Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Creative vulcano

The End of the World as We Know It by Michael Sandels.  My rating: 5 out of 5 stars /// This book is a funny-looking monster drooling creativity on every page. Just the sort of thing I love most in a book when I need a break from more serious, traditional fare. An iceberg of lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate as far as I'm concerned. One could breeze right through it and "get" a third of it, or linger slowly and savor what the author is really saying between the lines. What a project to study this in more depth than I did this first go-round. I am going to set aside a long day at the beach to burn myself inside and out with this. Its discombobulated, disjointed, disrespectful, but never mind--the author, like Don Quijote, charges fearlessly at every one of his targets, no matter what it is. After each chapter, he picks himself up and gets back on his horse. My applause for the author of this delightful madness!

Monday, February 10, 2020

A new small-town thrill ride

My Friend Nick by Joseph Hood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ///  This is a very impressive debut novel that does triple duty. It's a family drama, it's a suspense/thriller, it's a character study of a mother and daughter relationship, and, added to all that, it is an interesting portrait of a town. Reviewing this is hampered by my desire not to spoil any of the delicate threads that hold it together. I'm more enthusiastic about My Friend Nick than what follows might indicate for that reason.

The family at the center of this drama is in a serious state of entropy.  The mother, left alone to cope with her rebellious daughter, is coming apart at the seams. The father, away on business, is unaware--because the wife is keeping secrets--of how bad things are. The young girl, restless, resentful, and missing her father, is clearly going to be a centrifical problem from page one. One of the interesting plot devices concerning the daughter is that expectations are built in the reader that the little girl has enough spunk to cope with whatever bad thing is around the next corner; that idea is completely upended by the author when the little girl's excessive spunk turns out to be a major causative factor in the chain of problems that follow.

This is not a book where a lot happens until the slope up to the final act, but make no mistake, there is not a dull moment. The pace of the story is a great advantage when so much of the interesting detail is invested in the traumatic past of the mother and the father. In other words, a lot has already happened previously. Clearly, knowing so much about the backstory, this is a family to which victimization is no stranger. Genetically, the daughter is primed to take on any monster hiding in the neighboring cornfield. This she does, with unexpected results. Here's where I have to hold back on detail and allow the book to do its own talking.

The measured pace allows the author to display his talent at character and scene development. The town seems very real and the populace is enjoyably quirky. The little girl's adventures beyond her allowed perimeter are very nicely and realistically done. The antagonist is very creepy and very believable.  One of the great things the author adds to the pot is that the history of the central family is troubled, the history of the town is troubled, and the history of the creepy, evil antagonist's family is troubled.  This is a scenario where things are going to take a dark turn because that's the only outcome possible with such histories in constellation.

I am not going to tell you more than the following, which are logical conclusions any reader might come to: the mother's psychological problems are bound to increase in the absence of her husband, the girl's rebelliousness is bound to increase in the absence of her father, and the antagonist's socio/psychopathic behavior is bound to escalate in the absence of anyone to stop it.

If you like studies of small-town good/evil (recalling some aspects of In Cold Blood) this is a good place to get an unsettling read. Recommended for excellence in this genre.

Friday, February 7, 2020

A good review surfaces in Europe

Good reviews occasionally surface outside the USA, and they don't generally appear on, our major American book-mart.  Here's a nice one from author Julie Embleton, who resides in Ireland. She ceaselessly promotes her fellow indie writers on Instagram. A fine writer, highly respected and followed by many, Julie has received many laudatory reviews of her own. You may learn more about her books here.

One must always be grateful for supportive colleagues, not to mention those 15-minute slices of fame they serve us because some of those servings of fame take 30 years of brain-numbing work to cultivate.

American Crumble is available here.

The rest of this post is the review. Thank you, Julie E.

What happens when Death and the Devil get cabin fever and go in search of entertainment? They wander into Crumbleton, Wisconsin to an Off-Track Betting facility. This clever tale was too short and ended with me wanting more. I was laughing from page one, with the Devil and Death making an oddly suited couple; Death with his silly wit, and the Devil who can’t come to terms with his pesky feelings. Set against the melancholy of a dying town and its disillusioned residents, the amusing banter from the duo balances out the underlying sadness of Crumbleton’s situation. On one hand, Lawrence Jay Switzer serves up a painfully keen observation of modern-day, small-town reality, while on the other, offers the fantasy of Death and the Devil stirring trouble amongst men desperate for a winning bet. I imagine Switzer is one who people-watches. He’s plucked inspiration from everyday interactions and woven them into a beautifully written, poignant tale. American Crumble would make a delightful short film with Robert De Niro as Death, and Al Pacino as the Devil. I can already hear Pacino’s drawl as he tells Death “It’s almost two o’clock, time for that cranky old bitch Judge Judy.” A superb short earning a well-deserved five stars. It’s a twenty-minute read and worth every second!