The Last Days of California, is a coming of age story that takes place while a fundamentalist family drives cross country in order to get to Californi...moreThe Last Days of California, is a coming of age story that takes place while a fundamentalist family drives cross country in order to get to California on the day that their particular brand of sola scriptura says the world is going to end.
Why California? So that they can have the most time to revel in the glory of the rapture as it rolls out time zone by time zone. Or maybe it is just to gloat.
The novel takes place in the last three days leading up to the day.
The world doesn't end.
The end of the world event is most likely the one that was supposed to take place on May 21, 2011. They both are supposed to happen on a Saturday, and well it's the only 'summerish' one that has happened recently. Their religions spokesperson is called Marshall though, which gives it a Heaven's Gate nod, not that there is any drinking the Kool-Aid and lacing up the Nikes going on here.
Some mornings when I walk out of my apartment at a little after 6am in the morning there is this homeless(?) woman sitting on the steps for my building.
For a few years she had been a regular at B&N with her blue ghetto cart that had bible verses taped to it along with the a handwritten advertisement for some AM fundamentalist radio station that was pushing the 'world is ending on day (x)' doctrine (doesn't this seem problematic to Biblical literalists since doesn't it say somewhere that no one will know when the world is coming to and end? It doesn't say no one except for this dude who did some math).
If given half a chance she would tell you about how you were going to die and go to hell on this particular day unless you repented and believed that the rapture was coming. As the day moved closer she looked quite pleased with herself, and then the day came and passed, and I didn't see her for awhile, until she seemed to resurface again in my neighborhood, still wandering around with her blue ghetto cart, sans any bible verses or advertisements for obscure AM radio stations.
Sometimes I want to ask her how does it feel to have believed so much in something that turned out to be wrong.
Most of us these days don't really get to experience our biggest beliefs proving to be utterly wrong, especially after we go proverbially all-in with a belief. What does that feel like?
This book isn't really about that.
It's a coming of age story of a girl who does believe, sort of. Her family that's living on the verge of poverty and off of credit cards to fund a spending-spree cross country trip in celebration of the last days. And an older sister who is the sinning, rebel daughter who spends her time checking things her father says on Google and being the devil's advocate to everything the family believes.
The kind of bizarre thing about this story is how little the family is concerned about the idea that the world is going to end. Yes, there is some disbelief, and it's possible that more than half the family doesn't believe at all, but even if they aren't worried about the world ending, they also don't seem too worried about how seriously fucked this junk-food loving dysfunctional family is going to be after this three day orgy of hotels, room service, kitschy junk and fast food that they are embarked on.
I enjoyed the book, but I didn't love it as much as I know some people have been loving it. This book is one of those borderline YA/Adult novels, I'm pretty sure it's going to be released as an adult novel, but it lives in the same murky area that say a John Green novel would be placed in. I think this should have a pretty wide appeal when it finally gets released next year. (less)
"There's no 'rational grounds' for anything I care about."
This is turning into the summer where I read much anticipated forthcoming novels, but which...more"There's no 'rational grounds' for anything I care about."
This is turning into the summer where I read much anticipated forthcoming novels, but which I'm slightly undeserving to read since I haven't read the author's previous novel. There are probably a lot more deserving people out there for these books. But that's the benefit of being Karen's best friend, and she does get it right most of the time (view spoiler)[since she'll take offense at not getting it right all the time, where she gets it wrong is with her dislike of Gravity's Rainbow, her almost stellar taste is marred by that one blemish, but no one can be perfect (hide spoiler)]
This is not an easy book to review.
If you haven't read this book yet and you look forward to reading it I would recommend treading lightly while reading other reviews. I haven't seen too many yet, and the ones I have seen are just fine, but I do imagine once this book is released there will be more than a few 'book reports' of the novel given. And seriously any book report of this is a major spoiler. Any. Unless you like reading almost eight hundred page books and not letting the author craft the story in her own wonderous way and would like some internets book reviewer to usurp the meticulous way she discloses just about every detail of the story.
..threw out some kind of weird handshake--part gang member, part fraternity boy, past International Sign Language--that I wasn't sure how to return. In confusion I withdrew my hand and--not knowing what else to do--bumped fists with him, feeling stupid.
Besides the masterful manner she tells the story, what impressed me most about the book was how deftly Donna Tartt wrote from the male perspective. I'm sure that there are more than a few parts of this book where Tartt's voice comes through in place of the main character's, but even when (if?) it does, this is a long novel written in a quite authentic sounding male perspective (ok, a very particular type of male, and maybe one that I can relate to on a bunch of levels so it feels sort of like, hey she's getting it right....), which maybe isn't all that impressive, since it's a skill novelists have had in their toolboxes for quite some time now. Maybe it's just reading another book recently that was so obviously just the author rambling on about things he didn't like and then calling it a novel, and a technical one at that because he had the gumption to only hit enter and tab once to start only a second paragraph in all over a hundred and something pages that I'm feeling more in awe of the finely constructed workmanship on display in this novel.
Her nailing the male voice was reminiscent to me of the way A.M. Homes got it right also in her latest novel, May We Be Forgiven.
I thought about not giving this book five stars though. There were a few parts of the book that I wasn't completely fond of, and while I think that the main character was wonderfully done, I also thought that he was a bit tiresome at times, but I also think that I'm quite tiresome at times and the sort of person he is, well he should be a bit tiresome and much at times. Not that there was anything wrong with him as a character, he just didn't shine sometimes like the supporting cast of characters did. If I'd read more than one Charles Dickens novel I'd say that this is sort of like what he does, with such great secondary characters that really bring to life the story. But I might just be talking out of my ass here. It wouldn't be the first time for that.
There are also certain things in the book I would have liked to have seen resolved in different ways, and I will admit to feeling frustrated that what I wanted wasn't happening, but just because a book didn't meet my exact expectations, great as they may be, doesn't mean that the book is worse for that. It's probably actually better for not doing what I wanted it to do. If I'd been steering this plot there probably would have been some serious bullshit resolutions going on.
So I'll admit I was toying with giving his four stars because it didn't quite go the way I wanted, but I'm also not sure exactly what I wanted, or how everything could have been resolved in a satisfying manner if the couple of things I wanted to happen had happened.
There are some interesting mentions of music in the book. I think you could find worse things to do on a summer evening than look on Spotify some of the classical composers mentioned as being on Theo's and Pippa's iPods and giving them a listen. She also mentions Belle and Sebastian and Arvo Pärt, two favorites of mine for different listening moods. I thought of making a playlist of things she mentioned in the book, but I sort of forgot and I have to be passing on this ARC soon, but maybe if I get a regular trade edition I'll embark on this quest.
There are actual things about the book I'd kind of like to write about, but I'll leave them be, I'm really paranoid about the whole spoiler thing, not that they are major spoilers, but just wonderful ways she handles the story that if I say much more I'll just ruin, and I have no interest in ruining this for anyone.
Oh, yeah I'm supposed to mention that I got this book for free, from either Netgalley, the publisher, author or through some other way that I get books to read before they are published. Apparently it's a federal law to mention this (for reals?) and not just a cheap reason to float the shit out of my reviews. I haven't been given any monies, nor have I been coerced in anyway to write the review you just read. Huzzah!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
My problem lately with books is that I have been generally enjoying what I've been reading, but I just haven't had much to say about them once I'm don...moreMy problem lately with books is that I have been generally enjoying what I've been reading, but I just haven't had much to say about them once I'm done.
Time-travelling serial killer. Bad-ass punk/hardcore grrrrl* who he failed to kill when he had the chance. Chicago.
That's my plot summary. I don't think when I was recently recommended to try to write a review in four sentences or less that is what the guy had in mind.
(view spoiler)[Why didn't Harper just go back in time to right after he had stabbed Kirby and finish her off then, or at least find another time to go after he rather than right after she figured out what was going on? I'm sure there is a logic to this that I just missed, that's my one gripe with the book (hide spoiler)]
I enjoyed this a lot. It did take me over a week to read, but that's just because I wasn't reading much at home and there something in my bag that likes to stain some things that go in my bag and not other things. It seems to only mess up things that are nice and this book looks quite nice. And it's signed. So I figured there was no chance it would survive my mysterious bag and what I'm calling time travelling staining shit. Because, seriously, I've gone through it, and I can find nothing in the bag that should be making some things but not others come out dirty and stained.
Here is the signature in the book, since I mentioned it. And because Karen showed hers, and it's polite to show yours too when a lady shows hers. It's never polite to just show yours first totally unprompted.**
Will I say anything about the book? Ok one more mini-gripe. I hope if you didn't read the book you didn't read gripe one.
I groaned a little bit when Kirby went to a Naked Raygun show. There seemed to be so much research put into the book, getting little details correct and stuff and then Naked Raygun? Not that I'm saying it's historically inaccurate, but if you asked me right now, "Hey Greg I'm writing a story that takes place in Chicago in the early 90's and I want to let her go to a punk show, what band should she be seeing?" I'd answer Naked Raygun. If you asked me to give a different band for another show she'd be seeing a few nights later that was also from Chicago I'd stare at you blankly and have nothing to give you (were Los Crudos around by that time? I think Kirby would like Crudos quite a lot)***
Part two of my mini-gripe of minutiae in the book that doesn't really matter is that Kirby shows up in one secne wearing a Fugazi t-shirt. Of course there is no such thing as a Fugazi t-shirt, there is a This Is Not a Fugazi t-shirt, and I think some mall stores I remember had some kind of bootleg Repeater shirt for sale with Guy all tangled up in guitar chords, but Kirby doesn't strike me as the type who would buy her punk shirts at the early 90's equivalent of Hot Topic (or whatever the modern day equivalent is) and at that point in time wearing a Fugazi t-shirt was kind poseurish, along the same lines of some kid getting all bent out of shape because someone said Primus Sucks, when everyone knows that meant you liked them (which is a terrible example, because there really is no winner in coolness on either side of that exchange, but even if Fugazi's 1993 album was sort of a disappointment to people I knew, they still had a mystique about them that you didn't want to tarnish by putting on a Brockum (they made most of the rock shirts at that time, and maybe still do) copyrighted This is Not a Fugazi shirt. What shirt would I have put her in? I don't know, maybe some other Dischord band that wasn't so 'pure' as Ian and co.
But really these aren't even worth complaining about, and I mean that even though I've spent most of the review blabbing about it.
If you were reading this review to find out if maybe you want to try this book that people keep calling this summer's Gone Girl, I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to read this nonsense. But, lots of people are saying this. I've heard it from all kinds of people where I work and I don't think they are all just parroting each other. It's not like Gone Girl redux, obviously, but it's a strong thriller type story with a strong female presence. But I'm sorry for wasting your time.
But thank you for reading.
*There are no Olympia refrences in the book, but her story takes place in 1993. Reviewer liberties.
**And because Karen and I have worked in a bookstore for a combined total of a quarter of a century we knew to put the dust jacket flap on the page where authors normally sign. But Lauren Beaukes wanted to sign on the page she did, which totally makes sense because there is so much room. I'm not exactly sure why some authors sign only after they cross out their own printed name. Not that I'm judging, because that's how DFW signed and all, I'm just curious why some do that. If only there were a machine in my home that I could just type any stupid question into and get back answers immediately. When will technology come up with something like that?
***I just totally lied. Totally. Of course I know other Chicago bands from that time. Screeching Weasel and those bands that were around with them. Ok, I'm just stupid, but still until a few seconds ago, if you had asked me for a Chicago band in the early 90's you would have gotten Naked Raygun as an answer and a blank stare, probably just because the other bands were still around later in the 90's and I think of them as being from that time period more than from the years that punk broke. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
and she observed that the more education they got, the less they could do.
A descriptive title of Flannery O'Connor's short story collection could be,...moreand she observed that the more education they got, the less they could do.
A descriptive title of Flannery O'Connor's short story collection could be, This Aint Gonna End Well.
This collection is like a crescendo of awfulness, brutality and despair. Physically it's sort of akin to getting kicked in the stomach, and then when your down getting stomped on the back, then for the next story getting kicked in the face, and then getting a nice solid shot to the liver when you try to stand up again, and repeated getting pummeled in five more spots, including once in the balls; which is sort of humorous, because there is some humor in here, too.
Contained in quite a few of these stories are doomed or ineffectual characters who have too much education. Intellectuals. The not so prodigal sons who ran away from the backward South to universities or New York City and now back. Generally feeling superior, or entitled but not exactly getting on with their lives in any sort of manner. If only these young men had had the internet where they could have found some like minded people to engage in endless discussions with. Instead they generally wallow around their mothers' homes (there is a conspicuous absence of fathers in many of these stories, and in the one where the mother is absent, well that doesn't go so well either). Their own ineptitude, their slow path to failure isn't seen that way from their mothers though who look on their sons with a certain pride at having gotten an education, and think that the years since when they haven't started to make any forward movement on becoming the writers or whatever it is they claim to be, is only something to be lamented with by saying a pithy statement, "Well Rome wasn't built in a day."
Rome was never built without actually laying some stones down.
The people surrounding these young men (they are all young men) are ignorant Southerns. Even if they aren't white trash, they still exhibit the slowness and ingrained prejudices one associates with mid-Century life below the Mason and Dixon line. Some curse the fact that there is no one around them that can talk about Beckett or Joyce with them while they wallow away in bed awaiting a Kafka-esque death. Or course the difference between Kafka's Kafka-esque consumptive death and their own is that Kafka was busy creating and destroying a life time of work while also busy dying; some of these characters are only waiting for life to acknowledge their genius that they are sure is do to them because they learned some books in a university somewhere.
Life though has a nasty little trick of not being put on hold while you wallow around thinking the world owes you something. And in Flannery O'Connor's universe what life is going to give you is, well a solid kick to the stomach, if you're lucky.* It'll probably be worse though.
Of course I'm generalizing about this collection, and just taking a few characters from some of the stories to ramble on about. There are plenty of stories without this element.
But, even if it's not in all of the stories, it's the outside world, the universities or say New York City which are work as the element in the story that lets in the brutality.
Many of the Southerns might be ignorant and backwards, but it's when the Yankee-fied element gets introduced it's similar to the good efforts of an environmental group to introduce an endangered predator into a new environment and then watching in horror as the predator wrecks havoc on the existing ecosystem. (view spoiler)[I'm not really sure what I think of the scene where the old man is found crucified in the stairwell, hanging by his arms from the posts of a banister, is it an over-reaction to his good 'ol boy racism, is it racist in portraying the reaction of the black guy as being so over the top in brutality? Is it saying something about the difference in culture between the North and South? (hide spoiler)]
Or maybe I'm just talking a lot of shit, and it's not any Yankee/Intellectual element at all, but something more like a whole bunch of stories just illustrating how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Whatever I say doesn't matter about this book, all that matters if you want to read a handful of brutal Southern stories and want to lose a bit more of hope in people this would be a collection worth checking out.
*For the record, I have discovered that getting kicked even with just medium power in the ribs is sort of like getting kicked in the solar plexus. I was more than a little surprised by this, it might not have helped that I was already getting gassed when I got kicked.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If in Vegas there were futures bets available on authors I would have imagine that Marisha Pessl would have been a pretty sure thing on hitting the so...moreIf in Vegas there were futures bets available on authors I would have imagine that Marisha Pessl would have been a pretty sure thing on hitting the sophomore slump. I could picture the odds being something like -1400, or somewhere around +1200 for surpassing her first book.
She was the 'it' writer for a season. Some people loved her book (I would be in that camp). Some thought it was overly derivative (I'm in that camp, too!) and some turned their noses up at it, but it got a lot of attention. It sold quite a few copies and generated quite a bit of buzz.
It doesn't feel like it, but now seven years later she's got her follow-up to Special Topics in Calamity Physics. This is quite a while for an 'it' author to come out with a second book, and it's bordering on the time that makes you start to forget about her, think that maybe she just had that one book in her, and maybe even think, well at least it was one good book and she didn't immediately follow it up with some shit that she probably wrote for an undergrad creative writing class and now has polished up to get another paycheck, but also seven years is a long time. You can picture the pressure of having the live up to your first book and easily imagine that what you're going to get is going to be trying to hard to be good. You might also think, well the first book was derivative, and she can't possibly pull off the Secret History thing again, so what's she going to rip off this time?
I never thought these things until I thought about writing this review. I didn't think much about Marisha Pessl at all since reading her first book, I really liked it, but she's since been surpassed in the bookstore world by all the other 'it' authors and there are so many of them you just stop remembering them after awhile.
Seven years is a long time (or if I think about it, it doesn't seem that long ago that the hardcover of STICP caught my eye, making me realize maybe I've been at my job way too long).
And then you happen to get your hands on an ARC of Night Film and you realize that the fears of a sophomore slump are totally unfounded and that she might just be as fucking good as she hinted at being in her first novel.
This is good. Really good.
To get the derivative question out of the way, if you were going to say she was riffing off of another book, it would probably be House of Leaves, but it's more straight forward than that tome of typographical whimsy, it's also possibly scarier at times, more coherent and reads better. This reads sort of like an accessible David Lynch film (which isn't going out on a limb, since the pictures of one of the characters does have a resemblance to Lynch).
Writing a review of this book is difficult. And I'd recommend if you are going to read this book and you don't get an ARC or read it right when it comes out to tread lightly into reading reviews. The whole book is littered with massive spoilers and this book is too much fun to want to ruin it because some jackoff on the internet wants to tell you his thoughts on some twist, turn or plot point.
But, if you want to know what the book is about, it's about a beautiful talented girl who throws herself down an elevator shaft. The girl is the daughter of a famed reclusive cult film director, known for producing disturbing and provocative films. The kind that when they are described you kind of wish had really been made. The kind of films that you want to see when you want to see something that would scare the shit out of you. The kind of films that sadly don't really exist.
A journalist goes looking for answers about why the girl killed herself.
One of the happy surprises of the book is that it effectively uses pictures, 'screenshots' of websites and other ephemera (well not real ephemera, pictures of them) in a way that actually enriches the book and doesn't look some cheesy piece of shit. I don't know about you, but when I normally see lots of pictures in a book, like the ones this has, I usually start to worry. Sort of like when you see that whole portions of a book are written out in text messages, you just sort of feel like it's going to be a giant gimmick.
One thing I found a little annoying at first about the book was (view spoiler)[the way that when twists were revealed the character would always think something like, of course this scene happened and this was mentioned that I didn't pay attention to at the time. I thought this was kind of lazy, and a bit too patronizing to the reader, like she was just assuming that the reader would be too lazy to remember where this twist was alluded to, but then when the twists kept coming there were moments where I was happy she pointed out where she had alluded to a certain thing, something that I'll tell myself was more difficult to pick up on, or remember than some of the earlier things, but I'm probably just making myself feel good (hide spoiler)].
This may be intentional, but probably isn't. But I couldn't help seeing some Infinite Jest similarities, but that is probably just because of the films, and the powerful almost unreal quality given to the films. And because I'm probably stupid and the name Cordova kept making me think Incandenza (don't know why). The film Infinite Jest (V) and most of Cordova's work have the samizdat quality. Ashley Cordova kept making me think of Joelle, and Saratoga Springs* is mentioned exactly one time in each work. That last fact along makes me positive that Pessl had to have been influenced by DFW.
This book is good. I'm going to say it's a book you should be excited about for this year, and try try try to read it without having anything spoiled for you in advance.
*Astute readers may note that this is a lie. In Night Film Saratoga Springs is mentioned once. But Saratoga sans Springs is also mentioned once. One could say that this means that Saratoga Springs is mentioned twice, since most people call Saratoga Springs, Saratoga, but there is also the Village (or town) of Saratoga, which is closer to where the Battle of Saratoga took place, and this is a seperate place than Saratoga Springs so it's possible (although unlikely) that this is what Pessl meant in the first mention of my surrogate hometown. I'm fairly certain that the mention of Saratoga Springs in Infinite Jest occurs in a footnote. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)