Saturday, July 30, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
There has never been a time that 13-year-olds Lizzie Hood and Evie Verver weren't best friends. Nextdoor neighbors, in the same class at school and always in the same clubs and sports teams, they've been inseparable their entire lives. So when Evie suddenly disappears one day without a trace, it goes without saying that Lizzie is more than a little devastated. No one can think of a reason why anyone would want to kidnap or harm Evie. But is there? Evie's disappearance has coincided with another disappearance, that of Mr. Harold Shaw, a neighbor and parent from up the street. Days then weeks pass by and it becomes obvious that this is more than just a coincidence. Lizzie too starts to put the missing pieces together of her own puzzle together, recalling subtle hints and vague clues to how such a thing could have culminated. As the mystery continues without much evidence, it provides Lizzie with an odd and very curious opportunity to reflect on just how the bond of friendship can promote a trust which conceals hidden secrets.
Abbott, author of the Edgar nominated Bury Me Deep about a peculiar depression-era crime, takes an odd angle here with a shocking but not-all-that-uncommon story told in first person by the victim's best friend. It works well enough although some part linger a little too long on less important material and not enough attention is given to other, seemingly more pertinent aspects of the story--why Lizzie's own father left for one and accounting for Evie's real relationship with her older sister Dusty. Sometimes Lizzie's little revelations and discoveries aren't as authentic as they come across--possibly what Abbott intended--and at times there's a little too much melodrama driving the narrative. Attempting with the semi-reliable narration by the young protagonist to reveal a child 'growing up' through a crisis is a solid concept and the author displays her keen insight and intuition. Yet it's hard to dismiss the fact that most of Lizzie's personal growth comes not from her own inner voice and self-analysis but from interpersonal encounters with other characters, namely Dusty and Mr. Shaw's only son Pete, storylines which may be a bit too marginalized. (FIC ABBOTT)
Having finally finished all four of the books making up the Quartet, I have a new understanding of Paul Scott’s final take on the British dominion of India. The action of the four books takes place between 1942 and 1947. In 1942 the Indian Congress first issued a motion for the British to leave, and in 1947 the British did just that. Scott tells his story through interweaving personal accounts, diaries, letters and reports of people playing major or minor roles in India –British commanders and their families, proprietors of shops, factories and newspapers, Indian soldiers in the British army, spies, police and ambassadors – the list goes on. Scott knew his India, having been posted to India for three years as a supply officer, and was able to visit India again in 1964, before writing the Raj Quartet. He wrote the four books over a roughly ten year period, with the last published in 1975, just three years before his death at the age of 57.
There is direct action within the accounts as well. Scott’s technique of providing us with documents written by characters in the story can make for slow reading, but faithful attention to details and nuance is amply rewarded by the outcome of a story with depth and resonance. Some critics have complained that they feel lectured to at times with Scott’s detailed elucidation of history. The characters are fictitious, of course, but they exist on a canvas of real events. Indian national figures like Gandhi, Nehru and Pakistan’s Jinnah are seen in the background, through the characters’ perceptions.
The characters themselves are alive and multi-dimensional. Unlike E.M. Forster’s novel “A Passage to India”, the British who are in India are presented sympathetically, even when their presumptions about India and Indians are derogatory and unfeeling. Somehow you see how they got there – most particularly in the character of Ronald Merrick, a villain who sees the bottom line of race that is Empire, and uses this perception for self-advancement. But was the British Empire – the Raj, as it was called in India, really based on racism? There are British commanders who inspire loyalty in their Indian recruits, with their Memsahib British wives going out to visit the Indian soldiers’ families in a gesture of underlying solidarity. There are Indian servants who have lived with an English family their whole lives, and have a closeness that is genuine. Does the closeness, where it exists, come simply from the spirituality and depth of the Indian?
Throughout the books Scott shows how the Indian landscape pervades everywhere - the vastness of the plains, the wildness of the hill country. It is this landscape that the children of Britain came to, and took it as their own, so that hereafter English vistas seemed too constricted, not answering to their increased appetite for scope and richness in their daily lives. Reading the Raj Quartet gave me a picture of how the Empire grasped India, tried to form it, and then let go – so that the disparity of India’s peoples – particularly the Hindus and the Muslims – could only express itself in disarray, with helpless violence. That violence and enmity continues today, in the legacy of Pakistan, an exterior solution to an interior dilemma.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
"I killed your little brother. But he's dead because you didn't look after him."
In gangland Chicago, Mick O'Brien is a teenage hood pulling off petty crimes. He aspires to bigger things though and, in a pinch, he decides to get into the drug trade, he and a friend making the decision to ripoff a rival thug named Paco. Everything goes wrong though. The realization of a deal gone bad causes guns to be pulled and shots to be fired. Unhurt initially, Mick flees the scene in his car only to run over and kill an 8-year-old boy who just happens to be Paco's little brother. Soon picked up by the police, Mick is sent to the Rainford Juvenile Corrections Facility, a place, not unsurprisingly, that's neither 'juvenile' nor 'correctional'. Rather it's a place where under-18 delinquents learn to become tougher, angrier criminals and where only the most ruthless survive. The wardens and counselors, with the kids all day everyday, care little about the zoo-like atmosphere, having adapted to the inhumane conditions and accepted their role as passive caretakers. Meanwhile on the outside, Paco has avenged his little brother's death at the hands of Mick by attacking and raping Mick's girlfriend, an event soon landing Paco himself in the same facility as Mick.
Before 'Bad Boys' was a Will Smith blockbuster (w/ sequel), before "Cops" thrust the Bob Marley song of the same name into mainstream popularity and long before Sean Penn was, well, Sean Penn, there was the little-known and lesser-viewed low budget film Bad Boys. This is a very good movie. Maybe not great but still admirable for its spot-on acting and wisely uncensored direction by first-timer Rick Rosenthal. Seen here are not the juvenile delinquent cliches of West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause or even the recent Gridiron Gang, a film which ironically featured the same basic scenario but none of the credibility. There's an almost uncanny realism about this film, an unadulterated, voyeuristic vision of unchecked mayhem and institutional failure. No one sympathizes with any of these kids, and there's no real redemption for any of them. They're doomed already. For theirs is a world of perpetual confrontation and imminent violence where having your guard up all the times goes without saying and scores to settle are never far away. Any semblance of an ordered. peaceable society is lost inside the reformatory walls. Of course there are things about Bad Boys which aren't so great, like the lacking production standards and noticeably predictable ending. But even compared to most 'adult' prison movies, this film approaches the truth better than most. The sense of hopelessness and despair, of repressed fear and the awakening of the animal instinct is never lost on the viewer who feels the discomfort immediately and senses the menacing, almost evil circumstances from beginning to end. To be sure, there's a lion's share of emotionally rigorous content. But it's worth it. (DVD BAD)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
“My Antonia” is one of Willa Cather’s best known books. She began writing in her 40’s and this book is her fourth, first published in 1918. Cather is famous for giving us full and vivid stories of characters who explored and settled America, many of whom came from other countries. “My Antonia” is set in Nebraska, where Cather’s family relocated from Virginia when she was nine years old.
The book is about Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant girl who first comes to Nebraska from Europe when she is only 12. But Antonia does not tell the story, her neighbor Jim does. He comes to Black Hawk, Nebraska, to live with his grandparents after his parents die, the same time that Antonia and her family arrive. His family helps Antonia’s family out as they undergo hardships. Think of living in a cave, hollowed out in the sod, during your first winter before you can plant and build a house ! The Shirmedas have to do just that to get through the bitter winter, hanging on until springtime.
Having the story told from Jim’s point of view gives us a chance to know Antonia as if she was our friend and companion, too. We see her vitality and high spirits. She loves the farm and the countryside, and when she has to live in the city for an interlude, being anonymous, alone among so many, crushes her spirit. She wants to be where she knows “every stack and tree, and where all the ground is friendly.”
Their two lives inevitably grow apart, as Jim becomes educated and moves east, rising in the world of railways and big business. Antonia stays on and has her own struggles in the small town and its community. But their friendship stands fast, anchored when they were children, wandering over the prairie that is so lush in spring, and so stark in the summer heat and the winter blasts. Cather brings the land and its feelings right to you, just as she does with the people. There are echoes of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby here- how the future beckons us, yet leaves the strongest feelings in the past. Cather suggests that Antonia has taken the right road – that the land and each other, and being faithful to both, may be our best chance for contentment.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Something is crooked in the nation's capital, and for once it's got nothing to do with politics. The national lottery has been fixed 12 times by a man named ‟Jackson‟ who deftly goes about putting the proceeds and the lottery winners to his own "good use". Now to protect his secret, he aims to kill the latest winner, a poor, innocent working class single mom named LuAnn Tyler. But what Jackson doesn't know is that LuAnn isn't as innocent as she seems and she doesn't much like the thought of dying and leaving her young daughter all alone in the world. (FIC BALDACCI)
Mr. Toppit: A Novel / by Charles Elton
Children's author Arthur Hayward never lived to see the success his little series of books would generate. He was run over by a cement truck just before his novels broke it big. Now his literary legacy and its substantial monetary benefits have been left to his widow Martha and their two children Rachel and Luke. And while fame and fortune are nice for a little while, the long-term cost of being branded with the Hayward namesake is a little on the unpleasant side, especially for Luke who's seen as the real-life model for the protagonist in his father's novels. (FIC ELTON)
Lucky You / by Carl Hiaasen
Grange, Florida's latest claim to fame is JoLayne Lucks, the unlikely winner of the state lottery. Only JoLayne's winning ticket isn't the only one. The other belongs to Bodean Gazzer and his raunchy sidekick, Chub, who believe they're entitled to the entire $28 million jackpot, needing the entire amount right away to fund their own underground militia. Unwilling to give up her rightful winnings, JoLayne fights back when Bode and Chub beat her up and steal her ticket, vowing to track them down, take back what's hers and get revenge. (FIC HIAASEN)
Windfall / by James Magnuson
Even though he's always thought himself to be above worrying about material things like having enough money, 40-year-old Ben Lindberg is feeling the pinch. And he's not liking it. He can't fix his car, he can't buy a better house in a better part of town, his wife won't stop bugging him and he just can't seem to feel good about his job. So when he suddenly stumbles (literally) across a stash of cash in his own basement, he sees little reason why he shouldn't put it to good use. But there's a reason why the cash was there in the first place, and it's not one which had Ben's financial straits in mind. (FIC MAGNUSON)
Lucky Chica / by Berta Platas
Rosie Caballero leads what she feels is kind of a shabby life. Her third-rate job leaves her with barely enough money to pay the rent and almost no money to keep her dog, Tootie, well-fed. But Rosie's ship comes in when she wins the largest lottery jackpot ever--$600 Million. With her newfound wealth, Rosie's now a minor celebutante with glamour, glitz and fame now within her price range. With everything she ever wanted and some unexpected surprises which never occurred to her, Rosie's got it made in the shade. But there's some things that money just can't buy. (FIC PLATAS)
Windfall / by Penny Vincenzi
"…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there."
26-year-old Patrick Bateman lives in New York City during the boom years of the 1980's. An investment banker on Wall Street, he works a job with an enormous paycheck to go along with the trust fund fortune he's inherited. All of his friends are the same. They all hail from the 'ruling class'. All have Harvard degrees and wear Brioni suits. They eat out at restaurants where thousand-dollar tabs are routine and "hardbody" waitresses serve them cocktails. Following dinner, they attend parties or nightclubs where they are always the VIP's and, if they so choose, can usually score some cocaine with ease. When Patrick or his friends get bored, increasingly frequent nowadays, they amuse themselves by counting the bums on the streets or comparing the cost of their patented business cards. As image is always important, it goes without saying that each wear not only the best clothing but apply themselves to pampering their skin, hair and nails to sustain their youth. Appearance and projection of success is of utmost importance at all times.
There is however a different side to Patrick Bateman. It is a facet of himself largely obscured by the consummately materialistic world of which he is a part of, but one which warrants attention never the less. Creeping through his thoughts and overcoming his sanity is an increasingly powerful urge towards murder and mayhem. Far more seditious than any vile fantasies of which his contemporaries joke about, Bateman's world is one in which the compulsion to kill, and not only to kill, but to torture and explore the boundaries of mutilation and torment is steadily entrenching itself as his reality. Though able to subdue his impulses initially and restrict his murderous appetites to the relatively safe subjects of prostitutes and beggars, Patrick soon discovers that he can no longer contain his habits. Consequently his passionate lust for destruction and violence is soon extended to those within his own circle as his conscience ceases to make distinctions of any kind whatsoever.
There's a lot to be said about this book, so much so that a separate section located here on another blog has been devoted to further elaborating just what the book (and the movie) really mean. For the overwhelming majority of persons who have only watched the movie and not read the book, the images of Christian Bale's blood-spattered face and "posing" will largely contribute to the popular opinion of the story as a curiously surrealistic, darkly humorous exploitation piece of the late nineties. To others who may have watched the movie more closely, the figure of Bateman may represent the poster-child of postmodern, white American male identity--essentially an individual whose subtle vanity, deceptive personality, overwhelming apathy and contempt born of greed and misogyny are emphasized in place of physcial machismo and a more open disposition toward the sexual appetite. The book is not the movie; nor does it really go the same direction as the film (which ironically was supposed to star Leonardo Dicaprio until some nasty letters from the same women's rights groups who'd originally opposed the book got through to his agent) and which, admittedly, is more of a sensationalized venue in the same overtly narcissistic vein as Fight Club, The Basketball Diaries or Boondock Saints. Those who label the movie as a sort of underground male fantasy aren't terribly far off. But the book is different. Taken in context, it's very much an existential iconoclasm, a self-examining literary piece of the purest sense which not only explores the power of choice and the inevitability of consequence, but exposes the contrast of separate realities within a severely damaged society. Ellis really is something different. With shades of Dostoevsky, Camus or Kafka, there's also a transgressive, more meta-fictional nature to his style (think Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, even David Foster Wallace or Tom McCarthy). Within the context of the storytelling is the inevitable inconsistency of communication, a dissonance of reality amid varying states of consciousness. It's difficult to tell if what's happening is really happening or merely an illusion as motivations and characterization can be hard to ascertain (Ellis himself has said that the 'reality' of the murders/violence/carnage isn't necessarily supposed to be distinguishable). There's more reaction from Bateman over a peer with a better business card than over the killing of a small child, more despair at the inability of his local cleaners to clean his sheets than at hacking up his neighbor. Taken at face value, it's a confusing rundown of seemingly random reflections by a certifiable psychotic. And yet a closer look reveals a literary goldmine of self-reflective prose, a wonder of exposition hidden between the *deplorably-graphic-to-the-point-of-simply-unreadable content. (FIC ELLIS)
Friday, July 8, 2011
Is there anything that can't be done faster and with more abruptness? Apparently not. Even the greatest of the classic works of literature are never safe from the fast food mode of information dissemination we live with nowadays. Instant messaging, texting and Twitter have seemingly revolutionized communication to a point of no return. And so it's kind of an inevitability when you think about it that all "knowledge" will be streamlined before we know it. With this in mind, a couple of kids (both of them 19 at the time of writing) have taken it upon themselves to redo some of the world's best books (and plays and poems) ever. From the point of view of the major characters involved with a bit of of side-noting, each book is translated in Tweet-form, summarizing the gist of the story. For example, All Quiet on the Western Front / by Erich Maria Remarque, quite a "@Remarquable Tale" we're told, things start off with a nod to the now regrettable decision by the main character Paul to enlist in the German Army during World War I. "I've always heard 'Paul. Listen to adults, and teachers.' You too? We could be in Hamburg cracking open a Holsten instead."
On the cover of this book is a definition for the title--Twitterature: \'twi-te-re-,chur\n: an amalgamation of "twitter" and "literature"; humorous reworkings of literary classics for the twenty-first-century intellect, in digestive portions of 20 tweets or less. And that's just what it is. Some of the tweets are very funny; others are just plain silly and far more than just a few are really raunchy. Swiftness is key. Most tweeted book reports aren't but a page (a small page) or two at most. Along with the often quite sublime (and college-level crude) comments, things can get to the point in a hurry (i.e., from Fitzgerald's best known book: "Two bad drives met. :O," "Gatsby is so emo. Who cries about his girlfriend while eating breakfast... IN THE POOL?"). A brainchild of college students, Aciman and his roommate Emmett Rensin, at the University of Chicago, Twitterature is really irreverent. But it's also something which, as with everything else in the digital age, can't help but providing your literary knowledge with burst of quirky ingenuity. It might not be Cliffs Notes, but it's definitely a trip. Readers should be warned that this book is definitely *adult* in its humor. (818.607 ACIMAN)
All Thomas Flynn ever wanted for his son and only child was for Chris to not make the same mistakes which had befallen his own life, namely dropping out of high school, neglecting a college education and being doomed to a blue collar job for life. For Thomas, it's not that his life is all that bad, actually it's quite good. He lives in his boyhood home in a well-to-do part of D.C. (his parents bequeathing it to him upon their deaths), he's married and still in love with his high school sweetheart, he owns his own flooring installation business, he can retire early if he wants to, etc. But Chris's life so far has been a disappointment, at least in Thomas eyes. A smart kid raised in the kind of atmosphere Thomas had hoped would nurture the boy into the type of white-collar realm he'd envisioned for him, Chris had turned bad well before he could even start applying for college.
It had started with smoking dope in middle school, had escalated to violence and vandalism by his freshman year of high school and had finally landed the boy in a juvenile detention center at the age of 16. Chris had gotten his diploma while inside and had even made some decent friends. But in the 6 or so years since his release, he hadn't even thought of going to college or doing anything other than helping his father with the family business. That and he still hung around with his pals from the inside, some of whom Thomas had thought enough of to hire on as workers but others who he knew were nothing but trouble. When an incident involving what seems to be a shoddy carpet job suddenly disrupts the normal routine, Thomas believes it's nothing but another disappointment from the boy he'd hoped so much for. It's not until the real truth comes out that Thomas reconsiders his convictions as all of their lives change forever.
It's easy to see why Pelecanos is so revered as a crime writer both in the literary and media circles. His well-developed characters, edgy but not over-the-top situations and honest dialogue help the reader understand what the genre of crime writing is all about--inevitable human fallibilities, personal motivations and a world of glaring inequality. Very keen on socio-economic circumstances, roots of society's problems as well as the volatile, often violent condition of the nation's capital, the author doesn't even need any type of formula to evoke a good story. His ground-level characters and their domestic lives create all of the drama the story needs and then some. The sort of multi-perspective bird's eye-view he imparts to the reader through nearly all of the primary characters, facilitating everyone with the same sympathetic yet honest treatment, is probably his greatest tool and, ironically, one of the facets which has distinguished "The Wire" as such a successful series. (FIC PELECANOS)