone with even a casual interest in North Korea up to 2009, when it was published....more
Man, you know, I love him to death but it really must be said: Elmore Leonard is (was) a hopeless cheeseball. It's a feature of all his books, but theMan, you know, I love him to death but it really must be said: Elmore Leonard is (was) a hopeless cheeseball. It's a feature of all his books, but the corniness of the love scenes in Glitz was almost too much to take. Ditto the romantic heroism of its paragon of perfect manhood, the scruffy but inimitable -- and universally irresistible -- off-duty cop Vincent Mora. I've always thought of Leonard's crime fiction as sappy romances with a rough, bloody veneer that's supposed to make them okay for boys. In Glitz, the sappy sweet fantasy elements get even more intense than I feel they usually do, though that may just be me and a weakening of my tolerance.
It is worth noting, though, that without the sugary love stories and fuzzy sex scenes, Leonard's novels might be unrelentingly bleak. When we're not following our dashing vigilante detective, we're often trapped in the mind of a terrifying granny-rapist and murderer, or reading descriptions of highly disturbing crimes. Despite the huge variety of characters with all their different degrees of scumminess and law-following/breaking, Leonard's world isn't one of moral ambiguity: there are good guys and bad guys, and the good guys are very, very good while the bad guys are just awful (the women, regardless of moral fiber, tend to be very, very hot). Leonard's genius here, as elsewhere, is to rove around through the brains of everyone on the spectrum, not giving shorter shrift or flattening out even the most demented psychos. So we see the thought process of the granny-raper presented with just as much detail and legitimacy as that of our hero, and it's the contrast between the books' simple good v. evil divide and this exercise in authorial empathy that's much of what makes Leonard's books so fascinating and unique.
Yeah, then factor in vacations to mid-eighties Miami Beach, Puerto Rico, and Atlantic City, and you'll see why this book is such a great time. With his usual unusual cast of characters -- unsavory criminals, savory women (unfortunately including the inexplicably bland and recurring musician Linda Moon, probably the lamest Leonard character of all time), wise cops, wealthy businessmen, cool black guys, ex-beauty queens, and seedy/flamboyant/extralegal/ridiculous figures -- sprinkled liberally as needed.
You can't do much better than eighties Leonard in these dog days of summer, and I enjoyed this so much I'll forgive him for my near-fatal overdose of sap. Honestly, to an extent that hokey sparkle stuff is part of the Leonard magic formula. Probably if the love interest here were more appealing, I could have even enjoyed it; I did like Vincent, shining halo of virtuous testosterone and all. I do enjoy over-the-top sugar rushes as much as the next girl, and, like a ridiculous rum drink one might order in the bar of an upscale Puerto Rican casino, this book did have plenty of them....more
This book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate wThis book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate who despises his family, Austria, and everything else.
It is totally impossible for me to explain why I loved reading this, but it had an intoxicating, addictive quality and I really could not put it down. However, I wouldn't in good conscience recommend it to my worst enemy.
Looking forward to reading something else by Bernhard (suggestions, Dieter?), though I'll need to wait awhile to let these toxic levels of bile clear out of my system first....more
Patrick Melrose's gothic New Age Mrs. Jellyby of a mother has finally died and in At Last we attend her funeral, presumably (and for this reader, hopePatrick Melrose's gothic New Age Mrs. Jellyby of a mother has finally died and in At Last we attend her funeral, presumably (and for this reader, hopefully) ending the cycle.
I have to say that while the first three Melrose novels are unquestionably among the best books I've read in years, I wasn't so crazy about the last two. The repetitive analytic musings just get to be a bit much, and the wise little moppets dispensing adorable yogi-like aphorisms just go way too far in sugaring up the acrid sourness I'd loved so much in the beginning.
Still, I wolfed this volume down with an enthusiasm I haven't felt for reading in awhile, because Edward St. Aubyn is a fabulous fucking writer. While I don't think this book or the one preceding it measured up to the ones that came before, they're still a million times better than most other books out there. And so St. Aubyn can commit whatever the authorial equivalent is to wrecking our marriage with his nihilistic substance abuse and cynical affairs, and I will continue to stand faithfully by him! If his next novel is a saccharine children's book about a precocious little boy philosophizing cutely about the nature of evil and man, I'll complain a bit but I'll still suck it up with the famished and unquenchable greed of an addict....more
So far, reads like Alan Hollinghurst's excruciatingly fucked up and much richer second cousin, in the best possible way. Seems to explore the unstatedSo far, reads like Alan Hollinghurst's excruciatingly fucked up and much richer second cousin, in the best possible way. Seems to explore the unstated hypothesis that having to earn a living is what distracts most people from destroying their children, themselves, and everyone around them. Also definitively answers the question of whether the most lurid and cliched subjects can be not just salvaged but made new, relevant, and moving through brilliant English prose. (Spoiler: yes.)...more
First thing I've read by Cormac McCarthy and it was pretty great. This book takes place in the same space as Grimms' fairy tales: a timeless and permaFirst thing I've read by Cormac McCarthy and it was pretty great. This book takes place in the same space as Grimms' fairy tales: a timeless and permanent dark landscape where the devil lurks casually, that in this age we all strain to forget exists. It's about being human in a way that predated the Internet and television by centuries, that might outlast all this shit and keep going on.
Hopefully though, McCarthy's works will survive whatever happens along with a sturdy Oxford English Dictionary. Otherwise whoever's left will not be able to read him, which is maybe fine; he's kind of a downer....more
It is absolutely criminal that this amazing book has ever gone out of print.
National treasure Hughes's The Expendable Man might have maintained its soIt is absolutely criminal that this amazing book has ever gone out of print.
National treasure Hughes's The Expendable Man might have maintained its social relevance better, but this is the finer book. Fans of Chandler and other vintage crime will slurp this down, and it's worth reading for its description of forties Los Angeles alone, even without all the rest.
But the rest...! Dix Steele makes all other characters from that era's so-called hardboiled fiction look like pantywaist pussies. This book is disturbing, and still has the power to chill and shock even this jaded reader almost seventy years down the line.
I've always been repulsed by our culture's popular fascination with serial killers. The main thing that bothers me about it is a widespread lack of recognition that serial killers are nearly always committing what are essentially hate crimes against women, and that both the murders and our obsession with their lurid details reflect and amplify our society's wider and arguably more subtle misogyny. This is a point Dorothy Hughes must have been acutely aware of, and her interest in the dynamics of gender and class seems ahead of its time and is sure to delight today's students of Women and Gender Studies, which is no doubt why CUNY's Feminist Press did the good work of reprinting it.
Undergraduate English class essay fodder aside, this book was a blast! While Dix is never exactly a sympathetic character, he is certainly an empathetic one, and this novel from the perspective of an evil villain totally works. The end portion I thought was a bit less tight than the rest and felt somehow both bloated and rushed, like maybe Hughes was on a deadline and in a hurry to get done; it wasn't bad, just slightly less awesome than what I'd expected... Aw, but it was still plenty awesome, though.
If you like this sort of thing -- postwar urban anomie, claustrophobic narration that makes you wake up in the middle of the night with a sour sense of dread that the world is a horrid fucked up scary place -- you had really better check this one out....more
Very well-written, vivid novel about the sixties, centering around Kenneth Anger, The Rolling Stones, and the Manson murders. I felt like there was soVery well-written, vivid novel about the sixties, centering around Kenneth Anger, The Rolling Stones, and the Manson murders. I felt like there was sort of a momentum problem, maybe just one that's inherent to historical novels -- you know where things are going and so you're sort of just waiting for Altamont and aren't in too much of a hurry to get there. The result, for me, was that it took me awhile to get through this book: it wasn't a page turner and I wasn't in a huge rush to get through it.
That said, the writing is excellent and while I actually had it open I was very much under its spell. The familiar characters and their era were described in a new way that felt fresh and very convincing. I can't say with authority that Lazar describes these figures and events accurately, since I never personally hung around doing drugs with the Stones in Marrakech, but now I feel like I have which speaks highly of him as a writer.
Not gonna bother book-reviewing this one properly, and why should I when Donald's already done a much better job than I could? Instead, I'll just recommend his review:
This book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I oncThis book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I once made my parents do with the Snow White book that had the really scary witch picture in it.
Philip Short must have some weird complex about his name that he should be working on in therapy. Instead, he's completely freaking me out....more