Keret really puts the “short” in “short stories”; these range from one to five pages. His economy of words is really dreamlike, in no small part thank...moreKeret really puts the “short” in “short stories”; these range from one to five pages. His economy of words is really dreamlike, in no small part thanks to the feeling that you’re missing some crucial part of the world he’s created, but it feels no less urgent. I hesitate to use the term “magical realism” but I suppose it’s apt here.(less)
Really awesome premise, and periodically comes up with some cool, surprisingly fresh takes on religion, but ultimately is a pretty clunky story. Mostl...moreReally awesome premise, and periodically comes up with some cool, surprisingly fresh takes on religion, but ultimately is a pretty clunky story. Mostly worth it for Scott Hampton's art...I just wish Hampton could find a writer worth of himself.(less)
A fine novel, hampered by the unfortunate fact that it is not History Of Love. The comparison is unfair, but it’s really hard to avoid—characters with...moreA fine novel, hampered by the unfortunate fact that it is not History Of Love. The comparison is unfair, but it’s really hard to avoid—characters with similar neuroses and hang-ups about their loved ones, meta-layers featuring works of art within the narrative, and various religious/historical anecdotes adding flavor. Something about it felt clunky though; the metaphors were a little flat, the action wasn’t engrossing enough, the characters sometimes felt quirky for the sake of quirk. All in an indefinite way, but it is made absolutely perceptible by her previous effort, in which nothing felt amiss.
I’d say the title sums up the whole reading experience. You’re never really given any sense (outside of guesswork) what the title means until the last five pages of the book, and when you get there it seems interesting enough, but by that point I had spent so much time wondering how the title was going to play in that it seemed incongruous when it was finally introduced. The ending itself is so abrupt that I can’t help feeling I just read the first half of a better novel.(less)
This is a really good first novel. It falls into a lot of traps of inexperience, most notably the cliches--both structural and superficial, which he e...moreThis is a really good first novel. It falls into a lot of traps of inexperience, most notably the cliches--both structural and superficial, which he even tries to lampshade more than once in an attempt to be endearing. Spoiler: it doesn't really work.
But beyond that I found it a compelling narrative that does its level best to take on big, unanswerable questions. Better critics than I have decried the heavy-handed plotting, the clumsy foreshadowing, the cartoonish quality of the token villain; I don't disagree. But I think there is something to be said for a story that can be as gripping as this one is, while reserving judgment of its protagonist for the reader as much as possible. It's a difficult task that I think Hosseini pulls off.
I've read a number of reviews on this site slamming the book for professing to be a story about hope and the ultimate goodness of people, and instead showing us a world of ultimately bad people doing selfish things. Again, I don't disagree, but I think that's where this book succeeds. If the story had ended with the protagonist's grand, sacrificial triumph, I would definitely be in the "good, but overly manipulative" school of thought on it. The fact that it continues, and that the protagonist continues to make choices that are difficult to square away morally, is what makes this a three-dimensional narrative to me.(less)
Blindingly, crushingly, achingly good. I cried a little on a subway platform finishing this book. I don’t think I’ve encountered a modern writer so vi...moreBlindingly, crushingly, achingly good. I cried a little on a subway platform finishing this book. I don’t think I’ve encountered a modern writer so virtuosic since Joseph Heller. It’s just amazing the way she turns language into something so heartbreaking and beautiful.(less)
This book is pretty much the sum of its parts: it’s the story of David, told in Joseph Heller’s style. You have to be willing to put up with a dense t...moreThis book is pretty much the sum of its parts: it’s the story of David, told in Joseph Heller’s style. You have to be willing to put up with a dense text that takes a long time to say very little, but it definitely has its moments. Heller does a really good job of humanizing such a famous character, essentially making him a genuinely sympathetic figure by highlighting how unsympathetic he is. After all his cantankerousness, caprice, and unjustifiable meanness, his last line manages to frame the story as a touching tale about how hard it is to tell people you care about how much they mean to you, and that is the real accomplishment on Heller’s part. And it’s funny, which helps.(less)
Ansay gets a lot of comparisons to Flannery O'Connor, which seems a little too convenient because they are both women who specialize in short stories....moreAnsay gets a lot of comparisons to Flannery O'Connor, which seems a little too convenient because they are both women who specialize in short stories. But while their settings, characters, and subject matter differ greatly, I’d have to agree, at least for this collection of short stories, that Ansay is able to conjure O'Connor’s remarkable gift to relate the unspoken facets of human nature. I really enjoyed every one of these stories and their uniquely broken characters.(less)
Lovecraftian fiction is a funny animal. By now, any kind of "nerd cred" demands a basic familiarity with the octopus-headed dragon-thing Cthulhu, and...moreLovecraftian fiction is a funny animal. By now, any kind of "nerd cred" demands a basic familiarity with the octopus-headed dragon-thing Cthulhu, and perhaps a passing familiarity with Lovecraft's other elder horrors--Yog-Sothoth, the Old Ones, and so forth. Heck, this site's spellcheck isn't even batting an eye at Cthulhu, a testament to the enduring power of Lovecraft's most famous character.
This is funny, because while each story focuses heavily on one eldritch monster or another, the actual appearance of the monster always represents a very small fraction of the story, if it appears at all. Rather, to Lovecraft the conflict comes from struggling with the idea of the monster: conceiving of the inconceivable is the most monstrous prospect of all in these worlds. Each protagonist must fight his own mental fragility rather than the monster itself. If a physical fight does occur, it invariably happens elsewhere, outside the narrative.
This is a very compelling idea that runs into problems quickly. On the one hand, Lovecraft tapped into a basic human insecurity over the unknown, and did it perhaps more effectively than anyone. In Lovecraft's worlds, we are presented with frontiers, whether physical or in the mind: the unexplored, where gaps in our knowledge may be hiding our coming doom. Who is willing to enter the abyss alone? Lovecraft recognized that this is a raw nerve common to all of us and exploited it to great effect.
Unfortunately, this absolute focus on the psyche can easily devolve into self-indulgent solipsism. If a character descends into madness, and tells us so, that's one thing; but, without any evidence or consequences except him telling us so, what are the stakes of the madness? And what does it mean to us later, when he says it again? Are there layers of this undefined "madness," like Dante's Hell, that this character is tumbling down further with each successive revelation? Sanity has a very "if you say so" feel to it in these stories. Likewise, his use of the extreme gets out of control in a hurry. Everything mundane detail we encounter is horrifying, unspeakable, an abomination in the superlative. There's something to be said for trying to keep the reader on edge throughout, but fatigue sets in. If everything is horrifying, is anything?
This of course is critique of "Weird Fiction" in general, of which Lovecraft is the shining pinnacle. A tolerance for the quirks of the genre is rewarded with incredibly rich worlds crafted with love.(less)
This book is funny, I should say first of all: it can't help but be funny, Oswalt being such a powerful talent of this generation of comedy. If that d...moreThis book is funny, I should say first of all: it can't help but be funny, Oswalt being such a powerful talent of this generation of comedy. If that didn't manage to bubble through this material, it would be extremely strange, and probably funny in itself.
But something is missing, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what. Maybe it's the innately self-effacing nature he affects onstage, the absence of which amplifies the acid in his more satiric works, upsetting the balance he strikes between silliness and self-righteous aggression. Maybe it's an editor willing and able to tell him which bits he's milked dry and which are begging to be fleshed out further. Maybe it's just experience with the medium that one day will be able to own his voice in the written word as well as he does orally, and turn what seem like flaws into features.
Actually, my biggest problem with the book wasn't really Oswalt's fault, as far as I can tell. See, the title of the book comes from a short essay in the middle about the categories of high school outcasts. It's a cool premise that probably could stand to be a little longer, better explored...and it's baffling that this was chosen as the title of the book. In retrospect, it's a little like naming an album after one of its songs, insofar as you wouldn't necessarily take that to mean it's a concept album about the themes of that song. Unfortunately, in all his media appearances selling the book, Oswalt was naturally asked about the title first and foremost, meaning that most of the promotion for the book centered around a small sketch within it. To this end, the titular piece struck me as disappointing under this lens, and this in turn colored the rest of the book. It's unreasonable to hold Oswalt to blame for bad marketing, but it does strike me as a misstep that he's likely not to make next time out.
This book reminded me repeatedly of George Carlin's written work. That's a lofty comparison, and maybe not entirely fair; Carlin largely packaged work he'd done on stage for decades, while Oswalt has gone the ambitious route of constructing material specifically for the medium--there are pieces here that would not work on stage. But I think ultimately the Carlin example is instructive, as he spent a hell of a long time honing his voice before translating it to the page, and it survived the transition better than most comedians' attempts. What Oswalt has shared with us is an early effort that feels incomplete, given how talented we know him to be. Unless you can't get enough of him, maybe wait until the next one.(less)
I really didn’t enjoy reading this very much. The premise is kind of cool, even if it encompasses so much nuance it isn’t really describable in a sent...moreI really didn’t enjoy reading this very much. The premise is kind of cool, even if it encompasses so much nuance it isn’t really describable in a sentence, and some of the episodes touched on along the way have compelling arcs, but on the whole it just feels like way too much masturbatory writing. And that’s not even touching on the fact that Grass spends 500+ pages thoroughly investigating the uses and abuses of power in German history only to completely ignore the Third Reich, followed by a bizarre extended fantasy in which he all but becomes a rape apologist. Poor form from and overrated author.(less)
A cool, light read that captures the wonder of a ten-year-old boy growing into the world. Really remarkable for the way it evokes the point of view of...moreA cool, light read that captures the wonder of a ten-year-old boy growing into the world. Really remarkable for the way it evokes the point of view of that age without dumbing down its tone or vocabulary at all.(less)
The joke of the premise is so omnipresent as to come across surprisingly subtly: that is, a New England history professor responds to a local journal'...moreThe joke of the premise is so omnipresent as to come across surprisingly subtly: that is, a New England history professor responds to a local journal's call for impressions of Ford's presidency with 350 pages of sex and neurosis and a failed manuscript of a completely different president's biography that never really come close to useable. Within that framework, Updike paints an interesting portrait of a man who, as free-thinking as he wants to be in his academic life, can't let go of the dominant narrative of his life even as it deconstructs around him. I wish I knew a little more Deconstructionist and Post-Modern theory to get a little more out of the later narrative of book, but it probably wouldn't be any less dry.(less)