Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WWW Wednesday: Jan. 18

For the WWW meme as well as reviews for challenges:

What I've read:

"Snuff" by Terry Pratchett: Pratchett is nearly at the top of his game in this Discworld potboiler starring the eternally conflicted copper Sam Vimes. He, Lady Sybil and young Sam head for a country holiday at Lady Sybil's estate. But Sam can't quite stay on holiday, and he soon uncovers smuggling, slavery and murder. The novel adds goblins to the list of humanoid Discworldians becoming assimilated into Ankh-Morpork culture. The novel isn't as intricate and delightful as Thud (and the plot takes some time to get going), but it has more moments than two of Pratchett's later works, Unseen Academicals and Making Money. Plus, there's an exciting scene on a raging river as Vimes attempts to save a boat full of goblins and subdue a sociopath. As always, I just enjoy Pratchett's wit, his wry asides and the looniness of Discworld, with its preindustrial mix of mechanics and magic, even if the more recent plots have a kind of sameness about them -- particularly the last three. It's a comforting, familiar place where I enjoy spending time.
Challenges: British author challenge, 52 books in 52 weeks.

"Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart. I had tried to read this novel in 2010 and 2011, but I kept getting distracted (despite its relatively brevity). So this month, I found I could download it onto my MP3 player from my library, so I listened to it after "Snuff." Listening to it is fully rewarding. Tt's read by a pair of actors -- one male, one female -- who do a terrific job of impersonating the first-person narrators, Lenny Abramov and Eunice Park. The novel combines elements of 1984-style dystopian literature and metafiction, but ultimately it comes down to a he-said, she-said relationship between a 39-year-old salesman and a 24-year-old directionless student at the end of the United States. Shteyngart's USA is coming apart at the seams, and it's all happening in New York. Corporations have taken over most nation-states, and the USA is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Lenny, the hapless half of the narration, bemoans the loss of text and history and frets continuously about his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in Westbury. Eunice is torn between her self-loathing (an outgrowth from abuse by her immigrant father) and her growing love for the smitten, devoted Lenny. The result is a see-saw. Both get caught up in the American endtimes. Lenny is clawing desperately for a physical immortality at a giant corporation's Post-Human Services (I dislike what he says about Judaism and Christianity, but I understand the feelings). This novel is super-sad, and also frightening, because what happens in this novel easily could wind up true.  
Challenges: 52 books in 52 weeks.

"The Flame Alphabet" by Ben Marcus: I think Marcus has listened to too many short stories written by MFA students at Columbia. I really tried to give this novel the benefit of the doubt, but the novel is wearying and completely free of resonance. A couple outside Rochester who practice a very particular brand of Judaism (they listen to a rabbi broadcasting through an orange cable accessed through a hole in a hut) come down, like the rest of the humanity, with an acute allergy to their child's language. Their child, Esther, is particularly unpleasant, bending her father's attempt at simple communication into attacks she must parry. (I thank God I can talk reasonably with my children some of the time.) Anyway, things go downhill rapidly, and the couple end up separated; the father, the narrator of the piece, finds himself experimenting with written language in a lab where all forms of speech are forbidden and deadly. So we have a nearly-300 page novel written in the first person about the breakdown of speech. Sure, speech can be deadly, but it also can be beautiful, and I don't get the sense the characters communicated very well to begin with -- so why do they miss communication so much? And Marcus's prose, while technically proficient (fine descriptions, strong narrative voice), makes you long for silence. It doesn't make you appreciate language all the more. It does, however, make you want to go write something, or talk to someone. 
Challenges: To Be Read challenge.

What I'm reading now: I'm splitting my time among The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar, A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois and The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters Vol. 1 by Gordon Dahlquist. 

What I plan to read next: I want to finish The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst and The Year's Best Science Fiction 2011, both of which are Chunkster Challenge books. 

1 comment:

Bookzilla said...

Terry Pratchett -- anything he touches turns into gold, it's amazing. I love his writing, especially the puns and sarcasm. :)

I was disappointed by Super Sad True Love Story. The author drops you into this bizarre world without any real explanation, and I found it too hard to suspend by disbelief. Questions about the world itself kept pulling me away from/out of the story, and although I finished it, I never really got into it. How are you liking it?

Here's my WWW for the week. Happy reading!