Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

7 02 2009

oscar-waoI just finished  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I have to say I was quite impressed.  The novel is the rambling story of Oscar and the DeLeons, a Dominican family with a rough history.  Originally appearing in pieces in the New Yorker, the story follows not only Oscar, but his mother Beli, his sister Lola, his grandmother La Inca, and his reluctant but best friend Yunior.

The story weaves its way in and out of Patterson, NJ and the DR.  Moving through time to show the parallels between three generations of a family obsessed with the Fuku.  

The narrator is largely Yunior, speaking as though he were Uatu thexmen8a1 Watcher, helpless to prevent the story from unfolding.  He tells much of the story using sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book metaphors comparing Beli (Oscar’s mother) to Unus the Untouchable of X-Men fame.  Using almost the omnipresence of the Watcher, Yunior moves back and forth through time, showing the troubled history of Lola, Beli, Beli’s father & La Inca, and Oscar.  Each story reveals more and more that hint at the fate of Oscar’s story.  

In the end, Yunior is much like Nick from The Great Gatsby, a part of the story and struggling against larger forces.  His life never quite turns out the way he hopes and he’s unable to stop the hand of fate and movement of the Fuku through the family.  

I can totally see why this book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and think that so far it’s the best book I’ve read in 2009.  While it’s still early in the year, it’s going to set a high standard for the other books I read this year. 

Shannon also read this book and reviewed it here.

Up next for me, Steward O’Nan’s A Prayer for the Dying.

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Review: Indignation by Philip Roth

26 11 2008

indignationI’ll be the first to admit that I’ve started reading Philip Roth late in his career.  Despite his having written 29 books, I’ve been through a grand total of three with the third being Indignation

I’ve found lately that I’m enjoying fewer and fewer novels.  I’m having to hunt more for books that I find compelling and challenging and gripping enough for me to tear through them.  All too often I find myself slowly wading through novels lately and being happy to have finished them.  It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just uninspiring. Shannon (my wife) and I have such different reading styles and preferences that, despite her voracious appetite for books it’s rare that we can recommend and/or discuss books together.

Since I’ve discovered Roth, I’ve tried to ensure that his books enter my rotation so I bought a copy of Indigation the last time I was at the bookstore.  I was very impressed with this bookand really enjoyed it.  I tore through it at a pace that I rarely read at any more.

It’s a story of fear and breaking away.  Marcus finds that when he enters college his father’s fear for his well being is so irrational and so disruptive that he must leave New Jersey and go to rural Ohio.  With the Korean War hanging over his head, Marcus struggles with roommates, falls in love, struggles with authority figures and makes choices that ultimately guide him along his path in life.  

I don’t want to give anything away but this book and Roth’s writing were powerful.  The thing that amazes me about Roth is that his writing is so straightforward, so simple, yet so eloquent and powerful at the same time.  He seems to so easily generate fear, dispair, love, desire, power through his writing. He’s one of the few authors I’ve found lately that makes me feel deeply and strongly while reading.

Indigation is definitely worth reading.  It’s by no means a happy story, but it’s a great, thought provoking book.





Review: Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

19 11 2008

snuffI’ve long been a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and his books. He’s written a few of my favorites, including Choke, Lullaby, and Fugitives and Monsters (though I love the entire series of those travel books).  I’ve found his work to be engaging and fresh.  It always comes from a different place and challenges me as a reader.  His latest book Snuff, however falls short.

Snuff focuses on five key figures at a gangbang shoot for a porno:  three of the participants, the talent wrangler, and the star going for the world record.  We get the perspectives of the participants and the wrangler, alluding to the star.  Throughout the book we learn that she mothered a porn-baby and later learn that one of the participants waiting to go on-stage may be that child.  

My problem with the book is not the subject matter, but that the plot of the book isn’t enough to keep it going for nearly 200 pages.  While the book is full of disturbing/odd/interesting trivia (that may or may not be true), that seems to be the main device (and nothing new for the author).  The coy and clever porn movie titles are wildly interesting, but in the end the plot and characters just don’t seem to hold up.  

The twist in this book (don’t worry no spoilers ahead), isn’t overly surprising and I guessed it about half way through.  Additionally, there isn’t enough tension between, or substance within the characters to make me care about any of them.  In the end, I’m left with a very vivid book that doesn’t really go anywhere.  Snuff leaves you with a sticky feeling, like you just spent a few hours of your life eating off the craft services table in a basement with a bunch of sweaty, doughy men waiting for sloppy seconds.  

Overall I wonder if he’s getting the same love and attention from his editors and publisher as he used to.  I haven’t yet read Rant, but based on Snuff and Haunted it seems like he’s being pushed to just release a book a year. It’s interesting that Snuff came out in May of 2008 and his next book PYGMY comes out in May of 2009. However, to be fair, the description of PYGMY sounds interesting and like he’s decided to move in a new direction as a writer.

Recommendation: Skip Snuff and try Invisible Monsters or Survivor.





Beanball by Ron Carlson

12 10 2008

Last night I read Beanball by Ron Carlson. It was issue number 99/100 of One Story Magazine. The story struck me in several ways. It was beautifully written and full of characters with remorse about their pasts and guarded hope for the future. It was about the eternal hope that goes along with baseball. It was also about human greed.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt the story was going along fine until it got about 75% through. It seemed that the plot took a fantastical direction that wasn’t needed. A simple, straight forward ending would have been stronger, truer to the characters and world created in this story. I seem to remember from workshops in college that being simple and straight forward is the way to go. I just felt this story fell flat in it’s complicated and crisscrossing plot. In the end it was all to neat and tidy.





Long Time No Blog

21 09 2008

So it only seems like 100 years since I’ve posted a roundup here.  Work, baby, life are all enough to distract me greatly.  Where to begin this week:

Let’s start in literature & books

In comics, we continue to have Secret Invasion…
Off to the rest…
Ok, I’ll try to do better about posting.  Wish me luck…




Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe

18 09 2008

So I read an interesting story today, Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe.  It’s a story about family and an event that changes their lives.  While it was very well written and it started with some promise, the story ultimately fell apart for me.  I’m not sure why this mother and son are acting the way they do by the end of the story.  I don’t understand their lives’ journeys and how they end up where they did.  

It’s worth a read and I’d appreciate any other thoughts on it.  The story has stayed with me, but I’m not 100% sure why.





Two Brilliant Stories

20 08 2008

I’ve read two fantastically brilliant short stories recently and wanted to share them with the world.  They are, however, about as different from each other as two stories could possibly be.  The first one is titled English Cousin and is by Patrick Sommerville.  The story focuses on a teenage boy who has his English cousin thrust upon him.  The uneasy relationship between the two and the main character’s inability to get out of his rut drive this story along.  It was as if the entire world ignored what he had to say every second of everyday – and he decides to take it out on his somewhat smarmy cousin.

It’s part of his debut collection of stories Trouble. So far the entire collection has been great. It’s funny and quirky, but the collection uncovers some real truths about the human condition and how ridiculous we are as animals. How our worries and insecurities make us crazy like a dog that won’t stop scratching itself.

The other story, I found in the May 5th New Yorker.  It’s by Annie Proulx and titled Them Old Cowboy Songs. Surprisingly it has not been released online. This means you’ll have to read the May 5th issue OR other people’s thoughts on the story. The other choice is to wait for her new collection to come out in September. This story was powerful and again showed how our choices and weird decisions can leave a permanent mark on our lives.

It involves a young couple who buy some land in Wyoming in the 1800s and the struggles they’ve escaped and still face in trying to scratch out a living and a family.

Both of these stories come at the human condition from different perspectives but still manage to point out the absurdity of everyday life.