The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Book Review)

The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: my-dystopia-utopia, post-apocalyptic, survival, end-of-the-world, literary-fiction, artsy-fartsy, pulitzer-winner, heebie-jeebies

This would have been five dazzling stars if not for some stylistic gripes.

The first is in the floor, such as “He sat down in the floor” or “The water spilled in the floor.” The first couple of times I thought they were typos that are annoyingly typical in e-books, but then I noticed its consistent use. Google tells me this is a colloquialism local to North Carolina. I can appreciate dialects, but I dislike stumbling over things and this one is, to me, nonsensical. If something is “in the floor,” I think it is inside the goddamn floor, like soaked-in liquid or ground-in dirt. It’s the difference between in the ground and on the ground, or on the bed and in bed. This was as annoying to me as Laura Lippmann’s Baltimoreon colloquialism “I am a police,” which I bitched about here.

My other gripe is about McCarthy’s disdain for apostrophes. Googling around, I read that he dislikes “cluttering up the page with unnecessary marks.” I take exception. When you omit apostrophes in can’t and won’t and we’ll then you’re using the entirely wrong goddamn word, and the apostrophes are hardly unnecessary clutter. McCarthy’s language is poetic and lyrical and beautifully archaic at times, and it interrupts a truly mesmerizing flow when I have to go back and reread the phrase or sentence because it doesn’t make sense as written. It’s like walking through a familiar room and constantly stubbing my toes and barking my shins because some madman just decided to move the couch into the doorway. Artsy-fartsy literary pretensions like this are, um, pretentious.

Other reviewers were also irritated by the lack of quotation marks around dialogue. I suspect these are more of what McCarthy deems unnecessary clutter, but Margaret Atwood uses this device to particularly good effect and it didn’t bother me here.

Now that we’re past my gripes, all I can say about this book is — wow. I mean, wow. I cannot remember ever reading a book as bleak and hopeless. McCarthy’s use of language lends an eerie beauty to the endless gray desolation of his post-apocalyptic world. There isn’t much plot to this setting- and character-driven story, and there doesn’t need to be. The deceptively simple repetition of days and nights and ash and cold and hard-won survival and persevering love is where its power arises. It’s stunning.

If you are a fan of dystopian fiction, this book is not to be missed. Perhaps the style choices will not irritate you as they did me.

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Superman, Maybe (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane blinks as the man comes fully into the bus stop shelter. His open shirt flaps in the winter breeze, his chest white and cold-looking, ribs like slats. But the shirt looks starched and his trousers are sharply creased. A wool coat is clamped to his side, under one arm. He sets a strapped attache case onto the bench, buttons his shirt, produces an already-knotted tie and slides it into place. He smooths his hair, his neatly trimmed beard. Puts on the coat, slips the attache strap onto his shoulder, checks the posted metro schedule. His shoes glow with polish. Mr. Businessman, just another commuter waiting for his connection.

Jane’s seen this guy before, every time finishing his dressing as he arrives at the stop. She looks around at an area she already knows too well. Blocks away from the nearest homeless camp. There’s no gym nearby; only dirty concrete buildings nestled into industrial yards full of equipment and unidentifiable junk. She looks at her own barely-pressed self, trying hard to look like anything other than what she is. If he’s homeless too, he’s pulling it off a lot better than she does.

Then she spots the battered booth back across the median, behind them.

Allodium
Photo: Allodium

This bit is in response to Carrot Ranch’s monthly #twitterflash challenge. February’s cue: “Write a 200-word story (give or take on the words) incorporating the theme of congruency.” The guy in this story is real. I can’t figure him out and decided to plunk him into Jane’s world. I can’t remember the last time I saw a phone booth, though.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (Book Review)

Get Shorty (Chili Palmer, #1)Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: crime, thriller, spoof, satire, noir, Hollywood, plot-twists-and-irony, this-is-the-stuff-right-here

Things about this book I really liked:

1. I kept hearing Sheryl Crow singing, “This is the movie of the screenplay of the book about a girl…” The story-within-a-story-within-a-story of this book is like an Escher drawing.

2. The story goes that Get Shorty was Leonard’s revenge on Hollywood culture in general and Dustin Hoffman in particular. After Leonard did endless rewrites of a proposed script for his book LaBrava at Hoffman’s insistence, Hoffman ultimately bailed on the project, leaving Leonard unpaid for all his work. Get Shorty is all sly and smiley about it, but it’s still exactly why you don’t piss off writers. They will put you in a book. I have no particular dislike for Dustin Hoffman, but it all makes me happy.

3. The good guy is a mob-connected shylock. I like antiheros.

This is Elmore Leonard doing what he did best: Insanely good dialogue, one-of-a-kind characters who stay with you, a run-for-the-money romp, and corkscrew twists you don’t see coming. Good stuff.

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Smoke (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

A date. A date!

Jane feels her heart plummet to the soles of her feet at the thought of it, of him, this good-looking and funny and warm guy, this young guy, his eyes smiling at her, waiting for her to say yes, I’d love to have dinner with you. And then her stomach roils at what his reaction must surely be when he finds out — and he will find out, because how do you keep it a secret, that you are such a loser who’s squatting in the basement of an abandoned house?

So very many things are already almost unnavigable when you’re homeless, and now this too. Romance is, indeed, smoke from a distant fire.

Larisa-K
Photo: Larisa-K

Every week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction challenge and blog hop. This week’s cue was SMOKE. The rules are simple: Write a story in six sentences, using the cue word any way you like. Join in the fun!

The Passage by Justin Cronin (Book Review)

The Passage (The Passage, #1)The Passage by Justin Cronin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: abandoned, post-apocalyptic, horror, supernatural, monsters-and-such

This book isn’t quite getting me there. But I didn’t set out purposely to read it, don’t feel like I was drawn in by false hype, so there’s room for forgiveness. My husband found it abandoned on a depot bench while he was waiting for my train and grabbed it for me because I love books. I’ve found some good books in bus seats and the like – a tattered copy of the I Ching comes to mind – but this one was a bust.

It started out well, even if it was a very Stephen King-ish mashup of The Stand and Firestarter and The Dead Zone, even it was very trope-ish with the magical child, the father-figure-protector, the psychic black holy woman. I was enjoying it. Then about a third of the way in – bam, that world is gone and we’re rocketed forward a hundred years or so, leaving behind the well-drawn characters struggling through the military-virus-fuckup-apocalypse to build a new world. WTF? I liked those characters. I wanted to see where they went, how they pulled it all off. And I could have kept with it and even put up with vampires from anyone other than Anne Rice, if the new setting and the new characters had been as compelling, but they weren’t. The new characters are numerous yet two-dimensional, and the pacing is bogged down. I put the book aside after an evening’s reading and never cared enough to pick it up again. (To be fair, I had an Elmore Leonard novel on deck and it’s tough to compete with the Duke.)

Which is not to say that Justin Cronin is utterly unskilled as a writer, because he’s not. He can create a realistic setting, can turn an evocative phrase. Other people loved this book. Perhaps I’d like one of his non-genre novels.

I will leave this on another metro bus, that it may continue its journey and hopefully find its way to someone who can appreciate it.

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Fireweed (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“Well, at least you got out of it. You corrected your mistake.”

“That marriage wasn’t a mistake,” Jane says.

The counselor raises her eyebrows.” Oppression, abuse…how was it not a mistake to marry a man like that? Not that I’m blaming you. You couldn’t have known.”

“Our daughter,” Jane says. “Only he and I together could have made that wonderful human being. Without him, I wouldn’t have her. She’s the fireweed that redeems it all.”

“Your daughter? Didn’t know you had a daughter. Where is she?”

Jane looks at the floor, silent. That’s a volcano all its own.

Natalia_Kollegova
Photo: Natalia_Kollegova

Every week, Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge at the Ranch. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fireweed. You can use it as the plant, a flower, a metaphor or as the name of someone or something. Go where the prompt leads. Burn bright when you write.”

Pitch (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Jane makes her way through the neighborhood, feeling for the vibe and feeling the stares — you’re new here — wondering if she could make a home here.

Too many kids are playing in front of that place; a raucous group of young men drinks tall cans of generic beer in front of another; this next place is awash in garbage. Jane shudders and moves on.

Then she spots a quieter residence, one that is neatly kept, a tiny, wizened elderly man reading in a camp chair, small dog at his feet, even a small pot of flowers. And hallelujah, there’s some open space next to him.

No applications or deposits required to move into the homeless camp, provided you can find a decent place to pitch a tent.

Capri23auto
Photo: Capri23auto

Every week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was PITCH. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Come join us!

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues (Book Review)

Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues (Jesse Stone, #10)Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: accept-no-substitutes, money-grab, threw-it-against-the-wall, nope-nope-nopity-nope, abandoned

“Okay, everybody, quiet, focus, stare at the flame, hold each other’s hands…good…good…I feel a spirit here with us. Spirit, who are you? Who are you here for?”

” I’m getting R…O…B…Robert? Robert. Yes? Robert B. Parker…oh my God… Robert B. Parker!”

“How are you Mr. Parker? Knock once if you’re resting in peace, knock twice if you’re spinning in your grave.”

knock

KNOCK

~~~

I knew that Killing the Blues was the first Jesse Stone novel written by a substitute author after Robert B. Parker’s sudden death. And I did have my doubts. I came into this book steeling myself against a quite-possibly-unpleasant dose of not-RBP, although I was also hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Not only is this not-RBP, which is forgivable because the writer is not, in fact, RBP, but it’s not even quality not-RBP, which is not forgivable. And I’m not saying I wanted someone to pretend to be RBP and succeed only in being a pale imitation, no no. I would be even more derisive than I am now. But someone of RBP’s godlike stature deserves a decent writer to carry on with his characters and his world, and that is not what we have. This is simply not very good writing at all. This is clumsy, all telling and no showing, like fan fiction written by a high-schooler. Jesse and Molly are cardboard standups of themselves, and I didn’t make it to Suit. I only made it through the first chapter.

Really, this is even worse than Whatshisbucket pretending he’s Stieg Larsson. Money grabs that exploit the exemplary craft of dead writers piss me off. But I have only myself to blame. After Go Set a Watchman and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, I swore I would not read any more of them. Live and don’t learn, that’s me.

RIP, RBP. You made it look easy. You are missed.

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Black and White (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Becca heaves her bag onto her shoulder, making sure she has her lunch, her phone, her bus pass. Another Monday. Joy.

Out of the elevator, she pauses at the door to the street, looking down.

New shoes. Brilliant new shoes. Stylish new shoes. Affordable new shoes. Comfy new shoes. She couldn’t wait to wear them. Brilliant black, blinding white. Wannabe swoosh.

And before she walks an entire block in the Pacific Northwest wet, the black and white will be gray all over. Ruined.

“…point of having shoes I can’t even wear outside,” she mutters, heading back up to change.

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Each week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features something black and white. It could be a nun in a zebra monster truck, a rigid way of thinking, a bird in a tuxedo — be imaginative and go where the prompt leads.”

Style Over Substance (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“But I’m not sure I want to actually marry him,” Kathy finishes.

“Well, what kind of wedding can he afford to give you?” Torrey asks. “Can he give you Vera Wang and live doves in Rome?”

“It’s him I’m considering, not Rome,” Kathy retorts.

“Oh, honey, you don’t say yes to the man. You say yes to the dress.”

MichaelGaida
Photo: MichaelGaida

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was DRESS. Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us! It’s fun!