Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mira Corpora-Jeff Jackson

Mira Corpora-Jeff Jackson
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 182
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013
novel
An unusual take on the coming-of-age novel featuring feral children and an underground music scene.
Let me start by just noting that I had no real idea what I was reading sometimes. How did I get here? I asked myself. I was reminded at times of my reaction the first time I watched Jarman's Jubilee-there's the same scorched earth at the point of earthquake policy between the two. It's difficult to get a good grasp on what is going on because everything is changing so quickly and no one has all the information or facts anyway. A very riotous bildungstrom bound up in the chaos of its punkrock sensibility. It's quite brilliant really-one of the most interesting novels I've read in awhile-a visceral attempt to capture the dark and dirty business of understanding what cannot be understood (why am /I/ here?) and Jackson's prose propels you through the strange surreal scenes into the final scenes. I don't know, I saw much of my own teenage years and those of my peers in here and it evoked all those memories of all the dark basement shows I've ever been to so I guess it spoke to me in ways I didn't particularly want to revisit?

It's a hard read to recommend! But I do anyway?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Suffer the Children-Craig DiLouie

Suffer the Children-Craig DiLouie
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 352
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A sudden disease (Herod's Syndrome) strikes down all the children. When they return to life, they demand blood.
I'm not the sort who is all idealistic about children and I've been known to regard them with difficult-to-disguise mild horror so I guess if I said how horrifying the children in this novel are, you'd not really be able to conceive of how utterly creepy DiLouie makes them. But that's the main image I retain of the novel. DiLouie's prose conveying the switch between the child a parent recognizes and the monsters demanding blood. This horror story begins early-the victims you feel most keenly for are what changes as the novel progresses. There's never any sense that it will get better (after all, the children died first) and so you know that this novel will not have a happy ending but you can't stop reading through all the attempts to understand and deal with this catastrophe unfold. That is, if you make it past the character introductions. Multiple points of view to really drive home what is to be lost makes for a slow start in a world that is our own (thus the world-building could have been shorter) but DiLouie handles the switches of points of view well without relying on events to remind you of the perspective (i.e. the prose and events work together to tell you whose point of view you're experiencing).

This is true apocalyptic. There is no ability to plan for it and there is no escaping it (those fantasies argued over after horror movies-"those characters were idiots, we'd survive by....") and represents a unique premise on both the global and personal level. I just didn't expect that ending to hit me so hard! Especially when I spent much of the first part of the book either a bit bored (slow pacing) or scoffing at the implausibility ("yeah, because a parasite would work that fast" goes my disbelief/sarcastic voices)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Station Eleven-Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven-Emily St. John Mandel
the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 333
gender: F
nationality: Canada
year: 2014
novel
So an airborne disease has hit the world and a group of travelers become stranded at an airport in Canada. The world comes to an end but they are still alive, making a new world order for themselves without forgetting the old.

Most apocalyptic fiction has a massive, usually explosive or excessively communicated, event that triggers the apocalypse. Mandel avoids this for a much more realistic (at least for this regular transatlantic traveler) apocalypse. There's no gore, no high paced, but instead the apocalypse is rendered slowly and through the interactions of what are actually strangers who, by chance, get thrown together in a situation where it's safer to stay put...at an airport. There's some wry humor poked at travel which I particularly enjoyed, having spent endless hours in airports. Then the novel gets really beautiful, demonstrating that the world is small no matter what happens and so everything and everyone is connected. As the novel progresses, the apocalypse becomes myth, our world survives in dribs and drabs of misinformation and distant memory. My side arrow comes from a bit of a twee quality that creeps in sometimes-perhaps it was the flashbacks to our world which were somewhat unnecessary or perhaps Mandel sometimes verged upon the over-melancholic. This is off-set by the way Mandel has the plane that landed and kept quarantine haunt my mind. 
Ignore the instinctual resistance to the hype machine and read it anyway because this is a lovely book.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Butcher-Jennifer Hillier

Butcher-Jennifer Hillier
the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 352
gender: F
nationality: Canada
year: 2014
novel
Thirty years after his triumphal capture of a serial killer, Edward Shank, turns his house over to his grandson. However, his son finds a crate with some unexpected contents. His girlfriend meanwhile is writing about serial killers.

This was certainly entertaining. Hillier handles the suspense well-she builds up and then releases the tensions elegantly. Except, to me, she do so too quickly. You learn several crucial things early. Like in the first three chapters and so the book is more about when/how the characters will confront each other about what they learned. I don't know, while I enjoyed the story itself and worried about some of the characters, it was all a little... You know like when you were in high school and you chose the book to write an essay about so you liked it but upon the close reading and your teacher's insistence on "teasing out all the symbolism" you start to be more ambivalent about the whole thing even as you are full of enough information to write an A+ paper. Yeah, that's a bit how I ended this reading experience. I knew my "topic sentence" too early and then had to slog through a lot of information to make sure it was supported.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

White Tiger on Snow Mountain-David Gordon

White Tiger on Snow Mountain-David Gordon
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 304
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
short stories
How do you do a synopsis of a short story collection?
Gordon's stories are primarily a mix of awkward, wit, and cleverness. Also, lots of eroticism so if you're the sort who blushes...probably best not to read them in public. There's something for all sorts of readers in here to be honest-the hyperrealists, the drug-addled, the fantasists, romantics...etc. Most of the narrators seem to have a bit of Gordon in them, different aspects of writers; and writers probably would appreciate most the hard truths mixed in with the wit and irony. Really, throughout the stories-the good and the average-it's Gordon's humor that charms the reader throughout.

I've put his novels on my TBR list based on the strength of his short stories...which is quite a compliment from me. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Only in Spain-Nellie Bennett

Only in Spain-Nellie Bennett
the facts
satisfaction: side/down
pages: 293
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2014
non fiction. Memoir.
Nellie escapes her superficial shopgirl life in Australia for a life dancing flamenco in Spain.
Maybe it's because I am Spanish and danced flamenco for most of my life but. but.

In the end, I could not stand this memoir. Maybe I just found it naive. There are so many stereotypes and archetypes in here that I found myself wondering when Bennett was going to leave her own head. Ok, so the flamenco teacher in Sevilla is dark eyed and kisses her. The 'gypsys' in Madrid are dangerous but alluring (please see the entire canon of English folk songs about this very topic). The Latin American housemates are always having fun. No, no, no I shall not go on (I could). There is so much on the struggles of Bennett's life (and I can empathize, teaching English to survive is...no, it's never fun) but she also is on a quest for what she thinks flamenco and flamenco dancing should be. I'm more astounded that she found that idea in person but then, she probably interpreted much of the events according to this vision, this narrative she constructed about what the flamenco life is. And this, I think, is what I cannot forgive her. This is not a personal attack, I doubt that in real life this was what she and her life was like but this was clearly a narrative that was constructed out of that reality. A narrative that conforms to all the stereotypes and archetypes that foreigners ascribe to flamenco. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Warden-Anthony Trollope

The Warden-Anthony Trollope
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 336
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 1855
novel
A novel of manners in which a warden gets pushed from his post by slanderous anti-clerical actions and no one ends up all that happy.
This was definitely a I'm-too-stubborn-to-stop-reading novel. Trollope is a classic author, amongst the favorites of many of my favorite British writers but good lord, why on earth was I reading this? I despise novels of manners and I am not a fan of clerical intrigues. My favorite stories involving priests are usually supernatural (exorcism? darker un-Rome-approved orders? count me in!) or black & white films of priests doubting their faith (Diary of a Country Priest) or going on absurdly long treks (Andrei Rublev).
This is not one of those clerical stories. This is a prim and proper Church of England story with the daughter sacrificing it all for her father. Sigh. Her father meanwhile is suffering pangs because he thought he was a good enough man (non-spoiler alert: he is) and now he simply wishes to give in to save his honor. Oh I'm sorry, his church's honor.
Sigh.
I think I just sighed throughout. It's not that the story was badly managed. I was just so. bored. The prose didn't instill in me any sense of caring about the characters-they were just boring. By the end, it was like I was listening to one of those people who thinks everyone is good at heart, no matter what, which is actually something that irritates me. (caveat: I don't mean to say that everyone is evil at heart-that is just as irritating. I merely hold that everyone holds both tendencies at once and it's usually self-interest that wins.)

I was so happy though that Trollope's style is more for the simplistic side of the period or else I never would have made it even halfway through.