While there is no shortage of novels about the struggles of a writer, I can’t help but think that this one is special. It’s sublime, melancholy, hopefWhile there is no shortage of novels about the struggles of a writer, I can’t help but think that this one is special. It’s sublime, melancholy, hopeful, and quite possibly perfect. Don Carpenter was one of the finest writers around, but never achieved much in the way of recognition. His characters and locations are finely drawn and he handles emotions with depth, clarity, and ease. It’s not a novel that I think everyone will love, nor is it a novel that I can easily pinpoint an audience for. It’s a charming look at the beginnings of west coast counterculture, the unexplainable unhappiness of an artist, and love, loss, success, and failure of four writers. I’m so glad Fridays at Enrico’s will finally see the light of day.
I liked this one, even if it was weighted down by heavy issues:
Although Fallen Land is a psychological novel, it is also a sociological meditation. ItI liked this one, even if it was weighted down by heavy issues:
Although Fallen Land is a psychological novel, it is also a sociological meditation. It deals as heavily with the mental state of its characters as it does with issues plaguing America post-9/11. From unstable Krovik to young, troubled Copley, the characters are well-drawn and nuanced. Lurking underneath the plot’s surface is the questioning of the American dream, thoughts on immigration and racism, how personal freedoms are sacrificed in the name of security, prescription drug reliance, the way the past can haunt us, and the effects of suburban sprawl. It is very much a novel of ‘big ideas’ – a simulacrum of the failings of American society – this makes the story as thought provoking as it is exhausting.
The novel’s atmosphere is a mix of dystopian and gothic, the characters suffering from a restless, unknowable fear. Emphasizing this is Nathaniel’s company, a forbidding and frightening security company that exacts a heavy toll on its employees simply by its expectations, and Copley’s recurring ‘dreams’. Ultimately it’s a dark, disturbing tale that is equal parts literary fiction and psychological thriller (perhaps William Faulkner meets Stephen King in Huxley’s Brave New World?). It eerily demonstrates the thin, malleable line between reason and madness and the illogical labyrinth of the American dream. It encourages the reader to ask: If someone wants you to be afraid, what can they gain by your fear? And furthermore, why is it so hard to see our fears?
‘The Good Lord Bird’ is a historically rich, inventive tale of race and gender identity. It’s also a comedy. It is the tale of a possibly unhinged zealot, a teenager assuming a new gender, prominent abolition figures, brutal slave owners, drunken rebels, a tattered band of followers, and even a few upstanding citizens****. There’s a whore house, an amorous orator, and a tragic, if expected, end for the man who was ‘a bit off his biscuit’. It’s clever, funny, and irreverent, but it’s not disrespectful. It offers a fresh perspective on a mysterious figure, one who is assumed to have either been a fanatic or a madman – and quite possibly both. In this story, he is a hero.
James McBride’s newest novel is beautiful and, for lack of a better word, feisty in unexpected ways. Through Henry’s ambivalent view and distinct voice, a fresh light is shed on a dark period in history. I like to read for pleasure. I also have the tendency to mock those who claim to only read important, canonical books, despite the fact that I read those books too. I’m just not snobbish about it. This is one of those rare books that will satisfy both parties. It is an excellent, important book that also happens to be fun to read. 4.5/5....more
Stoker’s Manuscript is Royce Prouty’s debut novel and while is doesn’t break fresh ground in the lore of vampire traditions, it doesn’t suck either. The novel centers on intelligent loner Joseph Barkeley, a rare manuscript expert who’s hired to authenticate the original draft of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although the prospective buyer is mysterious and reclusive, Joseph doesn’t heed the warnings of those around him and personally delivers the manuscript to Bran Castle in Romania. To his horror, he only realizes how much is at stake when he is imprisoned by Vlad Dracul’s son. To preserve his life, he needs to remain useful by analyzing cryptic messages hidden in the novel’s text. In doing so, he discovers that his trip to Romania might not be so coincidental after all. Based on actual events surrounding the publication of Dracula, Stoker’s Manuscript reads as if part historical account, part vampire legend, yet entirely compelling fiction.
Drawing on the classic vampire tale, Prouty’s unique take on the mysteries surrounding Dracula’s publication creates a notable debut novel. Stoker’s Manuscript is likely to appeal to those who – like me – love a good vampire story. And what’s not to love? There’s travel, conflict, ancient evil, family feuds, secret histories, and an unlikely hero. While it may not win the favor of the average True Blood lover, it is a welcome respite to the vampire paranormal romance trend and a solid summer read. 4/5, recommended for vampire aficionados....more
Based on a mix of historical fact and speculation, Mack and Kaufman have beautifully recreated the world Freud inhabited. The novel’s strength lies in its evocative description of nineteenth century Vienna, as the characters are less than appealing. Freud is as egotistical and argumentative as you might imagine, Martha is an opiate addict who cannot handle her children, and Minna is continually fraught with guilt about her actions, yet unable to help herself. The novel is, however, a fascinating (if partly fictional) look into the personal world of a man who changed the face of modern psychology.
According to Katie Couric, ‘Freud’s Mistress’* will appeal to fans of ‘Loving Frank’ and ‘The Paris Wife’ – I’ve not read either book. If you loved those two titles, you may want to pick this novel up, assuming you trust Ms. Couric. This novel may also appeal to fans of Freud. As I fall into neither of category, I’m not the ideal audience. This does not mean I did not enjoy it, I did. The Vienna scenes depicted by Mack and Kaufman are stunning, as is capturing the role women were relegated to in society (particularly the role of an intelligent, unmarried woman). However, as I previously had little love for the father of psychoanalysis, I have even less now. I do need to remember that this depiction is fictional and that he may not have been quite so bad. Overall, the writing’s good, if dramatic (though I suppose illicit affairs probably are dramatic) and the story is intriguing and readable. I suspect fans of historical fiction will find this novel satisfying.
Are you interested in getting me to read a particular book? Tell me it has the scruffy appeal of Donald Ray Pollock (my most favorite among favorite authors) and the addictiveness of Breaking Bad. I’ll read it. When I read that Kelly Braffet’s latest novel, ‘Save Yourself’, had both of those attributes – consider me sold.
Patrick Cusimano’s life is not the way anyone would want their life to be, let alone Patrick himself. His father, an alcoholic, finally went too far, hitting and killing a little boy – then fleeing the scene of a crime. He returns to the home he shares with his two sons. Older brother Mike wants to sweep the incident under the rug. Patrick knows that is impossible and calls the police, turning in his dad. He waited 19 hours to do so, earning the scorn of Rachetsburg, PA. To make matters worse Caro, Mike’s troubled girlfriend, took their relationship far beyond platonic, straight to sexual.
Patrick’s status as town monster attracts the attention of local goth teenager Layla Elshere. Layla and her little sister Verna are outcasts at school and the victims of intense bullying. Their strict, religious father campaigned successfully to remove sex education and a favorite teacher from the school system. The school hasn’t forgotten or forgiven either girl. The sisters turn to a group of outcasts to form their own version of a family, only belonging to that family has far darker consequences than either girl could have imagined.
‘Save Yourself’ is very much a novel where the sins of the father are visited up the children. Despite the elder Cusimano’s 15 year prison sentence, Mike and Patrick take the brunt of the blame publicly. Turning in your own father is not enough. The two sons needed to have done it swiftly and immediately. Layla and Verna Elshere are publicly targeted for their father’s outspoken beliefs. All are facing dark paths that they are not responsible for choosing.
The novel primarily intertwines the lives of two very different, very dysfunctional families. Nearly each of the five main characters is capable of arousing both sympathy and revulsion, making the story remarkably touching, yet compellingly dark. Braffet’s prose has a gritty, unsettling elegance, creating vivid, page turning scenes that are just as likely to entrance you as they are to turn your stomach. Naturally I mean this as a complement. The novel is atmospheric and foreboding. As you read, the tension between the characters themselves and the town they inhabit relentlessly builds, as does the suffering the characters endure. The most twisted character in the novel, although a rather minor one, reinforces and perpetuates the idea that salvation and peace come only from pain, sacrifice, and suffering – which he feels is his right to inflict. Layla, who only wants to be noticed and loved, willingly confuses this sadistic torture for true love. Patrick is angry and tired of his father, yet unable to be free of him in a town he cannot seem to leave. He hovers between anger, despair, and nothingness. He is the character I loved most. The others have their own suffering to endure, from a schizophrenic mother to extreme public humiliation to using optimism as ignorance.
The novel reaches a violent, satisfying, yet believable conclusion. I loved it. If I have to give a less than stellar opinion on something, I don’t love the cover (the font’s appropriate though). ‘Save Yourself*’ is as addictive as the aforementioned recommendation promises and has the grittiness of ‘The Devil All the Time’. While it lacks the overwhelming despair of Pollock’s novel, it is no less enjoyable to read. It’s dark fiction done very well. 4(edging on 4.5)/5....more
A feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.
Appearances are deceivsor·row (n.)
A feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.
Appearances are deceiving; the world can be a beautiful place in that way. Despite my rather innocuous physicality and mild disposition (or perhaps because of…?), my mind is a far darker place than my tiny library-loving, baby-faced appearance would lead you to believe. Similarly, the innocent cover of Donald Ray Pollack’s collection of short stories will deceive you; it may lead you to believe you were going to read stories set in bucolic middle America. Not so. While the town sign for Knockemstiff, Ohio graces the front of the book, it gives no indication of the truly wonderful, truly devious stories inside. If there’s a word to describe the mood of ‘Knockemstiff’, it’s sorrow. But sorrow is not the only thing you’ll find. In this slim volume you’ll find abuse, addiction, despair, racism, incest, tragedy, and yes, comedy too.
Knockemstiff, Ohio, the town Pollock lived in as a child, is, fictionally at least, the home the woeful, the misbegotten, and the deranged. Located in a holler (hollow) in the southern part of the state, poverty, abuse, and addiction are rampant with little opportunity to break the cycle. Miserable children become miserable addicts or miserable parents and no one ever escapes. This collection of 18 intertwined stories will not inspire you, will not teach you anything legal, and as another reviewer put it, if given the option to a) live in Knockemstiff, Ohio or b) have your naughty bits gnawed to shreds by a ravenous badger – the correct selection is b. In short, those who find fornicating with one’s sister particularly offensive may want to find another book.
"I was coming down off the Mitchell Flats with three arrowheads in my pocket and a dead copperhead hung around my neck like an old woman’s scarf when I caught a boy named Truman Mackey fucking his own little sister in the Dynamite Hole."
To his much deserved credit, Pollock never takes it too far. Yes, these stories are dark and yes, they shed light on human depravity, but they are neither gratuitous, nor overly graphic. They are stark, matter of fact portraits of the horrific cycles we can get stuck in. He never asks the reader for sympathy, nor does he offer any himself. The stories are gritty, real, and not for the faint of heart. Some are funny, some are sad, some are horrifying, but all are melancholy. The residents are not entirely ignorant of their actions.
"I’m beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it."
As the stories are intertwined, they are best read in order, but they don’t have to be. My favorites: Hair’s Fate, Gigantohmachy, Lard, Bactine, Assailants, and Holler. Bactine is one of the best, but my favorite might be Assailants. In it, Del has a brief moment of clarity and remorse – it’s beautiful, but the thought vanishes as quickly as it came.
"Looking at his daughter, Del suddenly felt a great sorrow well up inside him. Falling to his knees, he was just beginning to ask the baby for her forgiveness when he heard his wife tromp back down the hall and slam the bedroom door shut. Both father and daughter jumped at the sound, one still flush with innocence, the other guilty of a thousand trespasses."
One of my favorite novels of all time is Pollock’s ‘The Devil All the Time’. I consider it a must read for anyone who even mildly likes dark fiction. While ‘Knockemstiff’ is not quite as good, it’s still absolutely worth reading. If you were to create a spectrum of dark fiction, Pollock would fall between Harry Crew’s affectionate treatment of those scorned in society and Chuck Palahniuk’s impersonal treatment of vacuous humans. It’s an immensely readable, disheartening, and not entirely inaccurate portrait of impoverished life in middle America.
‘Thinner’ was the last novel published under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman (at least while the pseudonym was still a secret). And I have to say it’s not my favorite of King’s novel. It’s dark and well written, but I found it too devoid of the humanity with which King usually writes. Granted, Billy is not a sympathetic character. He used his friend, a judge, to get away with what is essentially negligent homicide. While it was an accident, it is more important to pay attention to the road while driving than to the handjob your wife is giving you – it should not have been occurring while the car was in motion. But that is just my opinion. Men around the world might weep with indignation at my statement.
Now on to the important information – should you read ‘Thinner’? Sure, it’s not a bad book. It’s creepy, foreboding, and possesses the ability to make you squirm. However, I can give you at least ten other King novels you should start with first. I would mostly recommend this novel for those, like me, who are trying to read the complete works of Stephen King or have an interest in dark fiction with bleak, depressing endings. If you already are a King fan and want to know where this falls in the King spectrum, I’d say somewhere ahead of Blockade Billy and behind The Dark Half and The Long Walk, approximately on par with Christine. 3.5/5. ‘Thinner’ was made into a movie in the ‘90’s, starring Robert John Burke. Anyone seen it? Is it worth adding to my DVD queue. I’ve heard it was a decent King adaptation, but that’s not saying much....more
I really enjoyed this particular collection. Although, as other people noted, this may not be for you if you're interested in reading about happily evI really enjoyed this particular collection. Although, as other people noted, this may not be for you if you're interested in reading about happily ever afters. For my full review, go here: