When a wise-cracking octogenarian ex-cop and his frat-boy grandson set out on a search for Nazi gold, you expect witty dialogue, and you expect the bo...moreWhen a wise-cracking octogenarian ex-cop and his frat-boy grandson set out on a search for Nazi gold, you expect witty dialogue, and you expect the bodies to pile up, and you expect a clever mystery. Don't Ever Get Old delivers all this in smart, entertaining layers.
What you might not expect from a detective story is a very real, very intense dissection of the meaning of death, aging, memory, guilt, forgiveness, and shame. Don't Ever Get Old is the most literary, interesting, complex, finely shaded work of crime fiction I've read in... ever. Friedman is a great writer -- his prose is snappy and sure. I loved reading about Buck and Tequila, I turned pages eagerly to find out who was killing all those people, but ultimately I was pulled in farther than I anticipated, by this character's honesty, his collision with frailty and failure, and really his proximity to death.
In a brilliant stroke of self-reference, the book contains a depiction of a TV "expert" talking about why older characters don't have much of a place in our stories. Either their narratives or about death (which Buck does narrowly escape several times), or they're about passing the torch to the next generation (which this book could have easily become, given the young character in the center of the action). But Friedman finds a new way to talk about an aging character -- in the end this book is neither about death nor about passing the torch, but about *proximity* to death, and what that means. Buck has been near to death his whole life. The physical state of his own body, his age, his retirement, these are really irrelevant. Death is close to all of us, all the time, and pretending that "old characters" are the only ones who have to cope with its shadow... is stupid.
So I'm shamed a bit by the bias I'll admit to now, when I approached this novel. I delayed reading it by months, because I thought it wouldn't be "my thing." It's categorize under "Mystery / Hard Boiled." I'll admit to buying into the sort of dumb simplicity of the fictional expert: I thought the old dude would be sainted and the young dude would be redeemed, the torch would be passed, etc. But I had heard Daniel Friedman read, and had met him, and so I knew that he was a smart person. I'm always interested to read the books that smart people write, because I'm curious what they will say, given a lot of time and space. So I read the book, and I'm glad I did.
Move this one to the front of your stack, and prepare to think a lot while you're laughing. Buck Schatz is not a character that I will soon forget. (less)
Frum made a lot of good choices in this novel -- having a very likable main character who's kind of a bumbling schmuck and just trying to do the right...moreFrum made a lot of good choices in this novel -- having a very likable main character who's kind of a bumbling schmuck and just trying to do the right thing, for example, was a good move. With all the corruption and complications going on in the DC landscape, it would have been a mistake to have a conniving MC with an agenda.
I also liked that there were SOME people in Washington that were portrayed as good people trying to be moral. Kind of gives your brain a place to rest, and makes the pointed barbs a little more effective, since it's not nonstop bitterness and cynicism.
The most fun part of it was trying to figure out the "real world" counterparts of the characters -- there's a Glenn Beck, for example, with a different name. A Grover Norquist. I came away with what I now worry is a better understanding of how the money flows in politics, who's controlling the message, and how things get done. Is it a satire, or an expose, or both? Frum is definitely an insider, but how straight can he really tell it? After reading this book I had a strong sense that I know nothing about how things really work in the government, and also a strong sense that I'm probably better off this way.
Regardless of your party, this was a fun read and if you like politics like I do you'll probably find a lot to like here. (less)
If you were born in the 70s and grew up in the eighties, if you had an Atari or a Commodore 64 or played Dungeons and Dragons or text-based rpgs, let...moreIf you were born in the 70s and grew up in the eighties, if you had an Atari or a Commodore 64 or played Dungeons and Dragons or text-based rpgs, let Ernest Cline entertain you. Smart, fast, and ultimately very human. Not just a snarky send-up of virtual life -- a real story about a person struggling with identity in a post-reality world. (less)
This book will sneak up on you with its funniness, its smartness, its hipness, its critique of a moment that is very now. And then it will put its too...moreThis book will sneak up on you with its funniness, its smartness, its hipness, its critique of a moment that is very now. And then it will put its toothmarks into your heart with mother and daughter characters that are very forever. I think this novel is fantastic. I can't think when I've been so thrilled and satisfied with an ending of a book -- I was practically standing on my chair, pumping my fist. Bernadette Fox is a marvelous character. (less)
Kiefer has written a novel about the solitude of an individual. He shows us the magnitude of our individual planet in the vast chaotic reach of space...moreKiefer has written a novel about the solitude of an individual. He shows us the magnitude of our individual planet in the vast chaotic reach of space by way of creating an individual person, stripping of family, job, connection, and possessions, and stranding him in the vast impersonal landscape of suburbia. Keith Corcoran, astronaut, is this man. Earth is this planet. Both are one of many, many, uncountable replications of themselves, yet both are stunningly, inconceivably alone. We are all alone, and there are no emotional epiphanies to save us from this.
What matters, when all you have is your *self*, and that self is so vulnerable, so fragile? In The Infinite Tides, an entire personal history can be wiped out by a lost bit of mail. A man can be laid low by a single blood vessel, a planet by a stray meteor, a great love by a collision with a tree. Nothing is safe, and the dangers intrude without regard or warning: termites, migraines, car accidents, meteors -- you can't control anything, and you can't even react. You just have to take whatever comes, even if it annihilates everything. There is no fate -- there is only math, and math is more ruthless than fate, and more final.
What saves the book from being basically a prose poem for a nihilist, is that redemption does come. Not from a glowing unicorn friend that takes Corcoran to Disneyland on a glitter rainbow (an ending I suggested to Kiefer on Twitter when I was partway through the book) or a wonderful carefree puppy that teaches him how to embrace life, or anything stupid like that. (Corcoran was ripe for the magical effects of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, for example. Fortunately one did not appear -- just a cynical housewife on the cul de sac, ready to yank his pecker but not forthcoming with life lessons.) Instead, redemption comes from the only place it can come: math. The same thing that brings the desolation, and the horror, and the isolation, brings the hope.
As we are small, and as iterations of us extend across the universe, there is a beauty and satisfaction, for Corcoran, in the infinity of fractals. The tiny speck at a central chamber of the nauticus' spiral, weak and fragile as it might seem, is actually the same chamber as the biggest one, a massive hypothetical chamber that takes up half the universe, and even a hypothetical chamber beyond that, that takes up double another universe. The concept of fractal iterations is one that haunts Corcoran from his own youth, to his parenting of his daughter, to the pivotal moment of the book which happens quite early in its pages -- he's at the end of a robotic arm that he's built for the International Space Station, and the arm is used to move things from one end of the station to the other, and he swings wide, away from the vehicle, and extends out into space. But when he's out there, swinging loose, it's not "Oh, I should have spent more time with my family" or "Oh, I miss love" that strikes him -- it's the vastness of it, the visible infinity of it, the real, brutal beauty. That's what matters.
In the tiniest is the most enormous. One leaf on the pythagorean tree is the entire tree, because it is of the same number. Really it's the ONLY way to address the solitude of the space between your ears, or the magnitude of the universe -- to draw a mathematical equation that says they're the same thing.
Kiefer's writing is perfect. His language is tight, but swells in all the right places. He uses words you'll want to look up, but places them so gently that you won't have to. His idea is big, but his character is what the story is all about -- this lost and grounded astronaut. Maybe being where he's been, and having lost what he's lost, Corcoran is the loneliest human on earth. Or maybe only the one who has been outside the earth and has seen it from afar is suited to see how we are all connected. Don't miss this quiet masterpiece. (less)
Chris Cleave is a master of shrugging off predictable choices and writing a plot that's true to characters, not form. In picking up a sports book, esp...moreChris Cleave is a master of shrugging off predictable choices and writing a plot that's true to characters, not form. In picking up a sports book, especially a sports book that's summarized as two rivals battling for gold medal at the Olympics, one has a certain expectation of how the plot will unfold. There will be ups and downs and some backstory and some preliminary battles and then the thing will climax with one final race/match/game in which one rival is victorious and the other fails. How many books and movies have we all seen like this?
In Gold, Cleave explodes this predictable story arc, and what results is a plot that keeps turning itself inside out, defying your expectations until the final few pages. It's a beautiful novel of motherhood, friendship, trust, redemption, and it's highly moral without ever making you feel one character is really right or wrong, or the narrative is pronouncing judgment on any of them. Even the most brutal choices are presented in the context of the world from which they arose, and there is a complexity to these characters that goes far beyond "the good one" and "the tough one" as some summaries suggest.
I think my favorite character was one that surprised me. The coach of all three of the cyclists was an aging athlete himself, he was torn up by choices he found himself having to make, and he saw the characters with a sort of blank objectivity that really helped me understand what they were doing. I loved the way Cleave took time with him and showed him completely -- he could have been such a trite, throwaway creation -- the crusty coach that loves both girls. Instead he was as culpable and as worthy of redemption as any of the main characters, and I really loved how the story expanded for him.
I have an 8 year old daughter. The scenes with Sophie tore at me and amused me and made me happy and sad. I won't give away the ending, so I won't say more than that.
I don't know about Texas. I've only been there once. For me, reading this book was as strange as walking on the moon. In west Texas, bad things happen...moreI don't know about Texas. I've only been there once. For me, reading this book was as strange as walking on the moon. In west Texas, bad things happen. Not just to good people, or bad people, but to all the people. Everyone is subject to machines, to molesters, to weather, to disease... it is a dangerous place. If you're not from Texas, like me, then maybe you'll read this book all agog, like I did, blinking to make sure I was reading right: goat heads in the ditch? rattle snakes in a pan? brains in the back of a pick-up truck? If you are from Texas, then maybe you'll read this book and say "He got it right." Football, parking lot fights, sons who grow up angry, women who marry farmers, cotton on trailers, on balers, in rows the football players have to hurdle. And guns. And death.
Growing Up Dead in Texas is a mystery, and it's very meta, and both of those aspects of the book are hard to figure out, if you're grinding your way toward a definite answer. SGJ puts himself into the narrative so convincingly, I don't know whether he's tricking me into thinking this is a memoir (in which case, wow, completely masterful) or whether he's actually writing about his own life (in which case, lord, I can see all his internal organs from here). The mystery of the book (who shot the gun, who burned the cotton?) was so tangled and so obscured that at the end of the book I think I know who did it, but I still fired off a email to a mutual friend seeking confirmation. (Did ____ burn the cotton? I said. She didn't answer. Dang.)
Ultimately it is neither the literary device nor the "answer" to the plot that drives this book -- it's the voice, the place, the feeling of it. I believed it, completely, and I let myself be consumed by it -- after the first 50 pages I completely let go. So there is death, so there is danger, so there are secrets and terrors and everyone is steely and pretending it's mundane, and there are victims in animals, in children, in men, and this central character who tries to disappear in the story, the narrator, ostensibly the author himself... he's showing me how to feel, and guiding me along to the point that I am no longer trying to keep things straight or pin him down. I'm just along for the ride, and hoping to escape with my life. (less)
This book is a stunner. It's slow but relentless, a quiet crescendo to a beautiful ending that made me cry. I loved it.
The story is told switching ba...moreThis book is a stunner. It's slow but relentless, a quiet crescendo to a beautiful ending that made me cry. I loved it.
The story is told switching back and forth between past and present, and the two lines of the plot are so disparate at first that I really didn't anticipate how they were going to come together. Both were interesting, both began with riveting scenes. They were so completely disunited though. How could it work? Yet when they did meet, it felt inevitable and right.
The strange romance, the contrast in gender roles, the politics -- that's all in there. But what I take away is the portrayal of motherhood -- one mother who sacrifices and struggles and endures such awfulness to keep her baby alive and with her, and one mother who walks away from her child without seeming to ever look back. This contrast and evolution was what drew me in more than any of the rest of it. I was urgent to know what happened in the plot-driven past, where revolution and the elements were genuine threats to the character's lives. But I was also urgent to know what would happen to the characters in the present -- the refugee artist and the sad writer, and the owl they fed together. It was no less compelling.
Joinson is a marvelous writer. I bet her grocery lists are full of wonder. Adding her majestic prose to this complicated landscape and these tightly-folded characters -- was a recipe for brilliance. And this book is a stunner. (less)