Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Stand, a Review

Some folks say that The Stand is Stephen King’s greatest work. The book has been on my TBR for many years, pretty much from my starting of The Gunslinger during my college years. I vaguely knew what the book was about, but I definitely knew that it had a monstrous page count. Other than that, my expectations were moderately high. 

In 1990, a superflu swept across the globe. Its mortality rate was greater than 99%. The survivors of this superflu were therefore few. The Stand opens with the outbreak, and it doesn’t take too many pages before people begin dying. King tells this tale through several different points of view (too many for this particular story), from an up-and-coming Rock-and-Roll star to a deaf mute, from a pregnant coed to an insane pyromaniac. All of these survivors each must come to terms with their circumstances, but they also must come to terms with the reasons behind their survival, a reasoning that is possibly more than what seems. 

The Stand is gripping… at first. The spread of the superflu and its devastation was an absolute thrill to read, especially considering that my allergies kicked in right as I was starting. But as the pages turned and the survivors rose above their circumstances, it didn’t take long for fatigue to set in. Part of the issue was the enormous cast of characters. King spends time building up each one of them, which makes some sense, but not enough to justify their purpose. I mean, I understand why they were in the story, but I don’t understand why King wanted to give so much mundane detail on so many different people. 

Stephen King is a gifted storyteller, that is true. I think it’s also fair to assert that Stephen King is a gifted deliverer of lackluster (or maybe I mean disappointing) conclusions. The Stand gets no reprieve. I felt that after spending 1152 pages with these people that I deserved something more than what I got. Surely King was telling a grand story here. Surely his message and theme deserved climax. Sadly, I felt greatly underwhelmed with the resolutions and the ultimate fates/decisions of the characters. 

What did I like? I liked the opening part of the story, right when the superflu was spreading and people were dying. I liked how King dealt with the humanity mindset in that time of catastrophe. I liked the survivor’s initial guilt and ponderings on why they survived. I liked the stirrings in their minds as they felt the urge to pick up life again and journey across the nation. But, as I’ve said, after this elongated exposition, my entertainment waned. 

I don’t like sounding so negative. I wonder if part of my problem is with the genre itself. King’s post-apocalyptic romp was probably unique back in 1978 when the first edition of the book came out. This is no longer the case, obviously, and post-apocalyptic stories are run of the mill now. I’m sure part of the initial success with the book is attributed to when it was published (which can be said about any book, truly). 

The Stand is much more than a book about a decimating (uh, centi-mating?) epidemic. It’s a book about Good versus Evil, sort of. It’s a book about what it means to be human and be a manipulator or one that’s manipulated. It’s a book about choice and consequences. It’s a book about anger and sex and violence and fear and love. It’s a looooooong book and a trifle boring, but never bad enough to abandon. The Stand is vulgar, as is King’s proclivity, but not as bad as could be expected. Ultimately, The Stand is an unsatisfying novel with a brilliant start-up but an inability to pull through. Any fan of King will likely enjoy the novel—and indeed I did enjoy the novel—but to a Reader familiar with contemporary trends the novel will very likely feel flat. I truly did love the first few hundred pages, but that wasn’t enough to overcome to over-long book. Read at your own discretion.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Clockwork Orange, a Review

I was introduced to A Clockwork Orange back in old high skolliwoll. My droogs and I used to, like, hang out at a certain dromy and spend our time viddying acclaimed sinnys. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation (1971) was a real horroshow and I had my glazzies opened wide, Oh my brothers. The protagonist, fifteen year old Alex, was a miscreant and a true troublemaker, spending all his raz crasting about town, tolchocking poor innocent vecks for no reason other than to have a real horroshow time, forcing the old in-out-in-out on helpless devotchkas, and many other vile deeds. Yes, Oh my brothers, Kubrick’s sinny opened my glazzies wide. I found the film both repulsive and fascinating. The source material for Kubrick’s sinny was from a book by Anthony Burgess, and this book made its way onto my TBR all those years ago. 

To begin, Burgess’ acclaimed novel varies from the Kubrick adaptation. The sinny ends with a slightly different take on poor old Alex’s fate. This is because at the time of A Clockwork Orange’s original publication (1962), the American publisher decided to omit Burgess’ final chapter. This final chapter puts a completely different ending on the book, and Kubrick’s film is based on this “incomplete” version. I had no idea what to expect with the true ending, but I was curious to find out. 

A Clockwork Orange is a malenky bit disturbing. It is graphic and filled with pages of ultra-violence atop ultra-violence. I found it hard to stomach, especially in the opening few chapters. Alex and his droogs are wretched from the beginning, but even after Alex’s transformation the ultra-violence doesn’t stop. No, Oh my brothers, it just finds a new victim. Alex is abused time and again. His jeezny has changed and Burgess does a wonder at making the Reader have pity on poor little Alex. 

Linguists will love the way Alex govoreets. Burgess’ created language, Nadsat, is a mixture of Russian, English colloquialisms, and other slangs. Much of it is, like, left up to the Reader to pony through context. I did not pony all of the slovos Alex used, but I did pick up on most. The use of Nadsat really enhances the read, Oh my brothers, lending credibility to the novel that otherwise might have been absent. Nadsat also fits in comfortably with the dystopian future Burgess imagines; it’s easy to compare this language with leetspeak and other modern slang (and eerily with Orwell’s newspeak). 

I also want to remark on Alex’s transformation in the book. The brainwashing experiment was a memorable scene from Kubrick’s sinny; the book makes it even more memorable and more horrifying. Remarkable to go from utter loathing to distrusting sympathy for a character, yet Burgess succeeds. Alex is a true anti-hero worthy of scorn and love. 

I can’t say that I recommend A Clockwork Orange to everyone. No, my brothers, I cannot say this at all. It is quite disturbing on its own oddy-knocky, especially when coupled with Kubrick’s sinny. Nevertheless, the book is a treat to read for a mature Reader, if only to work through the Nadsat. From my ponying, both Burgess’ and Kubrick’s works had a heavy impact on the counter culture of the times. The satire was piercing and the cautionary tale was too close for comfort. A Clockwork Orange is an important work of art, both cinematically and in literature. It is right to be challenged, but it cannot and should not be banned. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Cemeteries

Share a memory of a cemetery, Carl prompted.  Okay then...

What particular memory comes to mind when thinking about graveyards? No singular one, at least none more prominent than another. I see myself standing at the top of the dangerous hill where Gish Cemetery is located, overpopulated and old. I remember the cold October day of just a year ago, when the ground was opened and my absent father was placed therein for keeping. I remember the same cemetery welcoming in a middle aged Marine, twenty-one guns and all. I remember a different place—Bethlehem Cemetery—some years earlier, Keisha’s dad, tears, shock, grief. In the small towns, a funeral is often a community involvement.

But not all memories are of tragedies and passings. I spent many summers helping my uncle keep a massive cemetery cleaned. My job was always weed-eating around the headstones, a painstaking task, stooping over at every stone and picking up the artificial flowers, swinging in the weed-eater, replacing the flowers, and repeat times a million. Long into the gloaming we’d work, my uncle on the mower, my brother and I with weed-eaters. Good money, though.

Or the time Keisha and I stopped on the side of the road to go off into the woods and find a supposedly very old cemetery. We walked through the woods, curious explorers. We found the place, segregated from the encroaching woods by a fence and nothing more. We spent some time contemplating the graves, searching out the oldest dates and obscurest names, all the while freaking ourselves out more and more. It wasn’t t

Or the place out way back in the woods behind the projects. We’d ride our bikes all throughout the town as teens, leaving no lands unexplored. An abandoned and demolished house, one like you’d imagine a witches hut, a smattering of broken tombstones around the place.

Or the seashell topped graves, sunken deep into the ground, cracked with fissures like canyons. To our young eyes we imagined we were seeing bones inside those cracks.

Or the first time I saw solar powered lights glowing at night along Highway 181, eldritch and sinister. My heart took a fright to that one, and I still feel a spook whenever I see the eerie lights at night. They’re like modern day will-o’-the wisps.

There’s no single memory of a cemetery that comes readily to mind for me. Most prominently in my mind is Gish Cemetery, the one closest to my old stomping grounds. It’s where I figured I’d end up, at least physically, but now I’m doubtful of that one. But who knows. I’m a proponent for cremation, though Keisha informs me every time I bring that up that if I go first that’s not going to happen. Alas…

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

It's A Boy!

That thing that I've vaguely hinted at a time or two, yeah, Keisha's got a baby growing inside her womb again.  Numero Dos.  Been quickening life for a while now, but I've put off announcing it until we found out the sex.  Turns out that baby is a boy, which is most excellent and kind of what we were hoping for.  I mean, a girl would've been fine and all, but I just wanted Avonlea to be my only girl for the time being.

Needless to say, Keisha and I are both super very muy excited.  More information as I get it.

Anyway, not much time really, just wanted to get that out there.

Oh, and if you're just itching for a fascinating post that my buddy Lance put up--titled "Why I Never Try to be a Dark Person"--check it out.  The comments are rather philosophic, but very interesting.  It's all about whether Darkness really does exist or not.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Mr. Monster, a Review

My first exposure to John Wayne Cleaver was in May of last year. On a whim I picked up I Am Not A Serial Killer [my review here] and had my breath stolen away. I burned through the first book in just a few hours, unable to tear my eyes from the words. Wells’ book made it to the shortlist of my favorite books I read in 2011, and I knew that the sequel(s) would be savored at some later time. Now that RIP season is here, I decided to give Mr. Monster a go. 

Mr. Monster is a direct sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer, taking place just a few months after the events of the first book. John is now sixteen years old and still a sociopath. His control on his inner voice—Mr. Monster—is tenuous, and John’s worried that his grip on his strict rules my slip too far. His families mortuary business has slowed down now that the Clayton Killer has apparently stopped, and John’s been itching for excitement. Unfortunately for the townsfolk of Clayton, another killer soon arrives on the scene, and once again John’s attraction gets the better of him. 

In Book One of this series there was an abrupt shift in the plot when the true identity of the killer was revealed. It was so shocking that I re-read the paragraph several times, making sure that I understood what Dan Wells was saying. In Book Two, there was another scene like this, and I really shouldn’t have been so ill-prepared for it, but I was. Suffice it to say that I stayed up long past my bedtime to finish the book. My pulse was racing away and I had a strange sense of dread within. 

Mr. Monster starts out slower than the first book, but this pace is never really boring. Once the Great Reveal happens, the action explodes. It was sickening, honestly, and quite disturbing. We’re dealing with serial killers here, and Dan Wells writes as if he’s familiar. Needless to say, this book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of will. There are scenes that will haunt you, but in a good way. On some points I would market this book as YA, but on others I would urge caution. Teens can definitely relate to John (i.e., high school angst and parental issues), but so can we all. 

I’ve kept this review intentionally vague because of the Great Reveal. If you’ve not read I Am Not A Serial Killer then you shouldn’t read Mr. Monster. If you have read the first book and enjoyed it, then you’ll love what comes in the sequel. The book is a bit darker than the first, but there’s plenty of lightheartedness, too. I’ve been very impressed with everything I’ve read from Dan Wells so far (see also A Night of Blacker Darkness [my review here] for a comical RIP book) and I very much look forward to finishing up this series.

Monday, October 01, 2012

On A Cold and Rainy October Night

It's been far too long since I've blogged.  It's not that I stopped, because I still blog all the time, though these are just theoretical and intangible blog posts that exist solely in my psyche.  I miss the catharsis that comes from just sitting down at my computer and punching out a few lines of text and clicking that "Publish" button atop the GUI, sending the post out into the ether for all to see.

It's rained all day, this beloved October One.  A cold rain.  A miserable rain under the right conditions.  I stood out in the wind and the rain for much of the day, wearing two waterproof jackets and talking with a professional geologist.  There were some contractors doing some core samples, but the rain and the thunder inhibited progress.  I stood in the weather and thought about how happy I am with my new job, how fulfilling it is to actually do something that I enjoy.  I spent the morning collecting water samples from our main effluent spot, dipping an instrument into the creak and pouring water into acid filled containers.  Nitric acid, Sulfuric acid, and Sodium Hydroxide.  They preserve something in the water to allow the lab to test properly.  Time is important, that is, how long it takes for the sample to get to the lab and get tested.  Water temperature is also vital.

I'm learning a lot about environmental engineering and I'm very much enjoying it.

I'm also progressing through several books at the current moment, still whittling away on my 2012 Manifesto.  Reading life is good.

Don't forget to check out the RIP VII review website for all your up-to-date book reviews of RIP themed books.

Still running, though less.  Did a three mile run the other day.  Felt wonderful.  About died.

Catching up on Season 4 of Fringe.  I happened to win Season 4 on blu-ray thanks to a local tv stations contest.  Unexpected yet cool.  I really really like this show.  And I'm trying to stomach Revolution, but I'm not holding my breath.

And there's still that undisclosed bit of information that I alluded to with my last "general update" style post.  I've not forgotten.

Life is wonderful.  God is great.  I am blessed.