William Lychack is a brilliant short story writer. Every single one I've read I have enjoyed immensely. There is a lyricism and energy about them that...moreWilliam Lychack is a brilliant short story writer. Every single one I've read I have enjoyed immensely. There is a lyricism and energy about them that make them some of my favorites in recent history.
The Wasp Eater, his first novel, reads like it should have been short stories. There are four or five distinct episodes, which Lychack attempts to weave together into a novel. Ultimately, it doesn't work that well. This is not to take away from his excellent prose -- there were certain lines that achieved their most idealized form -- but The Wasp Eater doesn't move the way a novel should move.
Tell me these don't sound like terrific short story ideas: A husband who has been kicked out comes to his young son's window every night; his son catches him in a compromising position; a young boy journeys to a far off pawn shop; A man writes a letter from a campground; etc. I'm sure the reader could have constructed the bits left out.(less)
**spoiler alert** Bloodsport meets Shirley Jackson meets The Truman Show. More exciting than most YA novels, less pedantic than Fahrenheit 451, but th...more**spoiler alert** Bloodsport meets Shirley Jackson meets The Truman Show. More exciting than most YA novels, less pedantic than Fahrenheit 451, but there are a few fundamental questions that bothered me.
One: Why children? While this might make it more accessible to younger readers, it ends up making very little sense. Especially since, toward the beginning, I was drawn in by very good commentary on "haves" vs. "have nots." Very good, relatable stuff. But it is unbelievable and disheartening that communities, no matter how oppressed, would sit idly by as their children are killed. For generations, no less!
Two: Who are the villains? If it is the Capitol, then why are the other characters from other districts so one-dimensional, so vilified? And If it is the Capitol, I am unconvinced that everyone else is so powerless against them. I'd rebel against that government; I don't care if they had won before. Nothing about the Capitol made them seem overwhelming or unbeatable.
There were plenty of positives: strong female lead; some parallels to oppressed communities; possibility of examining our voyeuristic culture; good pacing in the first half (not as good in the second). But these two questions nagged at me. When a child character would die, it gave me no insight, did not help me examine a question, or do anything other than sicken me. It all seemed gratuitous to me.
Read this, following some enthusiastic recommendations. There were some nice lines in the book, and some moments that made me chuckle, but I had a few...moreRead this, following some enthusiastic recommendations. There were some nice lines in the book, and some moments that made me chuckle, but I had a few issues that could not be overcome:
1. The philosophizing. This is the exact same reason I put down Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Sophie's World. Are you telling a story or not? Wax on all you want, but to me the characters in a story should embody or question their beliefs through their actions, not through their ruminations. It is writing like this that makes me so wary of first person narrative.
2. The precocious narrator. When it works, it works. In fact, I usually like this kind of narrative because it allows clear narration but incomplete understanding. But this was not a 12-year-old speaking. I don't care how intelligent a kid is; he or she is still a kid. They usually have not reached a stage of experiential or developmental maturity that allows them to see the world as Paloma sees it. The book implies that intelligence is the thing. Well, I teach plenty of kids who are very likely smarter than I am, but I'm not going to listen to them about how the world is. In addition, no kid EVER listens to Dire Straits.
3. The assumptions of class. The story hinges on this idea that someone would have to hide their intelligence because of their station in life. This seemed bizarre to me. Sure, people have argued that point in terms of gender and race (one of my professors in college was John McWhorter, who has written of being an "Urkel"), so this would seem valid. But it just seems silly in this book, and I can't say clearly why.
4. The romantic Orientalism. I mean, Jesus, we should all be so lucky to know a Japanese person, read Japanese books, watch Japanese movies, have a Japanese view of nature. That's the way to live! (less)
Would someone who gave this book 4 or 5 stars please explain it -- or why -- to me? I feel like I'm missing something, but not really. I don't ever ex...moreWould someone who gave this book 4 or 5 stars please explain it -- or why -- to me? I feel like I'm missing something, but not really. I don't ever expect to understand Wideman's work completely when I read it, but what I have been so moved by in the past was the intensely personal way he writes. I mean, I loved Philadelphia Fire mainly because of the parts where it seemed to be Wideman talking. It is as though the backdrops of his novels -- the house firebombing, the Xhosa cattle killing, the yellow fever -- bring swells of memories and confusion and personal hurt that he is trying to work out in his head. There is less of that in The Cattle Killing . As the narrative is so fragmented, changing not only characters but also from first- to second- to third- person even within one character's narrative, that this left me unable to identify with any character. The clipped sentences create a problem of tone for me, too. I saw flashes of brilliance in this novel, but in the end it wasn't enough.(less)
I'd be curious to see what people thought of this book when it came out. Not because of any perceived shift in culture or sensibilities, but because M...moreI'd be curious to see what people thought of this book when it came out. Not because of any perceived shift in culture or sensibilities, but because McCarthy hadn't yet written some of the books I love. Now, I have read this only after having read Blood Meridian and some of his other subsequent novels, and I did not enjoy reading it much at all. To be honest, already familiar with the bleaker views of humanity McCarthy draws, I finished the book not out of interest but in hopes of catching some of his great descriptive passages. And yes, I got me some. But with this one, I don't think the beauty of his writing could counteract the depravity of Lester Ballard. It seemed almost pornographic. Again, though, this is me speaking after having read most of his more highly-acclaimed books. I'm rating him against himself.
I've always liked the notion of the Lamed-Vov -- that there are 36 people in the world who are so virtuous that, were it not for them, God would lose his faith in humanity and destroy us all. I sometimes feel that McCarthy holds the opposite view: we are damned by people like Lester Ballard. Something like that. It's hella late.
(Side note: I read this while my 8th grade students were doing silent reading. It made me a little squeamish, like they were catching me in the act of something..)(less)
I'm surprised at how many people said they didn't laugh at this book. I was laughing so hard in Barnes and Noble that I felt compelled to buy the book...moreI'm surprised at how many people said they didn't laugh at this book. I was laughing so hard in Barnes and Noble that I felt compelled to buy the book out of guilt. And I was really feeling low that day.(less)
**spoiler alert** This book is interesting, but consider this: Eichmann's location is discovered on page 100 or so. The next 200 pages are about the m...more**spoiler alert** This book is interesting, but consider this: Eichmann's location is discovered on page 100 or so. The next 200 pages are about the minutiae of his capture. Hardly gives the impression of a master of evasion. It is interesting as a true story. Not, as the cover tauts, a Clancy-like spy novel.(less)
I liked the writing, mostly, but I didn't like the book. Most of my complaints have been mentioned elsewhere. I didn't really consider the disjointed...moreI liked the writing, mostly, but I didn't like the book. Most of my complaints have been mentioned elsewhere. I didn't really consider the disjointed narrative to be a problem until a scene somewhere in the middle, inexplicably told in second-person. After that scene I realized that the whole book was littered with these little experiments in style; it was a writing exercise, not a passionately-written story. The Hamlet plot was a confusing distraction. I've read some reviews here that say that, yes, it borrows from Hamlet, but it's so much more! Then why is it Hamlet? I don't really get the connection, and it detracted from some really terrific naturalist writing. Further, it made the ending anti-climactic, added to my feeling that the book was a writing exercise, and made the characters' actions very one-dimensional and unexplained.
Now, this next criticism is more of a question, harkening back to my college phonetics class. Edgar doesn't seem to have any brain trauma, so why can't he whisper? He can breathe, he can move his tongue and mouth, so he should be able to whisper. You can't just say someone is mute; this does not fall into the acceptable categories of unexplained things, like ghosts.(less)
I've been mulling over this book for a few days now, and have decided I didn't really like it. The book did have me gripping the coffeetable during th...moreI've been mulling over this book for a few days now, and have decided I didn't really like it. The book did have me gripping the coffeetable during the Johnnie Walker scene, and was interesting enough to finish, and compelling enough to think about for a few days. But I'm stopped from giving it a more favorable review because there was just too much about it that bugged me. It seemed entirely without restraint. Too surreal: I prefer my surrealism to be just enough that I'm forced to wonder whether or not the events are actually happening. (More than anything else, it reminded me of the anime movie Paprika. I didn't like that either, because the imagery was just too bizarre. And also because it was anime.) Too heavy-handed: while I got the "Greek chorus" thing, it got tiresome. I liked the idea of Oshima's formless, sexless, all-knowing character, but I would just rather not have to listen to his explanations, would rather he were not necessary at all. In fact, I had a tough time with a lot of the characters, in particular Oshima, Kafka (who, because of all the things he was fated to do, was wholly uninteresting), and Colonel Sanders. (less)
Finally got around to reading this book. I enjoyed it a lot, despite the wooden characters and the over-use of coincidence (this latter complaint is a...moreFinally got around to reading this book. I enjoyed it a lot, despite the wooden characters and the over-use of coincidence (this latter complaint is a big one for me; it was so tidy, as if the handful of characters were the only people who existed in Paris and London at the time).
I'd love to teach this book, but I suppose I'd have to get out of middle school.(less)