I’ve accrued a large back list of books to talk about. While I’ve been going on here about my walks around Brooklyn and the concerts I’ve attended, I’ve quietly been reading my way through one fantastic book after another. So. Time to roll up my sleeves, crack my neck and catch you guys up with my devourations. And if these reviews seem overloaded with superlatives, well, that’s ’cause I’ve been reading some primo shit.
I watched the film adaption of this novel before I had even heard of Chabon, and enjoyed it tremendously. There was something surreal and magical about it, a blending of schoolboy indiscretions and an old man’s weariness of the world; the characters were fascinatingly intriguing, the plot was delightfully improbable and it all revolved around the act of writing, around writers, agents, and Word Fest’s–around the allure of the written word.
Having since read and been awed by Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, I decided to give Wonderboys a shot, and was glad that I did so. It’s great stuff, containing all the strengths of the film and completing the omissions and gaps in the story that the film was unable to fill. This ability to compare the two, however, gave me a strange perspective on the book; the film’s plot, forced by necessity to be leaner and more focused, made the book seem to wander at times, to ramble. In this Wonderboys betrays a younger Chabon, who would occasionally allow the tension in the plot to slacken as he explored asides or delved perhaps too deeply into family esoterica. It was always well written, but at times seemed unnecessary to the tale he was telling.
Still, that’s but a quibble, for the book itself is brilliant and fun. Chabon’s ability to startle with original metaphors, his eye for detail, his ear for dialogue all combined with the engrossing plot and idiosyncratic characters to make of Wonderboys a wonderful book.
Charlie Stross is a wizard when it comes to extrapolating the future from current technological developments. He knows what’s up with the Singularity, has thought long and hard about what the future of data storage will mean for privacy and memory, and more significantly he never loses track of the most important element of his stories: the characters. Glasshouse is brilliant, old school fun, hearkening back to the era of golden age science fiction while maintaining its modern sensibilities. It starts in the 27th century, but then about a third of the way in everything changes as the protagonist agrees to take part in an experiment that places him in a simulation of the 21st century. And while there are a few pages in which the characters marvel at the crudity of washing machines and the like, Stross has bigger fish to fry. Questions of identity, of society, of peer pressure and malevolence are at the heart of this fiendishly intelligent story. This is no Matrix rip-off, but rather a meticulously thought out puzzle, a futuristic and deadly game of cat and mouse set against a banal backdrop that we think we understand till Stross pulls the carpet out from under our feet. I raved about this book to a random man in the subway, and then pressed it into his hands as he stood to leave like a proselytizer handing out religious tracts. If you want sharp, ingenious and devilish fun writing, you need look no further than Charlie Stross.
All The Pretty Horses
It’s hard to write a review of a Cormac McCarthy book without sounding like a cheap echo of all the other reviews out there. It’s classic McCarthy, rife with stunning descriptions of sunsets, mountain passes, plains and pueblos. It’s a book filled with silences, with taciturn characters who say only what needs to be said, who observe and ponder and move on. Yet it’s also one of McCarthy’s more accessible books, for all its hardness, telling the tale of two young men journeying into Mexico and the protagonist’s love for the ranch owner’s daughter. What would have been quotidian fare in the hands of another author becomes riveting stuff when told by McCarthy, who finally indulges in his passion for violence (need for violence, perhaps?) when the youths are thrown into a hellish jail. Again, McCarthy eschews the easy ways out, the typical happy endings, the neat conclusions. If there’s one unifying theme in all of his books that I’ve read so far it’s that life is hard. But it is amidst the misery and injustice of life that beauty can be found, that the mystery of life can best be pondered. It is in McCarthy’s brutal crucible of a world that men discover the nature of their characters, the substance of their souls.