Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: "Number9dream" by David Mitchell

This is the book that fulfills the potential of a writer I have so desperately wanted to laud praise on. With his novel Number9dream, the talents that David Mitchell has are fully recognized. All of his unique abilities to transcend genre’s and even the novel itself come together in a story that is both pleasurable to read as well as being insightful about the heart of the human spirit. Even when reading books of his, like his famous novel Cloud Atlas and his most recent book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, I was struck by the stylistic high wire acts that Mitchell is capable of that makes reading any one of his books a wholly original experience you cannot get anywhere else, but the stories themselves never really intrigued me, and they, as well as their meaning and power, got lost under the weight of these unique concepts and ideas. But that is not the case for Number9dream, which is not only the best book of Mitchell’s I have read, but may be a candidate for favorite book of the year, even as early as January. All the pieces fit together to tell a very honest and heartfelt coming of age story that reads like an alternate version of Murakami’s Kafka on the shore, with the same kind of beautiful absurdism that somehow tells a more honest truth than the actual reality. The story begins as Eiji Miyake is waiting outside an office building in Tokyo to confront his father whom he has never met. He has just turned 20, yet is still reeling from the death of his sister as well as the neglect from his mother who has checked herself into a mental health facility, both of which happened years ago. He devises an elaborate plan to meet with his father’s secretary and coerce her into giving up the details on how to meet him. Much like a Murakami novel, things are never really as they seem, but unlike him, Mitchell is all but happy to reward you with the answers to his many riddles. We find out that a lot of the things that are happening, especially the more extravagant and preposterous events that Eiji is experiencing exist merely within his own imagination (don’t worry, that is not a spoiler to how well you enjoy the book). This journey, which has been built up inside the mind of Eiji as well as the reader, takes many drastic and fun turns involving the yakuza and computer hacking, but the real emotion of this book reveals itself in its last few pages, which are absolutely marvelous. It becomes less a tale of fantasy and more a tale about growing up, and finally turning all of your inward imagination and dreams outward in order to become an adult, no matter how cozy it is to think about what you want to do instead of doing it and how hard it is to make the things you want a reality. This revelation leads to a very intense and heartfelt ending that left me floored. Can’t say enough about how much I loved this book, and can finally praise Mitchell for his amazing talents.
Rating: 5/5

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: "Noughties" by Ben Masters

Its funny and convenient that on the cusp of an assignment where I must right a paper on the worst book that I have read that I actually have a candidate for that spot whose stench is as fresh in my mind as it is ever going to get, because Noughties by Ben Masters is really, really bad. It is easily the worst book I have read since Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and I can’t imagine any book being worse reading experience this year. I was actually groaning out loud at the clich├ęs, horrible attempts at being cool, and how just plain boring this book was when it wasn’t assaulting me with how bad it was. It has that perfect mixture of being really pretentious, but failing so hard you can’t see anybody actually taking this guy seriously. The loose plot concerns Elliot Lamb as he drinks away the night before he graduates from Oxford with his equally unlikable friends. He keeps getting texts from his ex-girlfriend Lucy, as well as finding a potential mate in the person he got pregnant while still with her. Yeah, this guy is a major tool, the kind whose ability to quote Wordsworth on cue gives him a sense of entitlement he really just pulled out of his ass. But this guy isn’t the only problem with this book. When we aren’t listening to his inane babbling, we are stuck hearing about his night out, filled with British slang that felt like someone who liked Snatch too much wrote it. From the horribly lame “secret” that is revealed towards the end, and its equally horrible ending, this is a dreadful reading experience I would not wish on anyone. I can’t stand pretentious literary types anyway, and when they write books that get published, it angers me, but also gives me incentive, because anyone with a modicum of talent without a God complex can write better than this.
Rating: 1/5

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: "Gob's Grief" by Chris Adrian

While it is not something I would want to rant and rave about Gob’s Grief, the debut novel by the uniquely talented Chris Adrian is, so far, my favorite book of his, if you go by its sheer entertainment value. Like his other novels The Great Night and The Children’s Hospital, a lot of the narrative elements are a little to oblique to follow and reform the puzzle pieces it lays out, this makes up for that by being immensely fun to read, with a plot that rivals the extravagance and scope of The Children’s Hospital, but not as long and not filled with many vague biblical allusions. What really sets Chris Adrian apart among novelists like this such as Ben Marcus, is that he imbibes the subject matter with an honest and unpretentious heartfelt compassion for the written word and playfulness with which he does so. They may be hard books to read, but the lesson is one that rarely is. The novel starts with twins Tomo and Gob planning to escape from their chaotic home life and join the Union Army during the Civil War. Gob gets scared and stays behind, while Tomo becomes a bugler, only to be shot and killed during his first battle. This death, which leaves Gob with a huge amount of guilt, sets off a series of events that lead him on a fantastical mission to create a machine using spare parts that can bring back the dead. It is an outlandish premise that allows for some very cool set pieces to take place, such as Gob’s friend, Dr. Fie entering the Civil War under the tutelage of a photographer obsessed with taking a picture of a man as he dies, as well as Walt Whitman’s ambiguous obsession with the enthusiastic Gob. All these cool aspects really never form something cohesive, and the ending left me shaking my head, but getting there is rarely a bore, and Chris Adrian is too interesting a writer to ignore.
Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: "The Appointment" by Herta Muller

The Appointment by Herta Muller is a very well written novel with a very interesting setting that gets a bit bogged down by changes in setting and time that happen way too fast and little too much attention to detail. I feel a lot of the feeling that this novel is supposed to instill in the reader is supposed to come from the experience of living in a country with as much oppression and corruption that existed in Romania during the regime of Ceausescu. For the most part, the feeling comes forth, but only vaguely, and a lot of the effectiveness of the book gets lost in the obsession Muller has with and almost Proust like need to detail every memory the main character has and how it is linked to a better time. While I feel silly for saying a book is too wordy, that is the case with some books, especially with a plot as juicy as the one laid out. On a tram to a meeting with Romania’s secret police she may not come back from, a unnamed woman reflects on what has led her to this moment. From the shooting death of her friend Lilli, to the bittersweet moments she has with her alcoholic lover Paul, and the act of sewing notes into clothing begging for an Italian man to marry her. Through these memories, we see an almost Dystopian wasteland that Romania has become, where a brutal dictatorship’s rules have implanted themselves in the minds of the people, creating a group of citizens whose only means of joy is the misfortune of others and not them. It is profound statement that gets lost in a clunky confusing time line of events that switch from sometimes from sentence to sentence that leaves the reader in the dust, and not in a good way. And Muller’s descriptions of memory can be beautiful by them, but got tedious as I was begging for some clear resolution. I can see why she won the Nobel Prize, and respect her for her contributions, but that doesn’t always make for a good reading experience.
Rating: 3/5

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: "Gone Baby Gone" by Dennis Lehane

Well, I am starting out another year of books with a welcome bang, reading a book that one of my favorite authors, Dennis Lehane, is famous for, Gone Baby Gone. Before he turned to writing books like Mystic river and The Given Day, Lehane wrote four novels centered on private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro in the Boston. I was very excited to read this book, thinking it would be a lot of the elements I liked in his other novels heightened and made the focus of the story, and I am glad to say that it did just that, and like the other books of Lehane, I loved it dearly. Whether it is his knack for writing speech that leaves you in stitches but also cuts deep to harsh truths about the modern world, or his unpretentious ways of handling story and character, he really is one of the best writers alive today, not just of crime novels, but of novels that dissect and examine the darkest parts of our hearts, hoping and praying to come upon any kind of light. And he performs his humanistic duty without sacrificing the pulse of the narrative. Rarely is their a boring moment in any of his stories, and even in the slow moments, when the guns have stopped firing and the screaming has stopped, he still has the reader’s full attention, waiting for some truth or unspoken feeling to come from from a character on the edge of life itself. The story begins with the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda Mcready from the home of her disgustingly neglectful mother, Helene. Pressured into a job they do not want to take, on account of the possibility of a horrific outcome for Amanda, Kenzie and Gennaro approach the crime with trepidation and maybe perhaps a little too much vigor and aggression toward possible suspects. We go with them on their journey through the dark underbelly of Boston, past the robbers, killers and even the rapists, to the truly evil people that call this world home, leading to a shocking conclusion that brings into question whether the right thing is always the right thing for everyone. This is probably the darkest Lehane has ever gotten in terms of story and definitely in terms of subject matter, even more so than he did with Mystic River and Shutter Island. A scene towards the end where which eventually drives all involved in the case of Amanda to the breaking point of rage and misanthropy is easily the most disturbing thing Lehane has written and is sometimes hard to fathom, but never do we get a sense that it always has to be this way. These terrible things happen out of human weakness, but those same weaknesses play to our strengths, and can lead the lonely and the damned in life on the road to becoming better people. It really is an awesome experience to read a novel by Dennis Lehane, and this is a really good place to start.
Rating: 5/5