Book Review: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

18 05 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedThis book has been getting a lot of attention from the New York Times and I see why. This is a stunning debut collection of stories from author Wells Tower.  Everyone in this collection is down. Down on their luck, down in terms of money, and down in terms of mood. Yet all of these characters have compelling stories and adventures that don’t seem to get them anywhere while defining who they are.

From the mental aquarium in The Brown Coast, to the tension of riding in the car with an ex’s new lover in Down Through the Valley, to viking raiding parties in the title story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned you watch lives slowly burn themselves toward the end of their fuse.  Sometimes they pop, other times they fizzle.  

The writing in this collection feels effortless.  It’s clean anf each story takes on it’s own voice. To be honest, this is one of the best collection of short stories I’ve read in years.

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Recent Reading

11 03 2009

inhobokenFirst up is the Christian Bauman novel In Hoboken.  It’s the story of Thatcher, a young folk singer recently discharged from the army, who moves in with his friend James in Hoboken (of course).  The book chronicles Thatcher and the people he meets, including members of the music community and Orris, a mental patient who at times feels like the most real character.

Overall, I found the book well written and enjoyable, but the plot ambles along never really going anywhere.  It ends kind of flat, failing to wrap up or even address some of the issues in the characters’ lives.  

The second thing I’ve been reading is Marvel’s title, Secret Warriors.  

secretwarriors_01_cover1

Nick Fury has discovered that the only person he can trust is himself and it’s kind of crazy awesome.  So far we’ve had a new team of young heroes, Skrulls, and Hydra.  I like how this book is trolling the back alleys of Marvel’s Dark Reign. I’m hoping to see this book cross over into the rest of the Marvel universe (and vice versa).  It would be great to see Captain America and others all show up.  

Well, off to the pile of comic books and books remaining.

I almost forgot to mention, I recently also finished Stewart O’Nan’s a Prayer for the Dying.  A beautiful but heartbreaking book that can be difficult to read.  Essentially it’s a tale of a small town after the U.S. Civil War that experiences a diphtheria outbreak and is threatened by wildfires.  Written in the second person, the book grapples with the moral implications of what must be done and then often asks, how do you live with it?

prayer_for_the_dying1Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past year or so.  That being said, there were times I had to put it down.  What happens throughout the story is sometimes depressing and disheartening.  Not only do you feel for Jacob, the main character, but you cringe as you feel the novel’s world sliding slowly out of control.  

That being said, I’m starting to really admire O’Nan and his writing.  He can change voice, style, and subject so easily from book to book, yet still manages to produce great work.





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.





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.





Mishima

1 07 2008

Out on DVD today is Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in four Chapters. This is one of those movies that I saw in college and still sticks with me today. The beauty of the filming and the weaving of Yukio Mishima’s real life story with his fiction is just amazing.

Yukio Mishima is one of Japan’s greatest post-war authors. His books are stunning as was his nationalistic samurai views. I was introduced to his work by a college professor and some friends and dare to call him the Japanese Hemingway.

The New York Times writes a great, brief review of the film here. It’s definitely something to add to your Netflix queue.  And yes, that is really a picture of him!





Quiet Week

22 06 2008

Once I finished the The Corrections it’s been a pretty quiet week. I tried to plow through a bit of my pile of old New Yorkers and basically picked over articles and stories. Nothing too exciting. So here goes nothing:

In short-fiction, I did read a few things. Like I said, I’m chipping away at a pile of New Yorkers and a few One-Story issues. I also started The Boat by Nam Le (so far it’s fantastic).

In not-so-short fiction, Shannon tells you to go read The Hobbit.

In music, Guns ‘N Roses’ long awaited album was leaked for like 13 minutes this week on the interwebs. I write a little about it over here.

  • Also, I keep meaning to link over to Plain or Pan? a really great music website from a Scot with a huge collection of stuff.

In television, the AVClub interviews Billy West of Futurama and Ren & Stimpy fame. I, however, was introduced to him via the Howard Stern show where he did such imitations as Marge Schott and The Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.

In links, the following sub-finds…

  • I found Wordspy a site that introduces you to newly coined phrases.
  • In art, I found a site this week that gives you cheap options for art. It’s called 20×200 and gives you the option of buying a $20, $200, or $2,000 version of the same piece. My problem is that I think some of the pictures from my vacation are better and I can’t figure out how to sell them here!
  • Not so much art as photography, I did try a very cool site affiliated with Flickr this week. It’s called MOO and enables you to make postcards, notecards, mini-cards, etc. from your own pics stored on Flickr. I’ll let you know what I think when I get the first pics back.

I’m behind on comics and don’t have anything to report this week. Hopefully I’ll attack the pile this week and have something to report back on.  Hope all are having a good summer.





The Corrections

17 06 2008

So last night I finally finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I’m a little behind the curve in reading it (it was published in 2001), but it’s a big book. It sits there on the shelf and kind of dares you to make the effort to pick it up. Well I’m incredibly glad I finally did pick it up.

It’s the story of a disfunctional family, or maybe a normal family. Enid and Albert Lambert are fading (or at least Albert is) as they age and leave many of there trials and issues to their children Gary, Chip, and Denise. Of course, the children all have their own issues that make their lives a trainwreck too. When you combine dementia, unemployment, sexual identity, poor choices, and a jaunt in Lithuania you get a damn fine book.

The thing that The Corrections does that many books do not is fully capture the mess we make out of our lives without thinking it needs to go somewhere. The characters in this book work through their issues but really don’t fix everything so they can ride off into the sunset. They’re still flawed individuals that will go on making good and bad decisions until they die. The only real plot in the book is Enid’s desire to have her family together in St. Jude for one last Christmas. She can hold onto all of her illusions about life and her children until she gets that.

Honestly, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I think it might crack my top ten…

Some additional reading regarding the Corrections: