Mesa, AZ, United States
An interesting narrative about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The title comes from the SS phrase: "Himlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" ("Himmler's brain is called Heydrich"). Instead of telling the story as a straight historical narrative, Laurent Binet weaves himself throughout the main narrative. It becomes in parts a contrived post-modern mediation on truth, fiction, and the author. I want to give Binet points for trying to create a novel that possesses gravitas, is interesting, is tense, but also isn't traditional. Throughout the novel I was cheering for Binet like I was cheering for Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, but while Binet takes huge risks with this novel he just doesn't cleanly land his bold quadruple H.
Gaiman's short novel seems like a strange combination of Virginia Woolf (memory and philosophical introspection) mixed with a contemporary angst about money and the value of one life -- all riding the crazy three-beat narrative tail of Gaiman's own fantastic world of magic, witches and time.
The wonder of Gaiman is his ability to quickly transport the reader with both his emotional reach as his imaginative depth. He isn't satisfied in telling a fantastic story, he really wants to pull the reader by their gut and grab them by their insecurities and worries. He doesn't want to paint a myth-by-numbers story, but instead wants shadows and flashes from his story to resonate with his readers. He seems satisfied to have his novel's truth/meaning flash briefly like the guanine sheen from a school of fish or appear suddenly in the back of your throat like an old, lost sixpence.
A novel that is both worth the credit but still seems too short. Gaiman is a rare author that narrates his stories at the level they deserve.
First, I need to thank (@Melinda) for recommending this novel. I read American Rust a couple years ago and loved it, but might have missed this nearly perfect novel if I hadn't stumbled onto Melinda's fantastic review and been gently prodded by her into reading it.
There are certain rare novels that brilliantly capture the art, heart, and action of both American fiction and history. 'The Son' is one of those historical novels that can absolutely propel the reader. Its narrative strength, however, is equaled by its artistry and its multi-generational, multi-narrative, epic arc. 'The Son' captures the tension between land and people; the contest between people and people; the struggle between fathers and sons. 'The Son,' is the history of Texas and the West told through three generations of Texans: Eli McCullough (born 1836: the year Texas became a Republic/thesis), his son Peter (born 1870/antithesis) and Peter's granddaughter Jeanne Anne (born 1926/synthesis).
This is a novel that is a pure descendant of Melville, Faulkner, Cather and McCarthy. These authors set the stage that allowed Meyer to carve an epic novel out of the rich soil of the Earth and to shoot another Western myth into the the innumerable stars in the sky.
I'm usually not a fan of multiple narrators for a book, but 'The Son' was well served by four strong narrators (lead by Will Patton).
I really can't recommend this book enough. One of my favorite books/novels/audiobooks of the last several years. Seriously, if you have one credit left in your cache, I would recommend using it RIGHT now to buy rights to this novel. You won't regret it, but your children may--eventually.
A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history/biography. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't, however, a warrior king/leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing the Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable ('Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out' wasn't tolerable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to boot. He wasn't interested in playing a minor character on the world stage. He wanted to be a Darius or an Alexander the Great type of leader and for much of his life he was. The Romans were terrified of him. He fought them using terror, direct action (both naval and military), statecraft, and asymmetric warfare. He was rich, charismatic and ruthless.
The shortcoming of this book is one that would probably be the shortcoming of any historical biography of Mithradates: the lack of complete records. So much of Mithradates life is shrouded in rumor, speculation and second and third-hand sources. Those materials that exist are often biased because they were written by Romans. So Mayor is stuck, she can either try to sort out the fact from the fable and sometimes get a little loose with her narrative, or she can write a book that no one but Classical Historians would probably want to read. She chose readability, and the book was VERY readable, but it did come at a cost. The "what ifs and alternate endings and he might haves" get to be a little too much, or at least enough that I couldn't see giving this biography five stars.
After reading Hilary Mantel's amazing first two Booker-prizing winning books of her Henry VIII trilogy ('Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies'), I felt I needed to actually bust into Thomas More's 'Utopia'. How could I consider myself educated and not have at least tasted a bit of More's utopian ideal, his veiled criticisms of European culture and values, and his unobtainable vision of the ideal society.
At times 'Utopia' seems overdone/overripe, like even More wasn't buying his own brand of guiding, noble principles. Still, 'Utopia' works because it is playful and ironic. I'm not sure I would view it as great (to me it doesn't measure up to either Plato's 'The Republic' or Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels'), but I do believe the interaction between More's brand of political idealism with Cromwell's ruthless pragmatism, ended up creating in England something really GREAT.
The disadvantage McCarthy has when an obsessive reader finally works back to his first book, is invariably McCarthy will be unfairly graded against his own amazing output. I liked 'Orchard Keeper'. I really did. It was superior in most ways to most writing out there, but it just didn't hold up against other McCarthy. If one considers 'Suttree' and 'Blood Meridian' to be his masterpieces (and thus 5 stars) and 'The Road', 'No Country for Old Men' and 'All the Pretty Horses'/'the Border Trilogy' to be solid pieces of American literature (all 4 stars), it is unavoidable that 'the Orchard Keeper' rates only three.
The great thing about reading this first McCarthy is you can see the germs of all of McCarthy's potential built into it. It contains the embryo of McCarthy's future greatness: great prose, amazing characters, beautiful scenes. If you love McCarthy, don't skip 'the Orchard Keeper', just don't expect it to blow you down, dry you out, and blow you away like 'Blood Meridian' or 'Suttree'.
A good solid biography of David Foster Wallace. For a writer who was so hyped, celebrated and written about, it was a nearly impossible task to bring anything large or significant to the table with Wallace. D.T. Max did a good job. He didn't write a hagiography or sycophant's biography, but also avoided sinking into a loop of cheap theatrics that might have tempted another biographer. It wasn't a revolution as far as DFW was concerned or as far as biographies of writers either.
For me, it was like seeing a favorite movie star on a large HD television. You are suddenly aware of many flaws that had been hidden before. You see things that were hidden, or at least not obvious before, but it doesn't alter your perception too much. In Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, Max shows a DFW that is more insecure and conflicted than a superficial glance might portray. Wallace's self-conscious tendencies to enthusiastically bend the truth with friends, coworkers and family and to claim achievements (perfect SATs, etc) that were not his, but to second guess and be discomforted by those achievements that WERE his (Guggenheim Genius grant) was a valuable shading to the DFW myth. D.T. Max neither polished or defaced the statue of DFW life and achievements. He simply turned the statue and revealed another dimension to the man and his infinite genius and infinite sadness.
In 'The Guermantes Way', Proust pushes several social forces together. He examines the cult of aristocracy, meditates on the role of the military in French society, examines French antisemitism through the Dreyfus affair, French art, and the banal conversations and selfish superficiality that permeate throughout the drawing rooms of the upperclass denizens of the Faubourg St. Germain.
Three times in the novel (the death of the Narrator's grandmother, the illness of of Amanien d"Osmond, and the announcement by Swann to Mme de Guermantes and the Duc that he is dying) Proust shows how the French aristocracy are concerned more with the shallow requirements of society (shoes, promptness, etc) than real human compassion for the dying.
This third volume of Proust's epic 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdu', carries the reader deeper into Proust's analysis of memory, society, language, and art.
Alan Furst's great historical espionage novel, Dark Star is a prewar epic of Europe's moral ambiguities and shifting loyalties. Told through the eyes of Pravda journalist and Luftmensch (and sometimes NKVD spy) André Szara, the story stretches from Paris to Berlin, Warsaw, and even down to Izmir. In this novel Furst examines ideas of trust and suspicion, love and hate, magnetism and repulsion.
It is a novel about the compromises good men make to survive, the power that a few evil men have over millions, and the sacrifices a few Luftmenschen make to save thousands. Ultimately, Dark Star is a story of the Russian and German nonaggression pact (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) at the beginning of WWII and how the Jewish members of Stalin's spy network were forced to make huge compromises to survive (most didn't survive) and how some were pushed into heroics because decency and the times demanded it.
The magic of this novel is that Furst is able to unweave the complicated nature of the prewar spy alliances and show all the different threads and colors and never lose the reader. His prose is amazing. His characters are nearly perfect. One of my favorite historical spy novels of all time.
Another Mitchell book I'm going to have to chew on for a bit to really bend my mental tongue around. At first, I was a little disappointed in it. This is my last Mitchell book left to read (I am now a Mitchell completist) and I was hoping for just a little more PoMo juice to squeeze out of his second novel. Three dreams into it and I was afraid Mitchell was aping Murakami (Norwegian Wood, A Wild Sheep Chase) and Joyce (Finnegans Wake) a bit too much in his persuit of a dreamy father-quest novel.
By the end, however, Mitchell salvaged the novel. It still seemed a little too packaged, too sterile, too neat and measured. Don't get me wrong, I liked it and obviously (I've now read ALL of Mitchell) I like how Mitchell writes, but I'm not sure #9Dream is even close to being top shelf for me of Mitchell's novels.
"Man is not simple. Hobgoblin company of love always with us."
The Wapshot Chronicle is a twin Bildungsroman of sons Moses and Coverly, framed by the letters, journaling, and loneliness of their father Leander. It is a crazy beautiful 20th Century Great Expectations-like novel of a family's depth and breadth, its secrets and its flaws. The two brothers are saddled with the albatross and obligation to insure ensure that Old Honora’s keeps paying the bills (future) for the boys and (current) for their parents.
Cheever fills his novel with dominating mothers, idiosyncratic and co-dependent guardians, changeable wives and costly lovers. The trinity of Wapshot men, float throughout Cheever's novel in a wayward, rudderless boat. Their lives are constantly taking on water and they seem destined to be blown further from the shore by the dominant humor of the nearest strong-willed female.
The characters in The Wapshot Chronicle were amazing. Its language and narrative were incredible. Cheever's satire and ribald humor constantly bit this reader in his lusty-for-good-literature ass.
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