Monday, April 27, 2009

Number 10 this year is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

This is one of those books I've been told to read or have heard recommended by others umpteenth times. Until last week, I've managed to ignore all recommendations because well, it's a romance (and not a cheap, fun romance-novel romance) and it's about time travel. As a trope, I generally really dislike time travel. I find it needlessly complicated and usually annoying. I also don't really consider myself a 'romantic' person, although, as I think about it, I do enjoy the odd love story, and like it even better when it has a happy ending. Perhaps that is why I don't count myself as a lover of Romances; they usually end badly.

So, I admit, I was all set to not like this book. I was wrong. It was a lovely book. I think it helped that Niffenegger kept the time-travel simple; it is a genetic condition main character Henry has. He cannot help but spontaneously move through time, arriving naked and nautious, to witness his life (and that of Clare's, his wife) from different points in time. Henry cannot change time, he just moves through it. That is the sort of time-travel I can handle.

I guess one of the main reasons I liked this book is the narrative. It is told from both Henry and Clare's perspectives in a very nicely done, non-linear format. I love non-linear narratives. Not sure why because they can sometimes be a pain in the ass, but when they're done well, they are a hell of a lot of fun to read. A bit of a challenge, but not too much, until it all comes together almost seamlessly. To pull one off successfully is to be much admired. And this one is quite successful.

Of course, like all good Romances, this one ends bitter sweet, if not downright sad. It is beautiful and uplifting in so many ways, and who am I to argue with the whole, 'there is definitely one right person out there for you, and it may not be perfect, because nothing is, but it will be perfect for you' theme I felt was running through it, but still, I wish there coulda been a happy ending.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Number 9 of the year is Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.

Now, I'm going to start off saying right away that I've been told repeatedly, from different, trusted sources, that this is not a good book. And in comparison to the Dexter television show, no, it's not good. However, nor is it horrible. It's readable, but you can definitely see where the show improved on it. And after having watched two seasons of the show, it's impossible not to compare the book to the show.
So yes, we have one of those (as far as I'm concerned) rarities where the book is NOT better than the other form of media that has spawned from it.

It is also impossible to read this book now and not hear actor Michael C. Hall's voice for Dexter. But the thing is, even with this v/o, I didn't find book-Dexter very... scary. Oh he tells us he's a monster and he tells about how he's killed (and we see him do it), but there's something about the way he's written that makes him seem less than menacing. Perhaps it's Lindsay's overuse of alliteration that does it, I'm not sure. Dexter's inner monologue is nearly flowery, romantic at times, and somehow, it doesn't really work as it makes him less of a monster that he waxes poetic at the moon and whatnot. Book Dexter has none of the... menace that Michael C. Hall so effortlessly portrayed in the series. It was a bit of a let down.

Also, the book does nothing to set up the ultimate identity of the Tamiami Trail Killer (aka the Ice Truck Killer in the show) and by the time you do learn his identity and his connection to Dexter, you're kinda like... what? Where did this come from? The show, on the other hand, built it up brilliantly through flashbacks and Dexter's remembering and whatnot. In the book, Dexter has dreams, but they don't feel connected to his past, rather it focuses on this idea that Dexter could actually be the one physically carrying out the killings, but in a fugue/somnabulastic state. It doesn't really work.

Basically, I can see why the show was made; there's a good idea in here about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers, but the execution of it isn't very good. The show's writer to the initial idea and ran with it, and then were blessed with an extremely good actor who is easy to root for, but still scares the hell out of you while you do so.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book number 8 of this year is Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon. It's a historical mystery set in the colonial Carolinas in 1699. We follow legal clerk Matthew Corbett and his magistrate/father-figure Isaac Woodward to Fount Royal, where Woodward has been summoned to decide whether a witch is living in the newly established settlement. The two are immediately thrown into danger, even before they reach the town, stopping off at an inn where the inhabitants basically rob and murder their patrons. They narrowly escape and make their way through a torrential downpour to arrive at Fount Royal with nothing but their pajamas on their backs. Once at the town, they must deal with the inhabitants, some of whom stand to gain if Rachel, the accused witch, is executed. Soon it becomes obvious to Matthew that everyone has secrets, even the magistrate.

The characters are all right; Matthew comes off as rather insufferable sometimes, and there isn't really enough clues laid out through the novel to make you think the ending makes sense, which basically makes for an ok read, but not a great one. Not really much to say about this book I guess.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Book 7 is Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maughm. Yes, I seem to be on some sort of American Lit kick all of a sudden.

The Razor’s Edge tells the story of an American, Larry Darrell (yes of course I immediately thought to myself "Hi I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl"), who, traumatized by his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War I, decides to search for some transcendent meaning in his life. The novel starts its story through the eyes of Larry’s friends and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the War, but Larry eventually ends up 'narrating' more of his own experiences about halfway in. His rejection of conventional life and search for meaningful experience allows him to thrive while the more materialistic characters suffer reversals of fortune. The other major characters are, Isabel, Larry's erstwhile fiancee, and Isabel's uncle, Elliot Templeton, unrepentant snob and bon vivant. The novel takes place over 20 years, from about 1920 to the late 1930s and changes locations, from Chicago to London to Paris to the French Rivera.

Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Because of the subject matter, American expats living abroad basically, I couldn't quite help but contrast this book with Hemingway's writing. Maughm is much more descriptive and nowhere near as blunt as Hemingway, but his writing suits his subject matter as Hemingway's suits his. Maughm paints a picture of high society through Elliot, but then immediately gives us a counterbalance through the life of Larry, who is searching for something meaningful and even spiritual in life, but he's not quite sure what. Larry's 'loafing' takes him all over the world, through Europe and eventually to India where he embraces a lot of the eastern teachings. And despite the fact that Larry does 'nothing' (something quite frowned upon by most everyone else), he does seem to be the most peaceable of the characters. I wouldn't say he's completely happy, but he seems to be content. In his own way, Larry does seem to anticipate the Beat writers' generation, but I don't think he's wandering for the same reasons.

One thing that did initially throw me about this book is that the narrator is Somerset Maughm himself, and it took me a couple of chapters in to realize this. At first I found it kinda jarring, but his first person narration did eventually work and gave an interesting perspective on things, as Maughm's status as a successful writer allowed him to move through both the upper class and bohemian worlds, without taking either of them too seriously.

I definitely liked this book enough to venture onto Maughm's other great novel, Of Human Bondage. After that, I may take a break from American lit for a bit.