Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reading List: Ice Trilogy

Ice Trilogy
by Vladimir Sorokin

I've learned in recent years that if I want to find my next favorite book, it won't always be handily listed for me as a bestseller somewhere.  Some readers go out of their way to read obscure authors, and pride themselves on the exclusivity.  For me, it's not a question of how many people appreciate it, but whether it really will affect me the way I want it to, a breathtaking literary experience that I believe will one day join the classics everyone remembers but nobody actually reads, so that it will at least be listed better.  2666 and Your Face Tomorrow are just two of the books that have met that criteria for me.  I came across Ice Trilogy as a listing in a trade publication while I was working at a bookstore, one of those catalogs that lists upcoming releases.  You will note that you have probably not heard of Ice Trilogy outside of this post.  It was never hailed widely as one of those important new books (2666 was, Your Face Tomorrow wasn't).  It's a book that tries to do what all the big important books in the 19th century did, represent an entire era.  A lot of American books in the last century tried to the American version of that, and most of those books are in fact regarded as classics, but most of them are better windows than doors.  None of them are a Moby Dick or Brothers Karamazov.  So you can imagine that I hope Sorokin pulled it off.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on The Book of Lies

Brad Meltzer wormed his way into the hearts of comic book fans thanks to projects like Identity Crisis, and tricked his way back in via his day job as a mystery writer with The Book of Lies, which tackles the real world origins of Superman.  The moment I heard of this particular effort, I knew I would one day break my regular practice of generally avoiding popular fiction like the plague.

Popular fiction is romance books and thriller books, and probably most of the sci-fi books large quantities of people read.  I don't consider Harry Potter to be popular fiction; it's fiction that happened to become extremely popular, the same way bestsellers are (and publishers selected better ten years ago).  The next time I delve into these waters will be Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.  For now, I'm happy I took this little sojourn, this visit into foreign lands.

Meltzer comes from the same school that seems to dominant popular fiction.  He writes very didactically, which is to say the unpolished prose that someone can learn in school if they're not careful.  It's most painful in the beginning of Lies, when the narrative has not had a chance to build momentum.  In that way, such writers are already using the pageturner method, helping the reader along.  Considering that there are only a handful of characters (and only one who doesn't turn out to be actually significant), Meltzer makes sure that each one has a very specific and deliberate use in the plot, whether it's obvious from the start or not, and the same points are hammered for the duration of the four hundred or so pages they inhabit.  In a lot of ways, that's how I write, too, so I'm not saying this is a bad thing.  If it's not the conspiracy, it's figuring out the relationships that interests the writer, and they interest the reader, too.

Earlier than you'd imagine, Meltzer drops the bombs that this is a story that will involve not only the unsolved murder of Mitchell Siegel (father of Jerry Siegel, father of Superman) but Cain (as in & Abel), and a loosely sketched web of individuals who believe these two giant myths are connected.  (It's another odd little quirk of fate that there was a character named Cain in the last book I read, so once again the random order of my reading list has withstood its own chaos.)

It's a rather large stretch of the imagination, and to a cynical reader, Meltzer's obvious attempt to cash in on Dan Brown's success, as many other writers have done in recent years.  Yet the beauty of it is that the story spends so much time exploring Jerry Siegel, that a whole new level is introduced, one that deftly blends all of Meltzer's ambitions into a theme of family that transcends the genre.  Perhaps for the first time, Superman emerges as a central piece of the American story, Meltzer's own Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, with a poignant conclusion to the desperate search and foolish antics that have been driving everything to that point.

It might even be considered a little corny, but Meltzer has spent so much time using relationships as a crutch in the story, when he finally gets around to explaining that those relationships really are what's most important to The Book of Lies, it may cause you to rethink more than just your assumptions of a genre, if you're as skeptical of popular fiction as I am.

After a string of bad books and breaks this year, I've needed something that pulled me out of my comfort zone and make me take notice.  Meltzer has my gratitude for that.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reading List: The Book of Lies

The Book of Lies
by Brad Meltzer

As a comic book fan, the name Brad Meltzer comes to mind as the writer of Identity Crisis, a DC Comics event wherein the Justice League comes to terms with some bloody awful truths.  It was among the most heralded events of the Aughts, and while Meltzer has only written a few other comic books since, he's better known as an author of Dan Brown conspiracies.  This is not my usual genre, and so I have not until this book attempted to read one.  Meltzer kind of makes it easy for me to care about Book of Lies, thanks to its plot interests in Superman, his creators, and the first biblical murder, Cain and his brother Abel.  I guess I'm about to find out if this is the sort of thing that interests me as a reader.

Thoughts on Far From the Madding Crowd

Sometimes you really can't go home again.

Jude the Obscure is one of my most treasured reading experiences, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it's one of my favorite books.  Naturally, I thought it was safe to assume that Thomas Hardy could not disappoint once I revisited him.

I was wrong.  Far From the Madding Crowd was written some twenty years previous to Jude, which is notable as being the last novel he ever wrote thanks to a public backlash, and now perhaps I can better imagine why this occurred.  Madding Crowd is a deeply conventional work, not even merely in comparison.  It hardly seems possible that the same author wrote both works.  Where Jude is calculated and dark, Madding Crowd is meandering and melodramatic.  You care what happens in Jude; before the ending of Madding Crowd, you'll wish Bathsheba would not have encouraged three such disparate men into loving her and by a dizzying number of coincidences ended up right back where she started, at the side of Gabriel Oak.

Where Jude is depressingly realistic, Madding Crowd is depressingly artificial.  I find it appalling that the literary establishment would even keep the memory of the book alive.  Jude represents genius, where Madding Crowd exhibits tedium.  What else do I have to say?  I would now tend to avoid any further reading from Hardy as if he had contracted the plague.  For this author, it's enough to know he had one great book in him.  Even if it was twenty years earlier and he had different sensibilities and was consciously playing to the public, it's just disappointing to know that Hardy had so little inspiration in him at this point.  Like Melville, perhaps the more he indulged himself, the better he got, and that's all I really need to know.

To reiterate, it is Madding Crowd that ought to be obscure.

Fun fact!  Bathsheba goes through a number of last names in the book (Troy, Boldwood, Oak), but her original surname is Everdeen.  And that's where The Hunger Games got it from.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...