Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a Maddie Crum article in The Huffingtonpost entitled 8 Popular Books With Deeply Disappointing Endings. Gone Girl is one of the titles she listed. I was halfway through the novel when I noticed the piece, so I didn’t read it at the time. Now that I’ve finished the book I’ve gone back to see if I agree with Crum’s premise. She has a primary reason why she doesn't like the ending and a different reason, just as strong, why she does. So, without mentioning what those arguments are, I will say I agree with her detail, but I don’t agree with her putting the book on her list. There were times when I was reading the ending that I felt like yelling “Please stop this!” because a number of conclusions were reached and after each one, the plot would keep on going. But the final choice was brilliant. I’ve read elsewhere that Gillian Flynn intends to “tweak” the ending for the movie. It will be interesting to see what she does. The nature of translating a book to the screen forces the story to be shortened, so I think my complaint will be handled automatically. I worry about other changes.

I’m rating Gone Girl as a five star book, despite some aspects I didn’t like. I already mentioned how long the ending seemed. I thought some of the foul language was indulgent and sometimes given to characters I didn’t feel would use it. And there were many moments when characters knew things they couldn't possibly know and other times when they reacted in ways I found hard to believe.

But the story is incredibly intense (Amy’s parents would say amazingly intense) and unique. The way Flynn takes two despicable characters, mixes in tremendous lies, and still has me sympathizing with them both is simply great. There is truth about relationships in this book. It’s exaggerated, twisted, ignored at times and lied about at other times, but it is still truth and for that reason I care about Nick and Amy even as I feel their hatred and frustration.

I picked an excellent time to read Gone Girl because the film is due out in October. I can’t wait to see it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Instead of reading The Goldfinch, I listened to the audio version , narrated by David Pittu. I mention this because I noticed how many of the other reviewers think this book is too long. Listening rather than reading gives a different perspective on any book. First of all there's the interpretation of the reader. But there's also the fact that, outside of an occasional rewind, the words keep moving forward. There's less time to dwell on a thought or to wonder about a plot twist or character decision that might be clear a few paragraphs later. So listening rather than reading might have been the reason I didn't feel the plot dragged. Some of the drug scenes, especially the ones in Las Vegas, could have been shorter, but those parts aside, I felt the book moved well. At the end Donna Tartt allowed her characters to reflect on what had happened. I generally don’t like authors telling me how to respond to what they’ve written, but in this case it worked. The ideas were novel and interesting. They made me think.

I read Tartt’s The Secret History less than a month ago, so it’s been fun comparing the two. They certainly have a lot in common: crimes that the main characters are pulled into, almost unwittingly; and plenty of heavy alcohol and drug use among all the characters. But I found Richard (in The Secret History) to be unlikable, whereas, in this book, I grew quite fond of Theo despite his flaws. I felt the same about Boris and thought Hobie was a wonderful person.

There were plenty of moments when I couldn’t stop listening, times when I’d sit in my car for an extra few minutes after reaching my destination. Still, those moments weren’t the reason I loved the book. What made The Goldfinch special to me is the time when I wasn't listening, the time I spent contemplating the ideas. The novel has so much to say about art and its place in our culture, about situational ethics (or doing “what you had to do” as Hobie said), about forgiveness, and about the randomness of fate. If you’re the kind of reader who wants a book that sucks you in then lets you go, The Goldfinch is probably not for you.

Since The Goldfinch is told from Theo’s point of view we readers get more of Theo’s impression of Kitsey and Pippa than we get of their actual personalities, but they both have moments during which their dialogue reveals how they actually feel: Pippa’s frustration with how her injuries have affected her skills and Kitsey’s explanation of how love and marriage do not always mix. Other characters reveal themselves through action. Hobie is always there for the people he loves. Larry (Theo’s Dad) is not. Boris is a great friend who doesn’t believe in rules and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Mrs. Barbour is a formal woman who doesn’t show emotions until events break her. I love how these people are all full personalities and, at the same time, all unique.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Scars by C. Michael Lorion

Scars (Totem, #1)Scars by C. Michael Lorion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Totem: Book 1: Scars by C. Michael Lorion is the story of Kimi, a one eyed Native American woman who has traveled through a "passage" into modern times in search of her brother. She has not made the journey to save her sibling. Kimi and her brother, Achak, do not have anything approximating a close, family relationship. In fact, the book begins with Kimi suffering a serious injury at the hands of her brother and moves on from there as Kimi tries to save the world from her brother's actions.

Lorion has written a page turner with concepts capable of pushing his readers' imaginations while maintaining emotions the same readers can feel. He has combined a mystical Native American story with a tale of suburban relationships, allowing his readers to have legendary characters with magical powers alongside people who could be our neighbors.

The novel takes place in Old Wachusett, Massachusetts during a major blizzard. In addition to the conflict between Kimi and Achack, Lorion gives us David, a college mathematics professor, whose marriage to Connie, the local librarian, has suffered greatly since the death of Julian, one of his sons. David works with an attractive, younger colleague, whose presence isn't helping his troubles at home. David's son Josh, Julian's twin brother, has recently broken up with Abby, the daughter of a minister. The minister is a widower who has gotten into trouble due to his involvement with a married woman. That brief summation touches the main characters, but the novel give us a large cast of people who are all interrelated in a small town way. Lorion does a wonderful job of telling us about his characters through one plot line, then switching to another plot line where those characters are unaware of things we readers now know. This creates excitement as we wonder when and if the truth will come out. Totem: Book 1: Scars is, as its title states, book 1 of a series. So I wasn’t surprised when it introduced a number of sub plots which did not resolve prior to the end of the book. I would have preferred if some of the lines had come to an end while others kept going, but I do look forward to discovering results in the next book.

Lorion writes with a careful attention to detail and gives us plenty of chances to see what’s in the heads of his characters. Here’s an example from Abby’s point of view:

Just the answer she figured she'd get from the One so high and mighty. Not that it mattered. Abby didn't need to look up to an invisible, apathetic God playing hide-and-seek in heaven while his hapless subjects struggled for survival down here on the big blue marble. She didn't need to count on anyone anymore for anything. From now on, everything in her life, everything that would happen to her, and everything that she would do was up to her. She would grab the reigns of her life and take all the responsibility from here on out. No more waiting for her father to fix things, no more wishful thinking that Josh would take her back, and absolutely no more futile attempts at connection to a freakish higher power that only seemed to relish in hiding Himself when people needed Him the most. No more any of that.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions