A fascinating -- and not a little terrifying -- first-hand account of what it's like to have your own brain suddenly turn on you. Cahalan was a rising...moreA fascinating -- and not a little terrifying -- first-hand account of what it's like to have your own brain suddenly turn on you. Cahalan was a rising young reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper when her brain and body began to spin out of control. After enduring frightening seizures, numbness in her limbs, aural and visual hallucinations, and uncontrollable outbursts and mood swings, she was finally hospitalized as she became more and more unstable. There, Cahalan suffered numerous misdiagnoses (alcoholic, epileptic, manic, psychotic and, finally, catatonic) before a brilliant diagnostician discovered the answer at the 11th hour, and miraculously saved her life.
First thoughts: Why would anyone ever want to climb Everest? (The famous rejoinder "Because it's there" really doesn't clear it up for me.)
This one wi...more First thoughts: Why would anyone ever want to climb Everest? (The famous rejoinder "Because it's there" really doesn't clear it up for me.)
This one will be short and semi-sweet, as I see my feelings are pretty much echoed in all the long, thoughtful reviews below. I'm a long-time Dan Simmons fan, and have read and enjoyed the majority of his novels, both horror and sci-fi (though I have not read the Joe Kurtz books). I was really excited when my pre-order of The Abominable showed up on my birthday . . . I could not wait to get home and crack it. (Yeah, I spent my birthday evening with a book. That's just how I roll.)
So last night I finally finished it. (It might tell you something that my birthday was three weeks ago.) And, much like the expedition recounted in its pages, parts of this book were beautiful and exciting, but most of it was hard work, spent in long, slogging preparation for the actual adventure. I loved the characters -- the Deacon and Cousin Reggie in particular -- but frequently felt overwhelmed by the mountains of information (if you'll pardon the pun) about 1926 climbing gear and techniques that Simmons felt the need to include. He obviously enjoyed his research, and almost despite myself, I felt thoroughly schooled and ready to join the expedition by the time our intrepid heroes finally set out from Darjeeling.
Unfortunately, that prelude to Everest is almost 400 pages -- nearly 2/3 of the novel. But at about that point, the story takes a jarring, dark turn at a Tibetan sky funeral and the long-awaited suspense and sense of foreboding kick in. If you make it this far, the story pays off, albeit not in the way one might have imagined. I'm no history buff and I won't presume to question Simmons' references to actual people and events, but when political intrigue starts to compete with the mountain for the lives of the characters, the pace picks up immensely, and that last third goes down like an icy shot of vodka.
The Abominable earns three stars from me. It's not a bad book, and sometimes beautiful, moving, and exciting . . . but it really could have benefited from losing about 100 bloated pages up front.
If you are familiar with Chris Adrian's work, you will already know that it's beautiful, unsettling, and pretty much impossible to categorize. Is it m...moreIf you are familiar with Chris Adrian's work, you will already know that it's beautiful, unsettling, and pretty much impossible to categorize. Is it magical realism? Literary fantasy? Modern fable? Certainly the recondite and sensitive subjects of illness, faith, and apocalypse are never far from the surface in his tales; sometimes bringing tragedy and other times visionary ecstasy.
The tales in A Better Angel nearly all feature children or teens, most carrying some kind of "mark" which separates them from their peers: a young boy becomes dissociative (or perhaps he's possessed?) after his mother's death; another mourns his dead twin in a peculiar way; and a 19th century farm boy has debilitating visions of angels and burning towers. There are also some funnier moments: In "Why, Antichrist?" a teenage boy grudgingly comes to accept that he is, in fact, the Antichrist; a sassy young woman with "short gut" delivers reports on life and death from the pediatric ICU; and in the hilarious title story, a man recalls his experiences growing up with an overly-critical guardian angel.
September 11th also hangs heavy over this 2008 collection, with the burning towers haunting it in both concrete and symbolic ways. Adrian's characters grieve loved ones lost that day, speak for its dead, and obsessively watch the unreal video footage of fiery blooms and people falling from the skies. It could be grisly, in lesser hands. Instead, Adrian is concerned with something infinitely more interesting than mere shock value. He's examining how we, as a culture and as individuals, cope with the paralyzing specters of illness and death, how faith might work for (or against) us, and how we begin to heal from tragedies both personal and universal.
I might knock off half a star just because, thematically, A Better Angel often covers very similar ground to Adrian's 2006 novel The Children's Hospital. It could easily feel repetitive, but Adrian's ability to bring the surreal into tales of daily life, with wit and honesty and crystalline prose, really blossoms in the short form. A truly weird and gorgeous book.(less)
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)