Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is another title from the list of 100 books compiled for the Great American Read. (Have you voted today?) I feel somewhat chagrined that I had never heard of this classic until I checked out this list. The reader follows a nameless narrator who tells the story of his days in college while living in the South to his move to New York City. As this is set in 1930-40 the racial/social divide is still quite stark even in the North and the author doesn't pull any punches in that regard (i.e. expect violence). The beginning starts out with our narrator underground and in hiding although we have no idea why. In explanation, he weaves a story full of brutality, bigotry, backstabbing, and political machinations. He leaves college and goes to NYC where he is recruited into the Brotherhood which purports to strive for equality among all men regardless of race. Events unfold quickly and he fully believes and embraces the cause. The fomenting of racial riots are underway in Harlem (his district) and at this pivotal moment he is pulled out of his district and sent on another assignment downtown. The reader is kept on their toes and always wondering (as the narrator is) just which side is the "right" side and what is truly motivating the men he has come to trust in this (to him) foreign city. What is the "true" self and how does one embrace it? Invisible Man chews this question over while telling a story of one man coming to terms with the racism (both overt and covert) of society which is told so convincingly that you'll forget it's a work of fiction at times. This is a dense book and took me far longer to read than I expected. Several interesting points were made and quite a few powerful passages but overall it doesn't rate higher than a 6/10 for me.
A compelling and thought provoking point:
"For history records the patterns of men's lives, they say: Who slept with whom and with what results; who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards. ...only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, these lies his keepers keep their power by." - pg 439
There are quite a few covers but I like this one best.[Source: National Book Foundation]
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Creature by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kate Woodson's life is not what she expected. Once being a very active and lively woman, she now is a victim of her own body. Happiness is a thing of the past, however Andrew believes they can find some form of it in Maine, where a lake-house becomes available for the summer. The married couple thus set off, eager and full of hope, desiring the serenity of nature. Nature has other plans, however, as something resides within the dark, and it seeks their undivided attention.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Flame Tree Press for giving me the opportunity.
I couldn’t help but notice the high amount of praise from the horror community regarding this particular Shea novel, so I was quick to jump aboard that train and request it myself. What immediately became apparent was how disturbed I felt right from the get-go, but not in the typical sense that relates to the genre. Rather, it was the very real and disquieting portrayal of Kate that provoked such a response. To have such a chronically ill main character was almost a shock to the system; I can’t say I’ve witnessed something to that extent during my travels into the dark. Her every waking moment was a challenge, and I couldn’t help but feel that this was, potentially, a very personal topic for the author - it was the in-depth, almost intimate account of Kate’s suffering. Upon reaching the end, I discovered I was correct, in that autoimmune diseases are a very familiar antagonist in Shea's life. No wonder the writing held such passion.
First and foremost, let me state that the plot put an incredible amount of emphasis on the relationship between Andrew and Kate, which very much included the hardships and struggles that frequented their day to day life. I was warmed by their tenacious bond - something most of us yearn for, yet their marriage wasn’t without its share of problems. The painfully realistic and unwanted thoughts that often plagued their minds were a relatable aspect that only padded out their already authentic depiction. It was fairly easy early on to discern just how dependable this book was on characterisation and atmosphere; the first fifty percent was rather uneventful in terms of monsters and gore. I’m not saying there’s no horror, because there was a great deal of it, but some of it required a deeper look into what was presented. As for the creature itself when it came into play, well, it certainly got my mind theorising as to what exactly it was and its origins. At first I believed it to be something typical, but I was surprised to discover it wasn't as obvious as I initially assumed. I favour a good, creative approach to any plot, and this was no different.
This being my first experience with Shea's work, I was thrilled by the reckless abandon in which he penned his violence. There's something special about carnage that has no boundaries in terms of who's going to end up as a corpse, and I felt that spark of excitement whilst anticipating the brutality that would come next. It was worth it - to follow these very real individuals into chaos.
I can honestly say that this proved to be great read, and it nearly reached five stars. My hesitation however lies in the ending and my lack of emotion at what ultimately transpired. By the life of me I can’t explain why I didn’t feel much of anything, but I do massively rely on my feelings to dictate the final outcome. It's a shame, considering my attachment up until that point. Perhaps I found it too abrupt; the fate of those that survived probably would have proved more satisfying.
In conclusion: I became quickly engrossed in this undeniably character-driven tale. I felt connected to the characters and their relationship, and it was as if I was a member of their family. The straight-forward prose was able to convey the harshness of their reality, which induced a lot of emotion within me. It was the ending that I became detached, but in the scheme of things it mattered little when I thoroughly enjoyed the journey to get there. Oh, and Buttons was a hero.
Andrew grabbed the doorknob and was about to twist it when he stopped, suddenly unsure. He took a deep, steadying breath and tried again, heart thudding, skin crawling, at war with himself but knowing deep down he had to see. More than anything, he had to see what was out there.
© Red Lace 2018
It feels almost miserly only giving Rosewater 3 stars but, while there was a lot I really liked about it, the fact that it's a) the first book of a trilogy and so doesn't really have an ending of its own, and b) that it jumps about between time periods and didn't quite work for me as a coherent narrative meant I ended up knocking at least one star off for just those two things.
There's also a lot to like about the book as a whole, particularly that the author manages to take a protagonist (Kaaro) who is pretty unlikeable and make you care about what happens to him. Because, make no bones about it, there's a lot not to like about Kaaro as we work our way through his history and the surrounding world-building of the book. For much of the storyline, he's pretty immature and makes at least one decision (though he seems to have some insight as he gets older about this) with his penis rather than any other part of his body. Secondly, as someone who works for a shadowy secret agency and also has mental powers whose source we discover as the storyline moves along, he's actively involved in interrogations.
Rosewater is set in a near-present day world where there has been alien contact on a number of occasions, the most recent being in Nigeria where something has fallen from the sky and built a dome that occasionally opens. When it opens, people are healed but not always in a way which is positive for them and also the recent dead are brought back to life, but as zombies. There's been previous contact with the same aliens and there's mention of London being devastated by a landing in Hyde Park and the US having chosen to shut itself off from the rest of the world as a result, but these are background details.
Kaaro discovers, as the book goes on, that not only do his powers actually come from a previous alien landing but that everyone else he knows with similar abilities is dying. He is, effectively, the last man standing for no apparent reason, like it or not. In fact, the entire world is changing as the alien influence begins to take over and human cells are literally replaced by alien ones in a larger and larger amount of people. The sequels are about resisting that change, with The Rosewater Insurrection being due out next year. Not sure if I'll read it, unless I can either get it from the library or free for review, as while I enjoyed reading Rosewater and it certainly kept me turning the pages, it didn't 100% work for me for the reasons mentioned at the start of this review.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.