Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

So I've finished an adult novel. I'm not sure what I expected from Geek Love, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I felt about it. The overall concept is intriguing. It begins with a married couple who work as the heads of a carnival. Tickets sales are dwindling and they feel that the way to make the "Fabulon" great again is to create their own shows. And I don't mean calling in all nature of freaks. I mean quite literally creating their own. They take pills and Crystal Lil sips on drug cocktails while pregnant. Their first son is nothing more than a torso with fins. Next are the Siamese twins. Third they have the albino hunchback dwarf (Olympia, who for all intents and purposes, is the narrator), and finally there is Chick: the one they almost left by a gas station in some small town off the trail of their tour. In between were the ones who didn't make it and are kept in jars in their various stages of life. The kids take turns, along with their mother, cleaning the glass and making them shine.

The outcome of their experiment surpasses even Al and Lil's expectations, and not necessarily for the best. A religious obsession begins to form around Arturo the Aqua Boy. With cult-like fanaticism people begin following the carnival from town to town, rest homes rise up as people lose their limbs and can no longer travel. Followers beg for the opportunity to be operated on by Arty's personal doctor, to lose a toe or foot and more until they are nothing more than a torso like Arty. But what is he teaching them? That to truly value life and appreciate yourself you need a deformity? If you already feel like you're different, you may as well show people how different you are?

Despite their issues I loved these characters. From Arty's megalomania and the twins' vain jealousy to shy Oly the dwarf. And Chick. Especially Chick. To say anything about what made Chick special would be to ruin the book. It's a mystery to even the reader until about halfway through.

In tying up loose ends Dunn explores further, through a newer character, how perfection can be your downfall. That to truly experience what the world has to offer and to live up to your potential, it is essential to take away everything that makes you good. Miss Lick shows Oly a slew of people that she has helped. Miss Lick, being fairly "norm" herself, has turned beauties into monsters in an effort to let them live a life of productivity. A prostitute can be a doctor, a stripper an astrophysicist, if only they can lose the one thing keeping them in their current life. To gain everything, you have to lose everything. Or at least that's what Miss Lick would have you believe. In the end, though, Miss Lick loses everything and gains nothing and the lesson is taught by the most unlikely of teachers.

I think I really loved this book. Yes, think. It was disturbing and creepy and it almost feels wrong to say that I enjoyed it. The characters and the world they inhabit were created so beautifully that despite how unsavory everything was it was impossible to put down. The life they led was so incestuous and perverse, but based on how they were created anything else would have seemed unnatural. When it ended I longed for an epilogue, to know the reactions of the characters left behind. But as it was, the ending was perfect and right.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dull Boy - Sarah Cross

I am so close to being finished with Geek Love. I promise my next review will be about an adult book.

Until then, here is another YA. I really loved the premise of this book. A boy discovers an unknown strength and is constantly in trouble for breaking things (including other people). He tries to hide it, but then ultimately meets others who also have secret talents or gifts and they band together to form a sort of Superhero Alliance, sometimes against their will. They find situations in which they can use each of their unique gifts and attempt to better the world. Because what else is there to do with super powers but fix everything that's bad?

I love the characters. Sarah Cross does an amazing job at giving each one his or her own voice and quirk. Characters will make or break a book for me and these definitely made it. I don't want to call it a twist, but toward the end I found myself completely convinced that things were going to go the opposite way and instead it all went in the way I had hoped (the *right* way, if you will). There is, of course, an evil villain who is just perfect in her role and title. The Ice Queen is certainly that.

More than anything else, I think I appreciated this story due to my own not-so-secret desire to be a superhero. In college (of all places...) I even created my own superhero identity (which never really caught on for obvious reasons). After waking up every morning and finding a new bruise, I was convinced that I was actually a sleep-flying crime fighter, taking down the drunks and miscreants who wandered the hilly streets of town. My sidekick was a fiery redhead almost twice my height, yet somehow I got top billing. Not that I'm complaining...

Anyway. Great debut book and I'll definitely be interested to see what's next.

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

I've probably mentioned many times to various people of my love for this book. It took me almost a year to read it through for the first time and that time was probably the third or fourth time I picked it up.

After finishing it I may have claimed that the book was pretentious. But it's not at all. The book is smart, it is beautifully written, it sees into ordinary things and makes them relevant and relatable. I felt like it should be pretentious due to length, due to the literary discussions and references. I felt like as an English major I had been required to love this book. But I don't love it because I should. I love it because Wallace was a genius and his way with language and his observations of life are amazing.

So. I am reading it again. Along with other people. And this time I will embrace the book and love it because I can, not because I must. I'm so excited to see what other people have to say as they read along. Some for the first time, some for the fourth or fifth. Care to join us?

(And in preparation for my cruise, I'm totally reading his cruise ship essay again. Maybe it will just be a DFW summer, not simply an Infinite Summer.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia

I still have not finished The Chronicles of Narnia. But I am so close. I am on the final one and am finding it difficult to pick it up for the last time. Not because I'm so sad to let go of this series, but because upon skimming through the first couple of pages I did not recognize any of the characters.

I understand that the series is about the land. Now. I mean, I understand that now. But I went into this hoping to follow the Pevensie children all the way through. I was forgiving with The Magician's Nephew because I knew that background needed to be established. But as Lewis slowly did away with the Pevensie kids I was really disappointed. Just when I came to love them they were told they were too old for Narnia.

Overall, I like the conversational tone of the books. It's as though my uncle or grandfather is sitting on my bed telling me a story as I fall asleep. That being said, I do think that the writing talks down to the reader a bit. But, it was a different time. Also, I'm 26. Lewis did a phenomenal job creating a fantasy world and I admire the dedication it takes to create something so unlike what we see everyday. The religious themes are much more evident than when I was 11 and first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not overtly so.

This is definitely a series to be read in full (I mean, I'm sure I will feel the same when I finally finish), and I'm sure I will refer to and cherish it for a long time. I wish I had given it another chance when I was a little younger, but I'm grateful that I have found it now.

An Abundance of Katherines

It seems that John Green is somewhat of an idol among the YA population. He has his own followers who call themselves Nerdfighters. Obviously I needed to know what all the fuss was about.

An Abundance of Katherines follows a guy named Colin as he heads out on a random road trip after his most recent break-up with a Katherine. Since a very early age he has only dated Katherines and even the most insignificant (the shortest relationship lasted three minutes) count. Colin is too smart for his own good and over analyzes things to the point that they become meaningless (in my opinion). But with the help of his best friend and a brief encounter with a town called Gutshot, Tennessee, Colin learns about the important things in life. And those things are not always necessarily called Katherine.

I thought this book was adorable. I don't think it converted me to Nerdfighter, but it was definitely enough to make me want to follow up with Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. As one who runs from anything involving numbers, I found the math sections tedious. But I don't think they took away from the enjoyment of the overall story.

Would I recommend it? Probably... Though I think I'd wait to read another of his books first and see if I could recommend that one instead.