Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: "Piercing" by Ryu Murakami

The other famous writer with Murakami surname, Ryu, is a very different writer than the more famous Haruki. His books are much more vicious and have quite a harder edge when it comes to sexual and psychological aspects of storytelling, as evidenced by his slim debut novel Almost Transparent Blue, and this novel, Piercing. They will appeal to fans of transgressive fiction, who read books for blood and guts, which I do not really have a problem with, but Murakami’s books, including this one, don’t have a lot to offer besides shocking violence and aberrant sexuality. It is interesting though, and it does keep your attention, but it can come off as a cheap way to engage the reader. Murakami does have moments in this book that are successful at delving into deeply human emotional trauma, and it is quite powerful, but those moments are few and far between in this novel, which seems to sacrifice logic and story for shock value. I like the premise a lot and think it would make a great movie if it were ever to be adapted. A man named Kawashima seemingly has a perfect life, with a wife who stays at home and teaches cooking classes at home while she nurses their newborn. But at night, he stands over the baby’s crib holding an icepick, promising himself he will fight the urge to stab her with it. Losing this battle with himself, he goes in search of a victim, a mission that puts him on the equally violent path of Chiaki, a prostitute whose sexual problems rival Kawashima’s. In any other book, these two would find some solace in one another, but here, they are intent on destroying on another. It is an ugly and depressing progression with little redeeming value, despite moments at the beginning showing the troubled past of Kawashima and possible reasons for his psychosis. It’s a quick read, but far from a pleasant one.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: "Please Don't Call Me Human" by Wang Shuo

Chinese literature, from my experience, is pretty weird. Maybe it’s just a cultural thing that I don’t get, or history I don’t know, but there is something about it that is off kilter. The books of Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan are a good example, and this novel, Please Don’t Call Me Human by Wang Shuo. I can tell this is an angry novel, detailing, through extended metaphor and brutal satire, how dehumanizing it is to live in a Communist nation, where the individual is only recognized as a cog in the country’s machine. The premise is unique and hilarious, but also sad when you look at it more closely, showing human decency as a mere product that the country’s officials must sell to the people. The book is uneven in the middle taking a few detours that are bizarre enough to lose even the most eager reader, but it is never boring. After losing a bid for the 2000 Olympics to Sydney, Australia, the morale of the Chinese people is at it’s lowest. In a desperate attempt to boost themselves up and make China a noticeable superpower again, Zhao Hangyu, a Secretary- General of the Chinese Competition Committee, enlists a few of his lackeys to find the legendary “Big Dream Boxer”, a man with great metaphysical powers who was supposedly executed during the Boxer Rebellion, to fight a strong man that is seemingly unbeatable. They find the Boxer, whose son is a pedicab driver, and groom him to be the nation’s symbol of hope. The novel is weak in the middle, including a ghostly Buddha and a sex change that don’t make sense. But the opening and closing are strong and memorable, ending with a completion where humiliation gets you the gold that is quite insane, disturbing, and hilarious. An interesting book if you want something new to read.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"The Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer

To be honest with you, I think writing a review of the book I just read; The Executioner’s Song by the late Norman Mailer is completely and utterly pointless, but I must do so out of habit. I will try, but I know I will fail in conveying the power and emotional resonance of one of the greatest books ever written. But it is not only a great book, on a page by page basis, but an important one, for it eloquently and without arrogance, expounds on themes and ideas that are as timeless as they are painful to talk about and hard to accept. Before I began to write this review, I had to run to my nearest bookstore and read the foreword that Dave Egger’s wrote for the newest edition of this book (it brought up some good points which I will bring up), and to steal some of his advice, I suggest not looking up on this case before undertaking this book, instead coming in fresh, which will be easy, since the story of Gilmore isn’t a big part of modern American consciousness. And despite how tempting it will be to look information up online, because 1056 pages is a lot to get through, I think it’s new found anonymity is one of the luxuries that this book has gained as time has gone on. And despite what you may think of Norman Mailer, because he is a hard person to like, it bears nothing on this book and it’s themes and virtues. The long book details the last nine months of the life of career criminal Gary Gilmore. He is in his mid thirties, and has spent more than half of that by the time he is released from a fourteen-year prison stent in April of 1976. He moves in with his Uncle Vern and
Aunt Ida, gets a job and falls deeply in love with Nicole Baker, a 19 year old widow with two children. As things begin to fall apart, Gary becomes more violent, eventually committing two murders, in cold blood. He is arrested and sentenced to death, a sentence that he fights for with all of his being. To tell you anything else would be criminal, for what happens between these 1056 pages will change you. It sounds corny, but the writing and storytelling, free of Mailer’s macho qualities, can be beautiful and ugly, disturbing and transcendent, and optimistic and sad. This book is quite and emotional ride, but brings up important questions about prison and institutionalized criminality, but goes deeper into the American psyche to show the painful unacknowledged connection between loneliness, isolation and violence. In Gary Gilmore, we have a three-dimensional character, whose dreams we root for, and whose actions we can detest. It shows another, very painful truth: that killers and other violent people, can be human, with the same likable qualities and same need for love, and dare I say, same hopes and dreams? This is a hard book to swallow, but it may be the best book on American loneliness ever written. I still don’t think I did this book justice, but I can try to give this book my highest praise: I don’t think you should read this. You HAVE to read this.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: "Care of Wooden Floors" by Will Wiles

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles is so much better than it’s title suggests. It is an ironic title, but gives no indication for the level of nefarious detail that lies hidden within its pages. I have been eyeing this book for a while, with its slick, understated cover and a story that lends itself to many dark treats. But despite those tasty bitter morsels that lie hidden in this book, this is a very relatable book, with a plot setup that will be instantly recognizable to anyone with a friend like the one our unnamed narrator has: a person whose perfectionist tendencies and finicky habits seem to bleed over from there personal lives into other people’s as well, affecting them in bad ways that the other person would never realize, because they are too caught up in their own world and their own rules to pay attention to the feelings and needs of anyone else. Every person has a friend like that, and if you don’t, you just might be that person who unknowingly causes misery on others. It is a cool niche that this book carves out that I didn’t even begin to think about until this book brought it up. But despite that, this book is also very entertaining in a way that makes it perfect for beaches or long airplane rides. I was able to finish it in two days without breaking a sweat, and I’m sure a reader with more endurance could finish this book in a matter of hours. The narrator remains unnamed, but his source of pain does not. He is housesitting in an unnamed Central European town for his friend Oskar, a semi-famous composer who is known for, even back when he and the narrator were in college together, for how much of a perfectionist he was, going so far as to have nervous breakdowns when his bottle of vodka was moved from the freezer to the fridge. Oskar is having problems in his marriage, and needs to go to America and asks our narrator to watch over it.  But despite his misgivings, the narrator accepts the offer, seeing it as a way to escape the doldrums of his and work on the novel he has been meaning to write forever. Everything is going smoothly, with Oskar’s two cats being taken care of, and a eerily specific set of notes placed around the house letting the narrator know what he must do to maintain the irreplaceable wooden floors among other things. But once the narrator spills wine on the floor, leaving a stain, all hell breaks loose. It is cool how Wiles creates tension out of the anger and fear the narrator feels, anger at Oskar’s brutal dictums, as the notes take on a rather frightening tone as they are found in odd places, and fear at what Oskar might do if he finds out what kind of damage has been caused. Despite most of the action taking place within the confines of a luxury apartment, you’d be hard-pressed to find any other novel that creates as much suspense from everyday events such as this one.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: "The Parasite" by Ramsey Campbell

This novel, The Parasite, is the third Ramsey Campbell novel I have read, and while I will continue to read his books, I can’t say that I will ever be a big fan of his. The weird logic I use is that while his books are wild rides, they do not affect me the way other horror novelists like Jack Ketchum or Joe Hill do, which get a more visceral emotional out of me. Campbell is a lot like H. P. Lovecraft, in that he is a master at creating a dreadful mood that permeates every word that he writes. It looks and sounds cool, but it gets very tiring soon, which may be why Lovecraft wrote very few novel length works. This kind of writing works better in fragments, at least for someone like me who is not used to such heavy wording in my horror novels. Out of the three Campbell novels I have read, the other two being The Doll Who Ate His Mother and The Face That Must Die, The Parasite is the best one. It begins in a haunted house, where a young girl named Rose is attacked by an entity after being locked in a room and abandoned by her friends. Years later, Rose is a film critic who is mugged in New York City, and has an out of body experience, which forces her to look to the past event, and confront an evil that is dangerously close to home. Not to spoil anything, but if you liked the movie Insidious, which I did, you might like this book, with many expounded ideas about astral projection being the coolest part of this novel. But like most Campbell, it is easy to get lost, know who is who, and who the villain actually is. Like I said, this novel a cool experience, but one that is incomplete despite it’s qualities.
Rating: 4/5