Stephen King can really do no wrong in my book, and he didn't too much wrong in his own book either. =)
I think I responded to this book as a writer--iStephen King can really do no wrong in my book, and he didn't too much wrong in his own book either. =)
I think I responded to this book as a writer--it made me want to write more short stories of my own. For inspiration purposes, if you're looking for a mix of relationship, mystery, large-scale trauma, and quiet horror then you've found it in this book.
A couple stories that have stuck with me since December:
1. The Gingerbread Girl At first I didn't get the title. Then *uber-slow-girl-that-is-me slaps forehead.* The whole story is about a woman running, literally and figuratively, from things that are trying to kill her: a failed marriage, the loss of a child, and a very killer. Like the Gingerbread Man. Duh, Jenny! I thought that her struggles were very real and painful--especially the child.
2. Willa (I think this is the right one, forgive me, I don't have the book in front of me...but it's the one about the guy who leaves the train station to look for his girlfriend, who is in a honky-tonk bar) This one I really liked because of the spooky atmosphere that King creates. He alters the decrepit train station with the new train station really well. I love the wolf. I love the honky tonk. And I love that the two lovebirds figure it out for themselves. I thought it was endearing. ...more
"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. ...more
The horror of this novel is very different from a lot of King's in-your-faceness. I really think the scary elements of this story are of a primal, faiThe horror of this novel is very different from a lot of King's in-your-faceness. I really think the scary elements of this story are of a primal, fairy-talesque nature. You're alone, in the woods. There are dark things in the dark forest. And King brings those things out. The big bad wolf is here and Little Red Riding Hood is wearing her Red Sox jersey.
Trisha is a wonderfully innovative kiddo and it was easy to cheer for her as she struggled through the Maine woods - a reminder that, while America has a large population, we mostly reside in urban centers and the largest portion of the U.S. is still wild. Quite frankly, if I were in Trisha's situation - not being the 'outdoorsy' type - I would probably have called it quits at the swampy portion of the adventure.
And the mosquitoes would've killed me. I just know it.
As I was reading this, I couldn't help but think: King is willing to kill a kid. King is willing to kill a kid.
One night, while driving and receiving a hand-job from his wife, Billy Halleck runs over the wrong gypsy woman. In the ensuing trial, he is let off byOne night, while driving and receiving a hand-job from his wife, Billy Halleck runs over the wrong gypsy woman. In the ensuing trial, he is let off by his good friends: the judge and sheriff. However, he doesn't get off so light when the gypsy woman's father decides to get some vigilante justice of his own. Taduz Lemke stretches out a long finger and says one word. "Thinner." And Halleck's beer gut slowly melts away until all that's left is a ribcage and anger.
While the story itself is horrifyingly entertaining, I was struck more by the language King/Bachman uses early in the book. It's hard to miss the addictive quality of Halleck's eating habits. He orders Whoppers and Big Macs, eats the in the car to hide his habit from his significant others. Sometimes he catches himself and is disgusted and swears to stop:
He threw the remains of the second Whopper out the window and then looked at the mixed slime of juices and sauce on his hand with a desperate kind of horror. And then he did the only sane thing possible under the circumstances: he laughed. And promised himself: No more. The binge would end.
Unfortunately for Halleck, the only way his binge ends is with a gyspy curse.
The curse takes his habits in a different direction, but somehow it still feels allegorical to addiction in general. You try to deny it to yourself. You try to control it. You try to hide it from your family. Eventually, your family notices and tries to intervene -- a lot of time too late. The addiction overtakes your health. And eventually you succumb.
Halleck fights like hell to fix the curse that's been laid on him, but I have to say it's really hard to get behind the guy. He's kind of a punk. At a couple points it seems like he might genuinely come to realize that he was in the wrong, that his mistake cost a woman her life, and that he might, just might, legitimately be sorry. That moment, however, never comes.
He's very much the criminal who is sorry because he got caught, not because he's sorry he did what he did.
The good news is (story-wise) the curse is pretty darn horrific. Most of us wouldn't wish this shit on our worst enemies, so you can kinda see where the guy might get more pissed off than apologetic. So, Halleck doesn't come off as horrible as he could otherwise.
Basically, everyone is a jerk. And it's fun to watch the jerks beat up on each other.
3.5 Stars -- Throughout I kept thinking 'this book is a whole lot of okay.' I wasn't blown away, but neither did I feel an overwhelming urge to put it3.5 Stars -- Throughout I kept thinking 'this book is a whole lot of okay.' I wasn't blown away, but neither did I feel an overwhelming urge to put it down.
There are some great characters here: particularly David, the boy whose prayers are answered and Johnny, the egotisticial-but-somehow-likeable National Book Award Winner. Then King throws them into some incredibly difficult, dangerous, gross, and ethical dilemmas.
The menagerie of Southwestern critter-monsters are the kind that creep you out or freak you out in real life. Venomous spiders come in droves. Rattlesnakes. Packs of coyotes. Mountain lions and wolves. These are things you never want to see in your house, let alone wandering around with a kind of conscienceness.
I think mostly what made it kinda 'meh' was the bad guy. While it is big and monstrous and in control of an army of creatures I do not want to meet on the street, I was perhaps a little to fuzzy on the motivation and it seemed like it disappeared somewhere near the climax of the book...which is strange.
In all, it left me interested enough to check out Regulators. So we'll see! ...more
Bird Box does everything horror novels do -- except it does it blindfolded.
At first it took me a little bit to suspend my disbelief. The opening chapBird Box does everything horror novels do -- except it does it blindfolded.
At first it took me a little bit to suspend my disbelief. The opening chapters explain a weird plague: people going crazy from seeing something. Really? But, once I got past that hiccup of "Yeah, right" and bought into Malerman's world the story was freakin' terrifying.
What this something is...who knows? The book is told from the POV of the people who live, so there's no way of knowing. Ever. If you take off your blindfold, you will go insane and kill things like your children before you kill yourself. So the survivors -- of which I would never be one in this world because I hate not seeing things -- have to deal with everyday things in a world where they're not allowed to look.
Malerman presents good questions that add to the tension: Walking into a house, how do you know you're not followed by one of the creepy killer things you shouldn't see? Can you trust the others around you to be careful? Can you walk around your neighborhood blindfolded in order to get food? And what the hell was the snapping twig sound? ...more
There's a lot of pseudo-science throughout this, so you kinda have to bear with it. But it's Matheson. There are legit scary moments throughout.
One pThere's a lot of pseudo-science throughout this, so you kinda have to bear with it. But it's Matheson. There are legit scary moments throughout.
One part really gave me the shivers early on and it's entirely owing to Matheson's writing style. Our four protagonists (Fischer, Barrett, Edith, and Florence) have arrived at Hell House and are exploring this Everest of Haunted Houses. They come across an old recording of Mr. Belasco -- long dead -- welcoming them to his home. Fischer, who has been in the house before, explains this recording and Belasco's behavior:
"Guests would arrive, to find him gone. That record would be played for them." He paused. "It was a game he played. While the guests were here, Belasco spied on them from hiding.
"Then again, maybe he was invisible," Fischer continued, "He claimed the power. Said that he could will the attention of a group of people to some particular object, and move among them unobserved."
"I doubt that," Barrett said.
"Do you?" Fischer's smile was strange as he looked at the phonograph. "We all had our attention on that a few moments ago," he said. "How do you know he didn't walk right by us while we were listening?"
What's fascinating about this passage is that, as the four protagonists are studying the record and the phonograph, Belasco could have moved by them...and while the reader is reading, focusing only on this phonograph and this recording, could some important piece of information have slipped by?
I've had so many weird dreams since starting this book. Reading it before bedtime puts your head in a strange space. (Kinda cool -- you should try it.I've had so many weird dreams since starting this book. Reading it before bedtime puts your head in a strange space. (Kinda cool -- you should try it.)
The story itself is pretty straightforward: a small group of specialists goes into a odd landscape called Area X. They explore and encounter all kinds of weird, dangerous things. And then things go wonky. Of course. It's a storyline we've heard before.
However, VanderMeer's narrative is almost stream-of-conscience and lovely like a dream itself. Yet, you know, just know you're being manipulated. Things are left out. Questions aren't answered. But somehow, by the end, you think it might just be in your best interest not to know. Do you know how hard that is to pull off in fiction?
I'm already grabbing the sequels...but I'm nervous that if this Area X gets explained too much it'll ruin it.
Overall, this seems like a nod to Frankenstein: Be careful of the forces you tangle with. The dedication page lists Mary Shelley as one of the writersOverall, this seems like a nod to Frankenstein: Be careful of the forces you tangle with. The dedication page lists Mary Shelley as one of the writers who 'built his [King's] house.' Frankenstein being one of my favoritest books, there's a lot to enjoy here.
The bulk of this book is Jamie Morton Growing Up. It begins with Jamie at six years old, playing soldier. It ends 55 years later, when Jamie is 61. So, just keep in mind there's a lot of growing up to do in fifty years. Annnnd some of the growing Jamie doesn't effectively do.
All in all, there are interesting bits and less interesting bits. But what keeps this at three stars for me is that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot driving the story.
The whole mess between Pastor Charles Jacobs, the Frankenstein of this particular story, and our hero, Jamie, begins when Jacobs loses his wife and child in a tragic accident. Jacobs freaks out, tells his congregation God doesn't exist, and then heads out into the world cursing God.
While this is an understandable reaction, and a great premise for a horror novel, I had a hard time buying into it for a very simple reason: I, as the reader, didn't love or care about Jacobs' wife or child. Patricia Jacobs is blonde and perfect and can play the piano really well. The narrator says that all the little boys had a crush on her -- but there's no real, actionable evidence of that in the text. No one offers to stay after to help her clean up the church, or is caught spying on her through keyholes. Ditto the little girls crushing on the pastor himself. But all I really get is blonde, perfect, piano player, dead.
I also didn't fall in love with the little toddler -- who was cute but could be just about any toddler.
It may sound cold, but if the death of these two people is the fuel driving the story it leaves me a little, well, cold.
(An aside -- at one point the narrator, Jamie, explains that the pastor has blue eyes and his wife has green eyes but the little boy has brown eyes...I'm not a geneticist, but I kept expecting Patricia Jacobs to turn out to be a cheating, drinking whore, who had the little boy with another man. That would've been a twist on the pastor's twisted twistedness. Strangely enough, I might've liked Mrs. Jacobs better.) ...more