Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book 19 – No Country For Old Men

By Cormac McCarthy

I won’t waste my breath providing a synopsis as Olman and Mount Benson have already written great reviews for this book.

This was a very cool read. To quote a review from The New Yorker, No Country For Old Men is “tight, reduced, simple and very violent”. Since I saw the film adaptation prior to reading the novel, it was an unexpected pleasure to discover a “different” ending, which revealed a more straightforward resolution compared to the inexplicable and jarring denouement of the Coen Brothers’ movie.

In the novel, the motives of Llewellyn Moss were definitely more questionable and complex. The nemesis, Anton Chigurh, really came across as this new breed of monster in human form, who, for whatever mysterious reason, ends up ascending the echelons of criminal society. And finally, there’s Sheriff Bell as the moral center, who seems even more a helpless and irrelevant figure, as the world he once knew gradually descends into lawlessness.

Even though it was mildly confusing at times, I didn’t mind the lack of punctuation and dialogue quotations. It was a self-conscious stylistic device for sure, but it also added a kind of detached surreal quality to the narrative.

From what I’ve read in the way of reviews, though McCarthy's talent for words is undisputed, there are some critics who question whether he’s really all that deep. He's post-moderney and intellectual but successfully mimics southern white trash vernacular. Does this make him inauthentic? His pessimistic takes on human nature and running themes of meaningless violence and the pervasiveness of evil... does this make his work morally empty?

I haven’t read enough of McCarthy’s stuff to know. But I do know that NCFOM certainly delivers as an existential action thriller. I also like his style, which is, as quoted by Mt Benson, “a consistent voice and a world of destruction and desolation”. In the future, I’ll definitely check out other books by McCarthy, particularly his latest: a post-apocalyptic father & son story called The Road (despite the fact that it was selected by Oprah for a Book Club pick!).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book 18 – I Am Legend (& Other Stories)

By Richard Matheson

This was the result of a very rare moment where I purchased a brand new trade paperback for myself (couldn’t find a used copy in time for the movie release), and it was worth every over-priced Canadian penny. What a totally wicked way to almost end my 2007 Book List!

I was so very glad I read the book before watching the movie. As I’m sure all the 50-bookers are already familiar with the premise of Matheson’s story, I won’t bother to summarize. The ending alone is priceless, exuding the kind of bleak pessimism that haunts your thoughts for days (unlike the movie’ version’s perversely uplifting ending which left me shuddering for the wrong reasons!). 'I Am Legend' is obviously a must-read for any fan of post-apocalyptic and/or horror fiction.

Adding more bang to my canuck-buck, my purchase also came with several short stories by the same author. Some aspects of the writing are a little pulpy in terms of subject matter and suffer from out-datedness a la the 1950’s, e.g. stereotypical heterosexual relationships and preconceived ideas about non-white cultures. But the majority of the stories were still page-turners with some creepy little gems like:

"Prey" – a woman is trapped inside her apartment with a possessed African-fetish doll! Now you get my drift? But her battle with the murderous doll was very well-written.

"Mad House" – a hapless man’s rage against his loser life is so great, it takes on a life of its own... and turns his own house against him! walkerp would definitely identify with the character’s furious outbursts ;-)

"From Shadowed Places" – a rich American man pisses off a vengeful African shaman and pays the price! And help comes in the most unlikely form.

"Person to Person" – a man hears a voice inside his head, a voice that telephones him every night! Is it a figment of his subconscious, or a sinister external entity that wants to take over his body? Neat twist at the end too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book 17 – Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants

By Jill Soloway

To continue my brief sojourn into 'chick-lit' is this collection of essays from one of the top writers from the TV show, Six Feet Under. This is most definitely not something I would ever consider reading (the only reason I delved into this was because the book was a gift). All in all, TLISP provided a mindless distraction from the usual stuff I read, providing amusing little nuggets about life as a middle-class Jewish girl growing up in Chicago to juicy anecdotes about being a struggling writer in L.A.

Some of the passages were funny and insightful, like bitching about public toilet seat “hoverers”. But others weren’t so funny, like her rants about patriarchy and feminism. If you’ve read a book or two by de Beauvoir or Friedan, or taken a first-year Women’s Studies course, you'll likely wince at Soloway's so-called theories, which have already been said more intelligently and articulately by a generation of feminists before her. But when Soloway sticks to cute subjects, like Why Jews Go to the Bathroom with the Door Open, or morsels of advice, like how to make a decent living as a writer in L.A., then it’s a little more bearable.