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My 2012 in Reading: Lists

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

The 25 Novels I Read in 2010, From Favorite to Least

  1. City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
  2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  4. Canada by Richard Ford
  5. The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
  6. The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang
  7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
  8. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
  9. Deadwood by Pete Dexter
  10. Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  11. Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
  12. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
  13. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
  14. Open City by Teju Cole
  15. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  16. Skagboys by Irvine Welsh
  17. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
  18. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
  19. Carpathia by Matt Forbeck
  20. The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
  21. Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper
  22. Empire State by Adam Christopher
  23. ?
  24. ?
  25. Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

So…I guess I read only 23 novels. I probably counted a Sherman Alexie short-story collection the first go. I’ve no idea where the other one went. Maybe something I started and refused to finish. No, maybe the twitter thing Jennifer Egan did? Whatever the case, I think it’s funnier to have a list of 25 with only 23 elements to it, so I’m not editing it now.

Actually, I’m adding place-holders in two spots because I want to call “Lightning Rods” out for being the 25th best book of the 23 I read. THAT at least begins to touch on how awful I find that particular piece.

I don’t know I need to explain more than that. It’s a list. Obviously, everything is relative, but I think I could find something to recommend in at least 19 of these books. If you need more than that, for some reason, holler at me.

Categories: Books, Literature Tags: ,

Mired in the Brogue of “Skagboys”

October 10, 2012 5 comments

Despite a fondness for the works of Irvine Welsh, I admittedly was slightly dreading my start of the recently released prequel to Trainspotting. 

My wife pre-ordered Skagboys as a birthday gift to me. I am a big fan of the film version of Trainspotting, which has led to also following the careers of several of those involved in its making.

  • Danny Boyle has become one of cinema’s premier directors, scoring an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. I’m sure I was not the only person watching the Opening Ceremony from the London Olympic Games in anticipation of the Trainspotting-esque moment, not realizing until mid-point that the entire ceremony was a bit Trainspotting-y. There’s nothing on his resume I’ve watched and not thoroughly enjoyed.
  • Jonny Lee Miller has been around long enough to be a bit of a household name, particularly now that he’s in the new major-network take on the Sherlock Holmes story.
  • Ewan MacGregor is probably even more well-known, having worked in a good many major films including the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.
  • Robert Carlyle is also a regular on American network TV, portraying Rumplestiltskin in (largely unwatchable) Once Upon a Timebut I still dig him. He’s also tackled Adolf Hitler and King James I! Pretty sure Begbie kicks all their arses, but…
  • Ewen Bremner was a treat (for me, anyhow) in Black Hawk Down 
  • I admit that most of the reason I watched Nanny McPhee was because Kelly MacDonald was in it.
  • My wife tells me that a doctor on Gray’s Anatomy is played by the same guy who was Tommy.

It might be said I have an unhealthy relationship with the film, though it led me to read Welsh’s book (and then books, plural) rather than to score some dope, so…healthy enough, eh?

Anyhow…trying to circle back to the point…the slight dread I experienced managed to survive an overwhelming adulation for the characters Welsh created and the world in which he has them muck about.

It’s just that the books are so incredibly difficult to read!

If you’ve read them, you likely nod your head in agreement.

If not, I’ll just say that ah dinnae ken what tae tell yae!

Actually, I DO know what to tell you, but I was just trying to illustrate the point, which is that the dialogue, both internal and ex-, is written in a highly stylized brogue. While it definitely adds, overall, to my enjoyment of and submersion into the world of the novels, it greatly slows my progress through it.

Generally, I will make my way through a 300-page novel in 4 to 6 days, depending on how many of those days include an hour-plus sitting on the bus between home and work. I opened Skagboys for the first time 11 days ago.

I’m on page 158.

In fairness, I spent four extra days I’d normally be going into the city instead working from home. Definitely had some impact. Still, I can actually feel myself reading slower than what I’m used to and it’s driving me crazy, especially as the “to read” pile expands rapidly as some favorite authors all are publishing new works (Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Justin Cronin, Victor LaValle, Junot Diaz, Chuck Wendig, etc.), not to mention it was already a bit of a bloaty list.

This should not, however, register as a complaint. It really is part of what I love about Welsh’s writing and why I am quick to return to this particularly story.

“Wir gaun doon thaire tae have a wee fuckin blether wi this Hong Kong Fuey cunt!”

That’s fun!

I just wish I could pick up the dialect a bit more quickly. As of now, I still have to read the dialogue aloud to myself in my head to even hope to make sense of much of it.

Otherwise, it’s pretty interesting to watch these characters move through their pre-addiction lives knowing how it eventually runs for them. Because I declined a re-read of Trainspotting before starting Skagboys, my memories of the characters are probably closer to the film versions, which I’ve seen several times. Whatever the case, the characters all seem to be pretty much on-point right now, which makes me feel good about the book. I’m not sure whether there are any charges of “cashing-in” to be hurled at the appearance of the prequel, but I’m definitely getting a sense Welsh was more motivated by his feelings about the characters than by some cynical cash grab.

Now that I’m nice and irritated after watching baseball for the last few hours, I guess I’ll go wrestle a bit more with the brogue.

Randall Reads: “The Dead Do Not Improve” by Jay Caspian Kang

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Jay Caspian Kang does some writing for sports site Grantland.

I should say, he does some very good writing for GrantlandI like his style and voice. There is a complete dearth of quality sports writing these days, in my opinion, especially longer-form writing.

It would seem Grantland was founded at least partially in the interest of reviving what appeared to be a bit of a dying genre in the fast pace coverage of sports on the web.

While Grantland is only too happy to stray from the path of serious sports discussion, it’s usually toward the realm of reality television. Hence, when I heard one of the more notable writers for the site was publishing a novel, I was immediately intrigued.

Further, it appeared the novel was going to have nothing to do with sports, much less reality television, making it even more of a rare bird.

Because they’re two of my favorite things, I feel like literature and sports should naturally appeal to people. I’m mystified at how, generally, fans of either are not fans of the other. In fact, most of the time there’s a bit of an antagonistic attitude toward the other. I’ve been told this is rooted in the social strata of American public school where the jocks are commonly jerks toward intellectuals.

In my experience, that’s definitely the case in films and television, but I don’t remember ever seeing it manifested when I was in school. Does it really exist outside the exaggerated memories of those who perceived offense?

None of which is relevant to reviewing the book. This is likely among the reasons I don’t get paid to review books. I tend to wander.

What I was getting at was the idea that I mentally embraced Kang as a kindred spirit. There was some advance buzz on the novel which led me to believe the author had an appreciation for the craft of fiction writing. I already knew he was into sports, though he appears to be an NBA junkie first and foremost, which is completely outside my sports scope.

Anyhow…close enough.

The style I enjoy from Kang’s work on Grantland can be found throughout “The Dead Do Not Improve.” There is some deft work with words that made me pause and reread passages for enjoyment, rather than the dreaded “Wait…what?” I sometimes get when the story drags and I lose focus or when the author forgets that the reader is not as knowledgeable about the story and characters as they are and forget to fill in some of the blanks.

Also, there is a lot of humor in the telling of the story. It’s a little dark, I suppose, but I’m never bothered by that. You’d think that means I’ve a dark nature, but I don’t! People who know me would laugh at such a suggestion, I assure you. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. My wife can attest to this as I constantly stopped to read her passages I knew she’s agree were funny.

I was even right about that a few times.

All the dark and funny is woven into a bit of a strange noir-ish crime/mystery thingy. Maybe. It’s not really a genre with which I’m horribly familiar, but I remember thinking Raymond Chandler was cool when I was in college, so I may know just enough to declare it to be there.

What I do feel I know a bit about, and found entirely lacking here, was depth of the characters.

The two main players are Philip Kim and Siddhartha “Sid” Finch. Kim is a young, urban San Fransican who finds himself in the middle of a crime spree. Finch is a SFPD detective working the case. The narrative alternates between parallel stories centered on the two men moving toward a conclusion in which you’d presume they will both figure prominently.

Seemingly, the development of either character is set aside for social commentary (internet/social media, gentrification, Korean-American culture) while moving the plot along at a decent pace. Kang keeps it fun by introducing some intriguing elements (a pornography magnate, a cult, a surfing Chris Isaak, etc.). Unfortunately, I’m a reader who wants to get to know the principals very well before I can really invest in the events surrounding them.

On top of that, as long as I’m delving into my own personal problems that won’t necessarily reflect in your reading experience, the name Sid Finch is a direct nod to a George Plimpton piece written for Sports Illustrated as an April Fool’s Day joke. “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” detailed the discovery by the New York Mets of a guy who could throw the ball over 165 mph and pitched while wearing a hiking boot on one foot with the other foot bare. I’m sure this reference sails harmlessly over the heads of a lot of people, if only due to it being someone aged and semi-obscure, especially among literati, but I was a devoted reader of sports magazines in the mid-1980s and was horrified at the idea that the Mets would have both Doc Gooden and this guy. (Not fair!)

I was a bit naive back then…

Anyhow, every time Finch’s name appeared in the novel, I was immediately unable to stay immersed in the story. I was simply too hyper-aware of the reference.

Speaking of references…all the hip-hop references land like lead balloons with me. No clue. No impact. Not interested enough to look it up.

Hence, I’m torn. I enjoyed the style and voice Kang delivered (pop culture-isms excepted). I also found a lot of the elements of the setting to be interesting. Just very let down and uninterested in the characters. In other words, the elements that worked for me really worked, but I could not get over the things I found disappointing.

My general sense is that the average reader is going to really enjoy this debut novel, so I’d have to recommend taking a look at it, with the only reservation being that if you’re the type of reader who wants to really get to know the characters well, you’d need to at least need to put that aside for this one.

Randall Reads: Empire State by Adam Christopher

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I fully wanted and expected to really enjoy this novel.

When I decided to read “Empire State,” all I knew about it was that there was a science-fiction angle as well as superheroes in a noir-ish story.

I also knew it came from Angry Robot Books, an imprint with which I’ve had mostly positive experiences, and that the sample I read of author Adam Christopher’s upcoming book, “Seven Wonders,” had me hooked nearly instantly.

Further, two of my favorite reads of the last few years have been very successful in layering detective/mystery/noir story elements into genre-type novels.

China Mieville’s “The City & The City” remains among my all-time favorite novels, having very successfully set a murder mystery in a world with a very interesting sci-fi (is ‘speculative’ a better word?) angle.

Low Town” by Daniel Polansky features more of a fantasy world (you know, medieval England with magic and dragons and all that?) in which the protagonist moves while trying to figure out who’s doing some murders.

“Empire State” actually has some interesting parallels with the Mieville work, particularly in that there are parallel worlds at the center of each novel’s setting.

It would be unfair to wish that Adam Christopher were as tight a story teller as Mieville, primarily because I feel very few writers I’ve read even come close to that level. However, I do feel like Christopher would have benefited from more-stringent editing or plot outlining. The fact of the matter is, there’s so much going on in this novel, that it’s hard to find the focus.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things floating around a little too freely in “Empire State”:

  • Prohibition-era gangsters
  • superheroes
  • steampunk-like technology
  • prototypical noir detective
  • alternate/parallel worlds
  • religious cult activity
  • robots
  • war
  • male bonding/friendship
  • political power manipulation of information to citizenry
  • gay rights
  • split-personality disorder/duality of a personality

There’s likely some things I’m forgetting, but you get the point. That’s a lot of stuff to juggle. Ultimately, it leads to a lack of clarity as to what the story is about.

I would promise to not ruin it for you, but I am still fairly unsure myself. Even after three consecutive climactic scenes at the end of the book, you’re still unclear as to what the motivations behind the book’s initial conflict were in the first place. It’s not giving much away to say the two superheroes of the story have a big fight, which is crucial to the creation of the world in “Empire State.” The Space Pirate and the Skyguard were once a cohesive unit in fighting crime, but split. Why? Several people in the novel wonder this as well, which would lead a reader to think you’ll learn why.

Along similar lines is the issue of the extreme thinness of the characters in this story. Even Rex, the story’s protagonist, is little more than an archetype with a few personal issues thrown in to flesh him out a little, but it’s so very little that you don’t get a real sense of who he is.

I should admit here that there is a convention in the story that somewhat explains why the characters might seem half-formed, at best, but I think that would be a little cheap an answer as to why you don’t get a good sense of anyone in this book. Several characters have fairly large roles in the important events in the story, but their motivations are a complete mystery because they’ve not been developed much, if at all. All of which leads to a general lack of interest in how the dramatic conflicts ultimately resolve.

There is certainly enough action in “Empire State” that it is bound to have a more-receptive audience available out there somewhere than the one it found when I cracked it open (or whatever the ebook equivalent to ‘cracking a book open’ is).

I’ve had many a discussion with other readers who, like me, enjoy genre fiction but are frustrated that the level of writing falls often far behind the level of great ideas and stories. This is only a real problem when the result is a story that goes in too many directions with characters not well-enough developed to see it though.

It pains me to say that this is the case with “Empire State.” I will hope for better luck with “Seven Wonders” when it’s released next week (because it really does sound good!)

Randall Reads: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Like many, I was captivated by the hissy fit thrown by Christopher Priest with regards to the nominees for the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

You know how whenever anyone ever publishes a “Top X” list of any nature, some are quick to discredit the list entirely because so-and-so was left off, showing that anyone connected to the construction of the list is a complete idiot? Well, Priest took that fairly common article comment and expanded it to a blog post, first listing a few novels he thought were easily more worthy of being on the “short list” than those that actually made it, then taking shots at the nominees before calling for the sacking of the entire panel of judges and/or scrapping the 2012 edition of the awards altogether, which he ultimately called a “modest suggestion.”

Because asserting your assessment of a pile of books is so incredibly superior to that of those charged with the assessment that they should just cancel the awards altogether is “modest.”

Same scale as a presidential candidate casually suggesting college students should just borrow $20K from their fathers upon finishing school to launch their business ventures.

Hey…it’s just a modest suggestion…no biggie…

Anyhow, in Priest’s semi-scathing take-downs of the shortlist, only the ultimate winner came out relatively unscathed.

“Of the six shortlisted novels, I can find only one which I think is something we should be proud of. I refer to The Testament of Jessie Lamb, by Jane Rogers ”

As much as I otherwise wanted to be dismissive of Priest’s opinion as he was of China Mieville’s “Embassytown,” which I rather enjoyed, I couldn’t help but wonder how Rogers’ work alone survived the angry scatter-shot of the post. Had it not then won the award, I’m not sure whether I’d have followed up on it, but it did and I did.

Had I only paid slightly more attention to a criticism Priest included later in that same paragraph as the quote cited above: “It is not to my mind a wholly achieved novel: it is written with real style, excellent characterization and a lot of genuine emotion, but to be fully realized as a work of speculative fiction it needs a wider canvas, a sense that larger events are mounting in the background.”

Sidebar: If you ever run into Christopher Priest on the street, for whatever reason, and he pays you a complement on something, I think it’d be best if you brace for what’s coming next.

Because something’s coming next and, hurtful though it may be, it may also be spot-on.

He absolutely nailed this one, for sure.

“The Testament of Jessie Lamb” is not to my mind, also, a wholly achieved novel. The style is there. You can certainly say the characterization is excellent, even if you can’t find anything likable about the protagonist. Plenty of genuine emotion…well, I assume it’s genuine, but it’s hard for me to accept the annoying protagonist as being a little over-the-top captive to the whims of her emotional state from minute to minute.

Jessie Lamb is a teenager at a time when some really heavy world events are playing out, the progenitor of which is a disease that essentially makes procreation impossible. Hence, without some creative workarounds, the human race can see itself being extinct in the very near future.

That little piece of information alone would be more than enough to suck me in. It may be I’m a sucker for the whole dystopia thing, but I was immediately interested in what that world would look like.

Unfortunately, other than being mentioned as happening, you learn little to nothing about the terrorists, suicide bombers, gangs, roadblocks, religious cults, trafficking of kidnapped children, spiking suicide rates, and new social divisions between men and women including a new acceptance of homosexuality.

Or, all the stuff that would make this a vastly different book and of a great deal more interest of me than an intent focus on the thought patterns of a single teenage girl coping with the world around her and trying to find a way to contribute to its betterment in some significant and tangible way.

It’s a little unfair to review the book this isn’t as opposed to the book it is, but the entire time I was reading it, I couldn’t help but continually wish for Rogers to step back several paces and allow me to see just how crazy things have gotten from a perspective a bit removed from that of a fickle teenage girl. Though I don’t care to think of myself as necessarily needing to be able to identify with a protagonist in order to connect with a book, it would have greatly helped in this case. The best I could do was to sympathize with her father, which is more than just a gender thing, but I’d not care to give away the plot points in this regard for anyone who may seek this out.

And, maybe you should. I seem to be among the (very) few who do not have a generally positive response to the novel.

Just know that despite the intriguing setting, the book is really about a girl and her thoughts and how she perceives things. Once you are set with that, you’re much more likely to read the award-winning novel seeming to be enjoyed by many, rather than wishing for the book I thought I was going to be reading when I picked it up.

Satan is Real! “The Devil All the Time,” by Donald Ray Pollock

The word “devil” is in the title. If this might bother you a little bit, don’t read this.

The cover is a bit creepy. If this makes you hesitate, don’t read this.

There is some violence. If you are the sort who can’t be past such subject matter, don’t read this.

There are, in fact, some fairly nasty people and events found in the text of this book…

Surely, you are either in or out by now. No need to continue down this road.

Go ahead and read the prologue. Experience a short scene with the Russell family through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy already haunted by his father’s twin obsessions of drinking and praying. That should either drive you the other way or drag you into Knockemstiff, Ohio en route to wild ride through the lives of some stark characters wandering the haunted hillsides of Donald Ray Pollock’s first full-length novel.

If you’re like me, you’re going to be thrilled.

The characters alone are enough to keep your attention throughout the span of the book. You have the aforementioned Arvin Russell, who witnesses some interesting prayer tactics on the part of his father, who is desperately attempting to enlist the help of the divine to heal his terminally ill wife The creative use and manipulation of religion and its true believers creates a stable of quirky people operating in separate story lines, touching only lightly until they collide in spectacularly horrific ways. Think “slow motion train wreck.”

Our cast of characters include:

Arvin and his parents, which we’ve covered enough without telling the story (I’ve mentioned I don’t do story recap, yeah?)

Arvin’s grandmother and the orphaned girl for whom she cares.

Roy and Theodore: When first you meet these two, Roy dumps spiders over his head as part of a sermon, accompanied by the guitar playing of wheelchair-bound Theodore. Theodore loves Roy.

The Flamingo Lady and Flapjack the Clown: Barely in the book, but a perfect place to mention them. (In fact, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re reading that there is a character called ‘Flapjack the Clown,’ and are not already arranging to own the book, I can’t help you.)

Carl and Sandy: The depiction of this couple has to be the reason so many reviews of this novel mention Quentin Tarantino. I mean, I guess you can make a case for them evoking Mickey and Mallory, but it would be a weak case, indeed. I am not much a fan of reviews that compare the work being reviewed with other works with a greater resonance in pop-culture spheres. I hate to just dismiss it as lazy, but it IS lazy and often misses the mark. This here, is a great example. There’s a lot of violence. Does that make it Tarantino-esque? I wouldn’t deny the man is known for including a lot of bloody mess in his films, but I always think of the alluring dialogue in his films. There’s nothing in Pollock’s writing that will remind you of Jules and Vincent discussing Parisian fast food.

And, right after I called it lazy…

There is a LOT of violence here. I know some people are sensitive to that and will automatically be unable to move past it to see the strength of this piece, which is some highly stylized writing. If you’re reading it and can’t stop thinking of how violent it is, that’s obviously a problem. It reminds me of the first time I saw an episode of “Deadwood” on HBO. I hadn’t been following the story, so I wasn’t absorbed into enjoying the local color, characters or plot well enough to not hear the word “FUCK!” being exclaimed every fifth syllable. It kicked me out of the story again and again to where I failed to make the 30-minute mark.

Watching the series from the beginning, however, had a bit of a numbing effect to where I’m not sure I didn’t imagine how much they were cursing my first experience. Make no mistake; I’m aware there is still a lot of cursing, but now it just seems all part of that local color I learned to understand to enjoy way back in tenth grade when we discussed “The Outcasts of Poker Flats,” by Bret Harte.

Of course, the language in “Deadwood” doesn’t quite drive the action the way the violence does in “The Devil All the Time.” Not a perfect analogy in that sense. I was just trying to say you’d do well to look around the blood to get to the meat.

It’s probably fair to address a perceived flaw or two if I’m going to request you overlook something else.

Any reader is going to pick up a book with all these story lines and assume they’re going to be tied together at some point. The ways all the assorted characters are brought together when they’re brought together does give one a bit of a “Oh, COME ON!” reaction. I don’t wish to say “predictable” because I don’t think it is that, but there is an element of tidiness to it that is a bit incongruous with the messy lives of these characters. Ultimately, it’s not a huge deal. I mean, when you read a Jason Bourne book, you know he’s ultimately not going to be killed. Here, you’re put early in a position of knowing that something is coming and, hence, can somewhat see it coming at you. Again, doesn’t ruin it for me.

Essentially, you’re either going to like the style, tone, and storytelling capacity of Donald Ray Pollock or you won’t. I’d imagine this book and author to be somewhat polarizing in that sense. I’m going to call myself a fan, which means I may or may not admit to overlooking some things in favor of an overall joy of reading the book. This also means that, should you say it’s no good, I reserve the right to dismiss you with a “eh…what do you know?!”

DEVIL! DEVIL! DEVIL!

Randall Reads: Out of Disaster, Salvation…Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones”

February 19, 2012 1 comment

Poverty. Single-parent family. Teenage pregnancy. Alcoholism. Dog Fighting. Dismemberment. Hurricane Katrina.

As top-line topics go, “Salvage the Bones” touches on some pretty big bummers.

That being said, there is a constant breeze of humanity and family blowing through Jesmyn Ward’s pages, strongest after the storm has passed and the waters have receded.

People much smarter about literature and the written word awarded this novel the 2011 National Book Award for fiction, so I write this with a heavy amount of consideration that there’s a good chance I’m missing/misunderstanding something about this novel. This is not to say that I found the book to be poorly written or any such thing. To the contrary, there is quite a lot I enjoyed about this book. The story, language, and characters all have a way of sticking with you.

But, until one of those smarter people are able to explain to me what I’m missing, I would have to opine that it is not the best book I’ve read published within the window for qualification for that prize. (Yeah, I preferred “The Tiger’s Wife.” Sue me.)

This may all come down to one (perceived) flaw, to be honest. It is such a big flaw, however, I’m surprised it didn’t hinder the novel’s rise to glory and that I haven’t read other reviews finding fault with it.

Of course, all that means is that it’s probably more a personal hang-up and those smart people would just shake their heads at my words in disappointment. This would be sad because I know Victor LaValle to have been among the panelists who selected the award winner.

I like LaValle!

I have to say, however, that it eventually drove me CRAZY how many times Esch (the narrator and protagonist) refers to Medea as she’s reading about her in Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” and becomes an über-obvious parallel for her own story.

Well, there are elements which might not be as clear, but, (un)luckily Ward and Esch are there to point them out for you page after page after page. It’s a little maddening, making me want to scream, “ALRIGHT! I GET IT ALREADY!”

Except that I often read during my bus commute to and from the city and would, at least be an unwelcome drawing of unwelcome attention. At most, I could be thrown off the bus due to the misunderstanding.

Anyhow, this became such a prominent thing within the story that it began to hinder my enjoyment of the otherwise-masterful storytelling. I distinctly remember turning a page and quickly skimming to see where the next reference to Medea and Jason and the Argonauts would be. Not finding one for three consecutive pages felt like a triumph.

A triumph I celebrated quietly.

I hate to linger on this singular issue too much, especially as it seems to have not bothered anyone else too much. It is MY review however, and it is a huge part of my overall experience of having read the book.

Since it was not enough to otherwise ruin the book for me, though, I shall proceed.

Ward does a great job of drawing her scene and characters. “The Pit” and its inhabitants are memorable and likable, warts and all. Esch and her brothers–Randall, Skeetah, and Junior–are the primary family members through which you experience the story, with their deceased mother’s spirit playing as big a role emotionally as their Daddy does physically. You’ll instinctively love Big Henry and be suspicious of Manny. In fact, I think those two secondary/tertiary characters are as memorable as any I can think of.

Generally, I don’t do story recapping, because I don’t really like to read story recaps in book reviews. I think it’s fairly well known this book takes place in the week leading up to Hurricane Katrina hitting the gulf coast. It would be a mistake to confuse that event to be the novel’s subject matter. It certainly has some allegorical qualities, but this is a much smaller (hence, larger) story about people and family and overcoming and love (“love as certainty”).

Keep in mind before picking it up, however, there are some heavy, heavy topics in this book (remember the first line of the review?). If it’s going to just bum you out,  then…sorry. If you can see through some rough times (reading about dog fighting isn’t going to appeal to many, I’m sure), you’ll get a lot out of this book…even if the continued referencing to Greek mythology gets tired.