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.





MUGATO!!!

23 01 2009

Mugato!!

Just so there is no doubt that I’m still a giant nerd.  My office is slowly turning into that of a five year old’s.





The Oscars

22 01 2009

The Oscar nominees came out today. While for the most part I’m not surprised or upset by the choices, I am horrified that The Dark Knight was snubbed for best picture. When pieces of crap like Titanic and Chicago can win, but The Dark Knight is locked out of contention it makes the Oscars look like the Grammy’s or the Emmy’s.

Essentially I believe the Academy has lost all the credibility it built up with last year’s win for No Country for Old Men.





Movie Review: Juno

21 01 2009

juno-poster2-big1So last night, our TiVo presented us with the darling of the film world, Juno. About half way through this movie, I felt compelled to write something about how it made me feel. Let me start by saying that I don’t get what all the buzz was about. While Juno was technically a well shot movie, the writing was horrific and that just ruined it all.

First, the dialog between the teen characters was the most annoying thing I’d ever heard in my life. First, I don’t believe that teens talk that way today. Secondly, I felt like the movie was trying so hard to be hip and cool that none of the characters had conversations that amounted to anything.

The characters in the movie were horrific. Between the teenagers who seemed incredibly smart and dumb at the same time and the portrayal of Gen-X adults as shallow and borderline pedophilic, I found myself repulsed by nearly all of the paper-thin characters. The only actor who seemed to rise above the limited writing was J.K. Simmons.

The thing that disturbed me greatly, wasn’t how the movie depicted teen pregnancy, it was that there wasn’t a real emotion or situation in the entire script. Diablo Cody has written a screenplay that, while cutesy and cheeky, has none of the truth or real emotion she seems to think it contains. It also contains an incredibly weak portrayal of pregnancy. As my wife pointed out, some of the facts presented were just wrong.

I have no idea why critics loved this movie. The performances were fine, but the source material was really limited. The quick fire, “witty” dialog attempts to hide the sins of the plot and characterization.

To top it off, the music in this movie was the worst I’ve ever heard. It seems like it’s a collection of the worst played indie rock from the last five years.

I’d avoid this movie. Just read some of the other reviews here.





Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

12 01 2009

mystpittscvr1I recently finished Michael Chabon’s first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a tale of the summer after college.  The narrator (Art) is the son of an infamous gangster and in some ways, that’s the most pedestrian part of the book.  The rest are the crazy twists and turns of a youngman figuring out how to be an adult while forming the kinds of friendship and love that one can only form when they have no real responsibilities.  

For a first novel, the book is beautifully written.  While it starts out a little bumpy, one it gets going the writing is smooth and easy.  In the version I read, Chabon discusses how he wrote the book in a basement crawlspace, precariously balanced on a stool atop a suitcase.  

The thing I think that is most powerful in this book, is the universe Chabon creates.  Not only are the characters powerful, but there is a definite sense of nostalgia for specific places in Pittsburgh.  From the Cloud Factory to the Lost Neighborhood, you get this feeling like part of the city is hidden and just waiting to be discovered.  

While not as powerful as some of his later works suck as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or Wonder Boys, you can clearly see Chabon working out the themes that show up in those later books.  This is a great first novel from a great writer and definitely worth picking up.

Apparently the book was also made into a film in 2008, however the casting makes me think it might not be the best adaptation.  Additionally it appears that they’ve dropped Arthur (there is one who isn’t the narrator) and combined him with Cleveland.





Unlock the Phones

8 01 2009

My current cell phone, a Nokia 6085 is fine for what it is… a phone. To be honest, I’ve dropped the thing, smashed the outer window/display and generally abused the hell out of it. In the year or so that I’ve owned it, it’s become a dinosaur. The advances in smartphones has been pretty impressive in that time and I’ve been looking at many new smartphones (including the iPhone).

To be honest, I’ve been quite excited by the idea behind Google’s operating system Android. I like the idea of an open source language that encourages innovation. I also like the idea of broader handset choice. I’m currently an AT&T customer but I want choice. I’m not a fan of the Blackberry and I might not want an iPhone. When I saw that Palm was releasing a new smartphone, I was interested. Then, I read a first look report and some of the New York Times coverage. The phone will be exclusive through Sprint.

It’s time that hardware manufacturers start to unlock phones, charge more for them, and let us take them to the provider of our choice. I’d like to see more hardware running the Android platform that I can use on any network. Currently the only one I’ve found has been the Kogan Agora from Australia. While it looks like a cool phone, it would be nice if I didn’t have to buy something sight unseen from halfway around the globe.

Maybe if we had more choice and interoperability here in the United States we’d also have more powerful devices.





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.