crap i have read recently #9

mule at grand canyonIt’s the Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth edition!  (These are all Nook Free Friday selections.)

PROBABLY QUITE A FEW SPOILERS BELOW HERE

Amberville (Tim Davys):  This noir thriller has it all, crime bosses, hot dames with cold hearts, hit men, lies and deceit, gritty streets, and shady dives.  Also, stuffed bears.  And rabbits, doves, gorillas, and snakes.  Yes, Amberville takes place in a world populated entirely by stuffed animals.   (As a gimmick, this is not entirely new.)  Eric Bear is a successful, happily married bear who one day gets a visit from his very dark past.  Nicholas Dove, the head of the local Mob and Eric’s former boss, has heard that his name is on the Death List and he wants Eric to find the list and remove it.  He holds the life of Eric’s beloved wife Emma Rabbit as collateral and so Eric calls together his mates from his former life of crime and they set off in search of a list none of them believes actually exists.   The more they learn the deeper the mystery becomes and it fuels Eric’s dawning realization that his entire life is a lie.   Eventually Eric Bear is faced with a terrible choice.  His decision isn’t all that hard in the end, but he’s lost everything he had to get there.

Usually a gimmick like having all the characters be stuffed toys would annoy me after a few chapters but in this book it works.  It works well enough that a potential groan-inducing pun like “beat the stuffing out of you” becomes entirely horrific.   The animals love, fear, hate, cheat, pray, pop pills, and go mad.  They torture and murder.  They marry and raise cubs and hold jobs at ad agencies in town.   They have secret lives and dangerous pasts and broken hearts.  Despite their plush fur and button eyes the horrors that they inflict on each other, the petty cruelty, the betrayals, the revenge, the despair all feel depressingly familiar.  The story moves briskly for the most part but it bogs down a bit now and then.  There are several different POVs some of which are occasionally hard to differentiate.  The chapters narrated by Eric’s twin brother Teddy, who is possibly crazy, and the sad story of Hyena Battaille are the best of these.  I gather the author wanted this to be more than a crime thriller with stuffing and the book is full of philosophical rumination, primarily on the nature of what it means to be Good and what it means to be Bad.   The Meaning of it All gets tossed around a bit and religion is in the mix too, because why not?  This is also noir convention but it doesn’t work as well as probably intended and Teddy’s agonizing over the choices a good bear must make sometimes goes a bit slow.  All in all though I found it an interesting read even if it missed the mark now and then.

Score: Meh.

The Blue Light Project (Timothy Taylor):  KiddieFame is a televised talent show where the contestants are all very young children.  It works like American Idol and Survival only the victims being “voted out” are six years old.  One day, following a particularly brutal “Kill” of a contestant, an armed gunman takes all the children hostage.   He makes no demands other than that disgraced journalist Thom Pegg be allowed to interview him.  In the city-wide turmoil that follows, rumors of government involvement sweep the city, the riot police practice in the park, and the lives of three people intersect in this unnamed town somewhere in America.  There is Pegg, a prize-winning journalist who once based a very true story on a very big lie.  He now lives the life of a fallen icon, complete with booze and random sex.  There is Eve Latour, a beautiful and media-friendly former Olympics biathlete who won her gold medal skiing on a broken ankle.   She has returned to her home town to search for her vanished brother Ali and to decide what to do with her life.   Rabbit is a former computer programmer turned street artist and “Freestealer” (a sort of Parkour) who is finishing a gigantic and mysterious installation atop the city’s roofs.  Together and separately, these three try to make sense of the escalating hostage crisis as well as the events moving their own lives.

There are a lot of ideas crammed into this book, maybe too many, but most of them are not really novel.  Selling out is bad.  Art is good so long as it’s not corporate.  The government lies to everyone all the time.  All that conspiracy stuff is true.  No one knows what to feel if they don’t see it on a billboard.  Everything is a commodity.  Fame is corrosive and everyone wants  it.  Life is becoming a reality show.  The Revolution will be live 24/7.  There are photos of street art and such scattered through the book and occasionally it feels as if the plot were engineered around these images (much like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).   The one big idea, the one the entire book hinges on, is a quotation from Werner Herzog that the author seems quite taken with.  Unfortunately it’s a bit of a nonstarter.  “Adequate images”?  What does that even mean?   The only truly transformative moment in the story, Ali’s seeking of and finding meaning in spirituality, of his contention that without God there can be no free will and individuals would be nothing more than the logical result of a mechanical universe, is just left there, as if the author had no real confidence in it.

In the end, the book was sort of mundane.  Thom Pegg redeems himself, Rabbit escapes to his farm with berry bushes, and Eve leaves her husband.   I think I would have liked it more if Rabbit were a bit more subversive, if his beautiful project really was bombs cached all over the city, if the lovely and good-hearted Eve (sigh) lit the fuse that burned the city back to its primordial wilderness past.  But none of that happened.  So I shrugged and archived it.

Score:  Meh.

All Roads Lead to Austen (Amy Elizabeth Smith):  So, it’s probably not surprising that I love Jane Austen.  However, I’ve never been all that interested in reading about her or in reading any of the reams of scholarly theorizing about her work.  All I need to know about her is in the pages of her novels.  But this book was free, so why not?  Amy Smith is a lit professor in California who specializes in the works of Jane Austen.  A few years ago she took a year-long sabbatical and spent it down in Latin America reading Austen with the locals.  Why?  Well, partially because Reading Lolita in Tehran was such a blockbuster but also because she had a guy down there.  Do I sound cynical?  I don’t mean to be, but for much of this book I felt like not only Austen but the local reading groups were so much background noise to Dr. Smith’s personal life.   I read about her brush with dengue fever, her love life, her difficulties with Spanish, her occasional charming cultural faux pas, her book buying sprees, her decorating skills, and so on.  The author does admit that her Spanish wasn’t always up to the task of discussing the rich complexities of the novels and Austen’s social milieu with her reading groups in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina.  She is certainly to be commended for making the effort to not only learn the language but to bring these standards of English Lit to women (and a few men) who otherwise might not have read them.

Again I don’t want to snark.  Dr. Smith clearly loves books, loves reading them, loves talking about them, loves buying them, loves sharing them.  That is stellar.  But for the amount of time she spent traveling the time actually spent discussing Austen with her groups was a bit sparse.  I got very little feel for the women and men of her reading groups; their voices were much less in evidence than Dr. Smith’s.  The author moves around too much and there are too many other characters for us to get any fuller sense of anyone but herself.   Unfortunately, Austen herself was also little in evidence, other than a quotation now and then and some descriptions of her life.  This isn’t a book about Jane Austen.  This isn’t a book about people reading Jane Austen.  It is certainly not Reading Lolita in Tehran.  This is a book about a college professor’s year-long summer vacation.  It’s pleasant enough but you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that Jane speaks to us across time and culture, and that it is indeed universally true that a rich man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.  If you’ve ever read her books you already knew that.

One thing I did love about this book was the illustrations.  They are quite charming.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on November 2, 2012.

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