You may think me a cranky quartenarian with a heart of concrete for giving only three stars this beautifully written slice of what I'll call experimenYou may think me a cranky quartenarian with a heart of concrete for giving only three stars this beautifully written slice of what I'll call experimental, cosmos-conscious fiction. Bear with me here. I'll go into the good: it's wonderfully lyrical, with a continuous trickle of sadness in its deceptively simple prose that left me breathing a little heavier and contemplating the essence of life and everything all around me. It also drew me in because it was so fluid and easy to read - I blazed through it during my twice-daily commutes on the Orange Line to and from work in Boston - and more so, I especially loved the second-person "God" voice that addressed the protagonist himself throughout. Quite original and refreshingly so, although I'd question the comparisons to Vonnegut, because the latter is much more savage in his satire than Mr. Currie was in this book.
Now, that being said, two days after finishing it, I felt that annoying emptiness of feeling that I sometimes feel when I read a book that's pretty darn good but doesn't have that powerful lasting impact. I'm not saying it's pablum - it's far from it, actually - but for me, however sad, introspective, insightful and clever the book was, it just didn't leave me thinking too deeply once I was done. It could just be the frame of mind I was in at the time, but there it is.
The second-person narrative also gets a little long towards the end. I won't offer spoilers, but I will say this: it felt as if the ending was rushed and contrived. That's probably my main issue with it.
All that being said, what a wonderful and beautiful story. I definitely encourage reading this, especially on a rainy Sunday....more
It started off so good. The colourful, fluid prose of Beukes really comes off the page and brings the story to life.
But all the clicheEh.
It started off so good. The colourful, fluid prose of Beukes really comes off the page and brings the story to life.
But all the cliches are there. Serial killers. The upstart young journalist who you root for. The seedy underbelly of a big American city past and present - in this case, Chicago. A mystery involving numerous dead women - all gutted and butchered in Jack the Ripper fashion - and said wannabe journalist is on the hunt to solve it. Oh! What's more? This journalist happens to be a survivor of that serial killer, one of his rare failed "killings".
Enough cliches for you? How about the writing? As good of a writer Beukes is, she does litter her pages with numerous literary cliches. I made a note of a couple of them in my Kobo reader but somehow they have disappeared. So you'll just have to believe me.
But the whole thing is turned on its head with the introduction of time travel as an essential plot device. As it happens, the serial killer in the story is also a time traveller. Said wannabe journalist catches on to some strange things about each of these horrific murders - for instance, a baseball card of a player who could not have possibly been playing at the the time of the murder, as he would have just been a kid at the time. So she puts two and two together and... OK, I won't give away the story too much.
Suffice to say, I found Shining Girls an enjoyable read. It's not the best I've read, not by a long shot, but it's certainly great airplane reading. I blazed through it pretty quickly, maybe in a week or two's time, and finished the last 75-100 pages in one sitting. "Hold on, honey," I said to my wife, "I's just gots anudda 65 pages to go an' then ah'll come ta bed." And it wasn't even half an hour until I was done. That's how quickly and easily I could read it.
So, overall verdict? I give mega-points to Beukes for her clever premise, and I'll hand it to her that she has pulled off the idea with a good, solid story that made for intriguing reading. The book was never boring. But at the same time, it never seared into my imagination and knocked my socks off the way other books can do. Just as I sat to write this review, I even had to strain to remember the name of the book, and it took a moment or two to recollect what had happened.
Reading the reviews out there, I see that Beukes gained massive accolades for her scathingly accurate portrayal of Chicago past and present, its culture, its streets, its people, all the little things that make Chicago, well, Chicago. But me? I wasn't that impressed. I know Beukes is from South Africa, but honestly, anyone with a bit of time on her hands and access to the Internet could have come up with the stuff she came up in that book.
I've also learned that plans are underway to turn the book into a TV series. OK, I can totally see that happening. The book reads very much like a movie or TV show, and it makes total sense as a show. I'd watch it.
But in the end? I won't be fighting my way to the front of the lineup to get Beukes' next book. I'm intrigued by what she may come up with next, but take away the premise and you have yourself just a general, above-average, well-written story that is just, eh, pretty good. Nothing to knock your socks off. ...more
Just finished reading this time-travel opus an hour ago. The reason I read it? I was a huge Stephen King fan in my earlier years - devouring stuff likJust finished reading this time-travel opus an hour ago. The reason I read it? I was a huge Stephen King fan in my earlier years - devouring stuff like The Shining and Carrie when I was barely a teenager. In fact, The Shining for all its vulgarities and adult-themed material was a joy for me to read at 12.
11/22/63 is probably my first King book in decades. It's certainly the first I have actually read cover-to-cover in decades. What I will say about it is that it is an incredibly easy read for a literature muncher like myself: spanning some 700-odd pages, I read the whole thing in less than a couple weeks during sleepless nights and while lying in my bed ready to visit dreamland. Normally, I read for a few pages and then doze off, but this was such an easy, captive read that I would often stay up another hour and finish another 100 pages.
That's a testament to Stephen King, really: he's an incredibly fluid writer and the words just flow right off the page. No one can accuse him of being a dense, word-heavy, literary writer - he is one of the world's bestselling novellists for a major reason: he is phenomenally easy to read and still packs a punch.
Now, on to the bad stuff. 11/22/63 is not his best work. It can hardly hold a candle to his great stuff from the 1970s. In fact, I found that it rambled on and on and on about insignificant details - in fact, with George Amberson's adventures back in the late 1950s and 1960s described in such detail, I wondered if King himself longed for the simpler days as well. He wrote of the late 1950s and early 1960s with such nostalgic twang that, for a 40-something like me, sometimes got a little tiring. It's so easy to be nostalgic about the past, and so easy to forget about the fact that the past is only so great for someone looking back at it. Today's world is the way we know it, and today's world will look amazing to someone in 2050, the same way I look back at the simpler, pre-Internet, pre-Twitter days of the 1970s and 1980s with a smile on my face.
King, himself, is guilty of this. If he had cut down on the excess of nostalgia that permeates the middle 200 pages or so, this book might be better. It's a 700-page story that could easily be told in 500, or even 400 pages.
Time travel has been beaten to death by writers and storytellers everywhere as well. This tale is no different. I am a huge fan of time travel-themed stories, and went in hoping that some kind of revelation or something amazingly insightful or new would come out of a brilliant mind such as King's. But no. Rather, the end result was a pretty standard, fuck-with-the-past-and-you-mess-up-the-present kind of story.
Sorry, Mr. King. I really wanted this to be good. But it's shelved now and I'm not sure I'll pick it up again. It's not a bad work, but it's not insightful, clever, original or anything like that. It's just quite long-winded and excessively focused on personal experience rather than the big picture - which is fine, except with such a huge focus on the JFK assassination I would have hoped for a much more big-picture kind of story. Here's to better work next time. ...more
Read this one a long time ago, back when I was just a dorky 21-year-old working summers in a map store in downtown Vancouver. Was picking out books atRead this one a long time ago, back when I was just a dorky 21-year-old working summers in a map store in downtown Vancouver. Was picking out books at random in the library and reading them cover to cover. This one was one of my pleasant surprises and had me chuckling all the way through. Real rollicking read and very much as irreverent as its title suggests....more
Phenomenally interesting and original read. Apart from some well-worn writing cliches scattered throughout, I thought the story itself was great and kPhenomenally interesting and original read. Apart from some well-worn writing cliches scattered throughout, I thought the story itself was great and kept my interest through to the end. It starts a little slow and quite mainstream, but halfway through the book, things start to happen that make you suddenly lock in and all of a sudden you're unable to put the book down. It has aspects of surrealism and shockingly violent scenes that mix in well with the ordinary day-to-day struggles of our dear protagonist.
Our protagonist? A fellow named Ricky Rice, a down-on-his-luck recovering heroin addict who, let's suffice to say, is looking for something more meaningful in his life and a way to get out of his present crappy situation. He's immensely likeable and you can't help but root for him.
Overall - the book has some stretches where you really want to just speedread through, but in the end I'm pleased and glad I picked this one up.
EDIT: I'm adding a postscript here to say that this book has really grown on me in the months since I finished reading it. It's hardly one of those books you put down and forget. It really stays with you. A fine-wine thing, maybe?...more
Damned if this wasn't one of the most disturbing, lyrical and beautifully written books I've ever had the pleasure to read. It was assigned - yes, assDamned if this wasn't one of the most disturbing, lyrical and beautifully written books I've ever had the pleasure to read. It was assigned - yes, assigned - to us in university as part of a history class about the American West. The class was split into two semesters - first, the actual history of the west, and second, the mythology that sprouted out of all that. We were asked by the prof to read Blood Meridian during the Christmas holidays and he made it clear that this was no Xmas book. He also said that anyone who wanted to know what life was like in the Wild West should read this book because it's closer to the truth than most, if not all, accounts.
Boy, he wasn't kidding. McCarthy paints a grim, violent world, one that you can't imagine ever living through. But what worked was his amazing ability to make you feel like you were in that world, with the perfect flow and mood of his words. Intensely lyrical and appropriate. His words curl up and rise up from the page like squirming earthworms. That's really the best way to describe it.
I've been meaning to read this again, and hope I will one day....more
Very little memory of this book. I read it just after reading Blood Meridian, hoping to have as similar a reading experience as I did for BM. Since itVery little memory of this book. I read it just after reading Blood Meridian, hoping to have as similar a reading experience as I did for BM. Since it's been many years, I can't really say much about this one....more
After Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I was really looking forward to reading more of Eggers. So, when this one came out, I jumped at the chaAfter Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I was really looking forward to reading more of Eggers. So, when this one came out, I jumped at the chance. Bitterly disappointed. I'm taking a risk by saying this is a sophomore jinx - as I'm not sure this is his second book - but one way or another it was a huge step down from the book that put his name on the contemporary American literary map. ...more
Really enjoyed this book, if for nothing more than the crackling prose. I found Eggers' writing to be bordering on hipsterish style - if that makes anReally enjoyed this book, if for nothing more than the crackling prose. I found Eggers' writing to be bordering on hipsterish style - if that makes any sense - in that it seemed to try and be too clever, but at the very least I appreciated the effort and enjoyed the story thoroughly.
Also, the staggering gall of Eggers (or his publishers at least) in naming this book gave it many points in my, uh, book. Definitely worth reading....more
This book shook me to my very bones. I was a young man of about 25 working at a coffee kiosk in Victoria, BC, and reading The Unbearable Lightness ofThis book shook me to my very bones. I was a young man of about 25 working at a coffee kiosk in Victoria, BC, and reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, when one of my customers suggested Life is Elsewhere as a Kundera book I'd probably like. It got me right in the jugular, and probably was a perfect storm for me. If I had read it a few years earlier or a few years later it may not have had the resonance it did have, and I don't even plan to read it again, because I know a re-read would ruin the first experience I had with this book.
Everyone has a "when I was young and impressionable" experience with culture - for me, Kundera and Vonnegut were those, and Life is Elsewhere and Cat's Cradle are the two books that opened two new worlds for me....more
I picked this book up at the library in about 2003-2004 when I was unemployed and looking for something to read to pass the time. As a big fan of subcI picked this book up at the library in about 2003-2004 when I was unemployed and looking for something to read to pass the time. As a big fan of subculture fiction and shoddy underground crime stories, this book really appealed to me. You can tell it wasn't written by a guy from Canada or the United States just in the sheer style of writing - it's uplifting, poetic and quite funny to read. The energy and attitudes of the lowlife characters in the book are infectious.
I even emailed Remmert himself to thank him for this fantastic book. And to my great pleasure, he responded and was happy to receive my compliments. I hope to find more from him - the challenge is, his fiction is in Italian, and English translations are hard to come by.
But all in all, I really enjoyed this one. ...more
Finished. Finally. Blazed through the last 300 pages like a half-pissed zombie who had skipped his meds once too many times. That's not a compliment,Finished. Finally. Blazed through the last 300 pages like a half-pissed zombie who had skipped his meds once too many times. That's not a compliment, by the way.
In the beginning: I was thoroughly intrigued to drop some $20 on the book when I came across a thread on Reddit.com that tackled the topic of all-time best book beginnings, and in the mix of the usual "Call me Ishmael" and "The man in dark fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed" stuff was this incredibly intoxicating start to John Dies at the End. Something to do with a zombie and an axe and how the axe's head had been replaced, and then the axe's shaft had been replaced, and then a brilliant question as to whether the zombie was killed by the very same axe or not.
That intrigued me. Something clever and energizing and a bit original, and a very well-written start to what I thought might be one of the more fun novels I'd have the pleasure to read.
But that point - the point before I even started reading it - was the high point of the novel for me. Perhaps I can be faulted for having my expectations too high, and I've been guilty of that far too many times for my liking, but still, I was disappointed with this book.
Two things I particularly didn't like. First, the book had far too many weird and grotesque situations just for their own sake. The same feeling that I got when I watched a David Lynch movie and thought: "OK, Mr. Lynch, I like you, but you're just being a little too weird. Wanna take it down a notch a bit?" And instead of taking it down a notch, Mr. Wong cranked it up a notch.
And second, as a writer and a strong believer in the "show don't tell" dictum, I was surprised how many times Mr. Wong just told me about a character and their actions and their physical descriptions, rather than describing it in such a way that I could paint it in my head. That's right, I felt as if I were just reading words on paper. Which I was, for nearly 500 pages.
Sorry to say that I really wanted to like this book and I appreciated the honest desire of David Wong to write a book and get it out there - in fact, kudos to him for doing so while working as a data entry clerk or some other such job - but in the end, I found it a very mediocre novel. Call me a book snob if you will, but I hoped this would enlighten me, and it didn't.
And stop reading here if you haven't read the book and you don't like spoilers.
This is a SPOILER ALERT.
Stop reading now.
Abandon all hope if ye read beyond here:
One of the driving factors in the book for me was the title itself. John Dies At The End. I thought that was an immensely clever title. It had me thinking in a very Vonnegutian way that John indeed does die at the end and that's what kept me going. I wanted to see how he would die.
And this is one more spoiler alert for those of you who didn't get the hint.
He didn't die at the end. That really, really spoiled it for me....more