The Changeling by Victor LaValle

This is a difficult book to review. I want to use lots of superlatives, and I want to rate it a 10, but with a big asterisk, because I think it should come with a warning label of some kind. I am no longer sure where I got this recommendation from, but I missed a major headline: this is a horror novel, and a truly horrifying one of those, too. I had grasped it as fantasy, which is not wrong but it’s not all. So let me start off here: this is an excellent, mindbending, outstanding novel, but it is likely to upset even hard-to-upset readers (I consider myself one of these). Also, I want you to go in spoiler-free, which makes this review even harder to write.

Shelf Awareness’s review begins:

The Changeling is Victor LaValle’s version of the marshmallow test: forgo the quick thrill of a mass-market mystery/horror and be patient as the author genially paces you through 120 pages of buildup, and you’ll receive the kind of shock that fairy tales are made of.

and I think that part is well done. (I’m not a fan of the rest of it, which gets one important detail wrong and includes a spoiler, and that’s why it’s not linked here. Please avoid spoilers.) Truly, part of why I was so shocked is that those first 100+ pages are so delightful and unhorrifying. LaValle lulled me with the completely realistic, imperfect but sweet story of our protagonist, Apollo, beginning with his parents (white father from Syracuse, Black mother a Ugandan immigrant) and their romance in New York City, Apollo’s birth, and his father’s disappearance when the boy is quite young. Apollo grows up quickly to become a used book dealer (in the best of times, a rare book dealer, but you take what you can get), a kind and driven man. He in turn enjoys his own romance with Emma, a librarian and profoundly independent woman. These are complicated and nuanced people we really like and root for. Their first child, in an unlikely turn, is delivered on a stalled and stranded A train, underground, by Apollo and a few motley fellow passengers; but he is born healthy. Emma appears to suffer from a severe postpartum depression, however. And then things take a strange, strange turn.

I love the characters: Apollo, his mother Lillian, Emma the badass librarian, her sister Kim, her old friend Nichelle. Apollo’s best friend and fellow book dealer, Patrice, is a delightful giant of a man, an Iraqi War veteran with a great sense of humor and a hobbyist’s interest in computers. They’re all fully developed, with small background details that make them real humans rather than types. That these characters are Black is not the point of the book and rarely needs pointing out, except when it very much does (“you and me are two black men sitting in a minivan in the middle of the road in the middle of White Ass, Long Island,” Patrice reminds Apollo. Time to go). That full realization of characters, the round shape of them, applies to the general setting in time and place as well. I can tell that LaValle is an author who knows things about these characters and this world that didn’t make it into the pages; they’re complete like that. It’s a wonderful story to sink into for these reasons. There is commentary on fatherhood: Apollo’s continuing reckoning with his own absent father (and related nightmares), and his role as proud father himself. The passage about New Dads and how they are different from Old Dads is priceless, and self-deprecating: “New Dads do half the housework (really more like 35 percent, but that’s still so much better than zero).”

And then there’s the horror story – which is fantasy and fairy tale too. It’s a delight, actually. I just didn’t have my seatbelt buckled up for it. And if the idea of harm coming to children is a trigger point for you, fair warning here. (Fairy tales can be pretty awful in this regard, to be fair.) When things go south for Apollo, he will have to step out of the modern Queens that he knows and into something more ancient, awful, elemental. “For a moment he pawed through the contents [of his suitcase]: a mattock, some clothes, a children’s book, and a gravestone. This was how you packed for a trip to another world, not another borough.” Just put your seatbelt on.

I am deeply impressed with LaValle’s skills and have just added to my purchase list all of his books: three more novels, a story collection, a novella, and a comic. I’m completely sold. I was horrified! But it was worth every minute for this transporting read.


Rating: 10 moldy hardcovers, but be careful.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred is interesting to me in several ways. First, Octavia Butler stands out as a Black woman in a genre – science fiction – that is still awfully short on non-men and non-white writers, and was practically devoid of either when she began publishing scifi in the 1970s. This novel, her bestselling and I think best-known, might be more easily classified as fantasy than scifi, although I’m not going to get caught up in that labels argument. (I’ve tagged it as horror, here, too.) Either way, it is also very much realism and well based in history. Our protagonist, Dana, is a modern 1970s Black woman who suddenly finds herself time-traveled into the 1810s. “Time travel was science fiction in nineteen seventy-six. In eighteen nineteen–Rufus was right–it was sheer insanity.” Rufus is a young red-headed boy who she quickly understands has the (unwitting) ability to “call” her to his time when he is in danger; she seems bound to protect him. Because… it turns out he is her ancestor.

So we have the grandfather paradox, which ironically was just the other day explained to me by the character Natasha in The Sun Is Also a Star. Rufus grows into a deeply problematic white man and slaveowner, but she must preserve his life, even facilitate his relationship with the enslaved woman Alice who will bear his children, to ensure her own birth. Talk about tough subject matter and moral relativism. Back “home” in the 1970s, Dana is married to a white man, one of the good ones, named Kevin. But even the good ones may turn out to be a little troubling, especially when Kevin manages to get transported back in time with his wife. In the 1800s, Kevin can help protect Dana by posing as her master, but that only leads to more lines to be blurred.

This scifi/fantasy plot draws heavily on history. My paperback edition includes a critical essay at the back by Robert Crossley, who points out that Kindred is a sort of fictional memoir, following the traditions of slave narratives, which Butler studied closely. Aside from the time travel element, this story could be considered strict realism. And the time travel could be considered a literalization of a more metaphoric need to enter into another time – one far less distant than we are sometimes tempted to feel – and understand it better, because the forces of racism (and sexism) are alive and well. (While race is the forefront issue here, gender is absolutely at play as well, in the dynamics within slavery as well as the modern marriage of Dana and Kevin, among other places.)

Butler’s skills are on display. Dana’s first-person narrative voice is compelling and immediate; we experience panic, fear, rage, helplessness, and more along with her. Her relationships with Kevin and with Rufus, with Alice and with other enslaved people, are complex; the society of slaves offers a few apparent ‘types’ which Butler then immediately complicates, and Dana’s own biases are exposed in the process.

Topically, this is an important book to read and to think about. ‘Purely’ as a novel, it’s a hell of a ride, fast-paced and high-stakes and absorbing. Dana’s voice is compelling and intimate; she’s flawed and complicated and completely believable. It’s one of those stories it’s hard to look away from. Butler’s reputation is well deserved.


Rating: 8 aspirins.

Night Rooms: Essays by Gina Nutt

These 18 essays about gender, horror, grief and much more are thought-provoking, discomfiting and lovely.

Gina Nutt’s Night Rooms is a startling collection of 18 essays ruminating on life experiences, cultural tropes and horror films, examining questions of gender, fear and grief. Fragmented in form, but firmly interconnected, these essays refuse to look away. Nutt’s prose is lyrical, provocative, intimate and intelligent.

“I used to imagine wanting someone alive would revive them, if caught right after dying.” This opening line establishes one of Nutt’s main subjects: the deaths of loved ones and how people do (or don’t) handle them. She wants to find “a balance between mourning and moving on. How does it look to not be so enamored with the image of the final girl–the one who survives–that we forget, or disavow, our dead (selves).” That final girl of horror movies is objectified: a symbol, a survivor, part of a lineage.

Nutt (Wilderness Champion) is also a poet, and has a way with a simple line in brief scenes and observations: in grief or depression, “time pulls thick, opaque as taffy.” “I am making this [darkness] a buoy.” Her voice is vulnerable and frank. Repeatedly she describes a cultural artifact rather than naming it, so it is recognizable to most readers, but made unfamiliar: “the cartoon mouse dressed in a red sorcerer’s cloak and a pointy violet hat with white stars on it.” Quoted sources are named in footnotes, but those only paraphrased are not, so that different readers will find themselves involved to different degrees–as is true with the cultural artifacts themselves.

Haunted houses, horror flicks with sharks in them, ghost stories and slasher films meet beauty pageants, ballet lessons, sexual explorations and home d├ęcor to question what it is about the macabre that fascinates. Although subtitled as “essays,” Night Rooms feels more like it contains chapters, which make reference to one another as much as within themselves. The deaths that occupy the narrator in the book’s beginning are relevant again at its close. Indeed, while these essays are fragmented, cinematic in flashes of image, sound and feeling, they are equally fragments of the whole. Together, these pieces form an experience that is sensory, intellectual and emotional, illuminating difficult and even uncomfortable truths.

Part personal reflection and part cultural study, this unusual collection will haunt readers, in the best ways.


This review originally ran in the March 15, 2021 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 7 insects framed in flight.

From Hell: Master Edition by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

From this list of horror novels (linked from Shelf Awareness, and thank you for that), I found From Hell, which has been a wild ride. It’s a graphic novel, it’s historical fiction, and yes, it’s horror, but none of these terms suffice. The master edition I invested in was totally worth it for the 40-page appendix (in tiny type) explicating every smallest point of the novel itself, and detailing all the research involved, where fact meets fiction, and Moore’s reasoning behind the conclusions he’s drawn. The meticulous and thoroughly-explained research was its own gripping story, and Moore’s voice in that appendix is frequently hilarious – when’s the last time I laughed out loud at an appendix?! – self-deprecating, clever, and smart. I marvel at what feels to me like rather a new form. (The only comparison, obviously, is the Maus books.)

The novel itself is a fictionalized version of the Jack the Ripper murders, their investigation, and the conclusion(s) drawn and not drawn in 1888 and the years that follow. I entered this reading not knowing much about Jack the Ripper – I knew he was a historical serial killer in London who targeted poor sex workers, did terrible things to them, and was never caught; I think I would have figured his victims at five. That’s about it. I’m not at all sure that a reader more knowledgeable of these events would be a better reader of this work; I had plenty to help me along with the included appendix, although I think I would often have been lost without it. At least, I would have missed many of the subtler references. I strongly recommend the master edition for this reason. On the other hand, with nearly 600 pages, this large-format, hardback work is indeed a phonebook, and I confess I had a few physical difficulties with it: not only size and weight, but somewhat hard-to-read printing (both the tiny-print appendix and the hand-lettered graphic novel) on glossy pages that threw some glare. I had to use more light than I usually do to read. Totally worth it, though.

Jack the Ripper is an interesting case, because it’s very well-known (even if you know as little as I did, you’ve certainly heard of it), but not well-understood. As Moore lays out here, there have been umpteen theories and suspects offered, but few solid conclusions; and now too much time has passed, and we’ll never know who really dunit. There is also something tantalizing about the time period (late nineteenth century) and the intersections of historical figures, of which Moore takes full advantage – those opportunities are clearly part of what’s drawn him to this subject matter. As he writes in a second (graphic) appendix, sort of a meta-narrative about JtR history and research and the birth process of this book, Moore was in 1988 “thinking seriously about writing something lengthy on a murder. The Whitechapel killings aren’t even considered. Too played-out. Too obvious.” And yet here we are.

It is one of Moore’s theses that “in many ways, the 1880s contain the seeds of the twentieth century, not only in terms of politics and technology, but also in the fields of art and philosophy as well. The suggestion that the 1880s embody the essence of the twentieth century, along with the attendant notion that the Whitechapel murders embody the essence of the 1880s, is central to From Hell.” Indeed, this is not just a fictionalized account of a series of brutal murders (and the conspiracies and power structures that executed them), but a carefully research account of 1880s English society, including the roles played by the royals, the Freemasons, law enforcement, medicine and technology, homophobia, misogyny, and economic forces. It is a broad investigation into history across traditional academic disciplinary lines (which is a special love of mine), and again, that appendix makes it a rich study to dip into, leaving me with high confidence in the facts that serve as structure to this fiction. It is broad and rich in concept, too, part ghost story and philosophical probe. There are depths to be plumbed here; a person could write a dissertation on this surprising book.

There’s plots and there’s plots!

I’ve been writing about Alan Moore as if he’s the author of this book – because I understand that he’s the storyteller, and clearly he’s the voice of the appendix. The other listed author is Eddie Campbell, who I understand is responsible for the graphic art itself. He is referred to in the appendix as a separate entity, often humorously: “I have decided to ignore the increasingly surly protests of my co-author, Brisbane’s own Mr. Campbell, and make Victoria herself the instigator of events.” Notably, Campbell is credited for fastidious research for his visuals: “Suffice it to say that any adequate appendix listing Eddie’s sources in the way that I am listing mine would be twice as long as this current monstrosity, which in itself looks set to end up twice as long as the work to which it refers.” The appendix’s self-deprecations amuse me. “[There is another source] to which I would refer the interested reader (I assume there’s only one of you).” I am very open to the occasional self-reference, as when a character in the story predicts: “Mark my words, in ‘undred years there’ll still be cunts like ‘im, wrapping these killings up in supernatural twaddle, making a living out of murder…” and the appendix: “Abberline’s eerily precognitive comments are my own invention. They are also, in their way, a form of shamefaced apology from one currently making part of his living wrapping up miserable little killings in supernatural twaddle. Sometimes, after all you’ve done for them, your characters just turn on you.” You get the point: I am tickled by this narrative voice, and tickled by the research narrative in itself. I can scarcely imagine this book without Moore’s appended guidance; I wouldn’t have gotten half as much out of it.

The novel is horrifying, as is appropriate for its subject matter. It is complex in its explanation of the murders, conspiracies, investigations and cover-ups, including that supernatural angle. I think it’s a hell of a wild ride in itself, but it was the additional material that made this one a complete standout for me personally.


Rating: 9 points of research, decision, and imagination.

reread: The Stand by Stephen King

My copy of The Stand runs 1,153 pages, and I have a lot to stay. Sorry for the long review.


I loved this book before, and all over again, although not without qualifications. It took me nearly two weeks to read these ~1,200 pages, but only because I was reading other books at the same time (and teaching three classes) – it was really a handful of nights reading 300+ pages at a go. I loved this book all over again.

The very obvious impetus was the current pandemic, and my curiosity about how well The Stand tells a story that we are now (in some ways) living. The answer is, pretty well, actually. In the real world we don’t have a supernatural evil force in the form of a shapeshifting man with a cadre of more and less intelligent evil-minded followers; but there is plenty of metaphorical material there for those so inclined. I’ll leave that work to each of you. The superflu aka Captain Trip’s infection itself is different from Covid most importantly in the speed and rate of transmission, the death rate, and the speed with which it does its deadly work. It is infectious massively more of the time, and nearly always deadly. Covid is wildly infectious and pretty deadly by real-world standards; Captain Trip’s takes this to a logical extreme, which is often what fiction does, but the parallel is striking and instructive. That it is also wildly fast-acting is an interesting point. In some ways, the slowness with which Covid makes itself known (meaning, we can be infected for days or weeks before we get sick – and we can be infected and not get sick, therefore acting as invisible vectors)… has helped its spread, because we humans have a hard time taking seriously something that we can’t immediately see happening. Captain Trip’s, on the other hand, looks more like this: guy coughs near you; 20 minutes later, you are coughing. You might both be dead in a day or two. This is much easier for people to grasp as a concept; they feel fear and wish to take precautions much more, and much sooner, than we have with Covid. The flip side is that it’s much harder to fight against (especially because if you cough, you die). At least to this lay reader, this difference between reality and fiction feels like a simple difference between two types of virus. To my (again, layperson’s) knowledge, a virus could act as quickly at this one does; we just didn’t happen to get one of those. There would be pros and cons.

Captain Trip’s was also manufactured in a lab as a form of biological warfare which then accidentally escaped. This is not the case with Covid.

Because of the massive death rate of Captain Trip’s, the post-pandemic world looks very different than the one we will be living in the real world. Roughly, let’s flip the numbers of living and dead: the United States in The Stand is populated by some tens of thousands of people. That means their challenges in rebuilding, and in thinking about designing a new world, are very different from the ones we’ll face. Well, I’m trying to write a book review and not entirely a social commentary; but let me say briefly, I think the Covid crisis is highlighting the inequities and injustices we’ve always lived under, and we have a rather special opportunity to do something to fix our systems, with this new (to many of us) vision we’ve been granted. The survivors in this novel, on the other hand, have been left with the “toys” (Glen Bateman’s term) of a previous world, but limited knowledge of how to use them, and the power (etc.) has been turned off. Ideally, they’ll choose what to pick back up (book learnin’, heat in the winter, animal husbandry) and what to leave lying (nuclear weapons). But Glen Bateman is not terribly optimistic. (I must confess, neither am I.)

On to the book review proper. This remains a thoroughly compelling, expertly paced, engrossing story. Characters are delightfully wrought, various and complicated. The sympathy drawn out of us for the Harold Lauders of the world is disturbing as hell; he’s a villain but he’s very human. (The Walkin’ Dude is just evil, and not human.) While there are “types” in Glen Bateman, Larry Underwood, and Stu Redman, they’re convincing human beings at the same time that they’re types. Let’s face it, there are types in the real world, too; that’s where they come from. The momentum with which this plot moves could perhaps not be better executed; Stephen King is a master, and as I said above, I can easily take in 300+ pages in a single sitting (and stay up until 3am, I’m sorry to say), because it’s just all so juicy and absorbing.

That said, I did have a few concerns on this reread that I didn’t have just three years ago. Partly I suspect this is because in reading a print copy, I was able to pay closer attention to certain details. The audio experience I had in 2017 was entertaining, and I certainly followed the story and many of its finer points, but I do feel like I can watch a story more closely when I read it. I can speed up and slow down at my own pace, reread a line if necessary. And I think seeing a word printed imprints it on my mind more thoroughly than a word heard. I don’t know if that’s because I have a certain kind of brain or if it’s relatively universal.

On the other hand, I also think I’ve become more attuned to certain issues and injustices in the world in the last few years. So, on this go-round I noticed a problem in particular with race and ethnicity. King’s characters are almost all white, which doesn’t seem statistically plausible in this country, although I’ll allow that in 1978 (when this novel was originally published) the country probably looked a lot whiter than it looks now – it probably was a little whiter, but it also would have looked a lot whiter, in terms of where society (and therefore Stephen King) directed its gaze. And the few characters of color? Well, we have the “magical Negro” trope, which Stephen King gravitates toward in many of his works. (There’s a decent write-up of the concept in King’s work available here thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.) “Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing blacks in a positive light, the character is still ultimately subordinate to whites. He or she is also regarded as an exception” (source). Mother Abigail is delightful, and she does get her own backstory, but her function in terms of plot seems to fit squarely into “magical Negro” territory. It could be said she also serves as a token. Headline: Black woman character as hero! There are very few other non-white characters, and they’re all problematic: the abominable Rat Man, the heroin addict in the “second epidemic” section, the “black junta” early in the pandemic (they wear loincloths. This is disgusting, SK). But the ending really got me, and take note, writers of all stripes: the end of your book is the taste that is left in your reader’s mouth. At the end of The Stand we get the evil force sometimes known as Randall Flagg reawakening in an unknown place where he is surrounded by brown-skinned men with spears who don’t speak English but worship him. Not cool.

King’s women are sort of up-and-down with me; I rather love Frannie Goldsmith, the pregnant college student who is part scatter-brained and part moral compass, but I’m also getting weary of the pert young thing who lusts after the middle-aged man. And Tom Cullen, the mentally challenged man with occasional rare wisdom who is able to tune into a higher frequency than his peers-of-normal-intelligence – well, he feels a little like the mentally challenged version of the “magical Negro.”

These concerns dismayed me on my second reading, and while I want to be clear that I really enjoyed rereading this book and still find it to be a masterpiece, it is a flawed masterpiece. And I wonder what King would see fit to correct, if he were to edit this novel for a reprint in 2020. He’s still problematic now, as we know, but I think we should ask of our heroes (literary and otherwise) not that they be perfect, but that they be always learning, progressing, and always willing to learn. I’m certainly still learning: for example, it took a second reading for me to track some of the concerning elements of this book.

I still recommend The Stand. In some aspects it nears perfection. In others, cause for concern and fodder for discussion.

I am letting my original rating stand (ha), because I have new observations in both the positive and the negative columns.


Rating: 8 chocolate Payday bars.

movie: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019)

There’s a movie version out of We Have Always Lived in the Castle! Boy, rereading that review was interesting. This blog was still pretty young back in 2011. I cringe a bit at the thought that I didn’t know the book yet, and didn’t make the Shirley Jackson connection; but that’s what life is, is a learning process. Everything you ever know, you at one time didn’t know yet! (Don’t make fun of beginners!) Also, it’s interesting to note that now the big Shirley Jackson reference is not “The Lottery” but The Haunting of Hill House, since it’s recently been made into a successful TV series. My students this coming semester will be reading “The Lottery,” of course.

First note: the movie is scarier than the book was. I recall (and it seems from my review) that the book was more spooky or creepy than outright frightening. Well, the movie is not straight horror, in the sense that there are no jump scares; but I was more upset by the things that lurk in the night. For one thing (spoiler follows here in white text, highlight to read): Cousin Charles reads as physically threatening, as in he assaults each sister in turn in what might be a sexual fashion, which I don’t recall happening in the book.

Reviews are mixed. Some reviewers found the tone of the movie off; others felt there wasn’t enough substance, or something like that. I found it to be quite a successful adaptation, and wonder if some of the criticisms aren’t missing the point, or if things I’m calling positive were what most bothered those reviewers. For example, it’s true that the aesthetic of the movie is bright and colorful – not at all matching its content. Constance is forcefully cheerful, with a bright Stepford smile; she almost seems drugged (and her pupils are dilated – how’d they do that? give her eye drops?). This contributes to a weirdly upbeat vibe, even though it’s patently faked, and often in extreme contrast to the conflicts taking places around Constance. It’s odd, but not I think by accident. Each character – weirdo Merrikat; forced-chipper, porcelain-beautiful Constance; increasingly angry Charles; and poor unbalanced Uncle Julian – delivers their own lines in varying forms of deadpan; each believes their own reality. It’s most disturbing, and that is absolutely the point.

There is a trailer here, which on the one hand gives a good impression of visuals and atmosphere, but on the other hand maybe you should go in without having seen so much of it? Maybe the latter; I’m glad I went in more or less blind.

It has been eight years since I read the book, which undoubtedly helps, but I’m inclined to say that as far as book-to-movie adaptations go, this one was quite good and less likely to frustrate the book’s fans than most. Full credit for capturing the feel of the original; great visuals and a hair-raising effect, even without your traditional horror movie’s jump scares. I’m looking forward to reading “The Lottery” with my undergrads now.


Rating: 7 pies.

The Stand by Stephen King (audio)

the-standStephen King’s long, juicy novels often leave me a little tongue-tied when it comes time to write a review. There is so much to say. The Stand is a long one: this updated version (with King’s “Preface in Two Parts” and some 400 pages of added text left out of the original publication) runs around 1200 pages. Or, as iTunes informed me, 1.9 days of audiobook. Briefly I will say it was all worth it.

It is 1990, and a “superflu” has just wiped out the overwhelming majority of human life on the planet. This superflu was a biological weapon worked up by the United States military that, oops, wandered out of the lab. There are some weeks of totally creepy information control by the military & government, as they try and keep citizens from suspecting the reality that life as we know it is gone. Eventually we are left with a handful of people who stumble around an empty world and find each other. Put very simply, the good and virtuous people dream of a good woman–sort of a wise crone, feminine divine figure–and of a frightening dark man. The remaining people with basically good natures gather around Mother Abigail, and the remaining people with evil impulses gather around the bad man, who we recognize from other King novels by the name Randall Flagg. What follows is part good-vs-evil battle for the control of a near-empty world; but the far more compelling part is a story of human beings and their personalities, and personal struggles with the good and evil within all of us. Plus the practical difficulties of a high Colorado winter without piped-in heat.

This overly simple description doesn’t do it justice, of course. While there is an overarching good-vs-evil plot, that makes the story sound too pat and frankly boring: I wouldn’t read that. These characters are the masterpiece, as is so often true with King. The individuals and their nuances, and the challenges of the day-to-day, are creative, realistic, whimsical, hilarious, riddled with pathos and endlessly interesting. This is why I read Stephen King. Beyond that, this story makes for an intriguing sociological study (and he goes ahead and gives us a surviving sociology professor to help us along). Reading (listening to) this in 2016-17 calls to mind an obvious parallel to my favorite TV show, The Walking Dead. Both, for me, are studies in what the end of the world might look like for a few remaining survivors. Spoiler alert: we humans are the greatest threat, before and after.

I loved this reading by Grover Gardner; he did all the characters justice, which is no small feat. I loved the accents, especially on the character sometimes called “East Texas.”

For the serious King fan, there are the usual Easter eggs and references across novels. I’m not sure I qualify as a superfan yet–I’m only a small way into this man’s prodigious stack of published works–but I saw enough to tickle me.

What can I say? I’m adding nothing new to the world’s wisdom on Stephen King; I can only add my voice to a chorus: this man does some of the best world-building since Tolkien but is firmly rooted in our messy world, too. There are enough unexpected metaphors to please a poet, enough gimlet-eyed reality to please a realist, and enough fun to please the most loyal of genre readers. I can’t get enough.


Rating: 8 chocolate Payday bars.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Stand by Stephen King (audio)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.

Teaser

I know I already teased you from The Stand once, but I couldn’t help but share this single sentence.

It sort of bemuses me still that King is considered fluffy or genre-specific. He definitely has his chosen genres (horror, fantasy), and outside those genres has given inspiration to movies scripts (Stand by Me, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption), which can be considered fluffy as well. I thought 11/22/63 was a monstrously successful work of imaginative historical fiction, outside of King’s better-known genres. And just because The Shining or It are horror novels shouldn’t take away from their extraordinary power; don’t get me started on the Dark Tower series

I digress.

the-stand
When I heard this sentence spoken aloud on this audiobook, I wished I’d written it.

The stars seemed close enough to reach up and touch; it seemed you could just pick them off the sky and pop them into a jar, like fireflies.

This is an image that is imaginative, visual and tactile, unexpected and yet perfectly understandable. Pick them off the sky and pop them into a jar, like fireflies. This is why I read Stephen King. This, and so many other reasons – his characters, his worldbuilding, his humor – but also for simple, gemlike lines like this one.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Stand by Stephen King (audio)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.

Teaser

Yes, it’s true. In the middle of new work for graduate school and all, I have begun a new audiobook, and it is (of course) a whopping Stephen King novel, my buddy Jack’s favorite of all the Kings. (My iTunes usually tells me how long a book is in hours. This one it says is 1.9 days long.) So here we are. I’ve chosen a teaser for you that I especially enjoyed.

the-stand

Dr. Emmanual Ezwick still lay dead on the floor, but the centrifuge had stopped. At 1940 hours last night, the centrifuge had begun to emit fine tendrils of smoke. At 1945 hours, the sound pickups in Ezwick’s lab had transmitted a whunga-whunga-whunga sort of sound that deepened into a fuller, richer and more satisfying ronk! ronk! ronk! At 2107 hours, the centrifuge had ronked its last ronk and had slowly come to rest. Was it Newton who had said that somewhere, beyond the farthest star, there may be a body perfectly at rest? Newton had been right about everything but the distance, Starkey thought.

I liked these lines for the awesome use of onomatopoeia (a word I never spell without help) and sense of plain fun that King inserts into even the direst or goriest of situations. I love this guy.

Stick around, and maybe I’ll be ready to review this mammoth in a month or three.

The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkland et al.

walking-deadIn a word – get ready, because you won’t hear this from me very often – the movie was better. (Okay, the series.)

I’ve had the three The Walking Dead compendia on my wish list for at least a year, because I’m a big fan of the television series by the same name. What finally inspired me to buy this first one was one of the early episodes this season (ahem), which has me worried that we’re about to jump the shark. And I guess also because I’m insatiable. I love this story, these characters, their plights and the way they feel like my own friends & family. And I thought, if I’m going to geek out, I may as well know the original.

I’m not the hugest fan of graphic novels/graphic works in the world, although I have dearly loved some (Alison Bechdel, the Maus series). But I’m not precisely a connoisseur. And this one claims to be more classic “comic” than “graphic novel”, I think, so maybe I’m missing some insider knowledge. These are my disclaimers, before I tell you why I didn’t love this book.

Series fans, be aware that the story is significantly different in the comic. There are a few characters added and taken away (famously: there is no Daryl Dixon in the comic!!), and several serious plot twists that differ: different couples hook up in the comic, and more couples hook up in the comic. (Mild, long-past spoilers follow)—— Lori survives delivery of Judith. Tyreese is romantically involved first with Carol, then with Michonne (what?!). Andrea and Dale are a couple. A certain three-way marriage is proposed. For those of us immersed in the series… wow.

That’s not a fair criticism, of course. To say the comic is not the series is no more relevant a complaint than to say that the movie is not the book. No, my disappointments with the comic as a standalone are these. The dialog is unrealistic and cheesy: manly men saying things to each other like “I can’t pretend like I know what you’re going through…” “You don’t have to say anything… I know you care. That’s something. That’s enough.” There is some odd emphasis in that dialog, so the above lines read “I can’t pretend like I know what you’re going through…” “You don’t have to say anything… I know you care. That’s something. That’s enough.” (Weird.) The plot has quite a bit of sex-and-jealousy, soap opera stuff, and it’s just not balanced with the kind of character development that would let me buy in. I guess I feel like it rushes through the action (and the sex-and-jealousy) too quickly, without enough time to get to know the characters. It’s too sensational. I get why that may sound funny from a fan of the zombie show, which could be described as sensational (!); but I think those of us dedicated to the show would agree that it’s the characters and relationships that make it. And that kind of investment is not bought in a day, or solely with blood, guts and nudity.

The art is good, and it’s a remarkable and promising storyline for sure. I guess I’m saying I see the potential for it to be something more, and I’m glad someone else did too.

I think I’ll skip the next two compendia of comics, and stick to the series. And if this is the season that we jump the shark, well, thanks for six years and counting of outstanding drama.


Rating: 5 propositions.
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