The best stories are those that don't just tell a tale, but raise questions in the reader's mind. This does just that. An excellently crafted story, w...moreThe best stories are those that don't just tell a tale, but raise questions in the reader's mind. This does just that. An excellently crafted story, with much to make you think. (less)
I liked this book, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but...moreI liked this book, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but I always felt as if the actual meaning was hidden just around the next corner. Or as if the true meaning had trickled out of the sentences just before I got there, leaving only enough shape to hint (or misdirect?) as to what was going on. Mulholland Drive meets Borges, Jorge meets The Guns of the South?
This is a story about...well, I'm not just sure. It's about Geli Raubal (but not the real one). It's about Dania, a woman who isn't Geli Raubal (except sort of, in someone else's head). It's about Banning Jainlight, who is in love with Dania (or maybe he just invents her). It's about Jainlight's pornographic stories about Dania (or maybe they're true stories of his love affair with her). It's about "the most evil man in the world," i.e. Hitler, who is obsessed with Jainlight's porn about Dania because in his head it's about Geli Raubal, (and who ends up a sad, pathetic, senile old man). It's about Marc, the son of Hitler and Dania, or maybe Jainlight and Dania, or maybe just Dania herself (or maybe he's fictional too).
All these people cross back and forth between realities, or maybe between reality and unreality, in a weird braiding of time and space. Some of them seem to have doppelgangers, or alternate versions of themselves, like Jainlight/Blaine, or Dania/Geli; sometimes their worlds intersect or bleed into one another; sometimes one is the other's dream. It's never clear what's real and what isn't. The most extreme example may be the silver buffalo, which you'd think pretty much have to be a metaphor since they come perpetually pouring out of a black cave and some people can't even see them, but yet they're substantial enough to trample Dania's mother to death in Africa and rampage through the streets of Davenhall Island off the coast of Washington state. Are they the hours and minutes of one reality pouring out into another?
But the book is also about love and hate and cruelty and pity and obsession and fear and loneliness and forgiveness and good and evil. The main character, Jainlight, refers to Hitler as the most evil man in the world, and about himself and occasionally the entire twentieth century as irredeemably evil, but I ended up thinking that this book is much more about the redemptive power of love/forgiveness, although it's sort of tucked into the corners of the story as it were. I don't know what Erickson's intent was, but I ended up feeling desperately sad for every single person in this story, even crazy senile pathetic old man Hitler.
If all of this makes it sound like the book is strange and puzzling and perhaps unsettling, that's good because it is. Don't let that stop you from reading it. But don't expect a straightforward narrative: it's more like a spiral or a double helix or one of those complicated Spirograph patterns.
(NB: I have to admit the metaphor of the "black clock" was entirely lost on me -- no idea what that was meant to be about. Why black? Why a clock? What is this about numbers falling? Why is Marc listening for ticking icebergs at the end??)(less)
A very good collection of short stories, many of which explore questions of identity/reality. I particularly liked the title story (which is what comp...moreA very good collection of short stories, many of which explore questions of identity/reality. I particularly liked the title story (which is what compelled me to buy it -- I read the excerpt on Amazon and thought, "Well, I must know how this ends!"). Other favorites were "The Red Road," in which something does or does not take place on a highway, and "The Watchers," in which a girl is what everyone except herself wants her to be. The last story, a classic haunted house with a twist, is...unsettling, to say the least.(less)
Written in 1912, this is possibly the earliest novelization of the life of Anne Boleyn, ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. Bradley's Anne is passion...moreWritten in 1912, this is possibly the earliest novelization of the life of Anne Boleyn, ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII. Bradley's Anne is passionate and lively but also young and headstrong and proud.
She initially enters into her relationship with Henry partly out of awe for THE KING! and partly out of a hot desire to revenge herself on those who have insulted and hurt her, seeing him as her path to power at court. She does so with a certain innocence about his character, without fully understanding the consequences, and once in she has no idea how to extricate herself. Once she has begun, she has no choice but to see it through.
In this she is probably closer to the real Anne than many later incarnations, which attempt to turn her into either a scheming witch or a religious reformer.
As a side note, the author is the mother of noted science fiction author James Tiptree / Alice Sheldon.(less)
I bought dozens of books in grade school from the little Scholastic Books newsletter that was passed out in class every month (Mom had to have some se...moreI bought dozens of books in grade school from the little Scholastic Books newsletter that was passed out in class every month (Mom had to have some serious budgetary talks with me to explain why no, I could not order ALL THE BOOKS). Of these, decades and many moves later, I still have five of them that I couldn't let go. This story of a young Japanese-American girl interned by the U.S. government during World War II is one. (If you're curious, the others include Freedom for a cheetah and Mr. Mysterious & Company).
The child narrator's voice is beautifully done -- straightforward but at the same time innocently accepting of whatever life sends -- and perhaps for that very reason highlights as an older voice could not the the shameful nature of the government's treatment of its own citizens. A wonderful book that combines great storytelling with historical fact.(less)
Fascinating story of an interesting, if troubled, person. I first encountered Tiptree's work shortly after the Big Reveal so I knew "he" was a woman p...moreFascinating story of an interesting, if troubled, person. I first encountered Tiptree's work shortly after the Big Reveal so I knew "he" was a woman pretty much from the get-go, but this book made it easy to understand how surprised -- even shocked -- people must have been (particularly the ones "he" had been corresponding with!). Sheldon's family background is given in some detail; her mother Mary Bradley, intrepid African explorer/travel writer/novelist, is almost as interesting as Sheldon herself though their relationship is portrayed as ultimately unhealthy. Sheldon's struggles with and eventual surrender to depression (which I did not know about before reading this, made me very sad) are shown clearly and accurately, but shaded with warmth and sympathy.
Well written, well researched, a very interesting biography as well as making some forays into question of identity and gender and how they can shape or warp our lives. Definitely worth a read.(less)
The author describes this as "a fairy tale about syphilis," which is true as far as it goes, but it's also a story about three women and how/where the...moreThe author describes this as "a fairy tale about syphilis," which is true as far as it goes, but it's also a story about three women and how/where they each eventually come into their strength and power.
The author has clearly done a lot of research into 16rh century Scandinavia, particularly disease and medicine (if graphic descriptions of oozing sores or medieval gynecology bother you, you'll probably want to skip certain scenes) and it shows in the occasionally stomach-turning vividness of her descriptions. I'm not quite sure why she felt it necessary to be so explicit; I think the story would have been equally compelling with about 15% less of a yuk factor. And although it's being billed and reviewed everywhere as YA, I am not at all convinced. Or maybe YAs these days are just a lot less Y than they were when I was YA.
That said, the writing itself is lovely, the story original and compelling, and the characters intriguing, from the doomed King Christian and the nearly-mad Queen Isabel to the darkly seductive Nicolas and the fey princess Beatte. The seamstress Ava and the black servant Midi, who together with Isabel are the three main characters, are as different as one could imagine and yet they have in common that they are all in some sense slaves: Midi literally, Ava in the form of class barriers that she cannot surmount, and Isabel in the form of royal obligations (at which she has largely failed, since all her children are sick or dying).
How these three women survive and how their stories connect and reconnect make for a remarkable, if more than a little disturbing, tale.
As a bonus, it's one of the most physically beautiful books I've seen in a long time, with lush, jewel-tone colors on the cover and intricate black-and-white designs reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts on the dividing pages between each chapter.(less)
Classic Oates: uneasy stories, unlikable characters, indeterminate endings. Amusingly, one story is essentially fanfic (though I guess with an author...moreClassic Oates: uneasy stories, unlikable characters, indeterminate endings. Amusingly, one story is essentially fanfic (though I guess with an author of Oates' stature one has to call it an homage or a riff or something): Henry James' Turn of the Screw retold from Jessel and Quint's perspective.
Best part was Oates' afterword, where she says this:
One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist; we can see no way out except to go forward. Like fairy tales, the art of the grotesque and horror renders us children again, evoking something primal in the soul. The outward aspects of horror are variable, multiple, infinite--the innter, inaccessible. What the vision is we might guess, but, inhabiting a brightly populated, sociable, intensely engaging outer world, in whch we are defined to one another as social beings with names, professions, roles, public identities, and in which, most of the time, we believe ourselves at home--isn't it wisest not to?
It's not that I wasn't (mildly) enjoying this high fantasy, with wizards and magical naifs and kings who spend their down time romping with red-headed...moreIt's not that I wasn't (mildly) enjoying this high fantasy, with wizards and magical naifs and kings who spend their down time romping with red-headed twins. It's just that I suddenly discovered it was the first of five books (Fortress of Owls, Fortress of Eagles, Fortress of Dragons, Fortress of Ice) and I wasn't enjoying it enough to read four more.(less)
A skillful evocation of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, this story of a young girl whose beloved uncle has just died, and of his partner's effor...moreA skillful evocation of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, this story of a young girl whose beloved uncle has just died, and of his partner's efforts to become a part of her life, is well-written and touching. June's loneliness and grief made me ache for her, and the struggles of her sister and mother to deal with their feelings of anger, fear and exclusion rang true. Keep a box of tissues handy.(less)
The subtitle is "unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened" and yup, they're all here.
I've been a regul...moreThe subtitle is "unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened" and yup, they're all here.
I've been a regular visitor to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half blog for several years and many a visit has ended with me in tears and unable to speak for laughing so hard, so I was delighted to hear she was publishing a book. I was not disappointed :)
About half of the stories had been previously published on her blog, the other half are new for this book. "Depression" parts one and two, where Brosh recounts her struggle with depression, introduces a more serious note than, say, "The God of Cake" but manages to be both funny and poignant, particularly in its blunt illustration of why well-meaning friends and family are so often utterly unhelpful in the case of true depression.
As always, Brosh's artwork (done in Paint, which if you've worked with it you will know the crudeness of the medium!) is primitive but energetic and engaging, at time truly hilarious -- much livelier and more original than the vast majority of graphic novel/comic artwork which all looks very much the same. Nobody would mistake Brosh's alien-looking self-portrait, with its bug eyes, tentacular arms, pink dress, and blonde horns of hair for anyone else's work, ever, likewise her dogs with their tilted heads and mildly panicked gazes.
The stories that accompany the illustrations are endearing, funny, self-mocking, and most of all very human -- her foibles, flaws and difficulties are easy to identify with. Unfortunately I recognized a lot of myself in "This is Why I'll Never Be an Adult"!(less)
Not my favorite Steven King, but a long way from being my least favorite either (Gerald's Game still holds that dubious honor, yuk).
The villains, a ba...moreNot my favorite Steven King, but a long way from being my least favorite either (Gerald's Game still holds that dubious honor, yuk).
The villains, a band of nearly-immortal emotional vampires who are vastly wealthy but have chosen to blend into society by caravanning around in RVs (because nobody pays attention to the RV people), are colorful and interesting, like modern gypsies, with names like Rose the Hat and Apron Annie. Unfortunately, they are also thoroughgoing nasties who enjoy torturing and murdering children.
The heroes are recovering alcoholic Dan Torrance (Danny from The Shining) and a young girl named Abra, who "shines" even more powerfully than Danny (King does love to put children in horrifying situations, doesn't he?). I'd suggest re-reading The Shining before you tackle this one; the connections and parallel themes are more visible. Oh, and there's an awesome cat, who is named after a demon for some reason.
Every time I go away from King for a while and then come back, I'm reminded afresh of what a good storyteller he is. Even the mediocre stories suck you in because he tells them so well.
This one falls somewhere in the middle for me. It kept me turning the pages until the wee hours, for sure, but the ending felt a bit rushed and lackluster and it was missing the usual ratchet-up-the-tension-until-it-snaps that one generally expects with King. I was surprised at the creative and unusual weapon deployed at the end, but when I put the book down, I didn't have any problem getting to sleep. In short, it's King but a rather mild King.
(Although I have to admit to a somewhat disturbing dream featuring a young girl and a man who kept cycling from solid to transparent; I told the girl to "dial him down to about 82% and leave him there." "Won't that hurt?" she said. "Oh, yes," I said. So clearly something in the book got to me.)(less)
Eerie, atmospheric, almost Victorian, Aickman's stories are all about hints and omens, tension and suspense. Very few of the mysteries in these storie...moreEerie, atmospheric, almost Victorian, Aickman's stories are all about hints and omens, tension and suspense. Very few of the mysteries in these stories are solved; instead one is left with an uneasy sense that there are some Very Nasty Things out there. Just around the corner or down the alley. In the dark.
I think my favorite was "The View," in which a man recovering from some unspecified illness goes on holiday, on his doctor's recommendation. On the boat over to the island that is his destination he meets a young woman who invites him to stay with her in her huge estate; he accepts and, although initially installed in a guest room, they are soon sleeping together. However, the ony fly in the ointment is that the view from his window keeps...changing. Between one day and the next things appear and disappear, or move from on place to another...
This collection also includes a classic "undead" story ("Ringing the Changes"); a ghost story ("The Houses of the Russians"); one, or possibly two, "monster children" stories; the title story, an unnerving tale of a painter, an old woman and her daughter; and several more.
Aickman's stories share with those of H.P. Lovecraft a delicate balance between too much information and not enough -- too much and you get gore/splatter with nothing left to the imagination, too little and you get ho-hum, a story that doesn't compel or intrigue. There is a difference between horror and terror; Aickman is a master of the latter. He takes you by the hand and leads you to the very doorstep of seeing what's lurking out there in the dark...and then turns out the light.
I didn't get this book at all. It's supposed to be brilliant and funny and clever and a comment on modern society etc etc etc. I just thought it was p...moreI didn't get this book at all. It's supposed to be brilliant and funny and clever and a comment on modern society etc etc etc. I just thought it was pretentious and boring and -- eventually -- irritating as all get out. Guess I'm not modern enough. But I'm OK with that.(less)
This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a tweet and a "friend me."
I read this a couple of weeks ago, on my mom's recommendation. I give th...moreThis is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a tweet and a "friend me."
I read this a couple of weeks ago, on my mom's recommendation. I give the thesis of the book 5 stars but the execution was a little heavy-handed; reading the scene with the shark in particular I felt like I was being beaten over the head. That said, it's an easy read, the pace moves briskly along, there are any number of zings at our current obsession with social media, and it's definitely thought-provoking.
Like Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World, The Circle is more of a fable than a novel, social criticism rather than deep characterization and intricate plotting, but it is chilling in that the awful world of this book is so very close to where we already are, and very likely where we're headed absent some sort of epiphany in our love affair with technology. Despite the beauty of The Circle's "campus" (with weekly parties, day care, volleyball, meditation classes, on-site apartments, and inspirational sidewalk tiles), Mae's world is in reality a bleak, empty, sterile spiral of millions of people doing nothing but acting as mirrors for each other, a depressingly self-referential world where nothing matters except what matters to other people, even if what matters to other people is nothing except what matters to other people. The most horrifying thing of all is that Mae doesn't see this; she truly believes that somehow this void is producing value, not realizing that it's impossible to get something out of nothing.
In a sense Eggers is preaching to the choir (the choir, in this case, being those who worry about the ubiquity of social media and Big Server rather than Big Brother), but he chose to tell the story from the perspective of a true believer in the power and benefit of technology and a completely linked society, which gives the story an eerie sort of seductiveness. The arguments presented by Bailey, the optimist among the "Three Wise Men" of Circle, are disturbingly compelling (and familiar): "If you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about" and "Wouldn't you feel safer walking home if there were cameras watching?" and "Isn't it better for people to know the truth about each other?"
I sympathized very much with Mae's friend who makes lamps out of antlers and just wants to be left alone.
The ending was surprising, though. At first I was puzzled and rather depressed, but in thinking about it further I suspect that its message is that no deus ex machina is going to rescue us from the constant stream of friending-tweeting-liking-pinning-statusupdating-rating-networking-linking-sharing-sharing-sharing-MUSTSHAREALLTHETHINGS!!! Instead each of us, one by one, must rescue ourselves by making thoughtful choices rather than being sucked into the digital maelstrom.(less)
This was a beauty of a book, a mix of myth, fairy tale, love story, and cautionary tale.
The kitsune, the fox-woman, is a well-known figure in Japanese...moreThis was a beauty of a book, a mix of myth, fairy tale, love story, and cautionary tale.
The kitsune, the fox-woman, is a well-known figure in Japanese folklore and myth; here, Johnson places the story of a fox who wishes to become a woman against that of a young couple whose marriage is faltering under the weight of artifice and constraint. Above, in the house, Yoshifuji and his wife Shikujo communicate by writing each other haikus open to multiple interpretations, neither knowing what the other wants or thinks; beneath the floor Kitsune, the young fox, comes into season and mates with her brother because, well, that's what animals do. Kitsune wants (or thinks she wants) the trappings of humanity: to learn to read, to write, to understand art, to wear beautiful clothes and speak from behind a screen. Yoshifuji watches the foxes from his window and wishes he had their freedom.
Telling the story in diary form allows you to see through the eyes of each of the three main characters in turn, which gives the story both the immediacy of first person and the complexity of a multiple POVs.
Of all of them, though, I felt sorriest for Kitsune's mother and brother, dragged into this transformation mostly against their will; if I had one complaint about the book it's that Johnson doesn't offer a compelling explanation for why they have to pay the price for Kitsune's obsession with Yoshifuji.
Although the ending is left open, leaving me uncertain as to what if anything Yoshifuji or Kitsune learned from their experience (are they wiser? or more determined?), this was a real pleasure to read. Johnson is an artistic writer with a gift for description, evoking seasons, settings and the life and attitudes of Old Japan with a light touch and a painterly eye for detail.(less)