The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson (Book Rev)

Happy Monday!

If you’re reading this that means I am still, in fact, alive.  I haven’t posted much in the last month because November(1) but I have been reading some good stuff or rather more accurately what I’ve read has been about as good as a bag of mix nuts: about half the total are peanuts and the rest are unique and really nice.  If The Bootlegger was a pedestrian peanut (I’ll be fair, it was consistently good but nothing exciting or surprising), The Rum Diary was a strange shaped and richly flavoured Brazil nut.

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The Rum Diary is considered Hunter’s “lost novel” but actually it was the second novel he wrote and didn’t publish until later, the first one being Prince Jellyfish which still remains unpublished.

The Rum Diary’s narrative focuses on a young American journalist, Paul Kemp, on assignment in Puerto Rico’s capital city San Juan.  Kemp is worried, or in a martyr type way, romanticizes, about the notion of  being “over the hill” whilst living a wet and transient existence traveling the world over as a “vagrant journalist”.

[Vagrant journalists] were professionally deviant, but they had a few things in common. They depended, mostly from habit, on newspapers and magazines for the bulk of their income; their lives were geared to long chances and sudden movement; and they claimed no allegiance to any flag and valued no currency but luck and good contacts.

The book opens with some background to the narrative, outlining the steady success of an ex-jockey named named Al who opened a bar out of his backyard called (wait for it…) “Al’s Backyard”.

“At first he served nothing but beer, at twenty cents a bottle, and rum, at a dime a shot or fifteen cents with ice.  After several months he began serving hamburgers, which he made himself.

Al’s backyard will serve as one of the main stages for the drama of the news staff to unfold as it serves as a place for, as it seems, almost exclusively the cast of characters working at the Daily News, the American news paper.  Having the introduction chapter outline the humble history of this establishment, one which was there before the characters and maybe also before the Daily News, helps to establish a couple of themes which become prominent through  the story: the primary theme being one of establishing the sense that despite the characters feelings, they and their actions are ultimately insignificant because the world they’re operating in is older and better connected then they are and the more subtle theme that authentic work is much less likely to get you beaten, killed, or become an accessory to murder.

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Relevant example of the US – Puerto Rico Relationship

As I’ve mentioned there are many motifs that could be explored in this novel, one of particular interest to me is the relationship of the dog, the character Moberg, and the Puerto Rican children in the narrative, but what stuck with me was the dynamic between Yeamon, Kemp, and Sala.

All manner of men came to work for the News: everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and star all over again — to tired, beer-bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live our their days in peace before a bunch of lunatics ripped the world in half.

Yeamon is the young Turk whilst Sala is the beer-bellied hack which leaves Kemp in a grey “teetering on  the edge of over the hill”  area thematically and literally, being between the ages of the young Yeamon and the over 40 Sala.

This is an interesting technique of building Kemp’s character by contrasting him with two other characters who represent a possible past and a possible future.  This definition by contrast emphasizes Kemp’s journey of self exploration which gives a cathartic context of absolution to a seemingly unusual scene towards the end of the book depicting Kemp throwing him self into the surf and letting himself be washed ashore.

“The surf was high and I felt a combination of fear and eagerness as I took off my clothes and walked towards it.  In the backlash of a huge wave I plunged in and let it suck me out to sea. Moments later I was hurtling back toward the beach on top of a long white breaker that carried me along like a torpedo. Then it spun me around like a dead fish and slammed me on the sand so hard that my back was raw for days afterwards.” 192-3

The significance of this scene seems to be that Kemp desires to transcend the trappings of an idealized past and seeming inevitability of beer fueled burn out via an impromptu performance of a cleansing ritual traditionally preformed in June called “La Noche de San Juan”

On the island of Puerto Rico, which had been named San Juan Bautista, after the saint, by Christopher Columbus, a night-long celebration, called “La Noche de San Juan” is held. After sunset, people travel to a beach or any accessible body of water (e.g. river, lake or even bathtub) and, at midnight, fall backwards into it three, seven or twelve times. This is done to cleanse the body from bad luck and give good luck for the following year. wiki

There’s so much more to this book that I haven’t time to explore but I implore you to get a copy of The Rum Diary and see what speaks to you.

-fin
AUTHORS NOTE:

Life has been very good but busy for me and I am not sure if I can commit to a regular posting schedule for a while.  I’m in the process of moving and my job in in a transitional period also (both improvements) but because of this, I haven’t had much time left over for non-work/non-home stuff.  The next post will be a comic, maybe the next few honestly.

 

Footnotes:

  1. I don’t know, November is one of my least favourite months and looking back last November was similar in posting schedule, as in almost none, so maybe I’ll just be taking November off each year.  Wouldn’t that be something?
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The Pesthouse by Jim Crace (book review)

Happy Monday!

As I mentioned last week I have for you today a very spirited book review of The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, another one of those books that “…the kind of book that when you finish it, you want to toss it against a wall” however in this context that’s not a particularly good thing and it disappoints me to say that.

The Pesthouse, a post-apocalyptic story set in the United States, opens up with some of the strongest writing in the entire book. Consider the opening paragraph:

“Everybody died at night. Most were sleeping at the time, the lucky ones who were too tired or drunk or deaf or wrapped too tightly in their spreads to hear the hillside, destabilized by the rain, collapse and slip beneath the waters of the lake. So these sleepers (six or seven hundred, at a guess; no one ever came to count or claim the dead) breathed their last in passive company, unwarned and unexpectedly, without any fear. Their final moments, dormant in America.” (1)

However this is from the preface from a character named Nash, who is never revisited and very loosely related to the story in a rather irrelevant way which is a shame as he might have been a more interesting or likable character than the lot Crace has cast for us. Once the narrative proper starts with chapter one page eight, the quality of writing

the pest house

Instead of ‘The Pesthouse’ this book should be renamed ‘The Passivehouse because almost the ENTIRE novel is written in the passive past tense voice.

goes down for me because nearly the rest of the book is written in this slow dead-paced passive voice

“Franklin Lopez had not been sleeping in Ferrytown, though [he had] wanted to. [He had] not been sleeping anywhere, in fact. [Could not] sleep. [He had] weathered such pain the day before that [he had] been forced to consider…” (8) italics for emphasis

Notice in 3.5 sentences Crace uses “had” 5 times (I count conjunctions ie the original quote reads “he’d” and I extrapolated it for emphasis as [he had]) and another passive past tense word “could” once. I’ve had creative writing teachers who would not accept your story if it was written entirely in the passive voice unless it was used for specific reasons (an example that comes to mind is the story format of the frame story where a character, usually a lead is remembering back and telling us [both the reader and the audience in the context of the story] their story complete with

pat rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss can grow a sexy beard

foreshadowing because of hindsight insight, an excellent example of this story structure executed masterfully is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss and The Pesthouse does not present a reason for this stylistic choice.

Without giving spoilers, I found the story to generally drag on until about the final act when the story converges with a strange religious sect when both the story and writing quality improved enough to help me push through to the rather anticlimactic ending.

Overall I really didn’t like this novel because it felt like a first draft of something that could have been much more interesting rather than a cash grab at the Post-apocalyptic America-land trend(1). If this was Crace’s first novel, I’d be much more lenient because this novel does have potential to be something more interesting however it’s his 10th novel in 20 years and not only but he’s an award winning author and a member of the Royal Society of Literature. I haven’t read Crace’s other novels but if after 20 years this is what he can produce, I am not impressed.

Footnotes:

  1. Whilst in the UK and talking with one of my friends on the subject of post-apocalyptic stories, she pointed out to me a distinct lack of non-american set post-apocalyptic stories particularly none she could think of taking place in the UK [I failed to remember, somehow, that Children of Men takes place in the UK] and whilst on the subject of the post-apocalyptic trend in media I do want to note that I would really like to see more stories set in places that are not america for a change or maybe more interesting types of apocalyptic events like H.P. Lovecraftian monsters enslave the human race or aliens visit the planet, unbenounced to humans, and grant all the octopi super high tech helmets that allow them to build structures and complex tools which leads them to creating an alien atlantis which then leads them to land excursions and demanding rights leading to interspecies civil war (they create helmets for dogs and pickles and things too), or maybe all the water on the planet turns to jell-o (or jelly for my UK readers) and it’s like a science thriller race against time to figure out a way to turn the jell-o into water again or something fucking original (zombies are cool and I will likely never get my proper fill of zombie media but seriously there are other interesting crisis to subject fictional humans to).

SPOILERS BELOW

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Never Let Me Go (Book Review)

ANNOUNCEMENT My housemate and I were attacked whilst riding bikes around South City on Friday night.  After giving our statement to the police they told us there’s been 13 reported assaults (also my friend was robbed and my next door neighbor’s house was broken into all on Friday night).  I know not all of you are St Louis based but if you are please stay safe out there folks.

Happy Monday!

Just before leaving the UK a friend of mine, a fellow foreigner (I being American, her Thai), gave me a few books that she’d read and didn’t want to take home with her when her time came.  My friend she described this and another book, The Pesthouse by Jim Crace (which I will also be writing a review about), as “the kind of book that when you finish it, you want to toss it against a wall”.  I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, whether she meant she liked or disliked them so much to cause a burst of such passion but these books did evoke a strong emotional response, one in each direction (one good, one poor).  Originally I was planning to do a double review both books seem to tell similar stories but I ultimately nixed the idea because I found I had too much to say about each book.

never let me goNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is what I call a “light dystopian” novel or a novel where the dystopian aspect isn’t entirely prominent in the story’s setting but still plays a vital role in the plot.(1)  The story follows a trio of friends (Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy) from childhood in a boarding school to adulthood in a narrative that can be equally classified equally as an coming of age or mystery or love story.  

 

The dystopia angle of this book wasn’t clear to me from the beginning as it took me until about chapter 7 (p70 – 81) to appreciate what was happening and why, however I believe that subtlety is intentional in Ishiguro’s enigmatic stream of consciousness type writing style presented in Never Let Me Go.  Ishiguro’s attention to detail from the chapter lengths nearly all being a measured 10 pages in length(2) to his ability to weave extremely non-linear story without losing narrative focus is extremely impressive.  

I’m going to be honest: I didn’t fall in love with this book right away but what gripped me from the beginning was Ishiguro’s drumhead tight prose and conversational style that feels so very casual, as if Kathy is just having a conversation with the reader about her memories, that a trick is played where it looks as if storytelling is an effortless endevour that anyone who’s ever told a story can embark on.  However now that I’ve finished the book, in the process it wrung a pint of tears from my eyes, I realise that my reluctance to love this book didn’t come from any lack of quality or resonance but that like the characters in this book, I was holding on to previous feelings about the last book I read (The Pesthouse) and not letting myself be entirely receptive to what Never Let Me Go could offer until it was nearly over.  I say this with intention of being the highest of compliments: I will be re-reading this book at least a couple more times.   

 

Footnotes:

  1. Contrast this with a “heavy dystopian” novel such as The Road by Cormic McCarthy and the distinction becomes clear (or so I hope).
  2. This technique adds to the subtle power of the style by reinforcing expectations for each chapter to be a specific length which when that pattern is broken in later chapters leaves an unconscious impression on the reader.         

***SPOILERS BELOW***
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Dust Tracks on a Road (Book Review)

Happy Monday!

Dust Tracks on a Road is an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston.  I remembered reading a bit of “Their Eyes were Watching God”, also the Crash Course Lit episode is excellent, the first 3.5 minutes of which give a pretty neat summary of her life plus some extra tidbits, in fact let’s justs have a look shall we?

 

I decided to pick this book up in a reading project I’m starting where I plan to fill out my knowledge by reading books considered an “American Classics”(1) (with a focus on the 20th century lit) and the follow the reading list provided from Crash Course Lit(2).  


Overall Dust Tracks on a Road, from here out referred to as Dust Tracks, left me withmixed feelings.  That being said and without giving spoilers, I can say I recommend the book based on its historical and literary significance but unless you’re seeking it out for it’s historical or literary significance, I wouldn’t give it high priority.  

Footnotes:

  1. This burgeoning list has begun with this list, thanks to wikipedia:
    Books referred to as a “Great American Novel”[edit]

At one time, the following works have been considered to be a Great American Novel:

19th century

20th century

21st century

Plus these United States National Epics:

 

  1. Crash Course Lit list (what is listed here are the ones that I have not yet read AND are not already listed above; this is not an exhaustive list of the books covered in all three seasons of CC lit):

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sula by Toni Morrison

(**SPOILERS BELOW**)
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The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (book review)

Happy Monday!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t forget to check in tomorrow for Brad Evan’s introductory post to his Tuesday column.

After reading Davacallaro’s Cyberpunk and Cyberculture I was in the mood for something post-modern.  What I found was The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster whichny trilogy  is a set of three mystery stories, the volume I have has all three stories in one book: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.  

 

City of Glass: The protagonist, an author William Wilson, gets repeated phone calls from a wrong number that insists to speak with the detective Paul Auster.  Eventually Wilson, who already writes under a pen name of Daniel Quinn, finally accepts the identity of Private Eye Paul Auster and takes a very strange and challenging case.  

Ghosts: Blue is a Private Eye who was trained Brown, then hired by White to spy on Black.  Blue takes the case because he needs the work but the seemingly easy job becomes much larger than anticipated.  

The Locked Room: The protagonist, the nameless Narrator, is a writer who can’t write fiction but when he gets a letter from his childhood best friend’s wife about Fanshawe’s death, Fanshawe was the Narrator’s childhood friend, and instructions to judge whether the late writer’s works were worth posthumous publishing he agrees to a task that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

 

Conclusion: It’s a fair warning to say that it’s best to go into this book blind as it has potential to be an extremely memorable detective fiction experience as the mysteries are as likely to surprise the reader as they do the protagonists.  Besides, what’s  the fun of reading detective fiction if you already know the mysteries?

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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cyberpunk and cyberculture by Dani Cavallaro (book review)

Happy Monday!

 

I was at the library a few weeks ago and I found this book and was sold from the colourful cover and funky title “cyberpunk and cyberculture”(picture of book).  As per the back cover, “Dani Cavallaro is a researcher at the University of Westminster and a freelance writer specalising in contemporary Literature, aesthetics and critical theory.”  


cyberpunk and cyberculture is a literary analysis on science fiction and the first six cyberpunk and culturebooks of William Gibson including, Neromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), The Difference Engine (1990), Virtual Light (1993), and Idoru (1996).  

 

Synopsis:

Davallaro explores the motifs of SF lit and the subgenre cyberpunk in a variety of different respects rooting the genres in mythology, explores how the cyberbody is presented in the works and how it relates to contemporary issues pertaining to the body, gender and sexuality.  Most interesting and surprising to me is the convincing arguments Davallaro makes linking the genres SF lit and cyberpunk to the gothic, modifying my understanding of the gothic from a genre in itself to more of a meta-tag genre that can be used to better understand the place of SF lit in cannon.  

 

Conclusion:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t read any William Gibson.  Sorry, please don’t shoot me! Neromancer has been on my list for almost 10 years and I didn’t realise this book was about those works when I got it and now it’s been moved up near the top of my “to read list”.

 

However, that being said, if you have an interest in Gibson’s books or an interest in lit crit I cannot recommend it enough. As a reader it has given me an additional lens not only to dissect my favourite genre but also a framework to approach troubling questions that are becoming increasingly hard to not consider in our changing society.   

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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The Fault in Our Stars By John Green (spoiler free review)

Happy Tuesday!

Announcements

I apologize for the late post, I had a midterm paper due yesterday and I was sweating all weekend and yesterday morning finishing it. Also, lectures started again yesterday after spring holiday and uggh it’s a mess over here. I’m ready for summer.

There are some changes coming down the tubes, I’m not quite at liberty to talk about them yet but it’s all good news.  However I am EXCITED to announce that I have a new writer coming on board to write poetry, short stories, and more on Tuesdays.

If you want to submit pieces of poetry, short fiction, fan art, or if you’re a band who wants to do a press release for your new music video or album, or a young author looking for a new reader, or whatever feel free to get in touch with me. Here’s a link to my contact page.

I’ll tell you more when I have more details worked out.

End announcements

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Fault in Our Stars is a book by the wonderful John Green, well known for the YouTube series Crash Course (Crash Course Literature being one of my favourtes, tied with Crash Course Philosophy with his equally wonderful brother Hank Green).  If you’re as late to the party as I am on this one, published in 2012 and movie adaptation released in 2014, you are in luck, my friend, because this is probably the best romance story you’ve missed. (1)  The Fault in Our Stars.jpg

The Fault in Our Stars is a Shakespearean style love story, as the title implies. “The fault in our stars” is a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, between Hazel Grace, a 16 year old girl with cancer that has spread to her lungs, and Augustus, a boy she meets in a support group,

After some awkward teenage conversation, Hazel and Augustus exchange favourite books to read. They bond over the cliff hanger end to Hazel’s beloved book The Price of Dawn.  Augustus gets in touch with the author of Hazel’s favourite book and puts the two in touch (for those taking notes, this is an EXCELLENT move; get me a personal meeting with Mark Z. Danielewski and I think that might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.)

The story goes on develop the arc of young love, but what sets it apart from other teenage love is that going into this story we have a game of Russian Roulette being played with Chekhov’s Revolver. The three main characters, Hazel, Augustus, and their mutual-friend Isaac, have advanced stages of cancer. The whole time I was, sometimes literally, in tears with anticipation of seeing who was going to die, and wishing the whole time that somehow no one would and that they could all go into remission and live long, wonderful lives together.  However, as per the rules of great fiction: characters have to get hurt.  In this case for me, the pain was worth the pay off.

 

Footnotes:

  1. If you’re into that kind of thing, romance stories that is.  See me? I may have a cold black heart but I’m a sappy sod for a good love story.  Speaking of I’m a HUGE pumping-blood-bleeding-heart for a good real life love story,  so if you have a good story about how you met your lovely partner or former partner and want to share, send me a message.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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The Things They Carried (book review **SPOILER FREE**)

Featured

Happy Monday!

I’m trying to read more shorter length books, 200-300 pages, because the last several months, almost a year now, I keep getting invested in these epic 1000+ page books which are generally rewarding do take me so very long not only to read but to digest (I’m looking at you Infinite Jest). In a means towards that end, I restarted and finished a book I started for a class in October, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

things

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Things They Carried (TTTC) is a war novel but it’s not about war.  TTTC is a piece of non-fiction where the author blatantly tells you “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (70) The Things They Carried is less about a war or about the validity of the stories inside the covers but at it’s heart it’s a story about the things these men carried with them before, during, and after the war.  The literal things they each carried, from the stockings of a sweetheart to a fully illustrated New testament bible or simply a big bag of dope, to the memories and guilt and ultimately stories they tell themselves and anyone who will listen.

Generally set in the 1970’s the novel loosely follows Tim O’Brien and his company of fellow soldiers in a non-linear story line.  The stories that take place before and after the war are the minority leaving a strange and confusing amalgamation of funny and brutal stories about their experiences over there.  The non-linear story structure really works with the content of the story in that O’Brien “[Wants] you to feel what I felt. [O’Brien wants] you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (179) and in this way I believe his choice of a non-linear narrative structure has helped convey this feeling that when you’re reading TTTC you are entering a shadowy and crowded room full of ghosts chattering, all vying for your attention but only a few voices come out clearly.  Ghosts and memories have no use for time as we understand it.  TTTC is a short novel at 236 pages however if you liked it, like I did, there are at least three more books about his experiences in Vietnam (Northern Lights, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Going After Cacciato).

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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Post Office by Charles Bukowski(book review)

Happy Monday!

Today I have a book review for you today by this guy named Charles Bukowski. Let me give you some background on this Dirty Old Man to give you an idea for what we’re getting into:

Image result for charles bukowski

This about sums it up.

Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.[4] His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City.[5][6]

In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”.[7] Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”[8]

-wikipedia, Charles Bukowski

Going into Post Office, I was pretty blind.  The extent I had heard was that he was an American Beat writer and the friend who gave me my copy of Post Office told me when I asked them “What’s this about? What’s Bukowski like?” They kinda looked off, chuckled, and said “Bukowski is a bastard.  You’ll like em.”  After reading Post Office, I get it.

Image result for post office bukowski

Imagine this copy except a couple of coffee spots at the bottom left.

Post Office falls square in this sub-genre called Dirty Realism and it wasn’t named because of this book but it could have been.

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Narrative follows a guy named Henry Chinaski and his drunken meanderings between Post Offices in California with a brief stint in Texas, the overall narrative reminds me of the movie, “Barfly” which is “Based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.” (IMDB)

Overall I was a little offended, the story was strange, but I found that I was so amused I couldn’t quite stop until it was done reading.  I equate developing a taste for Bukowski like developing a taste for hot sauces: it’s never entirely pleasant but when you understand the burn an appreciation can be developed.

**SPOILERS BEYOND**

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The Passage by Justin Cronin (book review *SPOILERS*)

Happy Monday!

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

This book should come with a warning: “Buckle up, this book will grab you by the FUCKING throat. Read at your peril.”

I read a lot(1) however it’s not often when I pick up a book that gives me problems, as in when I start reading the book I have such a strong compulsion to continue reading that I start stealing time from other things like sleeping or coursework(2).  That being said, I should say that this book is less of a page burner from page 1 but more of a shadow slowly stalking up on you until about page 241.  At the time, I didn’t realize it until about page 315 that I was screwed.

the passage

Cronin isn’t messing around with the “Something is coming.” subtitle.

At 963 pages, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a physically daunting book and it’s ambitious. The story takes place over the course of 97-1008 years depending on how you count, the setting spans most of the United States west of the Mississippi from New Orleans LA to Southern Oregon, and there are about 9 core characters.  This both works for and against the passage.

It can be exhausting keeping track of that many characters and the first and last part of the book has several separate story lines to keep straight.  Some of the characters and story lines I found more interesting and while nothing in the book is boring, some story lines felt jarringly interrupted by switching gears to other story lines.  However for the majority of the book when all the character arcs are plaited together it transforms into a tour de force of action, drama, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, Gothic horror.  Highly recommended.

Footnotes:

  1. I average a book a week/300 pages.
  2. I lost 2 solid days reading 648 pages.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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