the idea of raffles, the gentleman thief, obverse of the legendary sherlock holmes, gentleman detective (the creation of hornung's esteemed brother-in...morethe idea of raffles, the gentleman thief, obverse of the legendary sherlock holmes, gentleman detective (the creation of hornung's esteemed brother-in-law arthur conan doyle), thrills me. and i can't say i don't normally adore the idea of working outside the law to balance the scales of justice -- i watch timothy hutton's modern-day robin hood crew on leverage as often as possible. there is no doubt that raffles is in some ways the progenitor of this type of character but in reading the book i realized the only redress was being made to "the cracksman"'s pocket. before reading this collection of stories, i had visions of hutton's character nate ford, and the great french character arsène lupin or baroness orczy's scarlett pimpernel but instead found raffles anticipating leopold and loeb:
"A matter of opinion, my dear Bunny; I don't mean it for rot. I've told you before that the biggest man alive is the man who's committed a murder, and not yet been found out; at least he ought to be, but he so very seldom has the soul to appreciate himself. Just think of it! Think of coming here and talking to the men, very likely about the murder itself; and knowing you've done it; and wondering how they'd look if they knew! Oh, it would be great, simply great!" - from "Wilful Murder"
much has been made of the fact that raffles has a code -- he does not murder; he only steals when he has need. as it turns out raffles doesn't actually subscribe to the code he lays out -- he seems to make excuses for lapses of conduct often, perhaps revealing how little it means -- see the story quoted above for a revision of his "no murder" rule, or "A Costume Piece" for how he decides to go ahead with a robbery which won't alleviate his financial constraints but simply for the challenge. it would seem that the victorians would identify with the idea that crime was understandable if it prevented one from quitting their "rightful" sphere, and for those who stood a high moral ground hornung introduced the misgivings of bunny (his sidekick and former fag at public school) as a balance to raffles' complete lack of ethics.
as members of the unmonied upper class, both raffles and bunny are part of Society and are terrified to lose their standing (though not so much so that they quit the gambling and the tailors that have brought them low) in the class system they so adore. but when i shake it out, all i can see is that raffles is a dated sociopath cricket player, who will not quit his sphere despite his inability to afford it and is a relic of the deep divide in classes as much as cricket and the public school system. i was woefully misapprehended regarding the character of raffles -- i expected that this much ballyhooed code was real, that raffles' choices might result from some reflection, be difficult to arrive at, or borne of something i could more easily identify with, instead i found him to be a character completely ingrained in the class system: entitled, selfish, and grasping. i don't say that this makes raffles less of an interesting character but he's no raskolnikov either. i don't feel any sense of conflict or even engagement when he embarks on a plan, or a concern for his well-being because his motivations don't mean a thing to me -- or to him, either, it seems. his friend bunny is the loyal dimwit who assists him in schemes which brings me to what i liked least about the raffles stories: the mode in which the action is delivered.
in the majority of these stories raffles conceives of a plan of action and does not share its details with bunny. we are then left to hear him relate to bunny the plan after the fact, an issue that bunny himself points out:
"Then you should have let me know when you did decide. You lay your plans, and never say a word, and expect me to tumble to them by light of nature. How was I to know you had anything on?"
i really didn't like this device at all and the revelation of the plan was never so exciting or elaborate in the recitation that i gave up my resentment. i found the structure of the stories boring -- a lot of exposition, and when they are actually engaged in action it's often of a boring sort: for example, in one tale, bunny is awakened to sounds of a struggle and tasked with holding a suspect while the scotland yard detective who has nabbed the competitor thief goes after the others. bunny stands there holding the suspect. there's a lot of talk. he holds him some more. hooey! hold me back from this gripping story!
i can say i found his prose very clean, and the dialogue charming -- just overused in exposition. i was going to give the book only two stars but seeing as it gave me lots to think about in terms of what not to do with structure and characterization, and really is the precursor to so many other gentleman thieves that i am in debt to hornung for his contribution to the archetype, and so the collection gets three stars on those merits though i don't know how long that shall stick.
N.B. before anybody takes my analysis of raffles and his lack of morals as evidence that i just don't like books with amoral characters, i'll say when reading this i thought of how much more i loved bertie woosters attempts at stealing a cow creamer, o. henry's pastiche of shamrock jolnes, not to mention his tales of burglars and thieves, and how engaged i was in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer despite the repugnance of the main character.
bonus review material for the literary detectives out there: the george orwell essay that is quoted liberally whenever raffles is discussed is actually a comparative book review he wrote in 1944. it is available online here: http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/chas... i myself appreciated the opportunity to read orwell's commentary on raffles in context -- most of the time only a line or two is referenced, and usually makes it seem like orwell thought hornung a genius. on my own reading, i see that orwell did find interest in raffles relationship to english society especially in his relationship to cricket, and that he liked the book more than the one he was comparing it to. it seems to me that he thought the book good for its small lights, and was not quite as overpowered by it as critical essays and reviews who cite him would have one believe. :)
i'm sort of sad i can't give this a more enthusiastic yes. matheson has given me a lot over the years. his touch is all over film and television: he p...morei'm sort of sad i can't give this a more enthusiastic yes. matheson has given me a lot over the years. his touch is all over film and television: he penned screenplays for the roger corman-poe cycle i loved so well growing up. he also famously wrote a significant portion of the classic twilight zone episodes and some of the most memorable: nightmare at twenty thousand feet, the doll, the invaders, and little girl lost among them. for that alone, i might have loved him. but then of course there is I Am Legend, justly regarded as a classic vampire novel, and then the remarkably disturbing The Incredible Shrinking Man, which bears but passing resemblance to the films that have shared and changed its name. those were fantastic novels that really made emotional impressions on me. and he also wrote the teleplays that brought my favourite newspaperman, carl kolchak to life.
so, you know, i want to love everything the guy ever did.
but i can't say that's true. in fact, if i look at his bibliography it seems to me that i'm not really a fan of his later work. he published hell house in 1971, and i thought it was good but lacked the tension and impact of his earlier stories and novels. and journal of the gun years is a much later work -- twenty years later. i guess i should give thanks it's not Hunted Past Reason.
all that to say there is still some substantial charm here. i like tales of the west, and he's adept at character. there are a bunch of wild escapades, and those are hard to resist. but the structure is clunky as all get out, and i was really surprised at some of the choices he made -- at times it strikes me more as a creative exercise, a working out of a character that will be the backbone of a substantial novel that it really isn't.
i always wonder how much of the output that beloved writers publish in their later years is new work, and how much is stuff that they put away for a rainy day because it wasn't quite right, and then forgetting there were problems they just submit it to their agents for publication when they start to run out of money. matheson also wrote constantly and steadily, repurposing as he went through tv and film and magazines and novels. it would have been a remarkable feat if all of it was as good as the shrinking man.(less)
a very clever book from a really sharp writer that i realized too late was a satire. i would have thought that names would have been enough for me and...morea very clever book from a really sharp writer that i realized too late was a satire. i would have thought that names would have been enough for me and he does pursue some really interesting lines of thought but when all is said and done i would wish for more meat and less cucumber sandwich.
** disclaimer: this book was originally published in 1978. we have different terms and interpretations for mental illness now than we did then. i remi...more** disclaimer: this book was originally published in 1978. we have different terms and interpretations for mental illness now than we did then. i reminded myself of that when i read this book and i'd advise anybody who might read it to remind themselves of same and that it is a work of speculative fiction.
when alistair crompton was just a kid, he did some pretty horrifying things. when his parents finally undertook to get him treatment, they were told that he had "viral schizophrenia" and it had been caught too late. the only hope for alistair (so They said) was a procedure where his brain would be analyzed, and his new array of personalities physically split, the wilder ones ousted and thrust into human simulacra while what was perceived as the most stable persona was allowed to remain in his body, still to be called alistair, alone. he was told that future integration with these personalities was possible but highly discouraged and to ensure that he didn't raise his hopes or make an attempt, the other parts of him were sent to distant corners of the galaxy.
despite the disapproval and the distance, one fine day he decides he can't take it anymore, decides to find himself, and bring himself all back together.
here again, robert sheckley woos me with his endless invention and creativity. but this time he marches me down the aisle with a rock-solid anchor of a premise, and that ballast makes the whirling dervish writing here something really significant -- he amuses you, bemuses, and underneath it all reminds you of the loneliness of the human experience, of the self, and the desire for marriage: to be completed, to be more than just that small stolid little self in our heads. the reader might lose sight of this at times, in the bacchanalia and riot of ideas and scenes and smirking innuendo but it is always there, and when i read the final page i thought i saw what he thinks of it all.
i nodded in assent. of course, i thought. that makes sense.
4.78 stars, i think. i'd split the different three ways, but these things have a way of multiplying. (less)
**disclaimer: i got this book through the GoodReads "First Reads" giveaway program. nonetheless, this is my true and honest opinion of the novel!**
cla...more**disclaimer: i got this book through the GoodReads "First Reads" giveaway program. nonetheless, this is my true and honest opinion of the novel!**
clay jannon, the protagonist and narrator of the novel is a bright young art school graduate who takes a job at mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore after losing his job as a web designer, only to stumble upon the mysteries that the narrow building contains within its walls, and within the pages of what he calls "the way-back list". there's no acknowledgement printed in my ARC to my old friends mr. peabody and his boy sherman here, yet i felt them hovering over it in their WABAC machine and the novel really felt at times like it was an extended, more complicated adventure of theirs. clay embarks (pun intended -- sorry, blame mr. peabody) on a quest to understand the secrets of the store, with the help of some very resourceful pals (including a hot nerd chick who works at google, and a roommate who builds models for ILM), and with clay's voice, in this quick and entertaining novel, the author robin sloan cleverly pays tribute to technology, to books, and to knowledge, and most of all, to friendship.
i enjoy books that contain puzzles. i adore intertextuality, and i thrill to find books that have other books within them, and as one might imagine, mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore contains multitudes. some of them you can pick up at your local library-- with pleasure i found hammett name-checked early on. first editions of borges, the king of fictional libraries and imaginary books are boosted; murakami also makes an appearance (and there are apparently more biographies on richard feynman than i was ever aware of), while other books like the codex vitae of aldus manutius exist only in this novel that reminds us that the early printing press had a lot in common with the internet. it also points up that while the technology might be different, the intent, to share knowledge and the human story is in essence the same today as it was when the early publisher fictionalized here as part of the encrypted story in this charming, almost too contemporary novel, first brought key greek works like those of aristophanes and herodotus to be printed on his press in pocket-sized editions for the masses in the fifteenth century.
in the same way a new reader relies on a dictionary to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words, i often referred to the wikipedia and the wider resources of the internet when reading penumbra, as there were many references to people and technologies mentioned with which i was unfamiliar, and wasn't certain were even real. manutius' pivotal friend griffo gerritszoon seems to be based on his real-life employee francesco griffo and it was with great pleasure that i discovered that hadoop and the mechanical turk were real tools of the tech trade. sometimes, i'll admit, i worried that these references were too esoteric - i questioned an allusion to a bloomberg terminal probably supposed to inform the description of another technology (which didn't help me at all because i had no idea what the bloody bloomberg terminal was either), but in general i found that sloan embedded his technical terminology with dexterity, folding it into his narrative with good context and understanding of the general audience that would receive his book. sometimes my suspension of disbelief was hard-pressed by the convenience of the resources at clay's disposal as he unravels the secrets of penumbra's store but ultimately i embraced them, as part of the puzzle that i was unpacking as a reader, a lover of knowledge, and if you will, a literary detective. (less)
this is the second muriel spark book i've read. the first was The Girls of Slender Means and i wasn't sold. i cared so little about any of the brittle...morethis is the second muriel spark book i've read. the first was The Girls of Slender Means and i wasn't sold. i cared so little about any of the brittle bitches she wrote about. i was told by an excellent friend after my initial insouciance that i had chosen the wrong book to start with -- actually what he said was, "Stop asking me for reading suggestions. You'll vaguely recall the author's name and months later pick the wrong book by him/her and then grumble about it. :P" and trusting that it was once again my failing, and not of his wisdom, i thought i'd venture forth and try the most well-known of her novels instead, the one written immediately before the girls of slender means, and see where that got me. and here we are, with a two-star rating, and a book that struck just the same as the first -- except it might have had a bit more wit -- i remember some of sandy's fantasies being wonderfully piquant, and were easily my favourite parts of the novel. i want to be clear that i respect the writing -- in fact, this novel is marvellously constructed in its flashing forward and back through time, always maintaining a taut narrative progression. spark doesn't waste words and she wields them like a rapier. i'm glad i've read her because her aptitude was instructive.
the issue for me seems to be i don't care two jots about anybody muriel spark writes about. the closest i came to being interested was in the friendship between sandy, the nun/narrator of the novel and her friend jenny and then jenny disappears from the action. i am sure people will suggest that it is in the effect of such real characterization that i have founded an antipathy, and that may well be true. but i would argue that except for sandy and miss brodie, and perhaps lloyd, the art instructor who plays such a pivotal role, many of the characters are static stick figures, easily interchangeable -- surely, i thought jenny might well play the same part as rose in this novel? and at this point now, i can barely remember any of the rest of the brodie set, except that they were there to make up the set, one liked this and another liked that, and there was a maligned one who was their scapegoat (a similar pitiable character was also featured in the girls of slender means.) also, i grew tired of reading about sandy's tiny eyes -- must we hammer home ms. brodie's point about her insight? surely her eyes are turned inside out! not much really happens and i don't care enough about the characters to relish the journey. the writing that is this book's might be sharp but her eponymous spark did not turn into the bonfire i had hoped for.
i am trying one last time with spark, because my dear friend initially recommended that i read The Driver's Seat before i went off buying books that weren't his suggestion, and i've been told is quite different (hallelujah) and much more of a mystery, so perhaps more up my alley. so i will be back for one last dance, but not any time yet. this card's currently full. (less)
i can't talk about whistle stop without thanking karen for turning me onto maritta wolff, a writer who really should be more well known. check out kar...morei can't talk about whistle stop without thanking karen for turning me onto maritta wolff, a writer who really should be more well known. check out karen's evangelizing review here. join us, and testify!
here's my hallelujah:
when you read a maritta wolff novel, it feels like she is gently holding your ear against a thin tenement wall of permeable words, pushing you into her world, overhearing her characters, knowing more than what they'd want you to know. she also transmits to you her deep understanding of human character, and ability she has to imbue it in the people she helps you to subsume. the fact that she was 22(!) when she wrote this novel, only makes me beam at the seduction of her prose, and the gravity of her spirit, seemingly wise beyond her years. but there is no other explanation for it.
she conjures with clarity the veech family in all its boisterous devotion, devotion that pushes beyond comfort to disturbingly intimate. i've come to think of them as lolita family robinson although it's imprecise: the little girl in the book is certainly no nymphet, the creepiness of her character and the mysteries around her parentage, and the parentage of those around her spin, the keys that i aim to keep spoiler-free, in this review. i feel pretty sure that what i think is true, is true and if so, yeesh. (non sequitur: and what about the boarder?!? i didn't know what to think!) so there's for why the book reminds me lolita. as for the family robinson: the veeches struggling through life in socioeconomic wreck but with that loving family spirit i connect with the film i saw on wide world of disney. the family really love each other, and they're messed up, sure. but they've been through a lot, and sometimes it's hard to keep still when you can't settle down.
maritta wolff writes with a vivid stroke. i want to read more. i notice little obsessions: trains figure almost as dei ex machina in her books, ready to pitch in to further along her story. did she always do that? i guess i'll see. :) (less)
i don't know if it's because this is the third jonathan carroll book i've read, or if i'm getting progressively crazier, but the ending of this one ma...morei don't know if it's because this is the third jonathan carroll book i've read, or if i'm getting progressively crazier, but the ending of this one made sense to me. :)
it could also be that sleeping in flame is a little more straightforward than the other two i've read. there are curve balls still, non-sequiturs yes, but all-in-all i feel like he's much more focussed on love, as a prism, with facets of it everywhere. there is a primary improbable love story (carroll's protagonists are frequent fall-in-lovers) but there are also many other hearts to fill and break. there are letters of lust, and loss, and bereavement, old-fashioned romances, coquettish misrepresentations, and a grand unrequited love that is punishing to all involved. but there are also jealousies of other kinds, sacrifices, and near-misses, ones who got away, and ones who desperately try to get away. venasque says we are connected through time, returning to each other's lives, that we should be trying to understand ourselves, and each other, to learn how to live; once again he beguiles me, and makes me wish we had more time together, that he'd appear at my doorstep, and guide me to a better understanding of myself. as it stands, i put my balled fist on my chin, and nothing happens.
the book is charming in both senses of the word: this comes down to carroll's endlessly appealing voice, and the metaphysical-magical trappings of his alternate universe. added to that, is the fairy tale spin, a gilded anchor for all the thematic exploration in this beautiful book.
before i talk about any individual stories, i have to say this anthology suffers under the same terrible naming convention that many of the hitchcock...morebefore i talk about any individual stories, i have to say this anthology suffers under the same terrible naming convention that many of the hitchcock anthologies i have do: the title is just stupid. seven of the twelve stories are about witches (though i guess you could argue some background characters were probably warlocks in a few, and in one a guy seemed to become a warlock without realizing it and can look forward to a witch harem), three were about werewolves -- sort of, one was about vampires (?!) and then the last story isn't a story at all but rather an excerpt that debunked popular notions about the salem witch trials from charles mackay's 1841 history Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds - The Original Classic Edition. had the stories been better this perhaps wouldn't have riled me up so much but i kept muttering about three Ws my ass, when i was reading this puppy.
classics like "the mark of the beast" by rudyard kipling are always rewarding no matter how many times i've read them, and while young goodman brown by hawthorne might be a little on the nose, it's also a helluva story. of the others unfamiliar to me, i liked "the story of sidi nonman" by anonymous. i'd like to know more about the story itself but there's not much on the interweb. it is much like a tale in the arabian nights, or the decameron, and in tone it also reminded me of the golden ass by apuleius. i had had high hopes for the story by charles g. finney, "the black retriever" and while i liked it more than some of the other stories, the ending was a little flat for me. most of the stories seems trite and predictable to me. it could be that i've just read too much in this vein. perhaps 2.5 stars is generous but it seems too weird to give kipling and hawthorne anything less.(less)
an interesting, and outrageously imaginative book, that i must admit i didn't find funny. i know that i'm supposed to find it funny, and a great many...morean interesting, and outrageously imaginative book, that i must admit i didn't find funny. i know that i'm supposed to find it funny, and a great many other people will no doubt double over with laughter, but i just don't laugh at this kind of book. as others have noted, it is in the same vein hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, and sort of reminded me of the one terry pratchett book i read. if you are mad for these authors, mindswap would more than suit your tastes, and should definitely be sought out. (less)
sterling hayden, the man who wrote this book, was a man of many stripes. a quick read of his wikipedia page informs us that he stood 6 feet 5 inches t...moresterling hayden, the man who wrote this book, was a man of many stripes. a quick read of his wikipedia page informs us that he stood 6 feet 5 inches tall, and that among his many pursuits he was a film actor in such films as, "The Asphalt Jungle", "Johnny Guitar" and Robert Altman's version of "The Long Goodbye" co-starring opposite elliot gould-- and then a soldier and spy in WWII and foremost, a "sailor man", the calling he felt most strongly. he wrote an autobiography entitled Wanderer which i am more eager to read after reading this novel that so obviously followed hemingway's write-what-you-know dictum. three different characters in this novel are 6'5" bear-like men, as hayden was, who loved the sea. what makes the novel great is verite behind it -- the person who told this story clearly lived in the world he attempted to fictionalize.
the novel is sometimes charmingly, sometimes horrifying rambling. the first 150 pages are spent introducing characters, some of which never really impact the rest of the novel: the repressed clerk lemuel sponagle (also referenced as lem q. sponagle) who has his big moment in trying to focus on the ships instead of the hot bear-like man meat that is hayden avatar number one, captain irons saul pendleton (variously described and aged as the book wears on -- though the action of the novel takes place over a year) and al kautsky, the guy who lived underground with a mule only to escape that life to take refuge inside the statue of liberty is listed as one of the men shanghaied onto the neptune's car but he never figures in any subsequent action. i felt sure that these were characters that hayden had met at some point or another and could not resist cramming into his book. i weighed the idea that this already 700-page brick was still longer when submitted for publication and an editorial hand might have reduced the novel so that characters like this -- forgive me -- felt at sea, but the novel is still so uneven that i am inclined to believe it was never seen by an editorial eye. it is all over the place, telling a myriad of stories, among them a murder aboard ship, a nymphomaniac searching for something to do off shore, a bunch of rich people going on a scientific exploration, maritime labour unions and movements, accidents, and mutiny. for the most part these strands are not resolved to any great satisfaction at the end of the voyage though of course landfall makes a natural end.
i laughed a lot when reading this book. the comic book hero meets charles dickens naming convention was hilarious: banning butler blanchard, simon basil harwar, carl carmack of the carnarsee carmacks, and montague reid cutting to list a few. there were also some very off-colour descriptions i enjoyed very much. when it tried to be serious the intentions were good, and some passages were lovely. i'd recommend it for fans of sterling hayden, for people who like a sometimes scurrilous, sometimes shocking, always sprawling novel as expansive as the seas that the author loved so well.
oh heavens. i dislike admitting that am not 100% cynical about things, that life will all its ignominy and disappointments, vacillations and cupidity...moreoh heavens. i dislike admitting that am not 100% cynical about things, that life will all its ignominy and disappointments, vacillations and cupidity has not yet extinguished my ability to dream of freedom and unfettered joy, that there might still be a heart under all this bravado... but there it is, that little squeak that i cannot suppress. oh, captain blood! how you have undone me!
captain peter blood is a little wild. he loves the poetry of horace. he's sharp-witted, and impudent; a cunning strategist. he cuts a fine figure in black clothes and flashing eyes. he has the misfortune to lose his liberty for doing the right thing, and his heart to the niece of the reprehensible man ostensibly made his owner, a woman never wooed because she was too companionable and frank with men. he stands by his word and turns himself inside out to protect the men who serve under him and the woman he loves. to satisfy his unattainable lady's ideas of honour, he tries to give up the pirate life that was the only option left him, only to find that men pursuing outwardly honourable professions are in fact privateers in sheep's clothing. he is surrounded by hot-heads, morons, and avaricious s.o.b.s who somehow have the world in the palms of their hands and try as he might, he sees no way to escape his sorry fate. he decides to give up and get really stinking drunk. but then it all changes on a dime, as fate is wont to do, and he gets a chance to turn it all around (view spoiler)[ and he gets his happy ending, and for a moment i forget all the heartbreak and pain and loneliness because my heart is so full for him (hide spoiler)]. and so i squeak.
and should you fear that i have become an utterly romantic fool, i proffer this, in quick strokes: this novel is a boisterous tale set in the 17th century concerned with pirates and adventures on the high seas. the book breaks down into three parts -- the creating of a pirate, his success, and then his end. it's dated and contains some vile racial descriptions i could have done without (not from captain blood, thank heavens!) but the book generally reflects the attitude of the time, and while there is prejudice and nationalism rampant on the spanish main, the book doesn't dwell on it, and it is easy enough to acknowledge, disparage, and move on from this into the spirit of the book, and the heart of its protagonist, whose charms it's clear that i for one, could not resist. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
i am in love with the story, "a visit". extended passage transcribed below, in spoiler tags -- i'm not ruining the story he...morereview to come but for now:
i am in love with the story, "a visit". extended passage transcribed below, in spoiler tags -- i'm not ruining the story here, but by sharing the passage i give away what the story is about.
(view spoiler)[His little mocking rebuke irritated me, and I recalled how he had always irritated me, and made me retreat more deeply into myself, because of some little reproach, some little ironic look, and it seemed strange to me that someone who irritated me and made me retreat into myself was also someone who released me into a freer version of myself, a version superior to the constricted one that had always felt like my own hand on my throat. But who was Albert, after all, that he should have the power to release me or constrict me-- this man I no longer knew, with this run-down house and his ludicrous frog-wife. There I ate for a while in sudden silence, looking only at my food, and when I glanced up I saw him looking at me kindly, almost affectionately. "It's all right," he said quietly, as if he understood, as if he knew how difficult it was for me this journey, this wife, this life. And I was grateful, as I had always been, for we had been close, he and I, back then. After lunch he insisted on showing me his land-- his domain, as he called it. I had hoped that Alice might stay behind, so that I could speak with him alone, but it was clear that he wanted her to come with us. So as we made our way out the back door and into his domain she followed along, taking hops about two strides in length, always a little behind us or a little before. At the back of the house a patch of overgrown lawn lead to a vegetable garden on both sides of a grassy path. There were vines of green peas and string beans climbing tall sticks, clusters of green peppers, rows of carrots and radishes identified by seed packets on short sticks, fat heads of lettuce and flashes of yellow squash-- a rich and well-tended oasis, as if the living centre of the house were here, on the outside, hidden in the back. At the end of the garden grew a scattering of fruit trees , pear and cherry and plum. An old wire fence with a broken wooden gate separated the garden from the land beyond. We walked along a vague footpath through fields of high grass, passed into thickets of oak and maple, crossed a stream. Alice kept up the pace. Alice in sunlight, Alice in the open air, no longer a grotesque pet, a monstrous mistake of Nature, a nightmare frog and freakish wife, but rather a companion of sorts, staying alongside us, resting when we rested--Albert's pal. And yet it was more than that. For when she emerged from the high grass or treeshade into full sunlight, I saw or sensed for a moment, with a kind of inner start, Alice as she was, Alice in the sheer brightness and fullness of her being, as if the dark malachite sheen of her skin, the pale shimmer of her throat, the moist warmth of her eyes, were as natural and mysterious as the flight of a bird. Then I would tumble back into myself and realize I was walking with my old friend beside a monstrous lumbering frog who had somehow become his wife, and howl of inward laughter and rage would erupt in me, calmed almost at once by the rolling meadows, the shady thickets, the black crow rising from a tree with slowly lifted and lowered wings, rising higher and higher into the pale blue sky touched here and there with delicate fernlike clouds. The pond appeared suddenly, on the far side of a low rise. Reeds and cattails grew in thick clusters at the marshy edge. We sat down on flat-topped boulders and looked out at the green-brown water, where a few brown ducks floated, out pst fields to a line of low hills. There was a desolate beauty about the place, as if we had come to the edge of the world. "It was over there I first saw her," Albert said, pointing to a cluster of reeds. Alice sat off to one side, low to the ground, in a clump of grass at the water's edge. She was still as a rock, except for her sides moving in and out as she breathed. I imagined her growing in the depths of the pond, under a mantle of lilypads and mottled scum, down below the rays of green sunlight, far down, at the silent bottom of the world. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
i'd say this is a 3.5. i liked the idea of calling a funeral home a "fun home" a whole lot. this is a memoir in comic book form, alison bechdel tellin...morei'd say this is a 3.5. i liked the idea of calling a funeral home a "fun home" a whole lot. this is a memoir in comic book form, alison bechdel telling her own story in parallel with her father's and how she moved on after he died. i should say this is a family book, and so not normally the kind of book i read, but i got it at a dork book exchange a couple of years ago, and i needed something with art in it, so i picked this up, and here we are. bechdel's art presented in minimal black and white, with bluish-grey wash, and is well-suited to the story she tells.
i wasn't tremendously thrilled by the cycling back style of the narrative -- i felt she'd get to a place of revelation and that would end the chapter, and then i'd have to take two great big steps back before she was ready to get to the next truth which was sort of small. i kept reminding myself that this is a memoir, that she is probably telling it like this because this is all there is, the small mundane moments between short and stilted revelations, but i still found it a little frustrating.
i guess that's why i read so much fiction, because i want more than the mundane. i want glamour and unknown twists, and heretofore unknowns. i want a lot of the moments that here, are only scattered softly through the pages that relate the story of a man who loved decorating his home, who was closeted, but at least had the opportunity to see his daughter embrace the lifestyle she wanted in a place far away from the fun home. (less)
i checked book reviews, and one reviewer i respect suggested ford showed his hand in this collection as a candidate for american borges, and that settled things.
the first story, "creation" did not disappoint: funny and poignant, and strange, about a boy on a sudden deciding to put what he learns in catechism into practical application. there is much more to it, though, about the boy, and his father, and growing up, and life. it's a wonderfully wrought ten pages, like a ray bradbury story with its sense of nostalgia, and innocence, underscored with a deep fear and foreboding.
the next story, "out of the canyon" i liked well enough, with its curse and its books, but the resolution left me wanting, and i began to feel uneasy. still it began to show me where the borges comparison might be mad, along with another story i really liked, the last, entitled "bright morning" the tale of a search for a certain purple edition of a collection of short stories by kafka, with one selection previously unknown to its reader, the story within the story bright morning, that continues to haunt him when he no longer has access to the book, and begins to doubt ever existed.
by the time i reached the titular story, "the fantasy writer's assistant" i began to realize this wasn't going to be one of my favourite books. the story reminded me of a mini Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and i knew this was the kind of story and its parody was the kind of funny i always shrug over, and once again, i didn't really care for the ending.
i was scared by "the delicate" and horrified by "the far oasis". "the woman who counts her breath" and the "honeyed knot" seemed more like character sketches fully realized stories, and i began to confuse them in my mind very quickly, and i found "floating in lindrethool" to be a bit of a dud, i'm afraid.
but then there was "exo-skeleton town", a really fine piece, more in the traditional science fiction vein than some of the others, telling of a future where old hollywood movies and their stars become the currency of new perversions in a galactic economy where humans are ruled by their taste for alien bug excrement. i could wish for a dozen more like this.
ford provides background notes for each story in the collection. while they are interesting, and no doubt useful to an aspiring writer, i question their value to the reader. i found with a few of the stories inspired by real-life experiences that knowing where the idea came from didn't force me to resolve my feelings/concerns because i already had answers, if that makes any sense. in another story i found really hard to follow, "pansolapia" ford acknowledged in the associated note that it was confusing to readers which made me feel he doesn't expect me to get it, so i shouldn't bother trying again.
and so, three stars for the stories i really liked in this collection because when they worked for me, they really sang. so i am still interested in reading more ford though i'm debating whether i should try another short story collection or a novel next...(less)
i was going to give this book a three because it's written very well, but i just couldn't bring myself to do it. the thing of it is, is that i really...morei was going to give this book a three because it's written very well, but i just couldn't bring myself to do it. the thing of it is, is that i really found it hard to bear. i normally like visceral storytelling, and certainly i get some very clear descriptions of the insides of buffalo, but i don't feel anything for these characters who go to hunt them. i can't even remember the kid's name, and his yearnings seemed empty even when i knew i was supposed to find something stirring in his gropings toward the west. i do remember vividly what he smelled like. but somehow that's just not enough. other people like this book much much more than i did and i understand why. yet what sticks out for me is the stuff that made me squeamish, and that's not what i was looking for here. :)(less)