BookBin2012: Stay Awake

Pulling back from the political speak for a little while. You come here for a variety of inane ramblings, so time to switch focus.

Stay Awake is a collection of short stories by author Dan Chaon. I’d never heard of Chaon prior to seeing this book on the “Recommended Reading” table at our local library, but he’s apparently enjoyed moderate success with previous short story collections and novels. With this collection, he examines the darker side of the emotional spectrum through a series of explorations into loss and sorrow.

His prose is at times detached, analytical, which I believe helps immensely as he tackles a series of tales that could very easily slip into the syrupy sanctuary of schmaltzy sentimentality. There’s also an inescapable shifting in his narrative that always leaves you off-balance and uncertain as to what will happen next. His tales are melancholy, morose, strange, and most often unnerving. I also found them to be deeply satisfying.

What can I say? I like the darkness.

There are 12 stories in total in this collection, and each one possesses some strange intimacy with death that I found disturbingly entrancing. I also can’t help but wonder how much loss Chaon has experienced in his life to have such an…open relationship with the many guises of the Grim Reaper. He’s either intimately familiar with it through experience or possesses a very honed morbid sensibility. Either way, his grappling with these various forms of loss is exquisite.

Final Verdict: I don’t know yet if I want this as part of my own collection, but I do believe I would like to further explore Chaon’s oeuvre. His darker sensibilities appeal greatly to my own.

BookBin2012: How to Be A Woman

I do believe that Caitlin Moran and I might have been separated at birth. True, she is a year older than me, we look nothing alike, and there is the whole issue of her being English and me being American. But if I were to believe in sociological/societal/feminist doppelgängers(Doppelgängland? What?), we would belong to each other.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel this way. At least, I hope I’m not the only person to feel this way, because there is little to nothing in Moran’s memoir How To Be A Woman that won’t strike a nerve, have you shaking your head in agreement or shaking your fists in rage, resonate like a klaxon blasted directly into your ear canal, or leave you wiping laughter-induced tears from your eyes. Simply put, in the best British way possible, Moran is brilliant.

First, let’s address the f-word. Moran is a feminist. A strident feminist, as she happily states. Apparently, so am I. Strangely, I don’t think I’ve ever really contemplated it all that much. I didn’t necessarily think that I was feminist. I thought I was being logical for thinking things like I have just as much right to play sports; just as much right to have access to education; just as much right to enjoy things like action figures, horror movies, sci-fi, and reject things like Barbie and pink as my favorite color; and just as much right to make decisions for myself, especially when it comes to things that directly affect my welfare, my career, my life.

See? Logical. Apparently, though, not everyone got the same logic memo I did. So all these things make me a feminist. Actually, I think Moran sums up feminism a bit more concisely when she writes: “Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

Well, there you go.

Truly, that is Moran’s greatest strength and greatest gift with this memoir: She puts in clear, concise terms her thoughts on the state of modern feminism. Her arguments are valid and, yes, logical. She doesn’t bugger off into insipid, emotional tantrums. She knows what she believes and she knows how to express herself in cogent, hilarious ways about things that really aren’t all that funny.

See, while it’s perfectly all right now for women not to be burned at the stake or drowned in a dunk tank for nothing more than progressive thinking, we’re simply not supposed to think of ourselves as feminists. Feminism has been demonized, vilified. It’s been shrouded in decades of negativity, lobbed at it for no reason other than one: fear. Feminism in its purest, truest form encourages women to think that they are capable of anything, if only given the chance…which is precisely what feminists actually want. Not to annihilate men, castrate them, subjugate them, or any other ridiculous notion. We simply want the same opportunities and rights they have. The right to choose when it comes to the decisions that will affect our life’s ultimate journey.

So what’s there to be afraid of? I’m not sure, really. But the fear is HUGE, denizens. So huge that I watched an entire nation treat a woman of enviable intelligence and experience with horrific disrespect, why? For the “crime” of thinking she could be president. Silly woman, didn’t you get the memo? Sisko was a captain before Janeway, and White men granted the right to vote to those they once viewed as property half a century before they granted the same right to their own wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.

Whatever the reason for all this fear, Moran puts forth an excellent argument that being a feminist is not a bad thing. Wanting the inalienable right to choose what is best for us is not a bad thing, whether it be choosing how much pubic hair we would like to have, how much sex we would like to have, whether or not we want to marry, whether or not we want children.

The masterpiece of Moran’s memoir, I believe, comes in her chapter on abortion. I daresay I don’t think I’ve ever read a more honest, straightforward, plain-spoken account of this as a woman’s right and as a personal choice. We want the right to choose what happens to our own bodies, without the intervention of people who really have no place in the decision whatsoever.

Even more, this is ultimately the key to solving so many of the lynchpin political issues that seem unending and unfixable: reduce it to its truest form. Freedom of choice. I don’t believe in Christianity, so I stay out of churches. Guess what you need to stay out of if you don’t believe in abortion?

Wow. I think this is the most I’ve written about a BookBin post in a very long time. And there is still so much more I’d love to say. Final word, though, is this: Moran’s memoir is amazing. I think everyone should read it. Everyone. Not just women. Everyone. Thank you so much to my English friends for introducing me to Moran, and special thanks to the lovely LauraPakora for sending me her copy when I discovered that the book wasn’t yet available in this country. You’ve no idea the joy I have taken away from this book 🙂

Final Verdict: I want to hold onto this one for a bit longer before sharing it…and I do want to share it. With anyone and everyone willing to give it a chance. However, I want to thumb through it a bit more first. I also want to compare it to its American counterpart. I simply have to know how some of the exclusively British segments are translated for an American audience. Welcome to another level of my book nerdery.

BookBin2012: Marvel 1602

As anyone who has followed my literary exploits here at the lair already knows, I’m a bit of a Neil Gaiman fan. Even when I don’t particularly like one of his offerings enough to add it to or keep it in my collection, I still am able to find aspects of the story to enjoy and carry with me. And the stories are always intriguing enough that I keep returning to him as one of my favorite modern genre writers.

My latest library discovery belonging to Gaiman is his 2003 graphic novel Marvel 1602. The year is…1602, and strange events are transpiring all throughout the realm of Queen Elizabeth I. Strange meteorological events, the existence of dinosaurs in the New World, disappearing colonists, savages, demented villains…and the premature arrival of some strangely familiar characters.

That’s right: Gaiman transports a large selection of Marvel heroes and villains back in time to Elizabethan England. Part of what I enjoyed most about this novel was trying to deduce who was whom. Some are easy: Sir Nicholas Fury, Dr. Stephen Strange, Peter Parquagh, Sir Richard Reed, Carlos Javier and his “witchbreed” students.

Wait. I always enjoy saying that name out loud a few times. In a bad impression of Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island. Carlos Javier.

Heh.

Others are a bit more difficult to suss, but they’ll come to you sooner or later. One is actually the key to the early arrival of our favorite Marvel characters into the timeline of Human existence.

Gaiman’s transition of these characters into an earlier historical period is quite well planned and executed. It definitely helps that his tale is supported by a beautiful pencil and coloring collaboration between Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, with gorgeous “scratchboard” covers by Scott McKowen. The artwork itself has a rather unique appearance. I did a little research and learned that, rather than sending the pencil work first to an inker, Kubert sent his pencil drawings straight to Isanove for digital coloring, creating what is referred to as an “enhanced pencil” technique. It’s a beautiful and unique art style that I enjoyed immensely.

It’s also enjoyable and impressive, how well Gaiman slips his selected Marvel representatives into historical reality, nipping and tucking the timeline or simply splitting it open per his own crazy creative whims. I’m by no means an historical expert, but I’ve studied enough English history and the early history of America to be able to recognize several real events scattered through Gaiman’s story and to be able to laugh at how Gaiman tweaked them for his own purposes.

Because I’m a bit of an all-around nerd, this kind of historical/fictional commingling amused me greatly. Do I think it would be everyone’s cup of tea? Probably not. Hard-core history nerds would probably grind a molar or two flat out of frustration, and hard-core comics fans might find the historical angle more than just a little below their expected “BAM! WHAM! KAPOW! ZING!” enjoyment level.

However, if you find yourself amenable to all variety of nerdery, and especially if you have a bit of a soft spot for Gaiman and/or characters from the Marvel universe, I think this might be an enjoyable exploit.

Final Verdict: I might be tempted to add this to my library at some point, but not today. However, if you do read and enjoy this collection, you might be interested in knowing it spawned three sequels. One was even written by Peter David. Do with that knowledge what you will.

BookBin2012: Before I Go To Sleep

What’s this? Another blog post? Three in one day? My goodness, it sure is feast or famine here at the lair lately, eh?

Sadly, even with this post, I’m still not finished catching up with my recent BookBin reads. Still haven’t caught up with other posts either…time slips away so quickly lately.

But this has nothing to do with why we’re really here, now does it? And what’s the reason for this latest meeting? To discuss S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep.

First, I’m doing a rather embarrassing job yet again of trying to stick mainly to books from my own book collection. This is another find that I picked up from the library. How could I resist though? The dust jacket description listed this as “Like Memento on meth.”

I love Memento. No, I don’t also love meth. However, any description that calls upon a Christopher Nolan movie that I actually really like already piques my interest. That being said, I was also slightly reticent in my excitement, considering the last time I allowed myself to be swayed by dust jacket comments.

I’m pleased to say that this novel came much closer to living up to its description than the other novel did. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s a more amped-up version of Memento (I’m assuming that was the implication of the drug reference? What the hell do I know about meth though?). I don’t even completely agree with the comparison beyond overarching similarities. Both have protagonists who suffer from bizarre forms of amnesia in which they are unable to form any new memories.

For Watson’s protagonist, Christine Lucas, her form of amnesia is such that she can form new memories throughout the day, but the moment she falls into deep sleep, everything is lost. Fragments might resurface, but each morning is a frightening state of tabula rasa in which she must be refreshed on everything that is her life now…who her husband is, where they live, what he does, what happened to cause her to lose her memory…it’s rather tiring to consider, really. Imagine having to re-learn everything about yourself each morning, waking up thinking that you’re still in your 20s (Christine’s early memories are the only ones that survive her nightly reboot) only to realize that you’re actually almost 50 and trapped in this hellish mental purgatory.

Of course, this can’t be the only thing going on with this story, with a description like the one that hooked me into picking this up in the first place. Where’s the meth? Well, things don’t seem quite right…even beyond the obvious things. It’s kind of complicated to delve into in a short synopsis, and really, it’s not something that I actually want to get into because I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s just say that while you might not want a “Remember Sammy Jankis” tattoo, you definitely might want to start writing things down. That might help, because something’s definitely rotten in Denmark.

I will also say this: The layering and complexity of this novel are quite brilliant, especially considering that this is Watson’s first time at the rodeo (oh, there’s something so delightful about mixing British and American slang). While I wouldn’t recommend this novel to everyone (especially those of you who hated Memento, shocked though I remain whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t think it’s wonderful), I do think that it’s a definite for people who enjoy a good psychological thriller.

That being said, I do warn that there are several aspects of the plot that, if thought about too hard, make the entire novel unravel right before your eyes. It’s difficult for me to silence the overly analytical part of my brain, so this happened for me a few times. However, it wasn’t enough to cause me to dislike the book. I think that Watson did a remarkable job of taking this concept and making it uniquely his own. There are just some aspects of the story itself that are intrinsically flawed, both with this and with Memento. If you are able to overlook those flaws, however, I think that Watson’s debut novel is something you could enjoy.

I just read on Wikipedia that Ridley Scott has bought the film rights to this book. I approve of that. I also just read that Nicole Kidman is tentatively being considered for the role of Christine Lucas.

Sigh. Not exactly who I envisioned playing Christine. I think that should be left to an actress whose face still actually has the ability to show a wider range of emotion beyond “Botox” and “Botox.”

/ snark

Final Verdict: As much as I enjoyed this novel once I silenced the nitpicker portion of my brain, I don’t think I would want to add this to my collection. I do think I might want to borrow it from the library for another read, now that I know the ending. It’s definitely one of those books that will reveal more to you once you know how it all wraps up. However, I do think that two, maybe three reads is enough for this one. Of course, this is coming from someone who has seen Memento many more times than three. Would it be bad form to say that I just can’t remember how it ends? 😉

BookBin2012: Heart-Shaped Box

So, remember how crazy I went over the first volume of Joe Hill’s graphic novel Locke & Key?

It’s definitely a series that I want to continue reading, just as soon as the local library starts bringing in other volumes. Either that, or I might just break down and buy the set. I don’t know. Cheap Loba is cheap.

Regardless, I was impressed enough by Hill’s writing that I knew I wanted to experience it in its longer, less-illustrated form. When I returned Locke & Key, I checked to see if the library had any of his books in stock and…huzzah! Indeed, they did.

This is how I ended up reading Heart-Shaped Box…and falling even more in love with Joe Hill.

Okay, for full disclosure, I’m just going to come out and say what I alluded to in my review of Locke & Key: Joe Hill’s full name is Joseph Hillstrom King and he is the undeniable offspring of Stephen King. Why undeniable? Look:

Beyond the aesthetics (by the way, I’m not entirely convinced that Hill is King’s kid…I think King is slowly reincarnating himself and becoming Hill…mark my word, soon King will just disappear and all that will exist will be Hill), Hill definitely inherited his father’s ability to spin a nice, solid scary story. With his debut novel, he tells the tale of aging metal rocker (and oh-so-subtlely-named) Judas Coyne who, in his retirement, likes to work his way through young women on a state-by-state basis (he’s currently with Georgia, but Florida is about to really rile him up), name his dogs after fellow rock musicians (he owns two German shepherds named Bon and Angus), and collect all manner of creepiness. He owns an authentic snuff film, a witch’s confession, and now, thanks to a weird online auction, he owns the spirit of an old man, which comes attached to a suit that arrives packed in? A heart-shaped box.

Hmm.

There is, of course, more to the story behind this haunted suit as well as who is haunting it and how they are linked to Coyne. Hill wouldn’t be much of a horror writer if he couldn’t spin this bare-bones synopsis into something far deeper, far darker, and far creepier than what I’ve written here. Okay, it’s not a lot deeper. He’s not Tolstoy. He is, however, quite a capable storyteller, with a clean, captivating style reminiscent in all the best possible ways of his dad’s earlier works.

I hate to compare son to father, but really? If you’re going to be compared to someone, wouldn’t you want it to be someone like King? Hill manages to take two popular horror tropes—the “possessed artifact” and the “supernatural revenge” plots—and combine them into a well-paced and convincingly told tale of terror. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises along the way, but the ones that do come along are enough to continuously pull you further along on Coyne’s wild ride toward either redemption or perdition.

I’m not telling you which one he ultimately finds. Guess you’ll just have to read to find out…

Final Verdict: I don’t know if I want to add this one to my own collection. As much as I liked reading it, I don’t know if I would ever revisit it. I feel as though I’ve gotten all I can from it, for now at least. However, I will gladly recommend this to horror fans, especially those who love Stephen King.

BookBin2012: The Joker

I’ve accumulated a bit of a BookBin backlog and I’m starting to already forget my thoughts on the books that I’ve finished. That won’t be much of a problem with this entry.

I’m not really sure why I picked up Brian Azzarello’s The Joker. I could tell from the artwork that it was based on the Joker as portrayed by Heath Ledger in the Christopher Nolan Batman universe. I make no secret of the fact that I really dislike Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight. I have no interest in seeing this summer’s final offering. I’ll probably rent it later on. Then again, probably not. I guess it all depends on that day’s level of rental-related sadomasochism.

However, I know that Azzarello’s work with 100 Bullets is considered by many to be a graphic novel masterpiece (I’ve yet to experience it, but am willing to take other opinions into consideration).

The problem, however, is that no amount of creativity on Azzarello’s part is going to eliminate the fact that the foundation of this Joker was laid by Nolan. Did I mention that I really don’t like his translation of the Joker?

Well, I don’t.

Therefore, I didn’t really like this graphic novel.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about other interpretations of the Joker is that he is a dark, damaged, duplicitous criminal mastermind, worthy of being considered one of Batman’s number one opponents. Even in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, this darker version of the Joker carried within him a sharpness of wit and humor that were completely lacking in Azzarello’s Joker. Instead, in this story he’s nothing more than a bottom-dollar gangster, taking out petty vengeance on those who “wronged” him while he was away at Arkham Asylum.

Also? I know I come back to this all the time, but the depiction of women in this novel was atrocious. Harley Quinn as a mute stripper? (I’m just assuming she’s supposed to be a mute in this storyline, since I don’t believe I read any lines from her at all…she was just in the background, looking naked and lascivious). And a completely unnecessary act of sexual violence to show what an unhinged badass the Joker really is?

Please stop. Stop now.

I will say this: As with The Killing Joke, what ultimately saved this novel wasn’t the writing but the artwork. The combination of Lee Bermejo’s art with Mick Gray’s ink, Patricia Mulvihill’s colors, and Robert Clark’s letters combine for a delicious panorama of the more sinister sides of Gotham City and its seedier inhabitants. Some of the panels are frame-worthy, they’re so viciously beautiful.

Final Verdict: As much as I love the artwork, this is another case of finding the story itself so repulsive and unimpressive that I’m going to have to pass. Already back at the library, where I should have left it in the first place.

BookBin2012: Sin City Series

A wolf of my word am I. Although, actually, in my review of the final Sin City graphic novel, Hell and Back, I indicated that I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to experience Sin City in all its brutal black-and-white glory.

I guess that means that I’m capricious. I can live with that. It was just too much to resist when I reached the graphic novel section of the library and saw that all of Frank Miller’s Sin City novels were right there, lined up in order and ready for me to grab them from the shelf. For the record, this includes the following novels:

I’m not going to go into descriptions of each novel’s plot. I think that the Sin City Wikipedia page covers that more thoroughly that I could in this post. The gist is pretty much that each novel presents a vignette of vengeance and oftentimes jarringly unhinged brutality to be found within the confines of Basin City, known colloquially as “Sin City.” Many characters wind their way through several of the stories, sometimes trading up to primary characters and sometimes shifting down to secondary or tertiary ones.

I have to admit, Miller’s spin on neo-noir storytelling has moments of surprising brilliance and beauty. I was honestly expecting neither, considering how underwhelmed I was by Hell and Back. However, I now get the impression that the final two entries in this series might have been the point where Miller was winding down and running out of creative steam. I would definitely peg Booze, Broads, and Bullets and Hell and Back as the two weakest links in this chain of stories.

The rest of the novels, however, carry within their pages all the darkness and drama that one would pray for from a place called “Sin City.” Miller utilizes the strength of his monochromatic palette to stunning effect, the lines and angles fluctuating from fluid to fractured to intensely, inescapably haunting. Miller wields a controlled use of color to enhance even further the visual impact of his bleak world.

As for the stories themselves, I feel secure in saying that they are not for everyone. Miller’s city is inhabited by a level of depravity, violence, and horror that I know would turn away a majority of readers, right from the very first novel. There are assassins, cannibals, rapists, prostitutes, strippers, dirty cops, dirty politicians, dirty clergy, psychopaths of all varieties, mobsters…pick your poison and you’ll probably find its flavor somewhere in these pages.

Then again, anyone entering the city limits of Miller’s world must surely know that this is what they’ve signed up for, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

I will say this: I’m completely conflicted about my feelings toward the women of Miller’s world and how he depicts them, both visually and narratively. Right away, I think it’s safe to state that more often than not, whenever a woman is depicted in a comic book, it’s in a rather objectified way. Sadly, I’m resigned to the fact that this is the nature of the beast. Comics audiences are predominantly young heterosexual males who find scantily clad and impossibly endowed women (even of the cartoon variety) to be the type of titillation to bring them running.

Bottom line, ladies: We’re a minority if we’re into the comics scene. There are exceptions to the rule, but not often. And not in this case.

Miller’s pages are filled with innumerable images of naked women…naked women who are unrepentantly cruel or uncomfortably victimized, with the middle ground oftentimes inhabited by frustratingly clueless and/or naive “broads.”

That being said, one of the most powerful characters from the entire series is “Deadly Little Miho,” a mute assassin from “Old Town” (where the prostitutes rule by whatever means necessary) who appears in four of the Sin City stories. While one could argue that she is at times drawn in as equally objectified ways as most of the other women in Miller’s novels, she’s also powerful, frighteningly adept with her weaponry, and highly effective…all without ever uttering a word. She was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of this series.

She was also one of my favorite parts of the movie. I decided, after reading the novels, that I should give Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic take on three of the novels another shot. I’m glad that I did. While definitely not a perfect film and still not one that I would list as a favorite, I must credit Rodriguez with giving Miller’s artwork a glorious visual send-up. Rodriguez claims that this isn’t an adaptation of Miller’s work but rather a “translation.”

Watching this movie with a better understanding of the world being depicted, I think that this is one of the better “translations” of comic-inspired storytelling to come from Hollywood. Rodriguez is honest to and respectful of his source material, using his filmmaking expertise to enhance rather than negate any of the elements he adapts for his story. One could argue that he’s a bit too true to some of the novels’ visual styles; however, I think that he does an impressive job of balancing his obvious reverence for the original novels with his own personal aesthetic.

For those who are interested, the movie adapts the stories from the Sin City novels The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard, and The Big Fat Kill. Also, apparently the sequel has finally been greenlit for arrival in theaters by October 2013. This one will be based on A Dame to Kill For (which I admittedly didn’t like as much as others). It will be interesting to see a return to this world, nearly a decade after the first movie.

Final Verdict: I’m actually glad that I gave the rest of these novels a chance. While I’m by no means enamored enough of these tales that I would want to own copies for myself, I do concede that they were an interesting journey, both in print form and in a return to the movie.

BookBin2012: Lair of the White Worm

Once more to the Kindle! After re-reading Dracula and delighting in it as much as I did my first go-round, I decided that I wanted to read more by Mr. Stoker. Sifting through the free library, I found his 1911 novel Lair of the White Worm. I already knew about this novel and, in fact, had used a play on its title as the name of my first Web site, The Lair of the White Wolf. It seemed like a no-brainer that this should then be my second Stoker experience.

This is, quite possibly, one of the worst things I have ever read. I wish I could say otherwise, but I have nothing kind to say about this book. It’s discordant, rambling, unfocused, can’t decide what story it wants to tell or what genre it wants to be. Is it a battle of wills? Is it a cursed family? Is it a monster story?

The only bit of consistency that it had for a while was the consistent use of a particular racial epithet in regard to a Black servant to one of the primary characters. I was glad when he was killed if only to stop the appearance of this particular word on my Kindle screen, especially as I read a large portion of this book while sitting in airports or on planes. Had I known Stoker had such a propensity for this particular word, I would have chosen a different book to slog through in such public places!

Oh, by the way, sorry for the character death spoiler. Trust me, though, you don’t want to read this novel. It’s terrible. I tried so very hard to come up with a more balanced review, but it simply isn’t within me.

Upon doing a bit of research on the free Kindle version I read, I did learn that this is the abridged 1925 release of the story. Apparently, 100 pages were removed and there were some rewrites. I can’t imagine that this story was actually 100 pages longer; at its abridged length, it felt like it would never end. I also can’t imagine that those 100 pages made the story make any more sense or seem any less ridiculous. It was probably nothing more than another 100 opportunities for Stoker to write the N word.

Needless to say, I won’t be seeking out the unabridged version. I think if I tried to read this story again, I would lose all respect for Bram Stoker as a writer. I’d rather that not happen.

I know that Ken Russell made a movie based on Stoker’s novel, back in 1988. His Lair of the White Worm stars Amanda Donohoe and Hugh Grant. I might have to rent that, simply for the inevitable camp factor.

Final Verdict: I don’t think I have ever deleted a file more quickly or more gleefully.

BookBin2012: Reunion

I came here to write a review of another book I recently finished, but soon realized that I never completed my round of reviews from my last library trip. My mother was right: I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached.

Ah well. Better late than never, right?

I alluded to this book in my review of Alan Lightman’s Ghost: A Novel. Even though my initial excitement regarding Lightman diminished slightly from Einstein’s Dreams to Ghost, I was still enamored enough of his style and the way his mind processed ideas that I wanted to read more. Reunion was the only other Lightman novel in stock at the local library, so I quickly added it to my stack.

Yet again, I find myself visiting the concept/complaint of the “well-worn trope.” There is no new thing under the sun and certain stories have been and will continue to be retold until the end of existence itself. One of these stories is that of time travel, of returning to a place, a person, a moment in our pasts and…what? Changing it? Reliving it? Erasing it? Cherishing it?

In Reunion, Lightman takes his protagonist—Charles, a divorced literature professor with a “comfortable” but unremarkable life—to his 30th college reunion. From this setting, Charles stumbles backward through the spiral of time, to a point near the end of his college days that obviously still held depth and meaning and passion for him.

This is a “lost love” story, replete with regret and the remnants of a once unquenchable fire, revealed through what I continue to love most about Lightman: his clean, graceful prose. Is it a successful translation of this particular trope? Yes, for the most part. Lightman is a clever author and his perspectives are oftentimes just different enough to distinguish his take from the myriad others available to readers.

However, there persists that niggling notion that this is a story that we of the science fiction-minded have visited so many times that it must be an extraordinary take to make a proper impact upon us. Is this such a take? It is beautiful. It is engaging. It is not wildly original. It’s a comfortable visit with an eloquent and engaging friend. Their story is familiar, but you still enjoy hearing it told in their delightful way.

Final Verdict: My third visit with Lightman has convinced me that he is a steady storyteller of exceptional compositional skill. Were this a less-traveled trope, I might desire to add this to my library. However, I don’t feel a burning need to revisit Reunion any time soon. Perhaps this will change…in 30 years or so 😉

BookBin2012: My Life as a Man

I have to confess this to you, denizens: I’m severely confused by this book. See, the reason that I checked out Frederic Lindsay’s My Life as a Man was because the cover stated it was a thriller and scarier than Satan’s nightmares. Or something like that. Point is, it was supposed to be a chilling thrill ride, which sounds precisely like something I wanted to read.

There was nothing chilling, thrilling, or, ultimately, fulfilling about this story at all, denizens. I suppose as a coming-of-age story, it succeeded in being different. The problem, however, is that I wasn’t sold just a coming-of-age tale. I was sold “The scariest coming-of-age story you’re likely to read. Lindsay will scare the bejesus out of you.”

So wrote Kirkus Book Reviews.

Apparently, bejesus no longer lives inside me, because he certainly wasn’t scared out by this book.

I will grant Lindsay this: He had an interesting hook for the start of his novel. After being fired after only a week at his factory job, 18-year-old Harry Glass decides that it would be a good idea to leave the factory for the last time in his former boss’s car. Only problem is that the former boss’s wife is in the car. They go back and forth for a little while before deciding to keep going…then they realize there’s something in the trunk of the car that certain dangerous people might want back…then they end up with this really odd couple who might be married or might be siblings…or might be both…and hilarity thus ensues.

I honestly kept expecting things to get interesting, especially when our daring duo end up in the hills with the questionably related creepy farmers. The cover wouldn’t lie to me, would it?

Yes. Yes, it would.

Final Verdict: Back to the library you are sent. I have no interest in ever reliving my life as a man.