Monday, September 29, 2014

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

You all know I'm a big Dave Eggers fan, so you know I loved Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?  I thought he really brilliantly captured this sort of zeitgeist, as he often does, of our time - particularly regarding responsibility of the person and the state.  Told entirely in dialogue, but without traditional quotation marks or indicators of who is speaking, a young man speaks to these people that he has kidnapped and is holding in a former military base on the California coast.

At first it's kind of amusing - he has kidnapped an astronaut, and he asks him a series of questions about why the space program doesn't go to the moon anymore and how it's disappointed him in terms of giving him and basically all of humanity something to be inspired and motivated by.  And then when he kidnaps another person, that's pretty funny too.  Without giving away too much of the story, which is quite short and better experienced without knowing too much of the story, what he's trying to do is find out some answers and come to terms with this thing that happened in his life.  What's interesting, however, is the more he seems to blame various agencies for this sort of terrible thing that happened, the more you realize he's completely unwilling to take any responsibility for himself and his own actions.  So, just as you're coming around to the side of this obviously troubled young man, the pendulum swings and changes your mind.  Then it swings again.
- So when I got back I tried to talk some sense into anyone who thought going into some country on the other end of the world to exert our will would be a cute idea, and the main problem with a cute idea like that is that these plans are carried out by groups of nineteen-year-olds who can't tie their shoes and who think it's great fun to run around goofing with grenades poorly secured to their uniforms. Wars put young men  in close proximity to grenades and guns and a hundred other things they will find a way to fuck up. These days men in war get themselves killed far more often than they get killed by someone else.
For me, eventually, the young man and his kidnap-ees become less and less character and more symbols of what they represent - which I thought was rather elegant.  I'm not sure if others will have experienced it the same way so I'd be curious what you think if you've read the book - please comment!   The title really slays me too because it's a bit mysterious - like, is the young man asking this question, or are these the questions that arise from the book, which is not particularly about religion in any way but arguably about absent fathers.  So it makes me think... Dave Eggers, Is It About Absent Fathers? And the Title, How Important Is It?  I Have to Think Pretty Important, Right?  But the only place I didn't think the book worked in general was when the dialogue was a bit more Socratic and less natural - just a few times I felt like I was being held too tightly by the hand, despite the fact that I think I have quite similar political leanings as Eggers.  In any event, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is yet another astonishing book by my literary hero and I encourage you to check it out!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Basic Eight

Most people know Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket but his non-Lemony books are pretty great.  I would suggest Watch Your Mouth to just about anybody (less than 50).  Adverbs?  Great.  Basic Eight (2012) has been on my shelves for a while and I finally got around to reading it this year.  It's a dark YA novel about a young woman who is in prison for murder.  She's responding to all this press and a book that's been written about her and she's trying to set the record straight.

It's quite funny and really spot on - Handler writes teenagers, and women, very well.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that The Basic Eight (1999) is one of the first YA novels to come in with a twist.  Seems like every other book has a twist these days.  I just finished Meg Wolitzer's YA novel, and guess what it's got:  a twist.  Unscientifically, I'd say your top YA novels are going to have either: Vampires, Dystopia, or a wicked Twist.  (Idea for YA novel:  A dystopian world populated with vampires with a twist at the end.  Guaranteed blockbuster.)

Handler breaks up the story in interesting ways, like, he ends chapters as if they're part of a school lesson, with vocabulary lists and questions.  But the questions are like, "4. You have undoubtedly seen photographs of Flannery Culp in newspapers and magazines.  Is she fat? Be honest."  Also there are faux excerpts from TMZ-ish media about Flannery which are quite funny.

Handler can write a wicked sex scene (see Watch your Mouth) and he also manages to write about sex with teenagers that is neither creepy nor milquetoast, somehow (see Why We Broke Up).

Somehow Adam and I were talking about something: theater, I think. The line between audience and actor. I felt something warm on my neck, thrilling me. I kept talking about whether Halloween was a form of theater, if parties were a form of theater, if Adam kissing me meant I should get up and leave but it felt so nice, kissing me over and over on the same spot on my neck. It burned delicious like being branded, but as he ran his hand down my dress it turned out I wasn't such a cow at all. That's what turned me on, as much as him kissing me: feeling my own body, thin and gorgeous against him like a celebrity. Thin, even.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Garnethill

Garnethill is the first in a series by Scottish writer Denise Mina - and I think her first book.  It's about this woman, Maureen, who wakes up and finds her therapist/boyfriend dead in her living room.  Then she ends up solving the case because the police think she did it.

The interesting thing is that Maureen was formerly quite mentally ill/disturbed.  She was abused as a child and she was institutionalized for a while.  She's mostly totally in control of her faculties now, but she still sees a therapist (or did, until he died) regularly.  She feels this sort of tenuous relationship to her own sanity, particularly when this murder happens.  The way people react to her varies depending on their relationship and whether they knew her during her psychotic period.  I really liked the bits with her family, who are mostly terrible people -there aren't many of those moments and a lot of mystery hangs over that, which I assume is explored in the other books in the series.

Too bad for poor Maureen that there are more books in the series, I guess more people get murdered around her?

It's a quite good first novel and first mystery - it won the John Creasey Memorial Award for Best First Crime Novel award in 1998 when it came out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dead Yellow Women

I picked up this Dashiell Hammett book called Dead Yellow Women, despite it's terrible title because it had a map of San Francisco on the back and I was feeling a bit homesick.  Also I was hoping the title was ironic or something?  It's not, it's just straight up racist.  I hate reading racist stuff, particularly from writers I like.  It's like watching an old movie you liked as a kid and realizing it's full of casual racism.  Like, Oh great, that Asian kid from Goonies is just a terrible, terrible stereotype and now I hate myself because I didn't notice it before.

I wouldn't recommend it - it's a convoluted mystery that mostly takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown and is really, really dated.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Still Midnight

In the never-ending search for my next favorite United Kingdom Lady Mystery Writer I heard about one Denise Mina who's written quite a lot of books - jackpot! I thought... but, after reading two of her stories I'm not sure she's The One for me, but probably good in a pinch.

Still Midnight is about a couple of bumbling criminals who accidentally kidnap the wrong person and make a fine mess of things.  It takes place in Glasgow (Mina is Scottish) and the kidnapped family are originally Ugandan.  There are some interesting themes re: immigration and profiling and people of color that she tackles.

Ugh, I borrowed this from the library and my loan expired and thus I lost all my notes.  I hate that.  The main detective, as I remember, is a woman who gets passed over all the time.  She's a little rough around the edges (for good reason) and has to play it real cool every time she uncovers something so her co-workers don't steal all the credit.  I like how she writes dialogue - I could really hear their Scottish accents in my head.  Hilarious ending was a nice surprise.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Broken, Karen Slaughter

Karen Slaughter is an American mystery writer that's getting a lot of good buzz on her latest, Coptown.  I didn't read Coptown but got a copy of Broken (2010) from the library.  Broken is apparently part of her Will Trent series but Detective Will Trent doesn't solve this mystery so much as these other two ladies.

We got off to a rough start with this 2nd paragraph:
The wind picked up and she clenched her fists in the pockets of her light jacket. It wasn't so much raining as misting down a cold wetness, like walking around inside a dog's nose.  The icy chill coming off Lake Grant made it worse. Every time the breeze picked up, she felt as if tiny, dull razors were slicing through her skin.  This was supposed to be south Georgia, not the freaking South Pole.
I thought I was in for the metaphorical ride of my life, but, mercifully, they quieted down a bit.  So, this lady, Sara, is visiting her hometown where her parents live and she and her husband used to live before he was killed.  She was the town medical examiner and he was the Sheriff.  But he got killed.  Sara believed that it was the fault of one of his detectives, Lena.  When a local girl is murdered, Sara consults and tries to steer clear of Lena.  Parts are told from Lena's POV and you find out she not the monster Sara thinks she is, but she's not exactly a snow-white princess either.

Will Trent is a likeable character and I wouldn't mind reading more of her series about him.  He's dyslexic and for some reason very ashamed about it and doesn't like to tell anyone.  He sends things to his partner to read because he has a really hard time.  Although, I suppose after I thought about it a while, it seemed like it could be a hard thing to manage with coworkers.

Oh, after reading Amazon, I find that this is kind of a cross-over book between a couple of series Slaughter has written.  I mostly enjoyed this book but it was one of those situations where it turns out the murder is someone you barely meet  and then you find out they've masterminded some kind of crazy plot involving medical experiments and God knows whatall. I find that very annoying.

Please let me know if you've read any K. Slaughter that you really love!