‘She had no existence, in herself. From earliest childhood she had believed this. Rather she was a reflecting surface, reflecting others’ perception i‘She had no existence, in herself. From earliest childhood she had believed this. Rather she was a reflecting surface, reflecting others’ perception if her, and love of her.’ (p. 378)
What happens when you are no longer able to live up to the label everyone else has put upon you? When you are the youngest sister, your sister is the pretty one – and you are the smart one, but failing at it. What happens then? Nineteen years old Cressida Mayfield, daughter of the former mayor, is missing. She went to visit a friend and never came home. Investigations are made and it turned out that she acted rather out of character the last evening before she disappeared. She went to a bar to talk to her sister’s former fiancé, Brett Kincaid, something she never did, and they left together. The next day, Brett is found sleeping in his car, alone. But he’s parked in the forest, there’s blood in his car and he’s acting strange. He is taken to the station and later, he’s questioned in the disappearance of Cressida. Cressida’s family – and especially her father Zeno – is desperately searching for her and not willing to accept that she is anything but lost. But then Brett confesses that he killed her. Brett is a disabled veteran of the Iraq War and since he got back, he hasn’t been quite himself. And now, although he confesses, his confession is mixed up with memories from what he experienced in the war and so it is not quite clear if he actually killed her or not – although he is convicted of it. Cressida’s family has to adjust to the loss of her – and of course this has huge consequences for the three remaining members of her family. And no one writes this better than Joyce Carol Oates. Oates is a master at writing about the destruction of families, loss and suffering, and heart ache. She is such a skilled writer and her characters are so real that whatever they do, feels real. She creates flawed characters suffering because of both their own and others’ actions. Zeno and Arlette handle the loss very differently and grows apart because of it. Cressida’s sister Juliet, having lost both her fiancé and her little sister, is taking the loss hard – especially since she is presented as fighting with her sister over a man as well as dumping a war veteran. So slowly, the family is broken apart. It is almost unavoidable to compare this to We were the Mulvaneys since both deals with the breaking up of a family caused by something happening to a daughter. Despite having these similarities, they are still very different books; We were the Mulvaneys being the sadder ones in some ways, probably because there’s a hope of redemption in this one. I’ve rated them both the same but I am giving the edge to We were the Mulvaneys – it is a a better book, although both are excellent. One thing you can always count on with Joyce Carol Oates, is her taking on difficult subjects. In this one, besides the unability of families to handle serious traumas, she discusses both the death penalty and the way the US takes care of it’s (disabled) war veterans. The last one is a issue in many countries – how do you get wounded soldiers who are damaged both mentally and physically back into society without them being a safety risk to others? The death penalty is not an issue in many countries – especially not in Western countries. I don’t see Oates as being in favor of the death penalty even though she writes the following: ‘… if you were a foe of capital punishment, it was a good idea not to know what condemned prisoners had been convicted of doing to their victims. Good not to temper mercy with too much information.’ (p. 259) She also writes about The Innocence Project as well as have a significant part of the novel taking place in a death penalty facility and a significant plot turning being caused by a character lying down in a execution chamber and by that being reborn. As always, Joyce Carol Oates delivers. I enjoyed myself every minute I spent reading this book and as always, her way of writing is what impresses me the most. I’m still as blown away by it as I was years ago when I picked up Blonde. This is a really good book and even though Cressida isn’t necessarily the most likable character, Oates makes your care about what happened to her and interesting in reading about her childhood and the experiences that shaped her and brought events in motion which led to a young girl seeking out her sister’s ex fiancé to declare her love for him.
‘You do not want to disappoint those who love you or whom you love. Always it is the easiest thing to kill them as it is easier to kills civilian who might fuck you up with a complaint, easier than to negotiate a deal, once a person is dead there are no longer two sides to a story.’ (p. 180)...more
You were only a pawn,” I said. “You and all the others were nothing but pawns in a struggle between forces you could not conceive.” (p. 134)
TG durtro-You were only a pawn,” I said. “You and all the others were nothing but pawns in a struggle between forces you could not conceive.” (p. 134)
TG durtro-2So I really don’t know much about horror. I dislike watching horror movies and the only horror I read, are Stephen King – if you can even call him a horror writer. As I understand it, horror either deals with creepy-crawleys (some with tentacles) or with some kind of more existential horror, roughly said. Thomas Ligotti definitely writes horror of the latter kind and though he tries to show the bleakness of existence, the purposelessness of it all as well as the shadows and blackness that controls us, I don’t find it horrifying. Mostly because I don’t believe in one meaning for us all but rather, that we all are responsible for creating meaning in our own lives and therefore I find the idea that life in general is meaningless to be … well … wrong. When that is said, there are some of these short stories that deal with the horror of the 9-5 – and I do see the horror in that! I can get truly horrified when thinking about going to work day in and day out for the next 30 years or so. It might be more true to call these weird fiction, as my friend Henrik has pointed out – and he’s probably right too, he’s the expert. I’m just not quite sure how you define weird fiction but I guess the category is less important than what I think of what Ligotti has put on the pages. The book consists of 13 short stories as well as some collections of poems. Some of these were just so weird and left me with no clues about how to understand them – or about what to do with them. The writing was lovely but when I was done with a story, I just thought ‘huh?’. There are stories about nasty marionettes, creepy factories, weird towns across the border, mutants, factory workers and struggling artists. One of my favorite stories was ‘Teatro Grottesco’ about a weird company, the Teatro Grottesco, who destroys artists or rather, the artistic impulse. But I’m unsure whether I really liked what Ligotti did here or because it reminded me of the Torchwood episode ‘From Out of the Rain’ about a traveling show as well as began in a way, that reminded me of Monthy Python’s ‘Spanish Inquisition’ sketch. Another I liked was ‘Gas Station Carnivals’ which was about remnants of carnivals located close to gas stations and always with a sideshow. Or is it? Maybe it’s just about delusions and the inherent chaos of things. I also quite liked ‘The Bungalow House’ where a man discovers some audiotape artworks in a gallery where the artist seems to have very much in common with himself. Some of the themes in these stories are about identity and delusion, the role of the self, and whether we have any power over our own destiny or it’s all just an illusion. Ligotti seems to have a life philosophy (he would probably not like me calling it that and I don’t much like it myself either, but anyway) consisting of three rules: there is nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to know. And according to the last story, ‘The Shadow, the Darkness’, we are all just bodies activated by the shadow, the darkness. It is clear that with such an on life, the resulting artwork will be rather grim and dark. And while it is so in the short stories, it definitely turns from dark to darker in the poems which are either just too much explicit bleakness or just indifferent. What I think Ligotti completely forgets in this work, is a very simple thing but at the same time a very powerful one. Hope. When he paints the world so dark, deterministic and hopeless, he completely forgets that it’s also about your point of view and how you look at the world. And yes, it is full of pain, war, terror, sorrow, destruction and so much more. But it is also full of children laughing, sunshine, rainbows, art, love and hope. And you definitely don’t find any of that in Ligotti’s work. Still, even though the world he creates is so dark and sinister, the words he uses to create it with, are beautiful and his writing is really amazing at times. But sometimes he uses these brilliant words to create fascinating and interesting settings – which he then does absolutely nothing with. Which is rather infuriating. It takes more than an interesting set-up to make a story. What I did like was – besides that some of the stories made me think – was the interconnectedness of the stories. Towards the end, I was almost playing a game with myself, questioning whether the narrator from ‘Teatro Grottesco’ was the same as in ‘The Shadow, The Darkness’ and if the latter story is a sequel to the first and how these two were connected to ‘Gas Station Carnivals’ and how many of them took place in a town just north of the border etc. and these apparent links between the different stories made the collection more interesting to me. In conclusion, Ligotti is a powerful writer who unfortunately lets the words run away with him so they paint fascinating images but images Ligotti seemingly don’t know what to do about. It’s not a scary book but the horror is the more silent and sneaking kind that can catch you unaware as you sit as your desk, getting through the daily work. It’s a bleak look at the world as we think we know it and as it definitely not is to Ligotti’s mind. And while this is interesting and fascinating, it’s really not that much for me.
‘Wihtout the interference of my mind and my imagination, all that nonsensical dreaming about my soul and my self, I was forced to see things under the aspect of the shadow inside them, the darkness which activated them.’ (p. 259)...more
‘The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot‘The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.’ (p. 55)
So when I was contacted by Post Hill Press and asked if I wanted to read some new novellas by John Steinbeck’s son Thomas Steinbeck, I was interested just because of the name. And then I read the synopsis and thought it sounded kind of like fantasy and thought that could be really interesting. Of course, Thomas Steinbeck is his father’s son and of course, he didn’t write fantasy. He writes realistic fiction, set in the early 20th century and dealing with people in trouble. Titus Gatelock is a man whom no one really knows. He never cares what anyone says about him and even when people start saying that he was a bandit and that he was part of a famous train robbery, he just smiles and shakes his head and says, ‘There’s real history and real truth out there everywhere, but when it bumps heads with a whopping good yarn that everybody enjoys, then the truth is sure to cross the line in last place every time.’ (p. 1-2) But Titus is a good man. He does good things for the people around him and he’s almost a second father to the two boys living close by, Lobosito and our narrator. These two boys strike up a strong friendship despite the differences in their circumstances. The narrator’s father own a ranch, Titus is a tenant on it and he hires the mexican man and woman who are Lobosito’s parents to help him out. But the friendship between the boys never wavers, despite them making different choices with their lives they always stay close and work together towards a common goal. Especially as time gets rough, banks falter and people start starving. And it’s clear from the way Titus and the boys’ parents behave that they don’t have this from strangers. There are several great things in this novella. I loved how Titus gets the two boys to dig a lot of holes for apple trees while making them believe they were digging for treasure – and then making them believe that they themselves come up with the idea of planting apple trees. And the pig, oh my, the pig. Titus has a pig, a heavy cast iron thing which he paints – and others paints – in various garish colors – thereby naming it The Speckled Pig of Destiny. That pig was amazing! So this was a really good read. I went into it not really knowing what to expect but when I had finished and had read the last page, I was really impressed. I can’t compare Thomas to John, in part because what I love most of John’s work, are the long novels (East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath) and this was only 59 pages – but mostly because it’s not really fair to do so. Even though this book takes place close to Salinas Valley where John was born and which he used as a setting for some of his books. And the type of person the author seems to be based on his work, seem to be impressive for both father and son. Suffice to say, that I think it’s definitely worth reading both Steinbecks.
‘My only responsibilities are to treat my fellow creatures with appropriate respect, do the best work I can do for those requiring my services, and treat all people as honestly as I would lie to be treated myself. And lastly, if possible, harm no one on my journey through life. Nothing else is anyone’s business.’ (p. 22) ...more
Sigh. I really wanted to like this novel. It had so much going for it and yet … I am left with a very annoyed and disappointed feeling after having fiSigh. I really wanted to like this novel. It had so much going for it and yet … I am left with a very annoyed and disappointed feeling after having finished it. Anyone who read my review of Det syvende barn will know that one of the things I hate the most, is novels with lots of potential but which doesn’t live up it. Kristina is a young paralegal with a past. She moves to San Diego after her father’s death and leaves her past completely behind – or so she thinks. But pasts have a way of popping up again when you least expect it and when Kristina meets a kind judge who introduces her to a nice and funny single lawyer who not only offers her a job but becomes her boyfriend, Kristina suddenly realizes that she has to face down her demons for a chance at happiness. And on top of that, Kristina and her new boyfriend ‘Duck’ have to deal with some really tricky court cases – and stay in shape by riding ultra long rides on their special bikes… So before I start saying what’s wrong with the novel, let me say this. I don’t normally read crime fiction, court room drama or anything of the kind. So this book is a bit outside of what I normally read but not much since there’s no murder to solve and the court room parts are not the most important parts of the book. I also couldn’t quite get that her childhood was all that bad. And it did feel a bit unrealistic that she starts a blog, writes 5 posts or so – and then gives it up because she hadn’t completely thought it through. This feels too much like the author had to find a way to tell the story of her childhood and wanted to do something more clever than using flashbacks – and the thought was good, but the execution lacked. He might also have had to big ambitions and wanted to do so much. We have a troubled main character, we have a love story, trial cases, the whole bike thing, the rare diseases – it felt like too much. Or maybe an author with more books under his belt could have pulled it off. Parts of it does get to feel a bit cliché, like a rather poor reworking of the Cinderella story. Add to this that Kristina as a character didn’t feel quite convincing, she didn’t feel true. Of course it’s always difficult to judge how people become after having lived through traumas, but Kristina didn’t feel right. Oh and then there’s sentences like this: ‘It would be eight in Smethport. But her dad was dead now.’ Really? Right now at eight, he died? Or too much description and stage setting – hard biscuit … bleach-spotted sweater … cold coffee … chipped suacer … All these in just 5 lines. That quickly gets to be too much! My biggest critique of this novel is, that it lacks an editor. It actually has so much potential. The story could have been really good and Tim Stutler is a great writer. I actually really enjoyed reading it – but then something jars, something is overdone or doesn’t make sense and I’m torn out of the reading experience and left wondering what happened. Like when the characters walk into the kitchen, one of them hands the other a glass of juice – and then she turns on the shower. Combined kitchen and bath room? Or when he suddenly refers to his main protagonist as ‘the paralegal’ instead of Kristina or she. It made me stop and wonder who he was talking about. And when you use typography to show when a character starts speaking, you have to remember to also show when that character stops! It’s pretty basic stuff and it’s the kind of stuff a good editor would catch. Without these types of flaws, I would probably have given it 4 stars – but these errors dragged it down. And then the ending … Oh, the ending. The ending was so bad that it removed another star from my rating. It felt like the author couldn’t decide if he wanted a good or bad ending for his characters – so he just gave us both. And both are so unrealistic, they just didn’t make any sense. I really hope that a good publisher will give Tim Stutler a chance with a new book because the guy can write. But he needs an editor to help him get the errors and flaws out of the novel – and to tell him to pick one ending and then stick to it! Sigh. I’m really sad to write such a sour review but I just get so annoyed with books that could have been so much better. But that is the danger of self-publishing and Millcity Press seems to be a sort of self-publishing press but unfortunately it seems to have more focus on the technical aspects of publishing – like converting to e-books – than on editing…
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more