Jun 27, 2016

Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Judd Trichter

My biggest complaint about this book is the copy editing. Misspelled words, incorrect words used, sentences that don't quite make sense - was this book copy edited at all? Surprising for St. Martin's Press, usually a solid, reputable publisher.

That being said, the book is good, an interesting, unique idea performed, for the most part, well for a first novel. Eliot is in love with Iris. Eliot is a heartbeat, a human being with a belly button and a pulse. Iris is an android, with an outlet for a navel and a red fleck in her eye, a flaw from the factory production line that she has embraced and replicates in all her artwork. Their love is forbidden, with radicals on both sides of the fight taking lives brutally. Then Iris disappears, and Eliot must work alone to find her scattered parts since no one cares about a single missing android. Things get a bit ridiculous at times, very action movie-like, and it's fairly predictable, but I like the ingenuity of the concept. I hope Trichter continues working on his writing, and look forward to watching the ass kicking movie this particular book will inevitably turn into.

Jun 22, 2016

At Night We Walk in Circles, by Daniel Alarcon

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and though interesting in format, I don't have much else to say about it. "At Night We Walk in Circles" is about a young man, Nelson, and the journey he takes with a legendary guerilla theater group through their much-changed South American country. We soon realize that this novel is a transcript of sorts, that our narrator is another young man who is interviewing anyone he can find that is at all connected to Nelson to get at Nelson's story. The writing is very good, with a tinge of South American insouciance. I liked the conceit, where the novel reads in a traditional narrative but with dashes of the interviews peppered liberally throughout. It's a commentary on acting and actors, among many other subjects, and how one can be subsumed by a character so completely as to lose oneself. This would make an excellent book club read, as there's little to offend anyone's sensibilities but many aspects that would provide rich discussion topics. Plus I just love the title!

Jun 6, 2016

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett

After that last essay compilation, I needed something mellow to kick start my brain. Cue the ever-wonderful Terry Pratchett! Maurice is a very special cat: he can talk, and so can the Clan of rats he's convinced to work with him to bilk unsuspecting towns out of their gold. Oh, plus there's the stupid-looking kid who can play a mean pipe. You see where this is going? Add in a precocious girl with a head full of stories, some rat catchers with malicious intent, and some seriously philosophical musings by rodents, and you get a pretty damn enjoyable romp through fairyland. Always a pleasure, Sir Terry, always a pleasure.

Jun 5, 2016

The World Is On Fire, by Joni Tevis

The subtitle for this collection of essays is "Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse," which doesn't make much sense before you read this book, but certainly does after. Tevis starts with a meditation on the Winchester Mystery House, a well-known attraction in Northern California, contrasting the Winchester's "crazy," paranoid builder's public image with the very human grief that drove her to build it. We witness the atomic bomb tests of Nevada, advertised as a tourist attraction, while retracing Buddy Holly's last steps before that fateful crash. Tevis's miscarriage then subsequent infertility treatments are partnered with Freddy Mercury writing "Somebody to Love."

There are two kinds of very good writers: the first writes language that flows like crystal water and leaves you breathless; the second writes with intense deliberation and is no less beautiful, but takes work and careful reading. Tevis is the latter, and as unique and emotional as her essays are, they are not easy to read and require a certain state of mind to fully digest. I'm glad I read this book, but I fear few readers have the stamina to stick with this challenging read.

May 19, 2016

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen

Silly subtitle aside, this is a wonderfully original piece of fantasy-like science fiction. One of my favorite experiences in reading is to be dumped unceremoniously into a world that looks very little like our own and then to piece out a comprehensive understanding of that world's society, culture, and history. Schoen does a fantastic job of dropping us into his world and then slowly unraveling bits of it until we become immersed in it ourselves, unaware that something we knew nothing of fifty pages ago now seems familiar. The expressive qualities of elephant ears and trunks become just another descriptor of mood. All the characters are anthropomorphized mammals, and a very select few of these beings are able to ingest a drug that lets them call upon the personalities/souls/ghosts of the dead and converse with them. This is a world of prophecy and telepathy, but also one of science and politics.

My only complaint with the writing is that some plot twists are a mite predictable, and there's a bit too much telling rather than showing. It's very difficult to explain a vast and complicated social system, or history, or religion, and the best writers are able to do so without seeming like they are doing so. Schoen doesn't quite manage this, making some sections a bit on the pedantic side. Otherwise, it's a fantastic story, a fully realized world that is a pleasure to delve into. I look forward to more inventive work by this author.

May 12, 2016

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's writing style is so distinctive, flat of affect yet descriptive in its own way, it's easy to see why his work continues to be read today and why it made such a splash upon its publication. Plus it really, really makes me want to move to France.

Jake is a newspaper writer living in Paris, socializing in a milieu of other English-speaking ex-pats of various kinds. The narrative centers around a small group of his friends: Bill, visiting from out of town; Cohn, hot off the successful publication of his first novel but struggling with the second; Lady Brett Ashley, with whom Jake has a complicated past and is probably still in love; and her bankrupt fiance, Mike. Different combinations of the group make their way to Pamplona for the infamous running of the bulls and the bull-fights, described in lush, explicit detail.

The decadence of ex-pat life, even a bankrupt one, cannot help but be alluring. I wonder if anyone has tallied up how much alcohol the group consumes in the story, as it seems each meal is accompanied by multiple bottles of something or other. Cafes, cobbled streets, black jazz bands, fishing in the Pyrenees, and overnight trains, with only the complexities of interpersonal relationships to get in the way. It's a heady life Hemingway describes, and it is quick to catch the American suburban imagination. A classic, indeed.

May 5, 2016

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, by Dave Eggers

I partly don't know what to think of this experimental novel, and partly really enjoyed it. The experimental bit is because it is a novel entirely made of dialogue. There is no description, no narration of any kind. Just two people talking. It sounds rather boring, except when you learn that the two people talking are a kidnapper and the kidnapped. He doesn't want to harm anyone, just wants to talk. He's been writing letters but no one's been answering, and this seemed the only logical way to get his questions heard. I won't say anything more about the story itself since that would ruin it, and I do think this is a book worth picking up. The lack of narration and description allow the reader to build a picture in her own mind of what's happening, and to focus intensely on the emotion and nuance of the dialogue. We have to; there's nothing else to focus on. It's a very quick read (haven't you ever noticed that reading dense, descriptive sections takes much longer than reading the dialogue?) and very hard to put down. And while I don't know that I'd read too many other novels written in a similar fashion, I thoroughly enjoyed this experiment and recommend others try it as well.