Reviews

Rust & Stardust // T. Greenwood

Florence “Sally” Horner just wants to fit in. When a few of the girls from her class dare her to steal from Woolworth’s – if she does, she can join their exclusive club – Sally reluctantly takes a notebook. Only on her way out, she’s caught by a man claiming to be FBI agent Frank LaSalle. She knows she doesn’t want to go to jail, and she really doesn’t want her mother to find out, so Sally follows Frank’s list of demands…

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood is the fictionalization of the crime that inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Sally’s story is heartbreaking, but Greenwood’s storytelling is wonderful. At its heart, this is a painful, chilling novel about the abduction of an eleven year old girl. It’s also a thoughtful coming of age novel, one played out within the most vicious of circumstances. Told from Sally’s perspective, and that of her family, we slowly learn what survival cost her, and what it cost the family she left behind.  It’s a fantastic piece of historical fiction with a literary, true crime* connection.

*I am so thankful I didn’t give in to my natural impulse to learn about Sally Horner’s life before I read the novel. If you plan on reading this one, try to resist the urge to google. I also received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion (via Netgalley).

Reviews

The Optimistic Decade // Heather Abel

Which of the following makes The Optimistic Decade worth reading?

a) “In the Colorado Desert, a Debut Novelist Finds a Metaphor for Israel and Palestine.”*
b) A novel set at an ‘80s summer camp is bound to be good.
c) Compelling prose that conveys the awkward absurdity and loneliness of the young adult years.
d) It’s fun to say “Llamalo.” Hebrew for “why not?”
e) All of the above.

The answer is e, all of the above. The answer is always all of the above. Heather Abel’s The Optimistic Decade is a memorable coming of age story set just before the Gulf War. David, lonesome and mediocre in his “real life,” comes out of his shell only at summer camp. Rebecca, his childhood friend, struggles with the fact the no one cares, not really, as her parents ship her off to be a counselor at some weird camp. And Caleb, the owner of the isolated summer camp, is both insecure and egocentric. Their lives converge during one hot summer spent in the mountains of Colorado.

I always love a good novel set in my home state and Abel does a fantastic job of describing the hot, dry Colorado summers. She also nails the intricacies of teenagers (at summer camp, and everywhere else), the need to be liked balanced with the desire to not give a fuck. Her prose is compelling, her characters can be both sympathetic and abrasive, and her depiction of the fraught inner monologue of young adults – trying to differentiate the person they are from the person they were raised to be – is awkward perfection. Overall, The Optimistic Decade is a wonderful debut novel. A must read is you love the ‘80s, summer camp, and the doomed confidence of youth.

*According to The New York Times review, found here.
**I received a review copy of this novel, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Reviews

The Regulators // Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

My youngest son is convinced it would be amazing if the fictional characters we love could be real.

“Because wouldn’t it be awesome if Pokémon were real? “

“No,”  I tell him, “have you seen a Raticate?”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Rescue Bots were real?

“Maybe,”  I tell him, “but that would mean we would be having an awful lot of emergencies.”

This devotion to fictional characters is also the premise of Stephen King’s The Regulators. Seth is a young boy and the sole survivor of a drive-by shooting that killed the rest of his immediate family. They were at the end of a road trip that began in Ohio, passed through Desperation, Nevada, and ended in California where the tragedy took place.

Now living in Wentworth, Ohio with his aunt and uncle, Seth loves old westerns and his favorite cartoon, MotoKops 2200. Only, one day, the things Seth loves start to become real. The violent characters of MotoKops take over his otherwise idyllic summer street. Houses become log cabins. Forests become deserts. The world has gone mad and the residents of the neighborhood are along for the ride.

If you read Desperation by Stephen King, things may seem…similar. The Regulators is a companion novel, featuring many of the same characters, in a different location, facing the same villain. Desperation is the smarter, better version of the story, but The Regulators is not without merit (although the evil entity is overcome in a particularly juvenile way). There are moments where the gore is too much to be effective or interesting, and too many characters that I didn’t care about, but I’m glad I read it. It’s an evocative summer read and I enjoyed the experience*.

Is everyone else as happy as I am that their children’s cartoon characters stay fictional? I’m betting the answer is yes.

*although one I doubt I’ll repeat.

Mixtapes

Literary Mixtape | Annihilation

A biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor walk into the jungle… This group of four women, known only by their occupational titles, is the twelfth expedition into remote Area X, a pristine, yet unusual forest that rarely allows survivors. Annihilation is book one in the Southern Reach trilogy and it centers on a remote coastline accessible only by permission…from the forest? Protected by an invisible force, people are only permitted to enter the region under hypnosis. It’s eerie.

Part Lovecraftian fiction, part psychological thriller, this slim novel can be read in one sitting. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself glued to the book after a slower first 50 pages. What we as readers know about the story is far, far outweighed by what we don’t know. Unreliably narrated by the biologist, the reader learns that Area X has undergone unsettling, potentially sentience-inducing changes and that no one has lived to tell the tale. Not really. What they don’t know is how or why it happened; they just know that the phenomenon is growing.

Although it’s hard to imagine being satisfied by a book that offers no satisfactory explanations, Annihilation is exactly that book. Unnerving and filled with foreboding, it’s an extraordinary tale about nature gone awry. I’d recommend Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer for both fans of science fiction and mystery.
And now I can watch the movie. Finally.

As an alternative for a review, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. Please note that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this post is no exception.

01. Thought Contagion // Muse

“But there is a limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental. You still see the shadow of the whole rearing up behind you, and you become lost in your thoughts in part from the panic of realizing the size of that imagined leviathan.”

02. Comedown // Bush

“We all live in a kind of continuous dream,” I told him. “When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.”

03. Paranoid // Black Sabbath

“I knew these elements were intended for me and me alone. There were no endearments, but I understood in part because of this restraint. He knew how much I hated words like love.”

04. Pretender // Foo Fighters

“Pretending often leads to becoming a reasonable facsimile of what you mimic, even if only from a distance.”

05. Sounds of Silence // Disturbed

“Silence creates its own violence.”

06. Hurt // Johnny Cash

“I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction, and they’re very different. Almost none of us commit suicide, whereas almost all of us self-destruct. Somehow. In some part of our lives. We drink, or take drugs, or destabilize the happy job”.

07. Green Grass and High Tides // The Outlaws

This was the way of things here. There were no reasons so mighty that they could override the desire to be in accord with the tides and the passage of seasons and the rhythms underlying everything around me.”

08. Love Will Tear Us Apart // Joy Division

“‘Ghost bird, do you love me?’ he whispered once in the dark, before he left for hs expedition training, even though he was the ghost. “Ghost bird, do you need me?” I loved him, but I didn’t need him, and I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.”

09. A Forest // The Cure

“There is no one with me. I am all by myself. The trees are not trees the birds are not birds and I am not me but just something that has been walking for a very long time . . .”

10. Dear God // XTC

“Eventually, though, I was able to reconstruct fragments of a handful of some of the variants: Why should I rest when wickedness exists in the world… God’s love shines on anyone who understands the limits of endurance, and allows forgiveness… Chosen for the service of a higher power. If the main thread formed a kind of dark, incomprehensible sermon, then the fragments shared an affinity with that purpose without the heightened syntax.”

11. Riverside // Agnes Obel

“The wind off the sea and the odd interior stillness dulled our ability to gauge direction, so that the sound seemed to infiltrate the black water that soaked the cypress trees. This water was so dark we could see our faces in it, and it never stirred, set like glass, reflecting the beards of gray moss that smothered the cypress trees. If you looked out through these areas, toward the ocean, all you saw was the black water, the gray of the cypress trunks, and the constant, motionless rain of moss flowing down.”

Care to add anything? Or just chime in on the Southern Reach Trilogy?

Reviews

Florida // Lauren Groff

My love of short stories is well known by now, at least to me. It’s possible I love a good short story collection more than a good novel, though if you’d asked me ten years ago, I would’ve said that was impossible.

(I’d still say it’s possible, but not probable, overall.)

When I saw the new work from Lauren Groff (author of the phenomenal Fates and Furies) was a collection of short stories set in Florida, I was thrilled. I lived in Florida briefly, and I don’t think I’d want to revisit my time there, even for the mild winters, yet the stories resonated with me nonetheless*. Florida is dark, oppressive, full of dread—an “Eden of dangerous things”—essentially everything I hoped it would be.

Groff captures the gritty essence of the state. The stories are rich in characters, atmosphere, and perils of the natural world. The author has a wonderful way of phrasing and describing even the most mundane of activities, it can make for compelling reading. This collection is a wonderful addition to Groff’s work and a great pick for your summer reading list. If you’re unsure about this one, a few of the stories are available online at the New Yorker.

*perhaps because I don’t have fond memories of the insects, arachnids, predators, and general ly oppressive heat and humidity…

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