Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tenth of December Review

Tenth of December - George Saunders



I read this book ages and ages ago, and never quite got around to reviewing it, and I was going to just toss it into my end-of-the-year un-reviewed list, but this book is way too good for it to not have its own.

So I really, really, really wanted to give this books a 5, but the thing about short story collections is that some are a hit and some are a miss, and unfortunately, there were some stories that I was less enthused about than others. Not that they were necessarily bad, but that they were lacking in that mph that really makes a short story punch. But of course, not every single story you write can be amazing, though when George Saunders is at his peak, damn.

So, Tenth, for those of you who haven't been paying attention (because its had a fair amount of hype) is his latest collection. I'd previously been aware of his work from a class I took waaaay back as a freshman in college and while I really liked his stories, I wasn't a big short fiction reader at that point and so kind of forgot about him for a while, except that I knew his name and I associated it with something good. So his new book came out and I put a hold on it and four months later I finally got it and I just cannot get enough of George Saunders.

I've heard his work compared to Vonnegut, and that's probably the best way to describe his writing--his stories often utilize the tragicomic and the strange. It's funny and clever, but then also really sad and really dark.You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll go home happy. I really don't know what else to say because it's all just going to sound like gushing.

So, my favorites out if this collection:
"Victory Lap", "Home", "Escape from Spiderhead", and especially, "The Semplica Girl Diaries" and the eponymous  "Tenth of December".

While it's not my favorite of his collections--that would probably be CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, considering he's my favorite living short-story writer, it's all good.

4/5 Fancies.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman



To be completely honest, I was rather disappointed with this book. I suppose part of it may be due its hype of being the new Neil Gaiman book, plus, I suppose, the hype of Gaiman himself, because I definitely expected better. Admittedly, the only other book of his I've read was Coraline, and that was years ago and also for children, but I'm aware of him and his works and I guess I just expected better, particularly as this is billed as an adult book, though between the language and content, I'm not really sure why. I could see this better placed as YA--it's not like they'd lose the adult market anyway.

Basically, a middle-aged man, returns to his childhood home and flashesback to his childhood, specifically an incident that occurred when he was seven years old. As child, a man boarding in his family home kills himself which somehow unleashes a terror upon the boy and he must turn to a witchy, tri-generational trinity of women (and girl) who live at the end of the lane.

The story was interesting enough, though, in my humblest of opinions, it felt very similar to Coraline,  particularly with the recurring childhood vs adulthood dichotomy. And while I've got nothing against that theme, by the end of the book, it almost felt as though he were beating us over the head with it. By the time we get to the ending, it's like okay, I get it, adults are lame and boring and don't listen to reason and ruin things and childhood is better because imagination and fun! Which is another reason I think this would appeal better to a YA audience. Also, it's suppose to be "horror", and from an adult perspective it really wasn't that scary. Although to be fair, I had also just read Junji Ito's Uzumaki, and that's about as terrifying as it gets.

The main problem I had with the story was that it just didn't feel fleshed out. The entire book is under 200 pages and while quantity is no guarantee of quality, in this case, there just wasn't enough content. The "Acknowledgements" states that this grew from what was originally a short story, and I think it definitely reflects that. Really, it feels more like an intermediate draft between the short story and a full novel...perhaps Neil was getting a little too close to the deadline? The storyline just didn't come off as terribly creative, though it definitely had the potential to be if there had been a greater level of detail. As it was, I felt very little connection to any of the characters nor did I ever get a really good feel for the world it takes place in. Of course, the writing itself was no help, as it, too, seemed lacking.

His sentence structure was rather stilted which ruined the flow--they were either too long, or too short, or oddly broken up, and repetitious. For instance, there is a paragraph on page 18 in which all five sentences begin with the word "It". And I think he may have chosen this stylistically to emphasis the "It-ness" of the subject, but at the same time, it just doesn't flow well. And then there's this lovely sentence (emphasis mine):
"We pushed our way into a clump of trees, and through the clump of trees into a wood, and squeezed our way through trees too close together, their foliage a thick canopy above our heads."
If this had been a singular example, it would probably have been forgivable, but the thing is, it. kept. happening. Later on there's: 

"Lettie walked and I walked beside her" and also "...its shadow perfectly positioned to cast nightmare shadows on the wall..." just to point out a few.
To be fair, the editors are probably also partially to blame, as the point of having editors is to catch things like this. Though I'm wondering, if perhaps publication was rushed just because they knew it would sell regardless of the editing because it's Neil Gaiman (which might also explain that "intermediary" feel I mentioned above).

 Of course, I'm not necessarily turned off of Gaiman because of this. According to my sister, Stardust is quite good, and she is one who's opinion I can trust. I've also flipped through American Gods, which looks to be much better and is on my To-Read list. Really, what I found the most disappointing was that this book could have been so, so, much better because there were some really interesting quotes and ideas that just needed some more depth (and editing). I'll say it again, this book comes off as a draft, not a finished novel. But, I suppose every author has his hits and misses, and this one happens to be a miss.

As short at it was, still not really worth the time it takes to read it. 2.5/5 Fancies.

Read Instead: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
                        A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blankets Review

Blankets by Craig Thompson


Last year I read Habibi and that was brilliant and then I came across Blankets which was apparently Thompson's first Big Deal.

So, Blankets is basically a memoir of Thompson's religious childhood out in the middle of Nowhere, Michigan. While it does cover some of his childhood and his relationship with his brother, the main focus of the book is a two week "vacation" when he was a teenager, in which he stays with his "more-than-a-friend-but-not-quite-a-girlfriend", Raina. And that's about it for plot because this book isn't about plot, it's about Thompson's growth and development as an adolescent.

As always, he masterfully merges the story with his illustrations, even when he touches on uncomfortable subjects, which are even more gut-wrenching because this is a memoir and therefore things that actually happened to him.

The only drawback, at least for me personally, is the focus of the storyline. To be honest, the whole teen-romantic-angst angle just wasn't particularly interesting to me. I've probably said this before, but I'm not a romantic person, and I find romance (particularly teen romance) and the drama associated with it, to be tedious. Honestly, I thought dynamic between he and his brother more interesting and would have liked to see more of that, although apparently they sort of drifted as they got older so perhaps there isn't too much there. Of course, he was also still pretty young (24) when he started working on this book, so of course his formative teen years are going to be the focus, and Raina appears to have had the biggest influence on him during that time.

There are parts where the drama seems a bit too drawn out, and parts where the glowing perfection that is Raina seems a bit unrealistic, but then you have to remind yourself that this is from his memories and his perspective, so of course things are going to be skewed. Raina appears perfect because that's how he saw her.

Overall though, it is an enjoyable read, and despite the size, rather quick as it is a graphic novel. Thompson certainly captures the growth and development of his person through childhood to adolescence and beyond.It'd be interesting to see him put out another memoir as a much older person with more life experience to reflect on.
3.5/5 Fancies.