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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Now that anyone can have a blog and a public identity and share their message with the world, what would yours be?  I gravitate towards people who send a message of love and compassion.  Gillian Flynn, in Gone Girl, does just the opposite.  Gone Girl is filled with foul language, hatred, fear, shallow characters, and derogatory material towards both women and men.  While all of these elements can be used to great effect in literature, skilled writers generally use them as a counterpoint to some other message, or to accurately portray a character or time period.  In the case of Gone Girl, these elements are the message.  There are no likable characters in this book.  There is no redemption.

Gone Girl is the story of Amy and Nick Dunne.  When Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, all evidence points to Nick as the murderer. Through multiple plot twists and shifts in narrative point of view Flynn keeps the reader guessing what happened.  As tempted as I was to give up on this book, I was also intrigued by Flynn’s manipulation of the plot.  I was curious to see if the book (and characters) could redeem themselves in the end.  I needn’t have bothered, and neither should you.  The ending was worse than all the rest of the book put together.

If you are still on the fence about reading Gone Girl, then know that Ms. Flynn spent much of her writing career as a journalist for Entertainment Weekly.  This may explain why the characters act like spoiled rich people who are completely out of touch with what it is that makes us human. Don’t waste your time on Gone Girl – there are thousands of excellent books out there that will teach you something about the real world, books that will test the limits of your compassion and stretch your brain with new ideas.

Now that I’ve broken all six of John Updike’s Rules for Reviewing Books, I’m stepping off my soap box.  It won’t happen again.  Carry on.

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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Fiction, Uncategorized

 

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Gold, by Chris Cleave

Gold, by Chris Cleave

After reading (and loving) Chris Cleave’s Little Bee a few months ago, I was curious about his newest novel, Gold.  Could it possibly be as well constructed and mesmerizing as Little Bee?   Gold is the story of three Olympic level speed cyclists: Kate, Zoe, and Jack; all friends, all training for the 2012 London Olympics.  While Zoe is driven by her own demons to succeed, Kate and Jack are preoccupied with their daughter Sophie, who is gravely ill with leukemia.  In Gold, as in Little Bee, Cleave starts in the middle of the story, just a few months before the London games, then works both forwards and backwards to get to the end.  It’s a brilliant narrative strategy.  In a series of well-timed flashbacks, Cleave reveals the back story that binds these four characters together.  The past and present come together for the reader at the trials for the British women’s Olympic team.  It is not until we come into the homestretch that we truly understand what is at stake for both women, as well as Jack as Sophie.

So, was Gold as well constructed and mesmerizing as Little Bee?  Yes and no.  It is a well-designed and well executed narrative, no doubt .  I was mesmerized by the tension in the story, and the pace of the reveals.  As in Little Bee, Cleave throws in a few modern storytelling methods, including bouncing between five different points of view, and placing some of the action in ‘a galaxy far, far away’, that show off his dexterity as a writer.   His absolute mastery of nonlinear narrative is in high gear in this novel as well.  He orchestrates each scene for maximum tension; there were several places where I had to put the book down and walk away.   For me, that’s the ultimate mark of good storytelling.

As well written as Gold is, it is also extremely plot driven; at times it reads a bit like a literary soap opera.  I found the characters to be on the very edge of believable.  Perhaps because their true motivations are not revealed until near the end of the book, I found some of their actions (and interactions) hard to swallow.  While all the plot elements finally fell into place in the last few chapters, my aloofness towards the characters never really jelled into a comfortable acceptance.  One small part of me just never fully bought into the cause and effect relationship that the resolution of the conflict relies on.

That said, Gold is still a book worth reading.  It’s a book that is hard to put down, one that makes you thirstier the more you drink.  It is several clicks above most popular fiction on the shelf right now, and will sticks with you long after the last page.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Fiction

 

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Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is one part Rubik’s Cube, one part Zen Koan.  It’s a novel, but it is also a collection of madly different stories that are loosely tied together through time and space.  (I use the term ‘loosely’ loosely).  More than once, while reading Cloud Atlas, I wondered how I could get a glass of whatever David Mitchell was drinking, in hopes that I might stumble upon the secret to possessing such an unfettered imagination.  I, too, wanted to soar with the eagles of possibility and sink to the darkest recesses of the sea of despair without a backward glance at who was following.

I read the first two stories in this fragmented opus, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” and “Letters from Zedelghem”, with a dictionary at my side, racking up new vocabulary words with every other sentence.  I could not fathom where some of those sentences came from, or where they were going, for that matter.  I didn’t let it bother me.  I bit my nails throughout the third story, “Half-Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery”.  The fourth story, “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish”, made me laugh out loud.  The fifth, “An Orison of Sonmi-451”, I read with open-mouthed wonder.  It was all I could do to just keep up.  I read the sixth story with my eyes crossed, allowing me to hear the words in my head as much as read them with my eyes. That story, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”, breaks the main rule about writing in dialect.  The one that states: Thou Shall Not Write in Dialect.   Unless you are David Mitchell, apparently.

And all of that only gets you to the halfway mark.  You’ll have to read it yourself to find out where it goes from there.  Hopefully you are getting the idea that this book is all over the map linguistically, crosses genres without a thought, and challenges the reader in most every way imaginable.

But wait!  In addition to all this fancy trans-genre, trans-lingual writing going on, there’s a theme.  An earth shaking, eye opening, heart breaking theme.  In fact, there are several, and all of them are deep, meaningful, and fully integral to the story(s).  Of course Mitchell is getting at the connectedness of everything:  he is oh-so-clever about tying these stories together, threading the characters through time, and making their singular struggles eternal.  But this book is also about the evolution of our species, the result and byproducts of the white man’s conquest of the world, and the karmic wheel of fate.  That, and about ten other deeply profound things that just make you jealous of David Mitchell’s creative mind.

I’m absolutely certain that I have not appreciated half of what David Mitchell was striving for in this book.  In order to really understand the shape of the plot, I would need to re-read it, substituting a pencil and graph paper for the dictionary, and create complicated charts with many colored intersecting lines.  And when I’m done, do you know what I would have?  A map, of sorts.  An atlas of wispy, cloudlike ideas that connect not only these fictional characters, but the rest of us as well.   This fictional atlas would likely show that we are all part of this giant plot called life, and, though we may fall on one side or the other of grace, and we may reach a hand across the abyss to help each other up or not, we are just one instrument in the grand orchestra.  One of Mitchell’s more pessimistic characters cries out at the end novel:  “…only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!”  But Mitchell himself gets the last word, reminding us: “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

Read this book and be amazed.  I was.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Fiction, Uncategorized

 

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