The Long Walk is a book by an elusive author named Richard Bachman—whom no one has ever met—about a bunch of kids being slaughtered in a near-future (...moreThe Long Walk is a book by an elusive author named Richard Bachman—whom no one has ever met—about a bunch of kids being slaughtered in a near-future (or alternate reality) dystopian America. Which, been there, done that, right? Can’t unknown authors write about something that wouldn’t be covered again decades later? The lack of foresight here is really disappointing.
There are differences, though, between The Hunger Games and this book, particularly in that the kids in The Long Walk are mowed down by military officials rather than by each other, and that participation in this deadly event is strictly voluntary (whereas in The Hunger Games, there is little “choice” in the matter). And while I don’t think it is a bad thing necessarily for some of these teenagers to get their just desserts—seriously, have you met a teenager?—the voluntary aspect of this event is something that I had trouble with. Because we’re not just talking a few hundred mentally disturbed kids who cannot comprehend the meaning of a 99% mortality rate. We’re talking tens of thousands of kids across the country who seem to want to be chosen for competition, and whose family and friends seem even to encourage their participation. I am not sure how dystopian this dystopia is, other than that it appears to include a military-run government, but it certainly doesn’t leave one with the impression that laying low and avoiding the event entirely should be all that difficult to do, so what’s with all these idiots wanting to get themselves killed?
But still, the book is pretty good overall. It draws interesting conclusions about survival and what drives us to surpass that which we believe to be the limits of our physical capabilities (mind over matter) and it also addresses a point that I have always been able to relate to particularly, which is that it doesn’t take much more than a simple conversation sometimes to connect with another person, and in the case of The Long Walk, that connection can come to mean the difference between life and death for its characters. At the end of it all, though, it is a book that was hard to put down, and it makes one wonder why the author—whoever he is—has not been more prolific and has never broken free from relative obscurity.(less)
It is often the roll your eye moments of books or movies that weaken the reading/viewing experience for me, but I have to be honest in saying that I c...moreIt is often the roll your eye moments of books or movies that weaken the reading/viewing experience for me, but I have to be honest in saying that I cannot always define what exactly triggers those eye rolls. I think sometimes it is the predictability of the plot, other times the outrageousness of coincidence or lack of plausibility. If I get the impression I am being manipulated to feel a certain way, I bristle and balk. But what happens when a book commits one or more of these grave errors and I don’t roll my eyes? What was different that time? Did the book just happen to execute things more effectively? Did it possess some other, albeit unrelated, redeeming quality that allowed me to overlook certain flaws? Or does it really all come down to my state-of-mind at the time of reading?
I do not have the answers to these questions, but I do know that I really enjoyed Night Film—despite its main character being a bit of a retard (not to mention a lousy father), despite motivations that stem more from a sake of convenience than from any reasonable source, and despite the intrusion of the wild and zany into what is otherwise a reality-based investigative thriller.
So what did I like about this book? I liked the writing, I liked the supporting characters—not just the peripheral ones but also the ones who exist only in the ethereal sense. I enjoyed the twists and turns, which are perfectly timed and manage to prevent some elements from being revealed until the final page. I liked that not everything is ultimately revealed and I like what that says about who we are, as readers, and what we want out of a story. There may be two sides to a coin but at the end of the day it is the same coin, and maybe you need both sides to complete a picture. Or maybe that picture is never really complete because it exists in an ever-changing reality and all you can do is theorize and deduce and grab hold of whichever belief helps you sleep best at night, hoping nothing will come along later to challenge that belief, but still preparing yourself for that possibility because it almost always happens eventually, one way or the other, doesn’t it?
My apologies for the vagueness there but when you finish the book you’ll understand. Or maybe you will just roll your eyes and think, “whatever, man.” Either way.(less)
Wait a second. Did this guy seriously just read a book about a horny mythological squirrel?
Why, yes. Yes he did. But what you need to understand is th...moreWait a second. Did this guy seriously just read a book about a horny mythological squirrel?
Why, yes. Yes he did. But what you need to understand is this: I am a Brandi Burlington completist. I have read all the works in her extensive oeuvre, beginning with her highly-publicized debut, Fucked by the Lake Monster, and culminating with this, her most recent release. Though some of her earlier works have left me feeling somewhat confused, scratching my head in trying to understand the, uh...anatomical possibilities, and—I daresay—a little uneasy at gleaning what should be the appropriate emotional response to her, um...narrative, I can firmly attest to experiencing no such uncertainty with Reamed by Ratatoskr. This book makes it pretty easy to walk away from with a solid grasp of one’s feeling toward it.
Really. There is simply no question about it.
This latest effort by the smokin’ hot BB (er, no, guys—not that BB) revolves around an undereducated American couple fornicating beneath a tree in the Norwegian countryside. But as it turns out, this isn’t just any ordinary tree. This is the Yggdrasil tree, the tree of Norse mythology on whose branches lives the thousands year-old squirrel Ratatoskr. And, as one might imagine, after many long years of pent up sexual energy without the means to release it, Ratatoskr has become a bit sex-crazed. So what might an ancient, sex-crazed squirrel be thinking when he sees two fools copulating beneath him? Well you’d have to read the book to learn the details of that particular fallout, but it is safe to say that things do not bode well for the young pair.
In the end, I’m not sure if Ms. Burlington is a broad whose books read like a fine wine, or whether perhaps the analogy is rather muddled and it’s that her books must be read with a great deal of fine wine in order to be appreciated, but regardless of how one approaches the situation, the following is true—there is always something to be learned from a Brandi novel. Whether it be a lesson in Scandinavian geography or on Norse mythology, or (as in her previous novel) a comprehensive analysis of the scientific method, I can say with the strictest confidence that no reader, no reader anywhere, can finish a Brandi Burlington novel without shaking his head at the amazing revelation of having had his eyes opened to something he had never before imagined.(less)
Which should be readily apparent, because if I were not, this book would probably have received only two stars from me—not a...moreI am in a good mood today!
Which should be readily apparent, because if I were not, this book would probably have received only two stars from me—not as a reflection of its literary quality per se, but rather as a reflection of my own reaction to it.
Here is what happened yesterday: I finished this book and tossed it forcefully onto the coffee table next to me in what may be seen as a transparent attempt to attract attention to myself (which is something I tend to do often) and sure enough someone picked it up, read its title, and asked me what it was about, providing me with a wonderful opportunity to roll my eyes dramatically (another move with which I am somewhat familiar) and ask, “Do you realllllly want to know?” I explained that it was about this aimless young gentleman who decides to kill some time before starting a new job by visiting his cousin in a tuberculosis sanatorium high up in the Swiss Alps, but who begins to exhibit symptoms of ill health himself and whose visit becomes lengthened by increasing bouts of time until his initial 3-week stay has been stretched out to a full seven years, and that this book was about his experiences in that sanatorium over the course of those seven years. By this point, my enquirer’s eyes were wide with interest and I was astounded. In explaining the premise of a book that has actually kind of bored me, have I inadvertently extolled its virtues? Is this book perhaps more interesting than I am giving it credit for? The short answer to that is, NO! This exchange with my enquirer has merely revealed what I think is the essence of The Magic Mountain—it is a place that appears interesting, a place a reader might wish to visit on account of that appearance, but once there it is a place that traps the reader for seven long years and berates him with its endless philosophical musings and its explorations of moral ideologies, and only upon being finally discharged does the reader discover his eyes are bleeding from all the fork stabbing.
Now I have gone ahead and made it all sound so horrible. The truth is, this book is very well written. It has a lot to say about the cyclical nature of time and humanity’s fruitless attempts to anchor itself against its continuous passing. It speaks of the mysteries of biology and brilliantly relates the starting point of life to an unexplained (and unstoppable) illness. It presents death as merely an extension of life as opposed to its diametric opposite and eerily makes the reader feel comfortable with it. And it exemplifies the importance of spiritual health to providing fulfillment for a life that is by most accounts cursory and meaningless. But at the end of the day, it is a book for the brain, and as much as that may be adequate for some, I need a book with a heart and soul. I need a book with characters I can relate to and empathize with, and unfortunately this book had none of that. So, to the extent that I “enjoyed” my visit to this sanatorium, it is not a place to which I would consider returning any time soon.(less)
This is a great play about the decline of the Russian aristocracy, its implications for the working class...moreIt’s true what they say. Chekhov’s got guns!
This is a great play about the decline of the Russian aristocracy, its implications for the working class rising to fill the vacancies left by those cash-stricken families, and the complications propagated by these changes, namely the social inadequacies of those who get sucked into this newfound vacuum.
I read Three Sisters recently and while I did like the play, it did not shake my maracas as much as I had hoped it would. There are intertwining themes between the two plays (and perhaps among Chekhov’s plays in general), such as the emphasis placed on working—as both a route to happiness as well as a practical method by which to quantify one’s worth—but I think overall The Cherry Orchard has more going on, and has characters that are (to me) more interesting.
Take Lubov Andreyevna, for example. Lubov is the matriarch of the high-society family which is about to lose its beloved cherry orchard (along with the rest of the estate, too, but they all seem to be concerned only with the pretty trees) on account of a cash flow shortage that prevents them from paying their mortgage. These solvency problems are reflected in the predicaments of other landowners in the play, as well, like those of Simeonov-Pischin, who is constantly seeking a loan. Lubov has difficulty facing the gravity of the situation, having lived all her life in general ease and comfort, not having to work, and assumes things will naturally work themselves out in her favor. (They do not, by the way.) And yes there are tears and sadness but the tears are reigned in quickly, and Lubov demonstrates some surprising resolve at her capacity to adapt.
There are also other characters I liked. Lopahkin is the former peasant who represents the “new money” in turn-of-the-century Russia, though he does not always know the best way to handle his fun status bump. Fiers, a servant of the older generation, is at a complete loss to absorb the changes occurring around him while Yasha, his young counterpart, is almost embarrassing in his insolence, clearly not knowing his place (Fiers’s view) or perhaps percipient in recognizing what is happening and putting his native chameleonic qualities to good use.
In the end, I empathized with most of the characters in this play, feeling the acute twinges of pain in seeing the symbolic orchard meet its inevitable fate, but it is a pain swiftly assuaged. These characters reconcile themselves to their respective futures, and do so stoically, choosing to view the loss of the orchard not as an end per se, but as merely a different bud from which their new lives will thenceforth germinate.(less)
Sorry, Ben. And Kelly. And karen. This book really did not do it for me. In fact, that is kind of an understatement; my two-star rating is gen...moreRuh roh.
Sorry, Ben. And Kelly. And karen. This book really did not do it for me. In fact, that is kind of an understatement; my two-star rating is generous in that I actually feel sort of bad for disliking it as much as I did. I know it hits certain people on an emotional, gut-deep level and I am not arrogant enough (I am arrogant, just not arrogant enough) to universally proclaim its lack of literary value. My point is that I’ve often had people come onto my reviews and say, “Oh, thanks for letting me know this book sucks. Now I can take it off my shelves.” Don’t do that! Don’t not read this book on account of this review. It is only a reflection of this novel’s impact on me, and I am just one person. And a relatively unimportant one, at that.
Okay, so here is why this book sucks. First of all, I was genuinely liking it at the beginning. It is absolutely well written, and I enjoyed the narrator’s slow reveal of his history with Sarah and Henry. I was all geared up to hate the narrator, too, who I thought was going to be some detestable marriage violator. (It can be a lot of fun hating awful characters, can’t it?) Except as I continued reading, I came to realize that we, the reader, are perhaps not meant to hate Bendrix at all. In fact, I think we are being asked to identify with him, possibly, which sucks for me because I can’t. I don’t. So thanks, Mr. Greene, for taking the fun out of that angle.
And then the book shifts to Sarah’s journal entries, at which point everything for me came to a grinding, screeching halt. Sarah is by far the lamest character ever created. Her internal struggle—the struggle that lies at the center of the novel’s plot—is one that I could in no way relate to. It is during the description of this struggle that the novel takes a turn into an awkward territory of faith and the challenges presented on account of that faith (or lack thereof), and it was simply a huge turnoff for me. I’ve already returned this book to the library so I can’t quote it directly, but certain passages, paraphrased, rang very shallow to me, like, “my love for her refused to accept (view spoiler)[her death (hide spoiler)], whereas my hatred for her had full faith in it.” Oh, for fuck’s sake, give me a break. Really?
Anyway, I am super sorry I did not love this book. The only character I liked was Henry and I got the suspicious feeling I was supposed to dislike him, so it was just an all around mismatch for me. But I will try to do better next time.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I don’t know. I guess this is what you would get if you crossed Ernest Hemingway with John le Carré? Maybe.
The Quiet American is the story of a Britis...moreI don’t know. I guess this is what you would get if you crossed Ernest Hemingway with John le Carré? Maybe.
The Quiet American is the story of a British journalist covering the war in 1950s French Indochina and the annoying American who disrupts his complacent lifestyle. Sure, he’s in a war zone, but he has never had it better. He has a beautiful girl by his side and he finds it possible to remain relatively safe, both physically and emotionally—physically in that most of his reporting duties occur behind the front lines; and emotionally in that he is able to convince himself of Britain’s (and by extension his) lack of involvement with the war itself. It is their problem.
The annoying American changes all that, and it seems to me the American—Pyle, by name—is presented by Greene as an extension of America itself: innocent in its idealistic principles, yet dangerous in its perceived lack of guilt for the harm its idealism causes.
Without getting into specifics, there is more to Pyle than meets the eye, and even though I did not love this story as much as I had hoped to, it did pull together for me in the end. The protagonist learns that at some point, it becomes necessary to make a choice and become involved no matter how adamantly you believe in your own neutrality. Greene does write with a remarkable degree of restraint—in my opinion, his writing could even be said to be too restrained—which is how he packs a story with such complexity into a reasonable number of pages. The problem I had with it lay mostly in the fact that I did not experience much of a connection with any of the characters’ relationships. Though Pyle and Fowler essentially fight over a girl, it is a girl whom neither of them seems to really love, and the two men themselves don’t actually develop any quantifiable bond of friendship that would have otherwise made the story more affecting.
Anyway, I am not done with Graham Greene yet. Some guy on Goodreads named Ben told me to read The End of the Affair, so I suppose that is what I’ll go ahead and do next.(less)
Ok, let’s just cut to the chase. This work, this novel, this brilliantly flowing diatribe of comic vitriol, is a work of pure consummate genius. The w...moreOk, let’s just cut to the chase. This work, this novel, this brilliantly flowing diatribe of comic vitriol, is a work of pure consummate genius. The writing, the pacing, the internal dialogue, the word choice, and probably the translation, too (though that is only a guess)—it is all perfect, perfect, perfect. You people will think I’m joking when I say this, but I am telling you: this book is a freaking page-turner.
Woodcutters is the first-person narrative of an over-the-hill, acrimonious gentleman who becomes reunited with a group of shallow, pretentious, artistic “wannabe” individuals with whom he had once been intimately acquainted, after the death of one of their mutual friends. For most of the story, the narrator sits in a wing chair in the corner of the anteroom of one of these people’s homes, after having been invited there following the friend’s funeral, and silently blasts his hosts for their abominable character and their tactlessness at hosting this party to begin with, as it was initially meant to be an artistic dinner to honor an artistic guest, and only later became an in memoriam dinner to honor their dead friend, as—it should be mentioned—it was only for this latter purpose, once it was learned that the friend had died, that the narrator was extended an invitation.
And that’s it. That is the entire premise of this novel, and yet it is all Bernhard needed to completely knock it out of the park.
For anyone who knows me, or for those who have been following my reviews long enough (why? why would you do that to yourselves?), you might know I’m a sucker for an ambiguous character, or perhaps a character whose motives reveal themselves as contrary to what the character would prefer you to believe. Our narrator would like you to believe, as he seethes away in his wing chair, that he is unlike the miserable hosts of the party to which he had been invited, unlike their vacuous, imbecilic guests, and unlike the insufferable artistic-guest-of-honor who hasn’t even shown up yet but who the narrator has already made clear is insufferable and is unlike him, the narrator, as he sits in his wing chair. But as he continues to rip into these people, you start to wonder...how did the hosts manage to invite the narrator to their party in the first place if the narrator insists he has always tried to avoid these people? How has his opinion of these people managed to change so drastically from the days during which he used to associate with them? And what do these people think of him, the narrator, as he sits in his wing chair ridiculing all of them?
Look, you know what? I’ve said enough about this novel. I don’t like long reviews, so I’m just going to say one more thing: this book is phenomenal, and my only challenge to you, my review-reading audience, is to read one paragraph, just one single paragraph of this novel, because it is all you will need to become as enamored with this book as I am.(less)
I’m just going to come right out and say it: Shirley Jackson knows how to tell a story. Though she may be best known for her work in the psychological...moreI’m just going to come right out and say it: Shirley Jackson knows how to tell a story. Though she may be best known for her work in the psychological suspense genre, I’m pretty convinced she was not limited by this label, nor would she have been by any other, and this work would most likely fall into the “other” category. But there’s no reason to take my word for it; even Oliver (view spoiler)[
(hide spoiler)] found himself drawn to her work, enthralled by her words, and taken in by her characters to such an extent that his appetite for Jackson’s novel was all-consuming. He practically devoured the story in one sitting!
It took me a bit more than a single sitting, but whatever remains of this story Oliver left for me I nonetheless enjoyed. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s final novel, and somewhat melds ideas and themes prevalent in “The Lottery” and in The Haunting of Hill House. The first-person narrator is an 18 year-old infant, a childish adult not unlike the kids from Dogtooth with their alarming degree of worldlessness, and through the course of the narrative, we (the reader) find ourselves being duped several times over as our impressions of the characters are formed and reformed, morphing as quickly and as seemingly effortlessly as a T-1000. Are the villagers as chillingly terrible as Mary Katherine Blackwood would have us believe, and as we are confident she herself believes? Is there perhaps something more deviant and sinister to the Mary Katherine whose older sister playfully admonishes as “Silly Merricat”? Or—and more likely—does the novel rather take place in a gray area of suspicion and questionable motives, screwing around with our sense of moral placement?
If I could rate with half-stars, I’d probably have given this a 3½. While the writing itself is top notch, the story ends kind of anticlimactically, and while the plot is well paced, one could often tell where it was going before it got there. Still, these are minor quibbles. A good Shirley Jackson book is a great book in general, as it turns out.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Does anything sound like less of a good time than listening to some crotchety old man wax nostalgic for his younger days, humoring him (in a patronizi...moreDoes anything sound like less of a good time than listening to some crotchety old man wax nostalgic for his younger days, humoring him (in a patronizing way, of course) while he complains that times have changed? Very little pleases this person; he’s finicky, he’s bad-tempered, and his attitude toward his fellow man is depressingly sour. At first glance, Ebenezer Le Page might resemble this curmudgeonly type, and admittedly he is a curmudgeon on many levels, but there just happens to be something about him that sets him apart from the typical irascibility of his curmudgeonly brethren, a “something” that inevitably makes getting to know him an investment worth undertaking.
Ebenezer, not surprisingly, is a constant in an area of the world that has seen rapid technological advances since World War II, before which it remained relatively protected from external influences. Naturally, Ebenezer covets the insularity his homeland enjoyed before the war, having been raised in this environment and having forged close ties with his surroundings, particularly to his home which has been in the possession of his family for generations. Ebenezer views these changes as a sort of “end” to Guernsey life as he has always known it, and unwittingly becomes a human parallel to its terminative quality when he finds himself inching imminently closer to his own mortality with no one left to extend his legacy, or at least no one he deems “Guernsey” enough. He thus spends a large chunk of his remaining days deciding to whom he should bequeath his property while simultaneously composing a memoir of his life, a memoir that becomes The Book of Ebenezer Le Page.
This is one of the easiest five-star ratings I’ve ever applied to a book. It is a fictional memoir whose narrator has completely and totally endeared me to him. He writes with an almost Proustian capacity for observing human relationships, and his accounts of friendship—specifically with Jim, but also with Raymond and later with Neville (who, to him, represents the antithesis of the new generation of Guernsey)—are beautiful in their depictions. At the end of his life, Ebenezer is able to reflect honestly on the choices he has made, without judgment, and from a vantage point of understanding better the circumstances around which those choices were made. His words and actions are comical, yet poignant, and his fictional legacy will be—for me—largely unforgettable.
Speaking of crotchety curmudgeons, this book was a gift from one of my favorite Goodreaders. Thank you, David!(less)