22 February 2010

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up

Unofficial CR II, Book 5: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Where to start, where to start? There are certain authors I've always wanted to read but somehow not gotten around to - Nabokov was one. So when I read that Lolita was the first selection of the Pajiba Book Club, I figured what better time? And I suppose, in a way, my terrible book streak has ended - but I'd hardly put this down as a great success either.

I'm not sure there is any need to rehash the premise; even the slightest of readers hears a certain connotation to the name Lolita. We all know at least that this is the story of an adult male attracted to a prepubescent girl. As the mother of young girls, this was a terribly difficult read at times. I thought about abandoning the book more than once, disgusted by Humbert's detailed desires and haunted by confirmation of my own ideas about such a man. I kept reading for a couple of reasons. First, the prose was gorgeous and funny and flowing and tense, at its very best during a pivotal point in the story that caused my chest to pound (not coincidentally) as hard as Poe's telltale heart. But that same prose at times dragged and seemed to go on and on unnecessarily, as if the author just loved to see his words spill forth. And in the end, the points of climax (so to speak) all seemed to be unsatisfying, a letdown not only to the reader, but to the protagonist and even Lolita herself.

I understand there are those who come away with the idea (not unlike Humbert at times) that Lolita seduced and took advantage of a weak-minded man, but I am not one of them. I fall firmly on the side of Humbert's guilty conscience; he is a man who purposefully, willfully and sick-mindedly took away the childhood of a young girl. He changed her life forever, in every important way.

While I did enjoy the rampant humor, Humbert's mind games with himself and the moments when Lolita clearly confounded her "consort", my overall feeling at the end of this book was that of relief and sadness. I wished that Nabokov had written this exact book, but with a different tale (Dear reader, does that make any sense?). If this were a story of murder; a suspect being chased and his descent into madness, unrequited love between only adults or only children; anything but this tale of incomprehensible desire - it would have been nearer to perfection. If nothing else, I'm glad to have discovered Nabokov, and I hope to find another of his novels more to my liking.

23 January 2010

Killed for Naught: Too Many Trees

Unofficial CR II, Book 4: Under the Dome by Stephen King

"...what if you spent all that time, wrote a thousand-pager, and it sucked?"

That's a character quote from this 1072 page continuation of my 2009-2010 Tour-of-Books-I-Don't-Like. And I'll tell you what will happen if you're Stephen King: a bunch of people hoping you've finally gotten your mojo back will buy it - adding to your bank account and their disgust. King was quoted as having said about this book that he'd be "killing a lot of trees", and in reading, I truly think that was his main goal. For about half the book, I thought maybe there was a good story hidden in there somewhere, a decent idea that just got padded to death. But now that I'm done, I'll flat out say it's terrible.

The gist of the story is that one day, yet another sleepy Maine town, becomes mysteriously trapped under a large, transparent dome. There's some fun action in the beginning, what with animals being chopped in half and people being killed in various ways...either slamming into the dome, or their pacemakers being zapped when in close proximity to the dome. But the narrative quickly gets bogged down by too many characters (very few of whom are interesting) and too much background (on minor characters). There were so many times my eyes literally rolled back in my head from boredom. The trapped town turns into an adult spin-off of Lord of the Flies with order quickly being lost, bad people in positions of power, murder and mayhem.

Almost all the characters are despicable, and I was overwhelmed with disgust by too much vile behavior, with very little motivation. King went way overboard on what at times seemed to be his own glee in perpetrating attacks against women. Gotta throw in a murder or a rape to show the quick deterioration of a society - fine, I get that. But over and over, talking about and treating the female characters with such utter disdain took something away, rather than adding to the tale. By the time I got to the utterly unconvincing explanation of the appearance of the dome, it had all been so depressing and dismal and dreary - I just didn't care. I only wanted it to be over. There was not one character I cared about enough to root for. Not one person - well wait, I did feel sympathy for one character but she was removed before the second half - was sympathetic enough to make me care what happened at the end. Frankly, if the whole damned town was wiped off the earth in a nuclear explosion I couldn't have cared less.

Stephen King has clearly entered the stage of his life where those around him simply indulge him, because I cannot imagine any editor giving this thing the go-ahead. The amount of extraneous and uninteresting information contained in this novel could have filled a whole other book. I can't say that there weren't a few small sections that hinted at vintage King, but certainly not enough to draw me to ever pick up another of his books again.

19 January 2010

I Swear I'm Still Reading!

This one is just killing me though, so it's dragging on forever. SK is making people dig for the story.

09 December 2009

I Haven't Quit!

I'm just slowly slogging my way through Under the Dome.

20 November 2009

I Feel Dirty/It's Not You, It's Me

Unofficial CR II, Book 3: Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

I just finished this book and promptly threw it down upon my couch. I feel dirty and disgusting, and I think I'm breaking up with Mr. McCarthy. Jesopus! And yet, at the same time, I can't help but be impressed. How can a writer say so much with so few words? How can he evoke such mood, such feeling, such nothingness in chapters of two pages? Cormac McCarthy is a master of words.

Child of God is the story of Lester Ballard, whom I hesitate to call a human being. He functions as an animal. Maybe not even an animal. He is that dark thing that we all feel inside ourselves, yet we deny. Lester's everyday existence is what we would imagine in the darkest of circumstance, and then taken to another level. He isn't content to merely survive, he wants to fulfill other needs and he'll get it done any way he can. Lester is worse than a serial killer, and I felt vile and sick just reading about him. Even more frightening is that this story is based in reality, on a murderer in Tennessee. Though I haven't read No Country for Old Men, this book had the same tone, feel and some of the language I saw in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones is easily the sheriff if this is translated to a film (I would never see). My insides squirmed, knowing that even now, there are people living some version of Lester's life. There is ugly truth here.

I can't see myself recounting the actual story, other than to say that Lester Ballard is a loner who exists outside society. This book is his life story, empty and filled with violence and disdain for everyone and everything. But even while submersed in the wasteland of Lester's world, I couldn't help marveling over McCarthy's simple prose and specific language that immersed me, helplessly. He takes something so horrific and makes it beautiful.

I do want to add a note that derogatory terms are sprinkled liberally through this story, for those who would want to avoid such things.

14 November 2009

My What a Big Head You've Got

Unofficial CR II, Book 2: Anything Goes by John Barrowman with Carole E. Barrowman

I was prepared to love this book, but apparently not being an official Cannonballer has put a hex on my reads. Anything Goes is John Barrowman's (of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame) biography, and seems to be the first part of a life story. His second book, I Am What I Am was just released today. This first book chronicles Barrowman's childhood and rise to fame, but begins with John receiving the phone call that he got the part of Jack Harkness.

Barrowman's family hails from Mount Vernon, (same as me, only an ocean away) Glasgow, and they emigrated to the United States (Illinois); John and his sister were able to remain bi-dialectical, which proved quite useful for John's career. Discovering his love of singing at an early age, he was prodded along by family and teachers through school plays to musicals and competitions. Much of his early professional career was spent on stage in London, where he starred in productions of Company, Miss Saigon and The Fix. Later he appeared in the film version of The Producers and De-Lovely and a couple of failed U.S. television shows. But the role for which he is best known is Captain Jack Harkness, who first appeared in the Doctor Who series, and then the spin-off Torchwood.

As a child, Barrowman was greatly affected by S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and like many boys, obsessed with all things Star Wars. His family, mother, father, sister Carole and brother Andrew and grandmother "Murn" are all close and take fun trips together, play pranks upon each other and generally have plenty of good times. Barrowman writes a bit about being teased or picked on at times, but it seems to have more to do with his funny accent than his sexuality, and overall Barrowman seems to have fared well with acceptance in his life.

My main problem with this biography is that after a while, it just plain sounds braggy. I'm sad to say that he goes from being a bit of an underdog that I wanted to root for, to someone who sounds completely full of himself. He deservedly feels proud of his accomplishments, then tells tales of enjoying rubbing his success in certain peoples' faces, telling people off and the thrill of being a show's "number one". I was actually shocked to read a couple of bits where Barrowman dressed down this person or that for not treating him better (because he was an actor). I really do think there is a style of writing that could have allowed for the same stories to be told in a more humble manner. Barrowman goes into stories name dropping famous people, at first slowly, and then much more than seems necessary. He also liberally salted the book with silly footnotes that I suppose were supposed to be funny asides, but became terribly annoying since they rarely added important information. I felt like I was at a cocktail party, got to meet a hero, and then got sick of him droning on about himself.

To be fair, there were bits and stories contained within this biography that elicited a chuckle or a smile, but overall, I was disappointed. I really have no interest in reading I Am What I Am. But like Captain Jack himself, I know he's a looker and a great actor, so I will indeed keep watching Torchwood.

07 November 2009

Details and Despair

Unofficial CR II, Book 1: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Oh Mr. McEwan, what have you done? I loved you so (until now) and because of our history I will give you another chance. But if a back cover says anything about a love story, I shall run screaming.

I forced myself to finish this, though I wanted to find my own body of water in which to pitch the book. Indeed, in typical McEwan style, all did not end in any way as expected, nor with happiness. But the leading up to the ending, all those words that droned on and on and on about almost nothing of interest, it really left me wishing I'd never started reading.

I suppose I should say something about the story. It's the early 60s, and Florence and Edward have just been married. Being English and in the time they inhabit, the couple have barely approached each other physically. The wedding night holds promise for what Edward has been anticipating his entire life, and what Florence has been dreading all of hers. What happens over the course of the night is drawn out for five long chapters - an entire book. Of course, some of the couple's history, family and the story of how they came to meet each other is covered - in entirely too much detail for me. But I'm sure there are those who would love this sort of tale, a sort of upper class prim and proper love story, with a few dirty words thrown in. Though McEwan never shies away from vivid sexual description, I rarely felt drawn into the emotion of the story. There were a few intriguing moments, most especially toward the end, but the majority of this book was for me a chore. And by Godtopus I'm glad it's over.

In contrast, I loved The Cement Garden and Saturday, and I look forward to going down another dark McEwan road.