"Cloudland" rolls along, wispy and slight, well-named. As narrator Eliza Foss's soothing yet crisp voice adds shine to the text, listening is a pleasure, except for a few reservations.
First, a low-ranking assistant professor of English is unlikely to possess a rare 19th-century first edition from a famous writer, but if she did, she would never, ever loan it out to students. It belongs in a climate-controlled cabinet, not in someone's backpack. The don't-believe-it factor is high, and as this rare book is a crucial plot device, its inclusion comes close to ruining the story.
Second, the heroine is homophobic. She's hesitant about her bigotry, but that doesn't cut a lot of ice. Since this is a contemporary story, her reservations about her daughter's partner are tiresome and unlikable.
Third, Joseph Olshan's plot outline is too visible. It's like a hanger for a suit of clothes, instead of bones of a flesh-and-blood story.
All that aside, not bad, and the end is gripping. (P.S. Really liked the pig.)
Watson is an engaging writer, and this memoir was notable when published for its frankness about scientists scrabbling to beat each other to major discoveries. They are like horse race jockeys who aren't above sticking a pebble under a competitor's saddle.
Even given the book was published in 1968, Watson's sexism is breathtaking, especially in regard to fellow scientist Rosaline Franklin. Admirably, he wrote an afterward at a later date (included here) apologizing for his crass dismissal of a woman who's work he felt no hesitations to borrow from when it suited him, which he also acknowledged. I know sexism in science is no longer so overt, but I'd like to think the situation has fundamentally changed for the better.
I don't know if it has, not being a scientist, and that brings up one of the book's chief pleasures: Watson writes so well and clearly about the topic that those with little science background can easily follow him.
Justice is not an interest of Watson's. He's quite frank about that, and he seems to find those who are motivated by it funny. Maybe that's why his account of Linus Pauling's troubles with the U.S. government for his peace activism is so good. Watson is not on Pauling's side. In the 1950s, the U.S. was deep into a red-baiting witch hunt, and Pauling's anti-nuke advocacy caused his government to deny him a passport to travel to Europe to receive a science honor. Watson's casual attitude throws the incident into high relief, oddly, more than a sympathetic telling would have.
Who needs this story? Children born smarter than anyone else are segregated and treated horribly. I couldn't get through it. If I hadn't bought it on sale I would have asked for a refund. A writer who offers heartbreak and horror better be great. There has to be a substantial reason to plow through, and that reason is missing.
Agatha Christie did this kind of story much better. All that working from clue to clue to reach a conclusion, with the narrative serving as background for the murder-solving blueprint, is now tired. I expect characters who are complex and interesting on their own accounts. The hero rushes around and risks his life for a bet. It's not believable, and it's certainly not enjoyable.
Simon Vance is perfect. If anyone could have saved this, it would have been he.
If you're fascinated by business conducted in corrupt countries and the lengths a wily man must travel to stay afloat amid political outrages leveled at him from all sides, this book might be for you.
Eric Ambler is a classic, famous in the mid 20th Century for his style, complexity and sense of geopolitical dread. A good man in an Ambler story will soon find his ground eroded. While I've enjoyed others in his line, this one was not a pleasure.
More than half a century after the writer's heyday, I feel somewhat ashamed to be a representative of a more simplistic outlook prized in thrillers of our age. I like a good fictional struggle but admit to favoring a clear resolution. Give the heavily tested hero a bit of applause, would that kill you? I guess I'm not up to Ambler's dreary outlook.
My fault. Consider the title. If I weren't ready for home-fried folk cliches, I shouldn't have clicked on purchase. On the other hand, this would have been a much better book had an editor (remember editors, a nearly extinct species?) red-penciled through the worst cliches. Rode hard and put up wet. Dry as a bone. Sweet as honey.
There's a core of a pretty good mystery here, which is why I gave it a 3. Pretty good.
One more thing, as long as I'm complaining: The narrator's voice is too old for the character's. The latter is somewhere in her early 20s. The former might have daughters that age. The middle-aged young person was a distraction.
I don't mind about the fishing. The writer seems to know a lot about fly fishing, and that part is at least marginally interesting, even for a person with little affinity for the subject.
What got me is the approach to characters. Each one goes on and on about his/her background. Listening to this story is like being trapped on a bus by a bore. He/she is hell-bent on telling you everything he/she ever experienced - the life story. Please. I'm still breathing here, and wanted this writer to get on with the story before boredom made me stop. Barely made it to the end.
Narrator deserves better.
I love the idea of a miracle hunter, an evidence-based seeker of the divine on earth. (Not quite the same thing as the Catholic Church's Devil's Advocate, but close. If only the Devil's Advocate had these high standards.) The hero is a young Catholic priest raised by a tent-preacher con man. Nobody gets stereotyped in this telling, which is so unusual. Nephew and uncle get back together, and sparks fly.
Although Chercover is respectful of the spiritual impulse, this story suggests organized religion is a business prone to corruption and willing, when threatened, to engage in faking the evidence and even murder.
Hard to argue with that, but it would have been terrific if the writer had also enlarged on what can make communities of the faithful a profound experience. That would have been a great book, and this is only a good one.
First half of the book is thrilling. It trailed off into a caper, but never lost me entirely. The narrator is splendid. Worth a credit, especially for conflicted ex-Catholics.
Jesse Kellerman is a better writer than his dad (Jonathan,) but doesn't have his dad's gift for fast-pacing. He's as good a writer as his mom (Faye), maybe better, and certainly with a wider lens and fresher outlook.
I really liked this story, which is a mystery that I couldn't guess my way through. It constantly surprised me. The characters are deep, and the diverse cultural understandings rich. I love the main character, a woman with a blighted life who keeps on keeping on. Everyone around her also well realized.
Really good narrator.
This plot might have worked in outline, but then it appears the outline got lost. The story wanders in search of its redemptive narrative, which is imposed instead of earned. We never learn essential things, such as, what the vet did or didn't do to get his license revoked, what his dad didn't do right to deserve all this alienation and how the false premises trick ever worked on anybody.
Plus, somebody who takes a child's pet to the vet to be put to sleep on the sly and lets the child and mother search for it afterward deserves a punishment. Some punishment. At least shame. Add blackmail to his crimes. I hung in with the story, hoping the writer would grind this person into the dirt, but no. The person capable of such wrongdoing will do it again.
The dogs are lovely, and well described, but they can't save this bumbling tale. Besides the animals and one great little girl, I didn't believe any of it.
What a wonderful book. Great tone, characters, dialogue and I love the narrator. His silky slides into other voices are amazing. Each one is believable. My problem remains a big one, however. The architecture of the story is so predictable.
Once the story starts to talk up a character, such as, a young man in high school full of promise, we know he's going down. Another one: the brave and optimistic Iraq war vet, hobbling along on a metal leg and bringing realistic light into bad situations. Boom for him. And the fight between brothers? Saw it coming chapters back. Saw the misunderstanding.
Haven't finished and don't believe I will. For all the admirable qualities George Pelecanos possesses as a writer, there's something here I just don't buy. His vision of struggling urban life has a cartoon quality. He's bringing the comics to life and not quite able to shed the banality at the center of his enterprise. I don't believe him. He quotes Elmore Leonard, but he is far, far from Elmore Leonard.
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