A lot of people consider this a "misstep" or an "anomaly" in Cormac McCarthy's body of work, but I think it's every bit as good as Blood Meridian or T...moreA lot of people consider this a "misstep" or an "anomaly" in Cormac McCarthy's body of work, but I think it's every bit as good as Blood Meridian or The Border Trilogy, albeit different. Basically McCarthy set out to write a pulp thriller about drugs, guns, and money, and produced one of the best pulp thrillers I've ever read. The spare language is perfect for the subject, and like the best pulp novels, the themes of this book are much deeper than they appear upon first reading.(less)
This is the first novelization of a film I've read since I was 9 years old and read William Kotzwinkle's novelization of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial....moreThis is the first novelization of a film I've read since I was 9 years old and read William Kotzwinkle's novelization of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. I was expecting Taxi Driver to be a real train wreck (it is, after all, a novelization--a genre barely one step above fotonovelas), but it was actually pretty good. Richard Elman captures the rhythm and cadences of Travis Bickle's speech really well, and there are a lot of creative misspellings and weird punctuation that work to get you inside the character's head in ways that a film can't. Worth reading, at least for curiosity value.(less)
Lonesome Dove is the best western novel I've ever read. It doesn't contain the sublime satire of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, its prose isn't as be...moreLonesome Dove is the best western novel I've ever read. It doesn't contain the sublime satire of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, its prose isn't as beautiful as Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and it doesn't engage in mythmaking on the same scale as McCarthy's Border Trilogy, but it stands head and shoulders over those works (the other western novels I've read that I consider really great books) in terms of sheer storytelling. The situations and places in Lonesome Dove are vividly rendered, and the characters--both major and minor--all feel like real people just a page or two after meeting them. And they continue to live and to grow as the novel goes on.
Unlike everyone I know who's read Lonesome Dove, I haven't seen the nearly universally acclaimed 1989 miniseries based on it (although I have seen the miniseries adaptations of McMurtry's two prequels, Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon, both of which were decent TV movies, but not fantastic). I'm looking forward to seeing it some day, but not right away. For right now, I just want to let this amazing story and its memorable characters percolate in my mind, unhindered by any associations.(less)
David Baldacci's Absolute Power has a decent story, but it was hard for me to enjoy because I found the writing so hackneyed that it distracted me fro...moreDavid Baldacci's Absolute Power has a decent story, but it was hard for me to enjoy because I found the writing so hackneyed that it distracted me from the plot. Here's a representative descriptive passage:
At the sound of the explosion, the playing stopped as three pairs of eyes turned as one toward the house. In another minute they were inside. It only took one more minute for the screams to be heard. The quiet neighborhood was no more.
Forget, for a moment, the clumsy use of the passive voice in the first sentence, and focus instead on the bizarre description of three people as "three pairs of eyes." Not only is this unnecessary, it leads to the possibility of unintentional humor in the second sentence--"In another minute they were inside"--since one can interpret this as six disembodied eyes floating into the house. And the final sentence is terrible. Not only is it an unnecessary addition to the paragraph, it doesn't make logical sense. The quiet of the neighborhood may be disturbed, but the neighborhood itself still exists. Saying that "The quiet neighborhood was no more" makes it sounds as if the neighborhood has been incinerated by a hydrogen bomb.
Baldacci's dialogue is bad, too. Here's an example:
"Jack, do you have any idea who's behind all this?"
Jack shook his head, a small groan escaping his lips. "I've got a bunch of loose threads sliding around in my head but none of them have added up to spit so far. I'm hoping that status will change. Soon."
If there is any English-speaking person in the world who speaks that way while under duress, I have yet to meet them.
And here's one final example of exactly what I don't like about Baldacci's prose:
She still stood there several minutes after he left. A series of emotions competed for space across her face, none, in the end, winning out.
The unintentional rhyming of "space" with "face" is distracting. Also, Baldacci uses a lot of words to essentially tell the reader nothing. A character seems to experience a number of emotions--none of which are specifically described--before eventually experiencing none. Is that the idea Baldacci wishes to convey? Does he even know what idea he wishes to convey about his characters or the situations in which they find themselves most of the time? It didn't seem to me as if he did.
If you've seen previews for the film version of Absolute Power or read the flap copy, you know what it's about. I suppose it could be an enjoyable potboiler if you're able to turn off the critical part of your mind that notices clumsy writing and consume the story in the fashion one consumes an entire bag of chips in one sitting, but for me, the writing was so bad it was distracting. And trust me. I read some pretty bad books.(less)
I recently saw the 1932 film version of this story, and I really enjoyed it. Leslie Banks, who plays Zaroff, the eccentric Russian gentleman who hunts...moreI recently saw the 1932 film version of this story, and I really enjoyed it. Leslie Banks, who plays Zaroff, the eccentric Russian gentleman who hunts humans for sport on his own private island, gives a wonderfully hammy performance, Fay Wray is gorgeous, and Joel McCrea is a total stud. It was great, so I thought I'd check out the story it was based on.
Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" is a great read. It actually has fewer characters than the movie, and moves more quickly. It's one of those stories with such a great premise that most people know what it's about whether or not they've read it, and have very likely seen at least one film or episode of a TV show inspired by it. Connell easily could have drawn out his story, but he keeps it lean and mean. It's a very suspenseful, involving story, and, while timeless, is clearly a product of the post-Great War "lost generation." The protagonist, Sanger Rainsford, is horrified by General Zaroff's pursuits, to which Zaroff responds, "One does not expect nowadays to find a young man of the educated class, even in America, with such a naive, and, if I may say so, mid-Victorian point of view. It's like finding a snuffbox in a limousine." This conversation between Zaroff is a bit like some of the humanism vs. natural selection debates the two main characters in Jack London's The Sea Wolf have, only distilled down to a couple of paragraphs, and followed by a totally awesome fight to the death.(less)
I read this book because my girlfriend--who loved it--recommended it to me. She also implied that I could stand to girly up my reading list a little,...moreI read this book because my girlfriend--who loved it--recommended it to me. She also implied that I could stand to girly up my reading list a little, which is probably fair. Man does not live by novelizations of '70s cop movies and '80s slasher movie tie-ins alone.
Anyway, I thought it was good. The characters were all likable and the story was engaging, if wholly improbable (Bel Canto could just as easily have been titled The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome). My main problem with it was the writing style, which I really didn't care for. Each sentence is perfectly crafted, and would make any MFA writing professor thrilled, but therein lies the problem. The writing is so well-crafted sentence by sentence that it ends up being somewhat characterless and a little dull in large portions. The prose in Bel Canto almost seemed as if it was written to specifically defy any editorial criticisms. It does this with aplomb, but the problem is that it never takes any risks either.(less)