Paul’s Book Reviews

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

heartbreaking-work A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
2_5
Someone on Facebook tagged me with a literary poll. One question I couldn’t answer was: David Sedaris or Dave Eggers? I read and enjoy David Sedaris but had not read Dave Eggers, so I picked up A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius at the library and can now answer the question: David Sedaris.

David Sedaris writes short stories about human shittiness. Little glimpses of human life in all its pettiness, hyprocrisy, self-destructiveness, self-delusion, spitefulness, and general piggishness. Stories that, in one- to four-page doses, amuse and entertain.

I’m sorry, Mr. Eggers, you write well, but I can’t handle human shittiness in novel-length industrial doses. I made it through five or six chapters before putting your book aside. Yes, I understand your work is somewhat autobiographical. I appreciate your brutal honesty. I get it that many people love this sort of thing and find it side-splittingly funny. I find that it saps my will to live, and I had to stop for my own self-preservation.

difference-engine The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
2_0
I realized, partway in, that I had read this novel years ago. I soldiered on, looking for the particular genius of William Gibson. Surely, any page now, this story would catch fire. But it never happened. Truly a forgettable book, and a great disappointment to this confirmed William Gibson groupie.
yokota The Yokota Officers Club, by Sarah Bird
4_0
This book jumped off the shelf and into my hand. The title’s what got me: I know the Yokota Officers’ Club . . . been there, done that. This is the story of a military brat whose father was an Air Force pilot. I was a military brat, and later in life an Air Force pilot with a couple of military brats of my own. Sarah Bird flat has it down. I was charmed, amused, and totally transported back to the itinerant life of the military family and the marvels pertaining thereunto. I didn’t want this book to end, ever. Remember The Great Santini? This is better . . . way better.
sputnik Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Marukami
3_5
I wanted to read more by Haruki Murakami after finishing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, so I checked out Sputnik Sweetheart at the library. Once again, a strong story, deeply personal, with memorable characters and strong imagery, exploring some of the same themes he visited in Wind-Up Bird.
road-dogs Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard
3_5
Classic Elmore Leonard — great dialog, characters with cool, flashbacks to earlier novels, bad guys you can’t help rooting for, asshole cops, local flavor (in this case, Venice, California). Why aren’t there more movies based on Elmore Leonard novels? I know, there are a lot of them — Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Mr. Majestyk, 3:10 to Yuma, etc — but every Leonard book should be adapted for film. Get on that, Hollywood.
2666 2666, by Roberto Bolaño
4_5
A posthumous 900-page novel in which nothing — not even the title — is resolved, yet one that held my rapt interest from beginning to end. Written as five related but independent novels, 2666 was published as a single work at the direction of Bolaño’s heirs, and although I uncharitably suspect they did it for the money, I’m happy they did, because I probably would never have read all five separately.

What ties this five-part novel together? The search for a mysterious and elusive B. Traven-like German novelist. Academic intrigue, poetry, and literature. Modern European history. Modern Mexican history. Love and life. But always, woven throughout (and the explicit subject of part four), the nightmare story of the unsolved rapes and killings of hundreds of women in and around Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The interwoven stories that make up 2666 are riveting and suspenseful, and the writing (excellently translated by Natasha Wimmer) . . . well, there is something extraordinarily robust about Bolaño’s writing, something that will not abide arugula. You don’t tackle a 900-page novel lightly, and I don’t recommend 900-page novels lightly, but this one’s worth the effort.

See all my reviews

© 2009 – 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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