Maria Irene Fornes, Fefu and Her Friends (PAJ Publications, 1978)
Okay, I will admit it right up front: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in t...moreMaria Irene Fornes, Fefu and Her Friends (PAJ Publications, 1978)
Okay, I will admit it right up front: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the last act of this play, and I have done absolutely no digging on the web in order to uncover any random “what does this mean?” threads that might be hanging around. I simply let it wash over me and took it based on its merits as a written document. I should probably go looking at some point, because I liked it enough anyway to give it a strong recommend even without knowing what's going on. The characters are crisp, the dialogue zingy, the action surprisingly playful given the overall dark tone here. I don't think this is one you need to “get” in order to enjoy. Take it the same way I did—just admire it for what it is, which seems to be “obtuse”. *** ½
(For the record, after I finished writing this, I did google it, and it seems my incomprehension was not nearly as rare as I thought it was.)(less)
Stephen Frech, Toward Evening and the Day Far Spent (Kent State University Press, 1996)
It's rare that I run across a chapbook in Kent State's Wick ser...moreStephen Frech, Toward Evening and the Day Far Spent (Kent State University Press, 1996)
It's rare that I run across a chapbook in Kent State's Wick series that doesn't really do it for me, but this was one of them. And I am more than willing to admit that as much as I try to push aside considerations of subject matter (I do fervently believe that any subject can be made interesting given a talented enough writer), there are times when I just instinctively recoil. Anyone who's read enough awful religious poetry (and that phrase is pretty close to redundant) will probably know what I'm talking about. And yes, Frech gives us the life of Christ here, though abbreviated and impressionist (it is, after all, just thirteen pages). And Frech is a solid poet:
“...the peach, to bite into it, to discover the too much for my mouth to hold,
feel it down my chin and through my beard; to see like a bee, only the sweetness, the whole world monotone except for the spectrum of sugar...” (“The Ninth Hour”)
but, man, do we need more Jesus poetry? I'm giving it the gentleman's C because there's no way I can even think about being unbiased on this one; I will leave it to the individual reader to judge for him- or herself. ** ½ (less)
I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I just hoped it wouldn't take this long, but now that this little pro...moreJim Butcher, Dead Beat (Roc, 2005)
I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I just hoped it wouldn't take this long, but now that this little problem has been rectified, all is forgiven: the Harry Dresden series, with its seventh book, finally contains zombies. And it's ABOUT DURNED TIME, TOO. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a Harry Dresden fan, and even if this had been a stock mystery-featuring-the-walking-dead that simply played out the same themes from the first six Dresden books, I would have at least been happy with it and let it be. But no, folks, Jim Butcher took all the wonderful things about the first six Dresden books and then wrote what, aside from recurring characters, might well have been a stand-alone zombie novel that actually does something new. Well, something very old, but something new. I'm not explaining this well, am I? Well, there is a pretty huge body of zombie lore from around the globe. (None of it until 1985 includes the specific eating of brains, for the record.) Pieces of it have been mined over the years, some with more success than others. Much of what we know about modern zombies, culturally, began with George Romero in 1968. (Don't believe me? Watch a few pre-Romero zombie flicks, which are actually much closer to the overall basis of global zombie-folklore, and are night and day compared to Romero's consumerist demons.) While there have been a few paradigm shifts since—fast zombies showing up in 1984 (in Zombi 3 and brain-eaters in 1985 (in Return of the Living Dead), to mention two examples that have remained popular since—the current state of American zombie folklore is much as it was in 1968. Which leaves a lot of untapped material. When was the last time, for example, you remember an action hero killing a zombie by decapitating it and then filling it mouth with salt and sewing it shut? (That would be Darren McGavin, in a Night Stalker episode from the seventies, actually.) Almost forgotten in the post-Romero era, but a common piece of zombie myth historically.
And then there's the bit with the...I can't tell you. Unless you're a confirmed historical-zombie nutcase like me, it'd be a spoiler, and I don't know any other confirmed historical-zombie nutcases like me. So I'll assume you will have no idea what's coming. And I will assure you that, yes, this seemingly utterly original stamp Butcher puts on his zombies is very well documented in the literature. So you see what I mean, right? He does something new... by doing something very, very old.
In any case, I think you might have gathered from the paragraphs above that Dead Beat is a zombie novel, and really, that should be all you need to know plotwise. There are a few other developments about other story arcs (there's a particularly touching scene between Harry and Thomas on the beach that may be one of Butcher's strongest pieces of writing to date), and there's the usual fun, though Bob is far less comic relief here than he is terrifying adversary, and Marva, of course, is always lurking about the edges of the tale.
But more interesting than all of the above, perhaps, is that despite the usual wall-to-wall action, Dead Beat seems to show Jim Butcher at the same place Robert B. Parker was in 1980, when he published Early Autumn, coincidentally the seventh Spenser novel. This, too, was a mystery series that leaned heavily on the action, and Early Autumn was a real gamble (even today it polarizes readers); it is a far more introspective book, character-driven rather than plot-driven, though there is a secondary mystery plot. In my estimation, and I say this as a huge fan of the series, Early Autumn is the very best Spenser novel, and in fact the best novel Parker wrote until All Our Yesterdays. Dead Beat doesn't go anywhere near as far in the shift; as I alluded earlier, there is still the trademark Harry Dresden “someone's trying to kill me every five pages” pace here. But there can be no denying that this book shifts to a more character-driven focus, and I think Butcher, too, pulls it off. My favorite in the series so far. *** ½ (less)