BookBin2014: Tricked

tricked

First graphic novel of the new year! Alex Robinson’s Tricked initially caught my eye because of its cover. It’s quite appealing to a child of the 80s (it also made me want a companion book emblazoned with a pencil on its cover; awkward cassette tape humor, FTW).

If I were to boil down this novel into one sentence, it would be that this is one of those “strangers suddenly linked by a common experience” stories. We’ve seen quite a few of these types of stories recently; if it works once, it will work hundreds more times, right? I could even argue that Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy could qualify as this type of story, since many of the residents of Pagford really didn’t know each other at all (most especially the ones who were related or married).

The question is, was Robinson’s take on this storyline successful? To qualify, he would need to create characters who are not necessarily likeable but complex enough to pique reader interest, as well as story arcs that join together in believable ways and lead to a captivating conclusion. As to the latter part of these requirements, I feel ambivalent. In some ways, I felt that the ending, while not what one might expect, was more satisfying. Conversely, the failure of meeting fully the expectations of the former requirement meant that the ending lacked the punch that it might have carried, had all the characters been interesting.

I will say, however, that two characters in particular shine: a paranoid schizophrenic who decides to stop taking his medications, and a waitress struggling to overcome body issues ingrained upon her by a string of abusive relationships. Both characters are believable in discomfiting ways. Both characters, for primarily subjective reasons, caused me to engage in a great deal of internal debate regarding their behavior, their choices, and at times their insufferable behavior. It’s a shame that the other characters couldn’t incite this level of response from me, but I applaud Robinson for taking the time to craft these characters so well.

Lest we forget that this is a graphic novel, I should acknowledge that Robinson’s illustrations are somewhat tame but clean and controlled, with the occasional inspired use of space and his monotone palette. Overall, his artwork is enjoyable while in the midst of the novel but not memorable enough to remain with me.

Final Verdict: I like Robinson both as a storyteller and an illustrator, and since my new favorite thing is to search the county library catalog and put holds on books, I’ll have to see if they have anything else of his that I can give a go.

BookBin2014: The Casual Vacancy

casualvacancy

I suppose that notoriety for a particular “thing” does have a bit of a double edge to it. Yes, you have gained fame (and often great financial stability from said fame), but you also have found yourself pigeon-holed by expectations that you forever continue to be/do said famous “thing.”

Such is the case with J.K. Rowling. After spending more than a decade spinning the tales of Harry Potter and his band of friends and foes at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she was both quite financially set (richer than the bloody Queen!) and quite pigeon-holed. What do you mean, you don’t want to write about Harry’s adventures anymore? What? You want to…write for adults now?

(Okay, some can very validly argue that she was writing for adults also with the Harry Potter books.)

So, after years of being She Who Must Write Harry Potter Fiction, Rowling decided to hang up her invisibility cloak and set to writing different stories about different people in a completely different style. A style meant for grups.

I have to admit, denizens, that I found this highly disorienting. I sort of expected this response, which is why it took me this long to take a stab finally at Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy.

From an objective perspective, Rowling’s first foray into writing for adults? Not bad. Quite decent, actually. She’s rather successfully brought her acumen for planning and outlining intricate plot points in clear language to this novel about the idyllic parish of Pagford and many of its residents. She weaves a detailed tale of the many surface and surprising ways that the sudden death of Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother impacts the town. She assembles an impressive array of characters and how they connect, impact, influence, irritate, offend, betray, belittle, disappoint, inspire…basically, how they interact with each other in realistic, albeit overly negative ways (Rowling’s commentary on our real-life propensities to too often be utter gits to one another?).

Objectively, this is a fascinating character study from a skilled author, even if it is a bit like a slightly more high-brow, slightly more believable literary equivalent of a soap opera. Rowling’s take on The EastEnders?

Subjectively, I have to confess that I found myself often thinking that the writing was far too blue, far too graphic at times—almost as if Rowling were putting extra effort into distancing herself from those pesky children’s novels. Her teenaged characters, particularly, were in many ways the anti-Potters. Less concerned with the fate of the wizarding world and more concerned with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Very concerned with these things. Especially the sex. Again, from an objective perspective, the depictions were believable. Subjectively, I kept envisioning Harry and his mates behaving in these ways, and that really skeeved me out.

Additionally, this novel was quite a quiet departure for Rowling, who was our guide through physical adventure, danger, and more with her previous project. In comparison, The Casual Vacancy was…not completely devoid of action. However, most of the action was internal, reflective, mental, solitary, or a combination of these options. Again, it’s not as if nothing happens. Quite the contrary. The book takes us on a definite journey. Rather than provide us with fantastic action for our imaginations, however, Rowling provides us with contemplative discourse on character behaviors that lead us to the ultimate destination of this story (which, admittedly, becomes quite clear well before the denouement).

Final Verdict: I can understand why many found it difficult to warm to Rowling’s first adult novel. As unfair as it might be to Rowling and her talents, it’s very difficult to forget completely that she is Harry Potter’s “mum.” Also, if you were a fan of her Potter novels, it’s going to be very difficult to let go of that wish that this was another entry for that story rather than something new. Objectively, I did enjoy this novel. Subjectively, I kept waiting for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to come in and steal me away for another of their wondrous adventures.

However, I do believe I will give her second adult novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, a proper go. I think it was quite wise of her to publish her second non-Potter book under a pseudonym. I just wish I didn’t know it prior to reading it. I’m afraid I’m going to do the same mental comparisons as I did with this first novel. But we shall see…

BookBin2014: Dark Tide

darktide

First, a caveat: This book has two different titles, depending on which side of the pond you find it. In Elizabeth Haynes’s home country of England, the book is known as Revenge of the Tide. Here in the colonies, however, the book is called Dark Tide. Haynes does make note of the fact that the U.S. version of her story went through additional revisions that provided a bit more back story for the main character. Perhaps they changed the title to allow readers the chance to more easily identify the two different versions. I’ll go with that answer for now.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to continue on the mystery thriller streak that I started with Gone Girl. This book sounded promising from its dust jacket blurb, which describes how protagonist Genevieve Shipley has left behind all the stresses of London to spend a year remodeling a houseboat she purchased in Kent (heh, Shipley…houseboat…clever girl, that Haynes). Part of the stress, however, finds her in her new home when she discovers the body of a former friend/colleague floating outside her bedroom window one night.

Different level of stress from what we’re used to, eh?

From the point of discovery, we begin to learn more of Genevieve’s London life: Of her horrible day job that she wants to leave more than anything, and of the night job she takes to reach her financial goals a bit more quickly. Seems she’s got quite a talent for pole-dancing in her exercise class, so her instructor (a former stripper, of course) sets her up to become the newest dancer at the Barclay, a classy gentleman’s club where the strippers might wear very little, but they never wear clear heels.

Chris Rock hollaback.

Truthfully, this wasn’t a bad novel. Haynes is an able writer and, as a police analyst, she infuses a certain level of professional believability into her writing that grounds it, gives it a bit of much-appreciated heft. I’m still uncertain as to whether I’m ever going to be a true fan of these types of books, but I obviously enjoyed this one enough to finish it (although I didn’t find it to be quite the page turner that I found Gone Girl to be).

Plus, Genevieve is a likeable enough character. Actually, many of Haynes’s characters were likeable (which was a welcome change from the last book). I read a couple of reviews that dubbed Genevieve a “good girl gone bad.” I don’t necessarily think that’s a fair assessment. If anything, I think that Genevieve remains relatively inline with her true self (which isn’t “good” or “bad”…I’d say she’s a decent soul). She’s a bit naive when it comes to certain things, true, but she’s also more than aware of other things, knows how to take care of herself (for the most part) and knows that sometimes you have to take different routes to get to where you want to go. I wouldn’t say she’d “gone bad” at all; she just made allowances that she didn’t properly think through so that she could get what she wanted. This story is just an exaggerated example of how having tunnel-vision focus on a goal can sometimes lead to very bad things.

Final Verdict: Dark Tide is a solid enough mystery that had a satisfying series of revelations and wrap-ups. I don’t foresee purchasing it, but I wouldn’t be averse to reading other novels from Haynes.

BookBin2014: Gone Girl

gonegirl

New year, time to start the new BookBin litany. Of course, I’m still promising to get through all the books from my own collection that I need to read…and now that I have them all properly arranged in one place thanks to relocating to a new domicile that has, of all wondrous things, denizens, my very own reading den, I see how many books I own that I have never read. It’s alarming.

So what did I do? I went to the library and checked out a stack of books…including the book that I saw most frequently at the top of people’s book stacks last year: Gillian Flynn’s suspense thriller Gone Girl.

I was a bit worried about getting this book, which was why I avoided picking it up last year whenever I saw a copy available in the New Releases section. I’m infamous for balking at those things most people bury under mounds of hyperbolic praise. There is nothing more difficult sometimes than living up to other people’s hype. Amplify that hype through the ever-present, always wired online echo chamber and good luck trying to hear an honest opinion above the roar.

However, I recently read a book-to-movie list for 2014, and Gone Girl was there, directed by David Fincher, one of my favorite modern filmmakers. I decided this was the push that I needed to finally read this novel.

Here’s a quick snippet of the “official” description:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media – as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents – the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter – but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

That’s all I’m going to give in regard to plot. I’d hate to give away anything here, as this is a suspense novel. Part of the fun of these stories, I’m told, is figuring out the mystery for yourself. I found that some of the twists in this novel become quite obvious, especially as you get a better feel for the truth hidden among the flotsam of falsities that saturate this story. Some twists are less obvious, but if you’re paying close enough attention, especially to those “innocuous” throw-away lines, you’ll be okay.

Admittedly, I found that I couldn’t put down this novel. This became a problem in the evenings, since I usually read as a means of mellowing out and shifting into “sleep” mode. This book did not make me want to sleep. It made me want to keep reading. I finally capitulated to this need and spent the better part of this past weekend devouring the remainder of this novel.

My general opinion of Gone Girl is that Flynn is a masterful writer who apparently has chosen to specialize in showcasing some of the worst that humanity has to offer. I disliked practically every character. I think, though, that’s the point. Apparently, Flynn wants us to believe that some people live their awful lives, surrounded by equally awful people…or people far more awful than they could ever aspire to become. For Flynn, awful attracts awful. Twisted forms more twisted. Repulsive is the new black.

Then there is the ending. Many people hate the ending. Many view it as a cop-out. Many view it as ruinous. I can understand these reactions. I didn’t experience any of these responses, but I think that’s because I was not invested in any of these characters. I realized pretty early on that I didn’t care what happened to any of them. I was more fascinated by Flynn’s writing and her incredibly warped sensibilities…watching how she tied the knots and then watching how she would untangle them all in the end. I might have experienced some sympathy for a couple of the characters, but that didn’t last long. If anything, they are interesting to observe before leaving them behind and thanking your lucky stars that you don’t know anyone who even remotely resembles any of these people.

If you do know people like the ones in a Flynn novel, I’m supremely sorry.

I didn’t think the ending was all that out-of-character. I also didn’t have any other preferred ending in mind. I know many people were probably looking for an ending in which certain characters received retribution. No one likes to think that bad people can get away with doing bad things. Sadly, though, it happens all the time in real life…and we apparently want all our escapism to be just the same as the reality we’re seeking to escape. So…retribution denied.

As for the movie, I’m actually pretty on-board with most of the casting. I think Rosamund Pike will make a great Amy Elliott Dunne. I actually think Ben Affleck will make a good Nick Dunne. I do wish they were closer in age, but that’s an aesthetic complaint only at this point. Strangely enough, I was actually picturing Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings in my mind as I read the novel, so I’m obviously okay with his casting. I disagree with Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, but that’s because I disagree with Tyler Perry. Kim Dickens was a surprise to me as Detective Rhonda Boney, but that’s another aesthetic gripe (the novel’s Boney does not sound like she would look at all like Dickens). I really hope that Emily Ratajkowski can do more than make “duck face,” because she’s going to be really irritating if she can’t.

Final Verdict: I don’t think I want to add this novel to my own collection. It has made me want to seek out at least one more example of Flynn’s writing style, but probably not for a while. I don’t know if I want to submerge myself so soon into the warped psyches of the inhabitants of Flynn’s world. However, I will be keeping an eye on movie news. I might even go see this in the theater. Probably not…but you never know!