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review 2019-05-12 21:01
We Need to Talk About Kevin / Lionel Shriver
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.


Here I am, several days after finishing this book, trying to collect my thoughts about it into a coherent narrative. I’m also intensely aware of writing this missive on Mother’s Day. I vascillated back and forth between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I couldn’t quit thinking about it.

It’s an exploration of the whole nature vs. nurture argument (although surely we all realize by now that its “both and” rather than “either or”). The volume that I read had an essay by the author at the end and I was interested in her perspective:

Though any writer is pleased by admiring reviews in the Wall Street Journal or Publishers Weekly, I’ve been more fascinated by the responses to Kevin...by so-called “ordinary” readers. Not only are many of these amateur reviews surprisingly well written and reflective, but they divided almost straight down the middle into what seem to be reviews of two different books….Mission accomplished.”

I believe that I read somewhere that nature (genetics) loads the gun, but nurture (environment) pulls the trigger. To me, it seems that Kevin shares a genetic tendency with his mother towards being restless and bored. Eva solved it first by traveling and second by childbirth, her son by murder. Both are competitive in their own arenas. With a different mother, Kevin might have turned out differently. Maybe. But we see from Eva’s relationship with Celia that she is capable of being a good mother, given a child who will meet her halfway. Every time you think you know for sure what went wrong, Shriver produces an event like a rabbit out of a hat to show you that it ain’t necessarily so.

I really enjoy epistolary novels, so that was a point in its favour for me. I also appreciated how carefully the author doled out the bread crumbs, leading the reader on, gradually revealing the true situation. Or at least what Eva believes the true situation to be. It seems to me that the two camps of readers (That poor woman vs. the woman who ruined her son’s life) show us clearly the stresses of parenting in the modern world. It’s still the mother who is saddled with the expectations for her children, as if the father’s job was over when sperm joined egg. Mothers aren’t allowed to be human or have imperfections. I think that’s what people are referring to when they call this a feminist novel--why is it the mother or why is it only the mother who is deemed at fault? Because all the way through the novel, I found myself asking, “What the hell is wrong with Franklin? Why can he not see any of this?” I also found myself wondering what had drawn Eva and Franklin together to begin with and why they stayed together. 

I could write a thesis on this book. It makes me think of so many things, join so many disparate threads together. So although I may not have enjoyed the book in the traditional sense, I can’t quite get it out of my head. The impulse was to sit right back down and read it again. Maybe I will revisit it in the future, who knows? May I say that I am profoundly happy to be single and childless.

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review 2017-10-24 17:25
The Gap into Conflict / Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Stephen R. Donaldson

Angus Thermopyle was an ore pirate and a murderer; even the most disreputable asteroid pilots of Delta Sector stayed locked out of his way.  Those who didn't ended up in the lockup--or dead.  But when Thermopyle arrived at Mallory's Bar & Sleep with a gorgeous woman by his side the regulars had to take notice.  Her name was Morn Hyland, and she had been a police officer--until she met up with Thermopyle.
But one person in Mallory's Bar wasn't intimidated.  Nick Succorso had his own reputation as a bold pirate and he had a sleek frigate fitted for deep space.  Everyone knew that Thermopyle and Succorso were on a collision course.  What nobody expected was how quickly it would be over--or how devastating victory would be.  It was common enough example of rivalry and revenge--or so everyone thought.  The REAL story was something entirely different.


I have a negative past with Stephen R. Donaldson’s work. I loathe the Thomas Covenant series and I could only read the first book of the Mordant’s Need duality. I had the second book on my TBR until I realized that the thought of picking it up depressed me profoundly and I decided to let it go.

So it was with distinct reservations that I picked up The Gap into Conflict and no one was more surprised than me when I actually enjoyed it. The subject matter is difficult, but the insights into the main character, Angus Thermopyle, were worth the struggle. And, as Donaldson promises, we get the “real story” about what is going on in his psyche. It’s not pretty, but it is truthful, as he confronts his feelings and admits to himself that he maybe isn’t as rough & tough as he likes to think. It was kind of like getting a peek into the mind of someone like Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnapper.

I liked that no character was locked into a role, that everything kept shifting as the novel unfolded. Morn Hyland starts as a victim, but certainly doesn’t end that way. Nick Succorso is set up to look like a hero, but a small foreshadowing by Donaldson indicates that he is no white knight.

I never thought I would ever say this: I’m looking forward to the next book in this Donaldson series!

Book number 266 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-09-21 19:06
Good Me, Bad Me / Ali Land
Good Me Bad Me - Ali Land

Not recommended for those who have children and/or are sensitive to violence against children.

Milly knows she is different from other children. From other people. But she maybe doesn’t realize just how different. You see, Molly’s mother is a serial killer and she has forced Milly to be Satan’s little helper. It’s much easier to snatch a child if you have one of your own in tow.

What conscience Milly has left has sent her to the police. Yes, she felt bad for the children lying dead in their basement, but what she was truly dreading was the “birthday party” that her mother was planning when she turned “sweet sixteen.” So before the invitations go out to people to come & brutalize her, Milly turns her mother in.

But she had no idea how hard it was going to be to leave her mother behind. Or how difficult it will be to act like she is “normal,” especially when she has been taught by an expert how to read body language, how to manipulate people, how to tell them what they want to hear. She can’t seem to fit in to her foster situation, because she can see altogether too clearly what is going on in their home—and how can she trust a social worker who can’t see that his wife is an addict and his daughter is well on her way to the same state.

If you like this book, I would recommend I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. It is a young adult work, but really well done in my opinion. Another child struggling to right himself after being raised by a serial killer dad.

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text 2016-04-04 15:54
Martin John / Anakana Schofiled
Martin John - Anakana Schofield

Martin John is not keen on P words. He isolates P words from the newspapers into long lists. For you, so you know he's kept busy, so you don't have to worry he might be beside you or following you or thinking about your body parts. So you don't have to worry about what else he has been thinking about.

From Anakana Schofield, the brilliant and unconventional author of Malarky, comes a dark, humorous and uncomfortable novel circuiting through the minds, motivations, and preoccupations of a character many women have experienced, but few up until now, have understood quite so well. The result confirms Schofield as one of the bravest and most innovative authors at work in English today.


Another entry on my “Horrible Humans” shelf. Martin John is certainly not someone you would want to be Facebook friends with. He is a creepy sexual offender of the nuisance variety, although as I read the author planted just enough doubt into my mind that, by book’s end, I was pretty certain that he would be destined for worse crimes if he remained uninterrupted.

I was unsure of the time period of this book. The only pop culture references were to the Eurovision singing competition (which MJ is obsessed with) which I guess would put it into the last decade. He is a walking catalog of psychological problems—obsession, hoarding, ritualistic behaviour, among other things. It also becomes obvious to the reader that his family, such as it is, is a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

The writing style was unique, sometimes with only a few words to a page. There was a chaotic aspect of it that seemed to mirror Martin John’s mental state at the given time. More orderly towards the beginning of the book as he is going to work and dealing with roommates, less so as he acquires a housemate that he comes to distrust and fear.

An interesting spelunking expedition into the dark cave of mental illness and human motivation.

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review 2016-03-22 19:26
The Wasp Factory / Iain Banks
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date.


I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through.

Enter - if you can bear it - the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least.



The inaugural entry on my “Horrible Humans” bookshelf.  To be fair, I knew going into this book what the subject matter was—and I chose to read it anyway.  What I didn’t realize that was two such books would come in at the public library for me mere days apart!  So the second entry is waiting for me at home, when I’ve finished a couple of books with nearer due dates.


What an interesting first (published) novel for Mr. Banks!  It is extremely well written—there were parts which made me cringe as I read them, I even set the book down and walked away for a while.  But any devoted reader of true crime books will tell you that Frank is pretty mild in his awfulness compared to other, older (and real) offenders.  One of the reasons that I gave up cable TV (and eventually TV in general) was an unhealthy obsession with true crime series which were seriously messing up my ability to trust the people around me.  I may still be a little less trusting than the average person, but living in a city of over a million people, that seems to me to be a reasonable state of affairs.


And should I admit that I recognize many of Frank’s behaviours?  What country child hasn’t spent hours outdoors, picking around old rubbish heaps if they are available, splooshing through water (I filled many pairs of wellies full of cold water during the run-off each spring), and developing my own little rituals to celebrate the seasons.  Unlike Frank, I spent many happy hours just watching wild animals in our farm pasture land—convincing ground squirrels that I wasn’t going to do anything untoward and that they could go about their usual activities while I watched.  Frank, however, has taken these childish past-times and given them a dark, heinous twist.  He has taken the natural world and his violent thoughts and made his own private “religion” out of them, horrifying in its complexity and personal logic.


I can see where Banks considered this to be a work of almost-science fiction, getting into the head of someone who is confused and violent.  Not recommended for those who are squeamish about scenes of animal cruelty.

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