Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: "The Lonely Polygamist" by Brady Udall

What surprises me most about the novel The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall is that it is so different from his first book that I read last year. The collection Letting Loose the Hounds, Udall’s first book, reads like a second rate Sherman Alexie, which is really thing since I don’t like Alexie that much. In the end it was forgotten soon after I closed its pages, and never thought Udall could carry a book the size of The Lonely Polygamist. I am happy to say that I was wrong. This book is what all big books should be. Not only massive in size, at around 600 pages, but also big of heart and big on love (like I assume all polygamists have to be). It is the kind of novel John Irving would write if he were younger and had a better sense of humor. We are introduced to a large cast of characters, some of whom do fall by the wayside, but the ones who don’t could carry a whole novel the size of this one alone. We first meet golden Richards, the patriarch of the family, whose four wives and twenty-eight children, are causing him great psychological pain. He is a big man, about 6’6, but has the drive and courage of someone half his size as he carries the weight of thirty different lives on his broad shoulders. He is a successful owner of a construction company who has taken a job building a brothel, unbeknownst to his super religious community in his home in Virgin, Utah. There he falls in love with a beautiful Guatemalan girl named Huila, and everything he so precariously built up to that point begins to collapse in very funny, very tragic ways. We see his youngest wife, Trish, begins questioning her “plyg” lifestyle, much to the chagrin of Beverly, Golden’s oldest wife who tyrannically rules over the lives of the Richards. Rusty, a twelve year old son to golden and Rose-of-Sharon, Golden’s third, and most submissive wife, has the same feelings Trish has, but takes out his frustrations in increasingly disturbing obsessions with terrorism and Trish herself. And Golden falls into the clutches of Ted Leo, who hired him to build the brothel out of spite for Golden’s father, Royal. He is a scary individual who carries a grudge way too easily, which threatens to end Golden’s fragile family when he finds out about him and Huila. All these different plots merge over the last, breathtaking 200 pages of the novel, in events that really go far to show you how much care Udall put into this novel, and how much you care for each and every person you meet within its pages, despite how often we see them. It all ends with a few pages that will most definitely break your heart, but could not be told more perfectly than it is. A great novel about the sacrifices we make for ourselves to have something stable and normal, this book is a modern gem I hope everyone can enjoy.
Rating: 5/5

Review: "Threats" by Amelia Gray

While far from being as frustratingly offbeat as some books that would fit into this category, Threats by Amelia Gray is still an exercise in post-modernism that is more than slightly confusing, but written with more feeling than you would expect from something like this. It is an easy to read yet hard to follow journey into the mind of a man who world is warped by the grief over his wife Franny’s death, and it does not play around with those very real emotions, even at the times when this novel veers off into describing the minute details of what David’s life is like after his wife is dead. David is an out of work dentist, who lost his practice after he fought off several malpractice lawsuits, and his only solace was his wife, who was way to attractive for his plain looks. After she dies in a mysterious way, he starts finding weird threats in strange places around his house and whenever he goes out. He has equally strange encounters with a detective who asks questions he does not know the answer too, and people who knew Franny who may not have had her best interests at heart. Things get weirder and weirder, and that is not always a good thing. Like Ben Marcus and The Flame Alphabet, an interesting premise in the hands of writer like Gray, who is more interested in syntax than story, creating a story that is interesting, but not much else. But I will say this is one of the better postmodern novels you can read today. It has a lot of heart and real emotion, and doesn’t read like a desert dry manual for some gadget you do not know how to work. It is a quick, easy read that might keep your interest more than it did mine.
Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: "Q Road" by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Sometimes I get books simply to complete a collection. Sometimes they are really hard to find in stores like Barnes and Noble and Half Priced Books, so I must go online to buy them, which, for a guy who loves bookstores as much as I do and want to help them in anyway possible, is tantamount to treason. The books are usually from authors who are somewhat mid-list at the moment, who have a small fan base, may have been nominated for a big name award, but are far from having their face on the cover of Time Magazine. They have weird binding sometimes and almost no blurbs praising the book, except from author friends. But never judge a book by its cover, or shitty binding, cause sometimes they are quite a treat, like Q road by Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the National book Award nominated American Salvage and the fantastic Once upon a River. You can tell by reading this this is a first novel that has not been put through the wood chipper for changes. It is slow at parts and needs to be cut down by at least 20 pages. But those who inhabit this story are a riot. It all centers on a day in 1999 on Q (or Queer) Road near Greenland, Michigan, when the oldest barn in town burns down. We meet a wide range of people, like George who married a younger girl named Rachel after her mom died (after she killed George’s brother), young David who wants to impress Rachel, Nicole, who dreams of murdering, her salesman husband Steve, and the sad Elaine and Sheriff Parks, whose loneliness goes unnoticed and uncared for. It all adds to a fun ride with many poignant moments in this flawed piece of Americana. Hopefully, once Campbell gets bigger, this gets re-released and edited, cause a little polish will turns this book around.
Rating: 4/5

Review: "The Manual of Detection" by Jedediah Berry

When a book is forgettable, you have to forgive it sometimes. Not to brag, but I think I read more than even the average book lover, and I have come across only five books that are truly bad, as well as many that are really good. Most end up being in the middle, where they are just good or bland at best, and The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry is one of those. It has great ambition and you know just by the intricate plot description at the front of the book that it is from someone with a great imaginative mind, but it mostly falls flat, especially once it gets past page 200 when things start going off the rails, and not in a good, Breaking Bad or The Shield type way. Our main character, Charles Unwin, is a clerk at a detective agency in a weird alternate universe where it is raining so much all the time, one must have an umbrella handy at all times. His main job is to file the cases of a detective Travis Sivart, who once solved a case involving a criminal mastermind who stole a whole day from the city and found the oldest mummy, which had been stolen. He is content with his lack of responsibilities, and once he is unwittingly promoted to a detective spot and when someone he was supposed to meet ends up dead, his only goal is to eliminate his new found need to care. The journey is a relatively smooth one, where he meets a lonely museum worker who has clues to mistakes that may have been made in the Sivart cases, as well as a pair of twin thugs who are frightening in how professional they are at torture and intimidation. But once they start going into dreams, it becomes a mess, where for a Sci-Fi novice like me is lost and could care less about the climax. Even with the cool chapter titles which mirror the manual of the title, this book is only passable, which is not a very harsh crime.
Rating: 3/5

Review: "The Doll Who Ate His Mother" by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is one of the most prolific Horror authors living today, along with Stephen King, Clive Barker or Peter Straub, but he does not nearly have the name power of those two, and by reading his first novel The Doll Who Ate His Mother, I can kind of see why. Campbell’s brand of horror is not the kind that is plot driven or violence driven. It is more focused on creating a sense of dread or terror for whomever is reading it by creating a creepy atmosphere much like Lovecraft. And for the most part he does it very, very well, making him a truly talented writer where some are just really good storytellers. His prose is very neat and tight on a word for word basis, but in large chunks a lot of the important details get lost in the fancy descriptions, and he has a great tendency to be very slow when the reader desperately wants him to move fast. This novel starts out really cool, with a truly creepy event involving Clare, our heroine, and her brother getting into a car crash caused by a guy who would not get out of the road. In the aftermath, her brother’s arm disappears and he ends up dying. A few months later, a sleazy crime novelist insists on her help when he thinks the guy might be the culprit. Them, along with a theater owner whose mother also may have died at the hands of this madman and a wannabe hippie whose cat was a victim, enter into a world of voodoo, occult and some seriously disturbing pregnancies. The little moments are what make the book effective, but as a whole it is very confusing and hard to put together. In the end, this is a very unique experience from a true horror master, but not a great one.
Rating: 4/5