“The Road”

The Road 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 multiple-award-winning book. I read the Vintage International first edition.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

The man and the boy struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic United States.

The Road is a strange one.

My first pass at a review was neutral, verging on negative. But, to let you in on a secret, I type up my first drafts of these reviews at least a month before posting. Time can shift my opinion and I haven’t stopped thinking about The Road since I finished it. Scenes are sticking with me in a way I didn’t expect. It is a good book, better than I initially gave it credit for. But it is not as great as some claim. And it is not for everybody.

The style is the hardest hurdle. McCarthy uses very little punctuation – no quotations and almost no commas or apostrophes. There are no chapters; the story exists in moments, many less than a page. McCarthy avoids the words “was” or “were.” I understand this is his style, but punctuation is helpful for communicating ideas. So are full sentences.

If we had an uneducated first-person narrator, I would understand the stylistic decisions (still wouldn’t love them), but there’s no excuse for this book to use them. None. Any time I am forced to re-read sections in fiction because of functional misunderstanding of what is being said, and by who, the author has failed.

The set-up is interesting but once established, you could fairly say that nothing really happens in The Road. The relationship between father and son does not evolve. The man loves the boy and the boy is usually afraid or listless. That’s it.

This frustrated me while reading. Now, a month later, I realize it was the point. The Road is bleak. Be prepared for that if you’re going to jump in. Continue reading

Watch This Movie: “The Week”

The Week poster - Copy

Directed by Jon Gunn and John W. Mann. Written by Rick Gomez, John Gunn and John W. Mann. Starring Rick Gomez and Joelle Carter.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Fallen-from-grace TV personality Dick Romans’ wife leaves him on the eve of their week-long anniversary party.

I spent years working in video rental stores, back when the world had video rental stores. When you have access to a wide range of films (and get sick of predictable, formulaic genre titles), you start seeking out anything experimental and off-the-beaten-path. Believe me, I know “independent” can mean shit just as easily as mainstream, but I found real gems by going through the single-copy new release titles that showed up each week. (Gems like Sound of My Voice, Leave, Dear Zachary, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Excision, Perfect Sense…)

I say the above to say this: The Week would have been one of those smaller releases I’d recommend to every customer looking for something different. It’s a comedy, certainly. Maybe even a romantic comedy, but not manipulative or pretentious or by-the numbers. Not change-your-life amazing, either, but very good across the board. If you worked in a video store for any amount of time, you’ll know exactly how rare that is.

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“Full Dark, No Stars” (Post 3/3)

Full Dark NS 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 2/3


 

FAIR EXTENSION

 

4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Roadside salesman Mr. Elvid makes terminally ill Dave Streeter an offer: Streeter can have an extension on his life if he chooses another to take the negative consequences. Streeter picks the man he hates most: his best friend.

“Fair Extension” is a wicked, modern twist on Twilight Zone tropes. And at 31 pages, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s a nasty story that takes delights in its nastiness. I take delight with it (I’m not proud).

 

[98] Reference:

The Juniper Hill asylum for the criminally insane in Augusta.

(p.253)

Juniper Hill is a Stephen King creation, used in several of his works (see the Stephen King Wiki for the list, though it doesn’t include this story).

[99] A Rosemary’s Baby-ish touch:

Streeter, who had played his share of Scrabble in his time, had already imagined the letters of Elvid’s name on tiles and rearranged them.

(p.254)

With another character named Goodhugh, this story isn’t hiding any of its cards.

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“Full Dark, No Stars” (Post 2/3)

Full Dark NS 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 3/3


 

BIG DRIVER

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Author Tess gets a flat on her way home from a speaking engagement. A man stops, pretending to help her before raping and leaving her for dead. Tess escapes and plans her revenge.

Don’t read “Big Driver” unless you’re willing to deal with horrific, graphic depictions of rape. During my first read, I didn’t know if I could get through it. I was terrified and couldn’t seen any way out for Tess. I didn’t know what King was doing; I didn’t trust him. I may not like anything about this story, but I admire any artist who can push me into such unease. Seeing a movie in a theater and realizing you don’t trust the director (How far is he willing to go? How graphic is this going to get?) is an amazing experience. Why? I have no good answer. Read King’s Danse Macabre for explanations better than any I can give.

The second half of “Big Driver” relies too heavily on conversations between Tess and the invented characters in her head. It feels like lazy writing on King’s part (a protagonist needing outside voices to push her in the right directions instead of putting things together/making decisions for herself). Continue reading

“Full Dark, No Stars” (Post 1/3)

Full Dark NS 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/3

Post 3/3


A 2010 collection of four novellas by Stephen King: “1922”, “Big Driver”, “Fair Extension” and “A Good Marriage”. I read a first edition hardcover.

5 out of 5 stars.

Here we are: my favorite Stephen King book.

These are dark, disturbing, black-hearted stories in the spirit of King’s first collection, Night Shift, though these stories don’t need the supernatural for their horror.

King is always a good writer. And sometimes he’s a great one.


1922

5 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Midwestern farmer Wilfred James kills his wife and enlists his fourteen-year-old son’s help in the cover-up. James gets away with the crime, at the cost of everything else.

A period piece set in Nebraska; an interesting set-up for an author who seems most comfortable in post-1950s Maine and Florida. King pulls off a neat trick in “1922”: I want Wilfred James to get away with the murder of his wife. Not because I agree with what he did – he’s a selfish ass – but because it is so damn stressful to be with this character through his paranoia. Continue reading

Watch This Movie: “The Conversation”

The Conversation poster 02

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film, starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale and Harrison Ford. Fun Fact: it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Coppola’s The Godfather Part II. Unpopular Opinion: it should have won. (But I also think Ordinary People deserved to beat Raging Bull, so there.)

4.5 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Private, paranoid Harry Caul is the best surveillance man in the country. He fears that his latest job – recording a couple’s conversation – may get someone killed.

I am not a Coppola fan; The Godfather is good, but you can keep the rest. Except The Conversation. It is a nearly perfect film, belonging to that wonderful genre of “did-I-inadvertently-record-a-murder?”, which also includes Blow-Up, Blow Out, and Berberian Sound Studio (all good in their own ways, but The Conversation is the best).

There’s a feel of a stage play (I have a weakness for this style): actor- and dialogue-focused, limited sets, long takes. The small cast gives effortlessly natural performances and we know all we need to about them and their relationships through movement, expression, tone and costume. Yes, this is Acting 101, but you rarely see such competence across the board. The cast is Bergman-level perfect, as though these actors have worked together and been living inside these characters for years.

And any chance you have to see John Cazale, you’ve got to take. He was incredible. Continue reading

“The Fog”

The Fog

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

James Herbert’s second novel, a science-disaster/horror hybrid published in 1975 with no relation to the 1980 John Carpenter film. I read a 1983 New English Library paperback with a God-awful cover.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

An earthquake releases a madness-causing fog across England.

I went in knowing Herbert’s reputation for graphic violence/sex. As someone who enjoys my share of schlock (no sarcasm, no irony: I love The Human Centipede II), I was ready for debauchery. The Fog‘s set-up is brutally fun (vignettes of madness spread out along the overarching narrative), the book is reasonably-sized (284 pages), so this should have been no-brainer fun.

But Herbert takes himself very seriously with pedantic and arduous prose. And the main thread of the story is woefully boring with flat characters.

So this is an interesting opportunity: Instead of a post of admiration, I’m going to try to pinpoint what isn’t working here.


 

[1] There’s no spark to Herbert’s writing; no style. Just “A and B and C” over and over:

At thirty-two, Holman was still young enough to be angered by the seeming lack of resolutions shown by his superiors when he himself had taken great risks to ferret out the proof they had asked him to provide.

(p.11)

It’s a real case of three sentences for every one needed and it goes on through the entire book.

[2] Compliment – I quite like this:

It all seemed to have happened in slow motion. And yet it had all happened so fast.

(p.17)

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