Where did the time go? I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving already. Of course, I will off-line spending a long holiday weekend hopefully sculpting and not writing. In the mean time, I thought I would share some rather random thoughts on a couple of books I read over the summer -- a few mini reviews for your enjoyment.
Drood by Dan Simmons. I had never read anything from Simmons before I stumbled on this over in the horror section of my local Borders. I had a gift card to use, which was the only reason I was there. I read the back cover copy, and since I am a huge Dickens fan, love historical fiction, especially when it seems like it might be a psychological type horror story, and I don't mind a six-hundred plus page book from time to time, I bought it. I wasn't disappointed, unlike many Amazon reviewers. Granted, it's in the horror section, but frankly, the book isn't a horror novel ... not by a long shot. The book, beginning in 1865 with the Staple Hurst accident, is supposed to explore Dickens growing obsession with the mysterious character Drood, but in reality, it's an exploration in hatred, arrogance, and jealousy, and the real monster in the story is Wilkie Collins not Drood. It had a Picture of Dorian Gray feel to it in story and writing style, which apparently didn't please many of Simmons loyal fans. It was a long and brooding, meticulously researched book, chronicling the obsessive state of dementia Wilkie Collins descends into over the course of the narrative, culminating in a crazy plot to kill Dickens and strip him of his literary glory. I recommend it if you have the patience for a rambling narrative. There are moments that are spectacularly creepy even though you know Drood does not exist except in Wilkie's opium twisted mind. I also picked up The Woman In White because of this book.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. What can I say about this convoluted who-dun-it thriller other than I just loved Lisbeth Salander. The story centers around Mikael Blomkvist who is on trial for libel at the beginning of the book. He loses the case, but before he has to serve his prison sentence, he is recruited by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger to research the disappearance of his niece. An odd turn of computer hacking events teams our young disturbed Lisbeth with Blomkvist on a quest to catch a serial killer. As many sidelines as there are in the story, it only further helps to advance the "small world" theory and the notion that everyone has skeletons in their communal family closet. There are Nazi sympathizers, child abusers, rapists, sadists, secret torture dungeons, and a very James Bond styled ending with a corporate asshole getting his comeuppance. As for the serial killer stuff, nothing is overly graphic, despite claims to the contrary. The violence is nothing you wouldn't see on the Sopranos. What I did especially appreciate was that despite the book being littered with misogynistic/sadistic men/monsters, Blomkvist was quite the opposite, pretty much going along with whatever any woman wanted of him. His long-time girlfriend is married, he has no problem having sex with the niece of his benefactor, and doesn't take the slightest issue with Lisbeth, who is many years his junior, throwing herself at him sexually. Some readers might take issue, but I thought his laissez faire attitude fit the story perfectly. He simply respected a woman's individual right to fulfil their needs and expected nothing of it in return. Lisbeth on the other hand is well beyond her issues. We only get dribs and drabs of her story, so it really is her will to survive herself that endears her to the reader. She's a fighter, and we all love a fighter. I watched the Swedish film version and absolutely loved it. I don't think any other actress will be able to play Lisbeth as well as Noomi Rapace. Sorry Hollywood, I just ain't buying your casting on this one. As for the book, much has been said of humanity's propensity towards violence, expecially violence towards the weak, and much has been said of the psychological defense mechanisms we put in place to survive ourselves. In this exploration, the book delivered. However, some readers might find the pacing a bit slow and some of the storylines overdone at the expense of the main serial killer plot point. I didn’t mind and enjoyed most of the detail even if the text had more clichés than I would have liked. However, I would have cut some of the unnecessary detail in order to give a more upfront and personal account of Blomkvist and Salander. Much of their backstory is ambiguous and needs to be inferred by the reader, which isn’t really a problem, but for me, personally, I would have liked to get a little more intimate with both of them, sans the coffee.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. Meet Libby, survivor of the “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas,” where her convicted child-molester brother slaughtered their family. Libby, only ten years old at the time, testified against her bother, sending him to prison for life, but when she meets a national "Kill Club" in search of some easy cash, she begins to doubt her brother's guilt as they do. For a who-dun-it, this is quite good. All the characters are loathsome and there are enough twists, turns, and chapter end cliff-hangers to keep you turning the pages, thought some might find the narrative choppy and abrupt. I especially enjoyed the shifting time and point of view; however, by the second chapter, I understood that the main character's narrative was present time first person POV, so the chapter titles: Libby NOW became annoying after a while. Even so, the book is quite a dark and violent thriller, but almost all the characters managed to redeem themselves in the end. Almost. I really liked that the story candidly addressed our rather inept legal system not to mention the uncomfortable notion that some children who claim abuse are not actually telling the truth. Because of their innocence and desire to please, a child's testimony can be manipulated and is often shaky at best. The book also addresses the alienation of youth and how susceptible the outcast teenager can be to negative influences. I didn’t find anything that Ben “actually” did all that far off base. As for Libby, she reminded me a little of Lisbeth Salander in Dragon Tattoo, well, actually, she reminded me of Lisbeth a lot, except that Lisbeth you like immediately and Libby won't rub you quite the right way until the end of the book. Libby is selfish and hateful, choosing to exploit her victim status for sympathy and cash, which eventually leads to the truth, but it is a nasty way to get there. This is not a book for readers who need to like and connect with the characters. It’s not just dark in its story, it’s dark in its ideas and implications. It's a story about misinformation and misdirection. It's a story about the good and the evil in all of us.
I am off to have turkey, so Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow for our Black Friday Free Book Giveaway Announcement to start off the Holiday shopping season.
Cheryl Anne Gardner