Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Brief Review: The King in Yellow by R. W. Chambers

The King In YellowThe King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The King in Yellow, a book of offputting (in a good way) short stories, is a fun read, plain and simple. As many others have said, the first half of the book (four stories) is more along the lines of what most expect going into this collection. Short stories of normal humans beset by an elusive madness, difficult to understand and seemingly impossible to cure. The source of this madness is a book, which holds the play, "The King in Yellow." Anyone foolish enough to read the tome seems to fall into an irreversible trance. Those stories felt very much akin to a turn of the century Twilight Zone and I sped through them happily.

The second half of the book seems to focus a lot more on that emotion I understand humans call 'love'. These stories are by no means bad. In fact, they are beautifully written, perhaps even more so than the previous four. Several times I found myself stopping and thanking whatever book deities there are that I got this on my Kindle, as a simple point and drag captured the language for my future perusal. The main issue with these stories was, well, they were about the mooshy stuff. Which is all well and good, but I got into reading this book for the occult references and unnatural madnesses.

I found myself wondering what it would have been like to write this. Living in an age of burgeoning progress and knowledge and still so little information about illness, mental or otherwise. People die. People break down. People change and go mad and get sick. But this book was written right at the turn. When people still believed in magical things. But they also began hailing science and technology as new gods. People still weren't sure which side would win. Throw in the uncertainty of the world at the time (at least one thing has remained the same), and you have an entrancing book about unexplainable things like madness and plays and love. It is recommended reading, and I'm fairly sure I haven't lost my mind from it, which is a bonus. I need that.

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Amazon Link: The King in Yellow

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Brief Review: Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe

JamestownJamestown by Matthew Sharpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jamestown is a difficult book to pin down. It is one of those books about which you say, "By turns..." and then list three or four different emotions it made you feel. It is one of those books where you don't really get all of what the author was doing, but you get enough of it that you think to yourself it was really deep. And it probably was.

Jamestown makes me want to learn more about the original Jamestown. Jamestown makes me wonder if it is racist, or perhaps an attempt at post-racism. I mean, even if it is racist, who is it racist against? It's about a post-apocalyptic melting pot of vileness/violence/vindication. Languages are confusing, as to make you read them harder, only to make you realize that this is all sing song, sling slang.

The book is funny. But not like "Haha." More like, "What the hell?" The murder is funny. It evokes slaughter laughter.

I like this book. I'm not sure that I should, but I like it. You might too.

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Amazon Link: Jamestown

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Brief Review: Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Ham on RyeHam on Rye by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An semi-autobiographical story about a boy named Henry Chinaski, Ham on Rye is a series of vignettes about growing up rough. It is raw and unforgivingly real. Its brevity and frankness punch you in the mouth, much like Henry would probably do if you ever met him. Bukowski is a master of transporting the reader into the book. Our protagonist is really kind of an asshole, but you feel terrible for him. He never wins, he never gets better. Growing up for Henry is a series of drinking and fights and losing the few friends he has for some reason or another.

It's hard to say what makes this book so good, but it is eminently hard to put it down, it flows, it dips and dives and jabs. It knocks you in the nose. The minute you think you see the punch coming, it gives you something different. It's a classic for a reason. It's the story of a poor, punk growing up in the 30s and 40s. And when you read it, you realize that things never change all that much. Kids are still kids. The world is still the world. Bukowski saw it for what it was, and then he put it in his book.

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Amazon Link: Ham on Rye: A Novel

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brief Review: Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Of Love and Other DemonsOf Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of Love and Other Demons is my first Marquez book. I really see the appeal. Even as translated, the language is beautiful and sharp. It makes me wish I could read Spanish as I would love to be able to experience this book in its original form. All of the threads in this book begin at a dog's rabid tooth and flourish away from each other, racing for infinity before inevitably falling short.

It seems that all of the characters in this book flirt with their own ideas of love: religious or secular, chaste or carnal. They are all deeply flawed and that's what makes each character tragic in his or her own way.

The book is slow going and it takes time and patience to penetrate Marquez's thick, weighty text, but if you stick with it and get yourself into a reading groove, you start to see the beauty of his descriptions. That seems to be where Marquez makes his home, tempting his readers in, building the world around them, and showing them the good and bad of each character without judgment. The judgement, he leaves to you.

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Amazon Link: Of Love and Other Demons (Vintage International)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Brief Review: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark TextsThe Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eric Sanderson has lost his memory, but he's got a few clues as to where he can find it, as long as he isn't overtaken by those terrors that lurk below his own consciousness. The Raw Shark Texts pulls you down a rabbit hole of complete nonsense in the best possible way. While reading, I often found myself trying to understand what the hell was going on early in the book only to be confounded over and over again. Eventually, and only after I'd stopped struggling, everything just sort of fell into place.

The comparisons that have been made for this book (Jaws, House of Leaves, Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) are all apt, but Raw Shark shoulders up and takes its own place alongside these giants instead of attaching to them like so many other remora-books. It is mind-fuckingly great. It is a gasp of fresh air. It's a conceptual animal all its own.

I would guess that it takes a certain type of reader to appreciate this book, but I can definitively say, and without hesitation, that I am that exact type of reader. The prose was terrific, deftly guiding me at breakneck speed without ever tripping over its own feet. I don't often reread, but I may dip my toes in for this one again.

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Amazon Link: The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel