Friday, October 29, 2010

Another book you should read.

This time it's Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. 

This novel---composed of a series of stand-alone stories related by character and interior depth---can and has been described as post-postmodern, something that came from decades of ultra-self-conscious text and literary stunt pilotry. Whereas postmodern fiction is mostly concerned with esoteric reference and characters as stand-ins for concepts and themes, Egan's novel revels in character, and offers a chance to relate to a strange cast of characters. It's readable, but doesn't neglect readers who demand a certain depth and intelligence from their fiction.

If the novel draws anything from postmodernism, it's a disregard for conventional structure. The stories all have an individual strength; they are rife with their own themes and symbols, and yet, they come together to make a powerful statement about aging, interaction with other people, and, surprisingly, subtly, love. There's a heartfelt humanism that permeates through each tale, as different as they all may be. The stories are written in first, second, and third person. Each works incredibly well, against all odds, even (especially, maybe) the story that's written as a power-point presentation. (Actually, that's what other reviewers call it. In the story, it's a teenage girl's "graphic journal," from a near-future that values visual content over verbal. As the narrator [director?] quotes school-endorsed slogans such as "Add a graphic, increase your traffic," and "A word-wall is a long haul.")

Sometimes the stories are absolutely heart-breaking, as in "Out of Body," about a disillusioned young man who drowns in a garbage-strewn river, and the final story, which takes place in 2020, and shows a world of ultra-connectivity, instant-access art, and pure hope. How beautiful and rare.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Couple books I'd like to write about:

Firstly, Benjamin Percy's The Wilding. Percy's the author of a couple books of short stories (The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh,) many of which deal with issues of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a boy growing into a man, what it means to be a man during a disastrous, fiendishly well-plotted, soul-baring hunting trip in central Oregon. Or so I've heard. I haven't read them all.

I'm certainly going to make that change after reading The Wilding, Percy's first novel, released by Graywolf Press late last month. I picked up the book after reading a smallish blurb about it in Esquire and, sort of shamefully, I was mostly just drawn to the cool cover. But hey, I've discovered some great books that way and this time was no exception.

The novel has received much comparison to good ol' Deliverance, which I'm not qualified to build upon simply because I've never read it. I just know the reference, in which one character hums the infamous banjo line from the film version, is hilarious and rather obvious. I dig it.

The book takes place in central Oregon (surprise) and deals with manhood (ditto.) The essential details how Justin Caves, a schoolteacher, and his son Graham go on a hunting trip with Justin's ur-manly father, Paul, before the wilderness is destroyed to make way for a shiny capitalism-symbolizing resort. The trip turns deadly as the hunters are stalked in the night by. . .something. There's a nifty and creepy side story involving Justin's disillusioned, unsatisfied wife, as well.

Okay, so. The main story line is certainly nothing to go googly-eyed over, and it follows through fairly predictably, but the writing is absolutely superb. Percy writes like a more energetic, literary Stephen King and he keeps your ears perked for what may be hiding in the shadows. Certainly a good nighttime alone-in-the-house book. I hear Percy just signed a book deal to put out a werewolf novel, and this makes me very happy, as he handles an extremely similar theme with expert wordsmithery with The Wilding.

Now for Book no.2: Kizuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. This book was published originally in 2005 and received tremendous acclaim; I'm ashamed of not having read it til this past week, when the movie edition of the novel was released.

This novel is gorgeous and heart-breaking. It burns through your mind like a slow ache. As you read the last paragraph, I defy you to not cry, or at least get that closing-throat feeling.

I'll give away the plot, as it's something most readers have encountered a dozen times before, probably in grade school: It takes place in a re-imagined late-'90's Britain, in which clones are raised as organ donors for transplants. Like The Wilding, the power comes not from the banal plot but from the immaculate writing and the loving handling of the themes.

The novel is told from the perspective of clone Kathy, a 31-year-old "carer," or someone who comforts the donor clones between donations, before they, too, begin donations. She tells the story of her and her friends' live prior to donating: they were raised in a privileged environment at Hailsham, a school for clone children. Eventually they graduate and get to experience the outside world somewhat, before becoming donors. It is within these moments the Ishiguro's perfect pacing and gentle narration really grabs for you heartstrings. The novel deals with love, death, innocence, and the loss thereof. It deals with all these things beautifully and tragically.