“Point Omega”

Point Omega

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Don DeLillo’s very short 2010 “novel.” I read a Scribner hardcover first edition from the library.

Buy the Book.

2 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

An aspiring filmmaker tries to convince an older man who advised the U.S. war machine to be the subject of an unconventional documentary.

Point Omega is not a novel. No person or institution should be forced to pay the $24 list price. The first edition hardcover is 117 pages, large type; it takes less than two hours to read. This is college textbook pricing and I hope college professors don’t put this into students’ hands because there’s nothing to get out of it.

All right, there is something: the opening and closing chapters titled Anonymity are very good. If those two chapters were a short story, I would give it 3.5 stars. DeLillo carries a feeling of menace and intrigue through these scenes. It’s a welcome glimpse of Running Dog-era DeLillo.

The rest of the book concerns a thirty-something-year-old man who sits around the desert home of an older man having empty philosophical conversations and waxing on the quality of light and sexually considering the man’s twenty-something-year-old daughter. The daughter, Jessie, is merely an object for our narrator to grossly watch when her bathroom or bedroom door is open. One day, she mysteriously disappears and for a moment you think, Oh, maybe something is happening here.

Nothing happens here. Continue reading

Advertisements

“Song for the Unraveling of the World”

Song photo

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Brian Evenson’s 2019 short story collection. I read a Coffee House Press first edition paperback. Coffee House Press is the best. Support CHP.

Buy the Book.

 3 out of 5 stars (all stories averaged).

Times Read: 1

Somehow I’ve never read Brian Evenson before now. Somehow I hadn’t heard of him, which is crazy; he’s been at this for years with a huge amount of genre respect behind him. He carries the 1970’s Harlan Ellison/Richard Matheson/Stephen King torch (while this is mostly good, it does carry a couple of negative aspects; we will get there) and that is generally a sweet spot with me.

If Songs can be said to have a theme, it’s of the Bad House (literal houses and the idea of body-as-house). What horror fan can resist a tale of the Bad House? I felt touches of House of Leaves (always a plus) and Evenson can deliver a good punchline ending. As the book goes on, some things become repetitive (not in a stylistic way but in a literally using-the-same-image way, see note [48]) and some stories fall flat – mostly the space-based ones, which may just reveal my inherent difficulty with science fiction.

These stories tap into universally true fears and nightmares unlike someone like Ramsey Campbell who uses such specifically bizarre images that I can’t tell what the hell is going on. Evenson sticks to simple language that reminds me of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in its immediately classic feel. It is more difficult than you might think to write a simple, unadorned spooky tale. Continue reading

“Normal People” (Post 2/2)

Normal People 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book.


[31]

Is this what life is like? Connell said.

She looked at his face, but she couldn’t tell from his expression if he was pleased or miserable.

(p.120)

[32] Reference:

She remembers leaving a flask in Connell’s car the day they drove to Howth in April.

(p.121)

 

Howth is a village and outer suburb of Dublin, located on the peninsula of Howth Head. Howth is home to one of the oldest occupied buildings in Ireland, Howth Castle. It has been the location for many films Continue reading

“Normal People” (Post 1/2)

Normal People 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2

Sally Rooney’s second novel, first published in 2018. I read a 2019 Hogarth hardcover from the library.

Buy the Book.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Two modern Irish teens begin a secret affair in high school, picking it up again in college. Despite break-ups and seeing other people, their attachment to each other proves stronger.

Sally Rooney’s writing is deceptively simple and on a sentence to sentence basis, often quite good. But the plot here is frustrating, thin, and repetitive. A 150-page version of this book would have received a 3+-star rating. At 273 pages, it outstayed its welcome.

Normal People feels like an elegant fan fiction about two characters I’m supposed to already know. It leans into staples of fan fiction like emotions, stares, moments, observations of food and weather and clothing, while caring little about plot or the world outside the two leads.

I can fall in love with a book like this if I love the characters, but Connell and Marianne were irritating and frustrating. I eventually warmed up to Connell but Marianne became a weirder and weirder character to get a handle on. In the beginning, I suspected she had a form of Asperger’s and looked forward to seeing a character like Keiko in Convenience Store Woman, whose social differences come simply because she was born that way. Instead, we find out that Marianne’s brother and mother are freakishly hateful toward her (at one point, her brother has said Marianne should kill herself because she has no friends and her mother’s response is “don’t encourage her”). Because we’re given no context for this hate, they seem straight out of Grimm’s; Marianne is a mythical poor little rich girl. As her issues add up, I began getting flashes of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, a book I really, really didn’t like (it landed at 4th place in my Bottom 10 of 2018) because of its tragedy fetishism.

Normal People uses no quotation marks and is told mostly in present tense, though Rooney will jump forward in time at the beginning of a chapter only to go back to fill in events that happen between chapters. The chapters alternate between Connell and Marianne’s third-person perspectives. This isn’t as confusing as it sounds, but the chronology does feel a bit messy at times.


Continue reading

“Rage”

Rage

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

The earliest of Stephen King’s Bachman books, originally published in 1977. I read a 1985 first edition Bachman Books hardcover published by the New American Library.

Rage is out of print, even in Bachman Book collections, so if you want to Buy the Book, you’ll have to get it second-hand. Read on and I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t bother.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 3? 4? Too many.

The Plot:

High school senior Charlie Decker shoots two teachers and takes his algebra class hostage.

I loved this story when I was in high school. I was half in love with Charlie and fully on his side. I was disappointed when King pulled Rage from publication after it was linked to several high school shootings, but if he was hoping this would drop it into obscurity, he didn’t see the internet age coming. For a King fan, Rage is a notorious work, kind of a handshake when you’re trying to feel out another’s level of fandom.

As you can see, I’ve changed my mind about Rage. The biggest problem (let’s be honest) is that it’s badly written. King tells us in the introduction “Why I Was Bachman”:

[Rage] was begun in 1966, when I was a senior in high school. I later found it moldering away (…) – this rediscovery was in 1970, and I finished the novel in 1971.

(p.vi)

He must have done another pass before it was published in 1977 (he has set the story in the mid/late ’70s) but an early-writer sloppiness lingers. This isn’t up to King’s normal standards (see note [10]).

The second problem? Charles Decker is an asshole and this is a masturbatory high school fantasy (see note [2]).

I try to avoid posting negative reviews unless something can be learned. That something is this: Save your time and money and don’t go out of your way to read Rage. If you’re one of those maniacs trying to read every King work (as I once was), leave Rage for last; you may burn out of the phase before then. Continue reading

“Falling Man”

Falling Man photo

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Don DeLillo’s 2007 novel. I read a 2008 Scribner trade paperback marked up by a student who apparently lost interest 2/3 of the way through.

Buy the Book. (…but don’t.)

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

After walking out of the World Trade Center on September 11, a man returns to his estranged wife, who is grappling with the aftermath of her father’s suicide and mother’s failing health.

I don’t know why I keep going back to DeLillo. He wrote one of my favorite books (White Noise), a very good one (Underworld) and nearly a dozen more that I consider average or worse. I knew by page 30 that Falling Man would not rate above 2 stars. And yet I keep chasing the DeLillo dragon.

Being a DeLillo reader is about seeking moments that sing, exchanges and moments that feel stunningly true, even when the plot is dead. Falling Man couldn’t even give me that.

By centering the story on September 11, DeLillo assumes most of the legwork is already done for him. This book hardly has a chance of working for someone alive during September 11 and will never work for anyone without memory or connection to the event. The characters are flat and hardly seem like the same people from scene to scene. Actually it’s worse – every single character seems exactly like every other one. Anyone’s dialogue could be anyone’s dialogue. DeLillo doesn’t help by starting each section with pronouns instead of names, leaving us confused about who the hell is in the scene.

We get the feeling that we’re building toward something but, trust me, we’re not. This ends exactly where and how you expect it to and you’ll be none the better for it. A meditation like this might work with characters we care about or come to understand, but there’s no one there.

Continue reading

“13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl”

13 Ways

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Mona Awad’s debut collection of shorts that sort of becomes a novel. I read a Penguin Books first edition paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

1 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A cruel, vain young woman never takes responsibility for her life, has no honest connections, and sees everyone as a threat.

I don’t know what 13 Ways is trying to do. I think it hates everyone and hates me for reading it. I went in optimistic – I was a morbidly obese teenager who managed to get my weight somewhat under control in adulthood; I understand how the “fat girl” label and mentality stays with you forever. I believed this story would touch on some of those emotions.

From the description (the cover quote by Aimee Bender brightly announces: “This book sparkles with wit”) I expected a caustic but smart narrator in the style of Ottessa Moshfegh or Halle Butler. 13 Ways doesn’t deliver. Eleven of the thirteen chapters are told from Elizabeth’s point of view, but two are from men in Elizabeth’s life (one a musician fling; the other her husband who the book can’t settle on a characterization of. I think he’s supposed to be a “nice guy”, but his drunken drive to a co-workers house for a totally fucked up reason is never properly addressed or resolved). I can’t find a reason for this flip in perspective coming only twice. At the beginning, I assumed each chapter would be from a different point of view, one of “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl”, perhaps. But we only ever see one way of looking at a fat girl: a sexual object.

Elizabeth’s only concern with her weight seems to be a fear of not getting laid. But she has more sexual partners by the time she’s in her twenties than I’ll probably have in my entire life (not judging, actually sort of jealous). And she’s more bold in initiating them than any woman I’ve known – “fat” or not. This could have been awesome and empowering, but we’re still supposed to see her as pathetic and gross (?).

She is the cruelest person in the story. The way she thinks about other women – friends, strangers, her mother, co-workers – holds no satire or smarts or commentary. She just calls them whores, sluts and cunts. No one ever insults her outright, she never discusses the struggles of being large outside of finding clothing (which, honestly, appears to be the real thesis of this piece). Was Mona Awad ever actually overweight? It’s such a bizarrely narrow and nasty view. Namedropping bands and songs doesn’t establish a personality.

Throughout the book, Elizabeth changes the preference for her name: Lizzie, Beth, Elizabeth, Liz. I think this is supposed to imply that she’s inconsistent (?) and always trying for a new identity because she’s unhappy with herself (?). I don’t know. Her husband finds it supremely irritating but wanting to be called a different thing isn’t crazy or outlandish. People sometimes want a different name – that is absolutely fine. The only thing the name-changing does for a reader is make it seem like this book is constructed from disconnected stories about different women with similar names. The only connective tissue is her cruelty. Continue reading

“Fish in Exile”

Fish in Exile 01

Poet Vi Khi Nao’s debut novel, published in 2016 by the incredible Coffee House Press. I read a paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

After the loss of their children, a couple struggles for meaning and purpose in a world that insists on continuing.

Hypnotic, harrowing, confusing. Fish in Exile is a book of moments, unconcerned with cohesion. This style can easily fail but Fish in Exile holds together with beautiful passages and characters that come alive despite their despair and archetypal positioning. The most impressive, essential thing to Fish In Exile‘s success is the wry, dark humor, preventing this from becoming a dirge or a slog.

The book switches perspective between five characters: the parents of the lost children (Ethos and Catholic), Ethos’s mother (Charleen), and two neighbors who were present at the beach when the children died (Lidia and Callisto). Some parts sing brighter than others but the entire experience is worth the journey. Continue reading

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle”

We Have Always

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel, the final published in her lifetime. I read a 2006 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition from the library. 

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: There’s a movie?! No, I have not seen it, but Crispin Glover as Julian? I’m adding it to my watchlist.

The Plot:

Two sisters and their uncle live as social outcasts after the arsenic deaths of the rest of their family.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle will never have The Haunting of Hill House’s power over me, though I know in certain circles Castle is seen as the superior work, Merricat considered a stronger character than Eleanor Vance. I agree with the latter; Merricat is an active character and certain of what she wants and how to get it. But while Hill House is told in third person, drifting in and out of Eleanor’s thoughts, Castle is first person and we are stuck firmly in Merricat’s head for the entire book. And I get extraordinarily impatient with Merricat around the halfway point of this 150 page book.

Merricat is an unreliable narrator, being prone to flights of fancy and reading the wrong emotions in the people around her. With both readings, I’ve wondered if Constance is fearful of her where Merricat sees only love.

The story ultimately can only be accepted as fairy tale because I can’t believe these two women live alone and isolated the way Merricat describes; by the end of the book it sounds like years have passed since the fire but how would they have survived winters? How do they still have electricity and running water? Continue reading

“The Naked Eye”

The Naked Eye

[Explanation of Reading Journals/Ratings]

Yoko Tawada’s 2004 novel, translated by the German by Susan Bernofsky. I read a 2009 New Directions Books paperback.

Buy the Book.

3 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A Vietnamese student is kidnapped when traveling to Berlin. Escaping to Paris, she drifts from place to place, her life linked by the films of Catherine Deneuve.

The Naked Eye is a difficult book to rate or discuss. It’s extremely hard to separate the narrator from the films she watches. Each chapter is named after a different Catherine Deneuve film and usually in that chapter, the narrator describes parts of the movie as she understood them. As the narrator tells us the events of her own life, we begin to see overlap and parallels. By the end, the two are indistinguishable.

I’m not sure what in this book can be considered “real” and what is in the narrator’s mind and I didn’t enjoy the story enough to read it a second time to parse it out.

Tawada’s writing is incredible, though. It is precise and clear – even if you aren’t sure of the reality of a scene, you know exactly what is going on. I liked the narrator’s voice and I liked the intertwining of Deneuve’s work. But the plot – the heaviest-weighed element for my enjoyment of a book – was disjointed, the narrator’s motivation often hard to follow. She never feels like a real person; she is too naïve, too peculiarly disconnected from her situation. She is oddly ambivalent about being kidnapped and never seeing her family again. Even when she escapes and meets people who could help her return home, she never really considers it. I’m never sure what she wants or what motivates her, other than having enough money to go to the movies every day. She has no genuine emotion or connection to anything; even her love of Deneuve is an obsession oddly lacking passion. Continue reading