Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book #26: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy


That's the one word I can think of to describe this book. Complete and total bleakness. I don't think I've ever read a work of fiction so completely depressing and hopeless--there's no happy ending and not even a glimmer of hope for one. This is a book to read when you want to feel like you've been kicked in the soul.

The story follows a father and his young son as they make their way through an apocalyptic wasteland. We don't know how long they've been walking, though it must be years and years, as all the son can remember is walking down the road. We don't know where they're going, only that they have a vague hope of reaching the ocean. Everything around them is dead and burned, there's no color, heat or sunshine anywhere, and almost no people. They just walk, and try to avoid anyone who might steal their meager supplies. Every now and then they run into some horrible sights, and the book becomes even more bleak and depressing, which I didn't even think was possible.

McCarthy's writing is as dry and bare as the landscape he describes. It's actually kind of amazing how much he tells you in a few short sentences. There's almost no dialogue or characterization (the characters never even get names), but you still get a full picture of what is going in the story. Some scenes were horrifying not because of what he tells you, but just from what you can imagine from what little he says of it.

This was a very strange, depressing read. On the one hand, the story will leave you feeling a little empty inside (while also wringing your heart for the relationship between the father and son), so maybe you should avoid it because of that. On the other hand, you should read it for the brilliance of the writing alone. I wouldn't ever pick it up again, but I'm glad I did, because it was unlike anything I'd ever read before.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book #24: "Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman

Anansi Boys is a spin-off of American Gods, my favorite of Neil Gaiman's books. It follows the two sons of the spider-god Mr. Nancy from the earlier book--twins, one of whom (Spider) has magical powers and leads a life of excess and opulence, the other (Fat Charlie) a sad-sack loser working a bad job and living a painfully mediocre life. The two meet after their father's death, and Spider decides to become a part of Fat Charlie's life, throwing it completely into chaos. He gets Fat Charlie into all kinds of trouble with his job, his girlfriend, and just about everyone he knows, leading Fat Charlie to think of ways to get rid of his magical brother.

If all that sounds cut-and-dry and not very enthusiastic, it's just because I didn't have very strong feelings towards the book. While I loved the bizarre and engaging story of American Gods, all the charm of that book seems to have vanished in this one. I found all of the characters to be shallow and quickly written; each only seemed to have one or two broad traits that never changed through the course of the story. There just didn't seem to be any depth at all, except maybe for the character of Charlie. But even he was such a sad, pathetic loser that I didn't really care for anything that happened to him. Spider, who I think was supposed to be charming and roguish, only came off as obnoxious and stupidly cruel to me. The boss and the girlfriend were bizarre additions; the boss is the villain but seems like a joke, and the girlfriend made so little an impression on me that I was surprised when she showed up again later in the story--I'd actually forgotten that she existed and thought she would just disappear into the background like any minor character.

Sometimes I think I just don't get Neil Gaiman. His stories can be amazing and intricate (like in Neverwhere or American Gods), or they can just fall flat and boring (like in Anansi Boys or Good Omens). Of course, this is just a personal opinion, but I don't share the opinion of my friends that everything he touches is gold. He repeats the plot of Ordinary Person Finds Himself in Extraordinary World over and over again, and for me, it works as often as it fails. I often find myself not even liking the protagonists of his books; it's the stories or the minor characters that win me over. So picking a new book of his is a crapshoot for me, I know I'll either love it or be completely underwhelmed.

This one landed on the latter side for me, and I just didn't like it very much. But I know I'll pick up more of his work, because he's a brilliantly imaginative writer and I want to read what new, bizarre universe he'll come up with next. So, despite the disappointment, I'm not giving up on him just yet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book #21: "Fool" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend might be one of the best books I have ever read. So I'd been looking forward to reading more of his work and picked this one up at the library, and though I knew it probably wouldn't be as good as Lamb, I had high hopes for it.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.

Moore likes telling famous stories from new, hilarious points of view. Lamb, for example, was the story of Jesus Christ told from the point of view of his best friend, a wise-cracking smartass. Fool is Shakespeare's King Lear told from the point of view of Lear's fool, a wisecracking smartass named Pocket.

King Lear was always my favorite of Shakespeare's tragedies, and while it was a great idea to tell his story through the eyes of a character who ridiculous everyone and everything in sight, there was something lacking in the book for me. For those of you that don't know, King Lear is the story of a vain old king, who instead of naming a single heir to the crown decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, according to which one says loves him best. Two of his daughters, Goneril and Regan, lie through their teeth and get a good chunk of the kingdom for it. His youngest daughter, Cordelia (who really loves Lear), is honest and ends up not getting anything from her father. Cordelia is banished and pretty soon all hell breaks loose when the remaining daughters and their husbands become greedier and start treating King Lear with derision and contempt. Through all this, Pocket is a detached, sarcastic observer, having sex with everyone in sight and pitting sister against sister and sticking by the king to make his ridiculing remarks about everything the old man does.

So it's a great story as it is, and it's an interesting twist to read the whole gory, dark tale from a humorous point of view. I'm just not sure why it didn't quite work for me. I think a large part of it was that, being a big fan of King Lear, I already knew the story from start to end, so nothing really surprising happened. True, there are additional scenes that Moore made up, and while they're funny on their own, I found myself impatient to get back to the real story. Another problem I had was with the character of Pocket, whom I just didn't like as a narrator. To be fair, I don't think you're supposed to like a lecherous, mean and sarcastic troublemaker, but I don't think I was supposed to dislike him this much. I just felt that there were no real motivation for the things he did, and the frantic pace of the story made it hard for me to get a good idea of who the character was.

That being said, Moore's writing is fast-paced and seriously funny throughout the whole book. It's damn entertaining to read the inappropriate jokes and the anachronistic references sprinkled throughout the book. I just wish there was a bit more meat to the character of Pocket and his story as a whole. It wasn't a bad book by any means, and I enjoyed it for the most part, but it could have been better. I'm still going to read more of his work, but this one wasn't a favorite. Now, do yourselves a favor and read Lamb. You won't regret it.