Saturday, October 5, 2013

What I've Read Lately

DOUBLE FEATURE by Owen King - I didn't realize when I picked this book out at the library that the author is Stephen King's son. Once discovered, I tried not to let that influence my evaluation.  It turned out to be relatively easy because although the literary gene certainly passed down the family tree, Owen has his own unique voice that stands aparts from his dad's creepy one.  I enjoyed this novel, even if the pile up of coincidences at the end was a bit much. Sam, the hero of Double Feature, is a well developed character who keeps getting in the way of his own happiness. He feels short changed by his parents divorce, a father he both sort of emulates and is unable to connect with, the early death of his mother whose only sin was loving an unworthy man, and the mutilation of his directorial debut. You want Sam to move on, achieve some measure of closure, accept the imperfections of loved ones, make another movie, get the girl. But for much of the story he is determined to stick with the one thing he has mastered above all - the art of brooding. Enough quirkiness and amusement is scattered about the pages to prevent Sam's journey from feeling especially somber. The narrative often feels directionless, which may bother some readers but I don't find to be a negative trait in a book so long as the writing is strong and engaging. When someone is trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with the life they've been given, a certain amount of meandering about is inevitable. I was reminded of the movie Garden State, which is a good thing as I'm quite fond of that movie.  Events of great impact have already taken place, an unknown future of vague promise lies ahead, but the moment at hand seems to mostly be about hanging around and waiting, no longer a child but perhaps not quite an adult, probably stalling. I was also reminded in a more superficial manner of one of my favorite movies, Cinema Paradiso. Like that wonderful film, Double Feature is in large part on ode to the movies. Whether it's an intellectual art house film or a campy cult classic or a Hollywood blockbuster with dazzling special effects, we accept the enjoyment that movies have to give us for a couple hours in dark rooms and then we return to the real world. Loose ends tend to be tied up by the time credits roll. Epiphanies have been reached. We walk away satisfied that events came full circle and we return to our own lives where things don't need to conform to rhyme or reason. They just are. I look forward to Owen King's next book and to seeing what direction his literary career will take. It's off to a fine start.

CANADA by Richard Ford - Richard Ford takes his sweet time building up to the details of events that he reveals at the very beginning of this novel.  The leisurely trips to "the bank robbery" and then a much shorter one to "the murders" are enjoyed because of Ford's masterly, non-pretentious use of language. This book isn't about crime and/or punishment. Despite the title it isn't even about Canada. It's simply a story about making due with what you have, moving on from what takes place, looking back on what once was, ever watchful for what may come to be. Canada is a chronicle of what happens to every single one of us. Life.

FREEMAN by Leonard Pitts, Jr. - A fantastic book. Readers will empathize with the well developed characters. History buffs fascinated by the Civil War time period will be enthralled. Those who take great interest in this nation's troublesome history of race relations will be deeply drawn in, and on numerous occasions will shake their head at the realization that centuries old truths stubbornly remain valid to this day. Those in eternal search for bittersweet love stories should immediately add Freeman to their reading list. The only bone I had to pick with it is that in order for certain events to go the way the author intended them to, there were a couple instances of characters leaving incriminating evidence lying conveniently around, allowing for trails that otherwise would have gone cold to remain hot. I temporarily felt the presence of Leonard Pitts Jr. directing the narrative when this happened. "No way she doesn't toss that newspaper in the fire immediately" I may have said aloud at one point near the end of this riveting story. This is the closest thing I found to a flaw in an otherwise wonderful novel. From its first sentence to the last, it packs a powerful motional punch. Bravo to a job well done.

SNUFF by Chuck Palahniuk - As with another of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, when you're reading a Chuck Palahniuk book you know you're reading something that nobody else could have written. With a book like Snuff, Palahniuk may be the only person who would ever want to write such a thing.  It's not for everybody, that's for sure. The stuff of genius never is.  Pornography itself is more socially acceptable than in depth examination of it from outsider perspective. Palahniuk dives all the way in and the readers emerge from it covered in...insight about the underbelly of commonplace human desires.  What did you think I was going to say?  When all is said and done, Snuff probably won't rank among my most favorite Palahniuk novels. I'm near the beginning of my journey through his catalog. But Snuff is most definitely riveting and, even considering the immense popularity of Fight Club, this may end up being the most memorable of his works.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE by J.K. Rowling - As fascinated as my daughter (who this book was read aloud to) is by all things wizard, Rowling has a tendency to be wordy when incorporating a ton of information along with drama into scenes. These passages turned off my 7-year old. I found them a tad dry myself, but I'm a stubborn reader and refuse to skip over anything. This wasn't the case so much with the first two Harry Potter installments, but the end of #3 dragged somewhat with considerable explaining dialogue. Still, it's one thing for a book to have an excessively wordy ending, by which point you're fully committed to making it to the finish line. It's another thing to start off in such a manner. Glancing at other online reviews it seems my wife, my daughter and I are not the first ones to find the World Cup scene in Goblet of Fire rather tedious. Eventually it picks up steam. Things also start taking a turn for the dark & grown-up in this installment of the series, so it will be the last one I read aloud to my daughter. Perhaps she will return to it on her own some day. As for me, I'll probably just watch the movies to see how it all turns out for Harry and company. The onscreen adaptations do a pretty good job of leaving out Rowling's explanatory rambling and cutting to the chase. I hear she's doing some Hogwarts based screenplay writing now. I suppose she has a pretty good idea by this point of what to include on paper to give readers the richest experience, and what is best left on the editing room floor to keep fidgety viewers on the edge of their seats.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz - A fine follow-up to Oscar Wao. Not nearly as ambitious, which is fine, because that might have meant waiting a decade or so for another book from Diaz. He's much too good a writer to make us wait that long again. This is How You Lose Her (love the title) is basically a series of scenes, collection of short stories on the same theme, rather than a novel. One might say it's Drown II, featuring a character from his Pulitzer Prize winning novel rather than his debut work. If you have the time you may devour this book in a single sitting. His prose goes down easy and resonates long after you've read the last page. No synopsis required because the title tells you all you need to know.

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