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.





Dollhouse

27 03 2009

A quick word about Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s new show.  So far, I’ve enjoyed the premise. There has been, however, a huge difference between the episodes that have been written by the Fox bullpen and the one written by Joss Whedon. Whedon’s writing (as also evidenced in The Astonishing X-Men) is far stronger than a lot of what is on television.  

It would be nice to see Fox not take a good idea and beat it into a tired formula like they’ve done with Fringe. Let’s hope Whedon can take some control over his show.





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.





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.





Captain America #42

28 09 2008


Apparently issue #42 of Captain America marks the end of the current story arc. First off, I can’t believe that I’ve just finished a forty-two issue story arc in this day in age. It’s been absolutely wonderful. The art, writing, and consistency of this run has reminded me why I love reading comic books. If you haven’t read the issue, go to Marvel’s website and preview it here. I don’t want to give too much away considering that the Red Skull/Agent 13 story line ties up and we discover the fate of The Grand Director (also known as the Cap of the 1950s). The important things that come out of this include:

  • James continues to struggle with the idea of being Captain America, but he also starts to get it.
  • The Black Widow and the Falcon continue to be treated as quality characters.
  • James is going to be Captain America for the foreseeable future.
Do I miss Steve Rogers?  Yes I do.  Am I excited to see where this title is going to go now (especially since Thor met James in the Secret Invasion series)?  You bet.
If you want to read more about this issue check out reviews: