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review 2015-05-05 15:39
The Gunslinger / Stephen King
The Gunslinger - Stephen King

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

 

That was an odd read—not bad, just odd. Like King just threw in any old idea he came up with and didn’t bother editing later. I could appreciate that he chose the Western form to jolt readers away from comparisons with Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant or Brooks’ Shannara series. But make no mistake, this is a quest-tale, not searching for the Holy Grail, but seeking the Black Tower.

The symbolism is all over the place—lots of Biblical references, Tarot, a few to King Arthur, probably some that went right by me without being recognized. I’m unsure whether it takes place in a future post-apocalyptic Earth or in an alternate time line? There is plenty left unexplained which has a tendency to draw me along to the next book.

So, will I continue with the series? I think the correct answer is Yar.

This is book 171 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2015-04-27 15:58
The Ginger Man / J.P. Donleavy
The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy

First published in Paris in 1955 and originally banned in America, J. P. Donleavy's first novel is now recognized the world over as a masterpiece and a modern classic of the highest order. Set in Ireland just after World War II, The Ginger Man is J. P. Donleavy's wildly funny, picaresque classic novel of the misadventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American ne'er-do-well studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Dangerfield's appetite for women, liquor, and general roguishness is insatiable--and he satisfies it with endless charm.

 

Before starting this novel, it would be helpful to review two definitions:


1. Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

2. Picaresque: of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

I started reading The Ginger Man without reviewing those principles and nearly quit in disgust. Even after getting those concepts clear in my head, I was able to merely tolerate the main character. Sebastian Dangerfield is truly a bastard, totally consumed with drinking, smoking, eating, and seducing women, all while doing absolutely no work (or study) and paying as few bills as possible. In other words, I had great difficulty with seeing him as an appealing main character.

You’ve probably run into one of these characters at some point in your life—if he would just put as much effort into a job as he puts into avoiding getting a job, he would have the money that he so desperately desires. Those of us who live responsible lives watch these cads with fascination and revulsion—most of us wouldn’t be able to withstand the mental strain that they navigate on a daily basis, leading me to believe that they are either narcissists or sociopaths, who simply don’t feel the responsibilities of civilized life in the way that most of us do. [Wikipedia informs me that this book is reputedly semi-autobiographical for Donleavy, making me wonder what kind of person he is].

I’ve also read a later book of Donleavy’s, The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, which is somewhat different in tone. Balthazar is a somewhat more sympathetic character, portrayed as a confused victim in life, manipulated by those around him (somewhat like O’Keefe in The Ginger Man). But Balthazar’s friend Beefy is another version of Dangerfield. I’m also curious about the title, The Ginger Man. It is never explained and Dangerfield doesn’t refer to himself as the ginger man until page 255 and not again until the very last page. If the cover is any indication, it refers to Dangerfield’s hair colour, as he is illustrated as a red head. So that remains a bit of a question in my mind.

Part of my issue, I am sure, is that I am female and tend to identify with the women in the novel. I was frustrated with their behaviour as well. Why in the world would his wife leave Sebastian a forwarding address the first time she left him? And those single women whom Sebastian seduces—what in the world do they see in him? I want to shake each and every one of them!

One of my female friends recommended Donleavy’s writing to me and I chose this book because it was on the Modern Library’s list of 100 top novels. Obviously other people find it amusing and worthwhile to read. I cannot count myself among them, however, despite the skillfulness of the writing. I think this is the last Donleavy work that I will read. There are too many books that I’m sure I will enjoy to spend my valuable reading time on this author.

 

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review 2015-04-17 14:52
The Shining / Stephen King
The Shining - Stephen King

First, let it be said, that I am a big CHICKEN. I don’t know why I thought I could read this book comfortably (after all, I just recently read Andrew Pyper’s The Damned and spent several days hiding in bed with the covers over my head). But so many people loooooove Mr. King’s work, and I had been lured into a false sense of security because I had no problems with another of his novels, The Stand. And the Guardian put it on their list of books that everyone should read…..and well, I should have known better. I should probably also be clear that I have NEVER seen the movie. I don’t do scary movies any more than I do scary books. Because I am a CHICKEN.

 

So, this was another one of those books that I could read only during bright daylight. Once the shadows started to lengthen, it was on to other novels for me. But, the days are getting longer right now, so I’ve been able to finish up quicker than I anticipated.

 

Now, let me say that I can fully see why people rave over Stephen King’s writing. I thought that Jack Torrance was a particularly well realized character. Gee, a struggling writer with an alcohol problem—where do you think King got inspiration for that? The rage and terror both that Jack struggles through (as a result of his own childhood experiences of domestic violence) were so believable—chillingly believable! As was the worry and terror of Danny, who never asked for this talent, this shining, and is too young to understand what to do with it. Wendy is not as well developed--the story obviously revolves around the father-son relationship, probably an issue for Mr. King, as he was 2 when his father abandoned his family. I think the most terrifying part of the book is the ability of Jack to rationalize what he is doing, to take a seemingly sensible decision and to twist it to fit his own damaged morality. It would be sensible to leave the hotel—but Jack will never get another job. It would be sensible to get Wendy and Danny out on the snowmobile—but they have no family support system to rely on. They are adults who know that ghosts aren’t real—until the ghosts are entirely too real and are running the show. And Jack, the little boy who wanted his abusive father’s approval, now wants the abusive phantoms’ approval just as badly. [Much superior to the cardboard cut-out people, very good or very bad, that populate The Stand.]

 

Just for the record, I love Dick Halloran. Talk about a knight- in-”shining”-armour, he is that rare and wonderful thing, a decent man. Even the less-than-likeable people are believable—I’ve met examples of some of them. King is masterly at creating people you can envision meeting.

 

I’ve been giving some thought to why this bump-in-the-dark stuff gives me such heebie-jeebies, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am deeply conflicted. My rational self would like to think that “of course I don’t believe in the supernatural,” but my emotional self is a fence-sitter on this one. Not willing to rule out ghosts, not entirely willing to rule them in, either. (Do ghosts seen in dreams count? I’ve met several of those. But they’ve all been comforting.)

 

I’m looking forward to blunting the adrenalin a little bit, now that the book is behind me. To settle back into regular life and quit jumping at every little sound.

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text 2015-02-04 18:18
February TBR: The month of African American Romances
The Real Thing & Bachelor Unleashed - Brenda Jackson
To Tame a Wilde (Wilde in Wyoming) - Kimberly Kaye Terry
Eve of Passion (Harlequin Kimani RomanceWintersage Wedd) - A.C. Arthur
Champagne Kisses - Zuri Day
Designed by Desire - Pamela Yaye
Yours Forever - Farrah Rochon
Runaway Attraction - Farrah Rochon
A Man's Promise - Brenda Jackson

I think I can get through these quick reads. I love romance. I particularly love historical. These are  some of the Netgalley books that I am committed to reading and reviewing this year, ASAP. 

 

Black History Month

#ReadSoulLit

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review 2014-11-05 21:27
The Turn of the Screw / Henry James
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James

A very young woman's first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate...An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls...

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

 

I’m sure that ever since human-like hominids have had both fire and the ability to speak, we’ve been telling each other creepy stories and sleeping uneasily afterwards. These tales are best shared around a campfire, to simulate the ancient experience—when fires and candles cast flickering light and we were free to imagine all kinds of weird creatures around us in the dark.

Even with modern electricity, I found myself sometimes unwilling to read this book after dark—I’m entirely too suggestible when I’m tired. For me, it was the ambiguity that was creepy. Are the ghostly presences real? Or are they the product of a wild imagination? Do people besides the governess ever truly see them? Who knows who has seen what?

The lack of direct communication is definitely an issue. Since it’s not polite to question too directly or too persistently, many necessary questions go unanswered. Social status interferes as well, with the housekeeper feeling reluctant to push the governess to answer questions and the governess being unwilling to trust the housekeeper entirely. There is also the issue of the scandalous relationship of the phantoms—serving man and governess, crossing the social divide to the extent that she ends up pregnant. Especially since there are hints dropped that the current governess wouldn’t mind a chance at romancing her employer. (An excellent reason, on his part, to send her to the country and forbid all contact—but if he’s as successful as it is implied that he is, he didn’t get that way through ignoring problems. Very contradictory).

The unanswered questions create the tension—do the children see the phantoms? Or are they tormenting the new governess? Is this a case of mental unbalance or of the supernatural? Despite the convoluted writing (which sounds awkward to my modern ear), it certainly kept me reading (during daylight hours).  

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