November was an interesting month for books. If there's any benefit to being as sick as I was, it was that I got to do a lot of reading, especially since I was essentially barred from seeing my son or sleeping in the same room as my wife. So 6 books last month, most of which fell into the "fun" category. In no way should this be considered "slighting" these types of books - I will loudly proclaim whenever necessary my unabashed love of science fiction, crime, and horror novels as well as more "serious" fare.
And now that I've hit the limit on words in quotation marks, let's talk a little about Dennis LeHane's most recent novel, Shutter Island. I came into the book not having read anything else by LeHane: all I knew was that his Mystic River was translated into an Academy Award winning film, his Gone Baby, Gone was translated into a (so far) critically acclaimed film, and Shutter Island seems to be the next film from Martin Scorsese. So there has to be something special in here, right?
Right. Shutter Island is a great mystery that turns into a psychological nightmare, and finally spins on its heel with a 180 degree ending that makes you stop and go in your best Keanu Reeves voice, "whoa!" It tells the story of Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall in 1954 who travels with his partner to remote Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane. What starts out a a bizarre disappearance turns into something quite different as Daniels begins to suspect that the investigation that brought him here is bait for something far more sinister. LeHane's language serves both the tension and more subtle moments well - the real treat of the story is the excellent plotting and characterizations of both Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, who also takes on new dimensions and mysteries as the novel plays out to its shocking conclusion. If you're looking for something in the mystery/crime genre, you can do a lot worse than starting out on Shutter Island.
Elsewhere in November:
- Our Town by Thorton Wilder - A few months ago I caught MONSTER IN A BOX on cable. This coupled with an article somewhere about how Our Town jumped back into the limelight after a stellar performance by the late Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager got me thinking about a play I honestly couldn't remember since I read in high school so many years ago.Reading it again I'm amazed at how ahead of its time it was when it came out, and how it still stands the test of time now. I'd be hard pressed to think of a more economical piece of drama or writing that manages to convey so much. The town and inhabitants are truly timeless, and I can't recommend this very short, very worthwhile play enough. I wish I could find a copy of the 1989 Spalding Gray production, but if you're jonzin' to see this, Netflix has a 2003 PBS filmed production starring Paul Newman as the Stage Manager.
- Everything's Eventual by Stephen King - Does Stephen King still get a bad rap? I don't know, but I know that I still usually read everything he puts out as soon as it comes out. For some reason even though I received Everything's Eventual as soon as it was released it sat on my shelf until a few weeks ago. Good thing, because it was just what the doctor ordered while I convalesced in bed. I think this is his 4th collection of short fiction, and although there are a few stories that kind of lay flat, there a enough doozeys to make it a solid collection, including his O. Henry Award winning story "The Man in the Black Suit" (King's riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne) a novella featuring Roland from The Dark Tower series, and the title story, a wonderfully weird tale about a loser who get the ultimate cool job...for a price, of course. I think if you enjoy what Stephen king (and I do), you'll enjoy Everything's Eventual.
- Pattern Recognition by William Gibson - The father of cyberpunk writes his first novel set in the here and now. More specifically, right after 9/11, which plays a significant role in the development of main character Cayce Pollard, a woman with the sensitive ability to feel brand marketing, a talent that serves her well in the advertising community. The novel propels Cayce into mystery across London, Tokyo and Moscow as she searches for the creator of something called the Footage, a weird pastiche of brief clips that seem to signal a film of vast importance in the underground community. How this merges with Cayce's abilities, and the searing memories of the loss of her father during the attacks on the WTC serve to make an exciting and memorable novel. Rough going at first (it always takes me a while to settle into Gibson's language), but once you begin to make some headway the novel moves very quickly.
- Tik-Tok by John Sladek - Here was the disappointment of the moth. On the surface you have a brief (184 pages) book that would seem to be right up my alley. Tik-Tok is a robot whose asimov circuits don't seem to work (ha!): as a result, he is without morals and prone to killing people just to see what happens. His first murder results in a wall mural that makes him the toast of the art world. from there the robot-memoir takes us through his life to his eventual nomination for the Vice Presidency. Sounds cool, right? Which is why I can't figure out why the novel left me absolutely flat, and begging to get through it so I could start something else. Maybe I'll have to re-visit Tik-Tok again alter, but this was a limp fish, IMHO.
- On God: An Uncommon Conversation by Norman Mailer and Michael Lennon - In honor of one of the great modern writers, I picked up Norman Mailer's last book and sat down to read. Set up as an interview between Mailer and his friend and literary executor, On God serves as a summation of Mailer's beliefs and convictions on organized religion and outlines his own personal system of faith, which is surprisingly complex and self contained. Faith and belief are two things I constantly struggle with to identify in my own life, and reading how someone I admired worked endlessly to be able to define his own system made a lot of sense to me. And while I may not have agreed with everything Mailer has to say on the concepts of Heaven, Hell, God, the Devil, and especially reincarnation (a huge part of his belief system), it made me come away eager to continue my own search for the proper words to adequately describe what I believe. And any book that does that is good in my, eh, book.