Okay, this is the second book I've read this month which features characters playing the Atari 2600 game "Adventure." The universe is telling me to fi...moreOkay, this is the second book I've read this month which features characters playing the Atari 2600 game "Adventure." The universe is telling me to find a good emulator, because this is clearly an important skill to have.
I just love Lev Grossman's prose -- spiky and funny and lyrical, and without a trace of sentimentality. And he just writes the oddest stories. This one, about an insanely immersive MMORPG and a priceless lost medieval manuscript (two great things that go great together!) is a very clever twist on the "books about books" genre. The ending, though emotionally and thematically satisfying, felt a bit rushed, and left behind a few dangly bits regarding the logistics of the climatic twist. Still, an immensely enjoyable read for anybody who's a geek for games and books.
Conrad Navarro, modern gladiator with a genius IQ, is the apotheosis of all Laird Barron’s previous tough guy protagonists. He is their perfection – t...moreConrad Navarro, modern gladiator with a genius IQ, is the apotheosis of all Laird Barron’s previous tough guy protagonists. He is their perfection – the imago, if you will – a poetic image which Barron invokes repeatedly in his body of work. The story of Conrad's transformative journey is violent, hallucinogenic, and terribly sad by turns; it's also surprisingly challenging in its execution.
Known simply as “the American,” Conrad makes his living fighting in ludi (after the games held in conjunction with Roman religious festivals): secret and meticulously orchestrated blood sports in which combatants fight to the death for the pleasure of the wealthy and powerful. Between bouts, Conrad obsessively searches for his missing sister Imogene, an FBI agent gone off the reservation on her own dark odyssey: she’s hunting the ancient, elusive and sinister Dr. Drake, a radical experimental physician who may have killed their cancer-stricken brother Ezra in a botched treatment . . . or was it a ritual? Following her trail, Conrad finds the cryptic messages she has left for him, parlaying each into another step closer to his beloved “Genie,” and his own fate.
However, nothing in Conrad’s surreal world is as it seems. What really happened to Ezra and the others under Dr. Drake’s care? Why did his mother drive herself off a cliff, and what drove his father – less literally – around the bend? Why does Conrad, “a special case,” according to dear old Dad, seem impervious to death, and get stronger, heal faster by the day? And where has Imogene really gone?
What Conrad fails to grasp until it’s far too late, is the extent of the conspiracy that enfolds his family, or the cruel cosmic game in which they are merely pieces on a board. In his blundering search for the truth, he has caught the attention of the darkness, and he will have to pay.
Short, fast and unapologetically brutal, The Light is the Darkness is a gut-punch that shares more stylistically with Barron’s first anthology The Imago Sequence than it does with his most recent (and more subtle) novel, The Croning. . . though one does get the feeling that all of Barron’s stories are taking place in the same savage world, that the cosmic horrors we meet are related, and that human beings almost always exist primarily as “provender” for their obscene needs.
At first I was mildly disappointed with LitD; so much happens so fast . . . it's like like bright strobes illuminate various setpieces, and then, before you can make the necessary connections, it’s over. But it had crept into my brain and wouldn’t leave me alone, so I went back to it. Fortunately just novella-length, its fairly experimental style requires a closer look in order to fully appreciate the layers of imagery and sometimes nonlinear trajectory. Upon a second reading, symbolic patterns and foreshadowing emerge, and cryptic hallucinogenic stream-of-consciousness passages that seemed intrusions on (or excursions from) the main storyline click into place and make Conrad's story richer and ultimately more horrific. For me, real enjoyment of this incredibly weird book demanded study. The Light is the Darkness may not be anybody’s idea of light summer reading, but once again Laird Barron challenges the prevailing assumption that so-called "genre fiction" can't also be intellectually challenging. (less)
If you could change the past, would you? And, perhaps more importantly -- should you?
King hits another one out of the park with the absolutely engross...moreIf you could change the past, would you? And, perhaps more importantly -- should you?
King hits another one out of the park with the absolutely engrossing story of Jake Epperson, a high-school teacher from 2011 who finds himself saddled with the improbable task of preventing Kennedy's assassination. On the assumption that the world will be a better place (starting with no Vietnam) if he can take out Oswald before November 1963, he agrees, and finds himself a stranger in a strange land: America, 1958. (The impetus and details of his trip there, I will leave for the reader. Suffice to say it's the only supernatural device in the story. All the monsters here are human.)
The nod to Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (from which the "butterfly effect" theory takes its name) is made loud and clear -- one character even mentions the story -- but King's fleshed-out version of the tale hits closer to home, with fully-realized characters who become much more to the reader than players in a cautionary tale. The meat of the story takes place as "George Amberson" builds a double-life for himself in the years leading up to that fateful day in Dallas.
After some eventful stops, including the grim and familiar Derry, Maine, George makes his way to Texas, where he finds himself a job teaching high-school (back when you could easily fake your resume and identity) in idyllic small-town Jodie. There, he makes friends, falls in love with Sadie, the lovely high-school librarian with a tragic past, and drives a bitchin' car . . . all the while also observing Lee Oswald and his sad little family from near and far . . . and changing the course of history just a little bit every moment he spends there.
While there are obviously science-fictional elements to 11/22/63, in some ways it's one of the most realistic of King's novels. It feels true, if you get my meaning. Take a spectacular attention to -- and obvious love for -- the period's details, add in what must have been an ungodly amount of research about that terrible day in Dallas, and finish with a star-crossed, complex, grown-up love story that gives The Time Traveler's Wife a run for its money, and you've about got the idea. And of course all of this is overlaid with the gripping sense of a ticking clock, as George's purpose draws inexorably closer. Can he do it? Will he?
Ultimately, 11/22/63 isn't a book about the Kennedy assassination, about bad guys or monsters, or even about time-travel. It's a book about choices, about the paths we take and the ones we miss, about how our best intentions can still go not-so-well. About how we change lives and let our own be changed in return. It's also propulsive, humane, sad, funny and thrilling reading. I do not know how Stephen King works his magic, but it just gets better with time. (less)