I came to this novel by way of a brilliant short story by David Gilbert in the "New Yorker" in which every detail is realistic and familiar - until the main character gets drunk and vomits, and the vomit turns out to be something like a baby. The rest of the story is about how he deals with the vomit baby, and it's funny, entertaining and truly heartbreaking. I wanted more of that. The novel "& Sons" is not like that short story. Late in the novel there's a bizarre bit about cloning that seems to attempt a vomit baby type vibe, maybe, but in any case it doesn't succeed. There are other parts where the storytelling doesn't succeed as well. The dullest son is a documentary filmmaker who records the death, day by day, of an old girlfriend as cancer consumes her. Then he digs up her grave and continues to record her decomposition day by day. This over-long story line is probably making a clever point about something - art maybe, or grief - but it fails to be compelling or profound or funny. It's a little upsetting, but that's not why I hated it - it's also unconvincing and boring. I almost abandoned the book. I'm glad I continued listening because the book is full of brilliant and entertaining moments. The writing is so good - full of vivid details and descriptions - that I would often pause the story and try to memorize them. It's worth reading despite its obvious flaws.
I still can't get over the fact that a white male wrote this book - in the voice of a geisha who grew up in a Japanese village and then city during World War II. The voice is entirely convincing, as are the characters - the sweet Sayuri and cruel Hatsumomo. The supporting characters are not cartoonish like some people have said. Their behavior is well explained and convincing given the desperate circumstances. The twists and turns in the story make it very entertaining and addicting.
Until now I've preferred subtle readers (my favorite is George Guidell, who sounds like he's telling rather than reading the story, and the effect is very captivating - you forget he's there). Juliet Stevenson is not a subtle reader, but she is just as captivating in a different way. She performs the narration, often shrieking, crying, giggling, etc. (I wouldn't have known exactly what Jane Austin meant by "laughing affectedly" without Stevenson demonstrating it.) Stevenson is my new favorite reader, and I would listen to anything she narrates. Now for the book itself: it's one of the best I've ever read. Austin balances the frustrating behaviors of her characters and their consequences so perfectly with hugely gratifying events (the rotten, spiteful mother disowning her son only to have it come back to haunt her in such a perfect way). I think this is a way of saying Austin is a master storyteller.
Sometimes you just want a narrative that will take you for a ride and not try anything too fancy like jumping around in time or employing a lot of other literary devices. Shogun is that book. Its narrative momentum is powerful, and you soon feel like you're in 1600 Japan. The story doesn't always move quickly, but at least it keeps moving, and I was never bored. The ride got bumpy in a few places when he described certain Japanese customs like seppuku (ritual suicide). Every Japanese person in the book is all too happy to slit their bellies at the drop of a hat – for any interruption, insult, mistake, etc. The main character hangs a pheasant carcass and orders light-heartedly, "Nobody touch this." A servant touches it and slits his belly. At such times the novel seems to descend into self parody. The skepticism an alert reader will feel about the farfetched behavior distracts from the story. If everybody was so willing to die at a moment's notice, wouldn't you see more apathy about life and less passion? I paused the book to google "Shogun" and "seppuku" and found a lot of haters but nothing about this issue specifically. It's a big part of the book so I finished feeling skeptical, but I was entertained throughout.
The reader grew on me. He does an odd robot voice during some of the dialog, which I suppose is meant to express a military quality. But he sounds more robot than soldier. And he seems out of breath at the end of some of his sentences. Nevertheless, he makes the characters come alive.
Good performance, fascinating book. The reason I'm writing this review is to say that occasionally the audio is distorted. It stutters suddenly and LOUDLY. If you're wearing ear buds it's loud enough to chatter your teeth. Very unpleasant, and probably not good for the eardrums. This should be fixed.
I was surprised by the phoniness of this book. I thought the characters would really talk and act like teens. But you can hear and see the adult authors pulling the strings behind everything they say and do. It appears that some catch phrases and ideas are grabbed from kids' TV shows or movies, which makes the characters even more phony and boring. The teens in Harry Potter are more real than Nick and Norah.
I started reading, rather than listening to, this novel because I knew Stephenson is no minimalist. A fast pace and a spare writing style is the best (maybe only) kind I can listen to without zoning out. I could tell "Reamde" would be an exception so I switched to my iPod and finsihed the book in a few days. Even when he delved into details while time (in the story) slowed to a crawl, I always remained very interested and attentive. Never once did I zone out during this long book. The only thing that really bothered and distracted me was the narrator's pronunciation of "Reamde." While reading the book, I established the word in my head as "reamed," with the "e" at the end silent -- "reamed" doubling as a typo and meaning "screwed," which you are if the Reamde virus infects your files. The author must have meant it that way; it makes perfect sense. But the reader pronounces it "ream-dee," and my mind corrected him every time. It was distracting.
Otherwise, the novel was convincing and entertaining. It's packed with information, but the details don't get in the way of the story. They serve the story - to make it more compelling and real. The Russian mafia are in this book, so you might think it's going to be pulp garbage. Not so. They seem real. This book is long and at times the pace is slow, as I've mentioned, but it still flies by. I would have kept listening indefinitely and plan to check out Stephenson's other books.
I was interested and entertained throughout this entire audio book. The reason for this was mostly the fascinating subject - Cobain and Nirvana - rather than the writing. Many of the author's anecdotes were frustrating. He often describes odd behavior - how could he not when the subject is Cobain and the people around him? - but the author often does not explain or even speculate about why the people behave as they do. I'm referring mainly to small things - not suicide, drug addiction, depression, etc. For example, Cobain tackles and wrestles with Courtney Love in public shortly after they meet. Does he do this playfully, or as a result of his social awkwardness? Or are they both just wasted? The author doesn't say or speculate. There are lots of sloppy flaws like this in the book, which can be distracting and frustrating. If a real biographer (not a rock journalist) wrote a book about Cobain, it would move to the top of my list immediately. For now, "Heaver than Heaven" appears to be the best book available about Cobain and Nirvana.
It's hard to know what to say when so many people have rated a terrible book, like 14, so highly. I want to warn discerning readers to avoid this book and not waste their credit, or money. I'll just say that, in general, to find out if a book is good enough to even try, do a Google search of the author and title. If the book (like 14) has not been reviewed by any major newspapers or magazines, consider that a red flag. This book has not warrented any attention - not even negative attenion - by publications or professional reviewers. I paged through about six pages of Google results and didn't find one review. I wish I had done that earlier. I also wish I had read the negative review here - I found only one, and it clearly states what is wrong with the story, which I won't bother repeating. I'll just say it's not really a story at all, and the book disintegrates into nonsense and bordeom.
King can't do romance, and he can't do humor. Both of those elements in 11/22/63 are really, really bad. He's a good storyteller, and that's about it. This novel should be cut to about 20% of its length. It might make a good novella or short story. As a novel, it's mediocre at best.
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