Archive for February, 2013

The Miniature Wife: And Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales – review

February 17, 2013

this is going to be undeservedly short because I was racking up fines on my copy and had to return it. Perhaps it is because of the hurried nature with which I had to reach the last few stories, but the collection dragged a bit at the end, and I wasn’t overly enthralled with the final story, “Escape from the Mall,” which is sort of like Dawn of the Dead II: Let’s Get The Hell Out of Here.  There are also a handful of orbits/bibliographies sprinkled throughout the collection that didn’t work for me.  It felt like Gonzales was aiming for something similar to Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas or just the general oddness of a Michael Martone work, but they just weren’t interesting enough for me to really care about.

Which are the negatives. The positive is that the rest of the collection is a good read. The first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” is a gentle wading into the literary lake Gonzales put together. It is told through the eyes of the unnamed Writer aboard a plane hijacked by the pilot and forever circling in the air over Dallas thanks to a briefly mentioned perpetual oil. It’s something that makes for a nice short story,but also begs to be pulled out, expanded upon, to a novel about the drudgery of such an existence. This might be the biggest complaint against the collection – none of the stories feel solid, singular, as if they are one contained piece that says something. I don’t think this is something that is peculiar to Gonzales, but is fairly spread around contemporary short fiction.  A lack of definition seems to be in vogue right now, leaving stories open to radical interpretation or maybe meant to reflect the undefinable nature of modernity, though a lot of that hits a hollow chord for me, a noise that reverberates but doesn’t resonate.

The cover story is probably the most fully realized story that works best. In it, a man who works somewhere that specializes in miniaturizing things (literally shrinking fullsize objects down to much small scales) accidentally miniaturizes his wife. We’re then treated to a timeline of escalating violence between the two before we are given an ending where the man has apparently shrunk himself down to journey across the house to his wife’s “territory” with the desire to throttle her.

Maybe my favorite story in this collection is “Life On Capra II.” I might just be way off in my interpretation, but I swear it’s a story about a video game told from the perspective of the main character in the video game. There is a soldier on a wildly hostile planet with swamp creatures and robots, and endless supply of weapons and ammo that the soldier is amazed he never runs out of . The reason for being there is bland, characters seem to re-spawn with each new “level,” and the destruction doesn’t seem to affect some characters (such as the love interest) at all.  Maybe this wasn’t what Gonzales was shooting for at all, but it’s what I took from it, and I think the openness of the style works very well with the idea of a never-ending, continuously re-spawning video game world of fighting robots and swamp monsters, while seeing your fellow soldiers do wildly stupid things, get blown to bits, only to be there again at the next level.  Another direction I was curious about is if the name of the planet is in any way tied to the director Frank Capra. I can’t really find it, but maybe it’s there. It also closely resembles Caprica, the homeworld from Battlestar Gallactica. Maybe it’s a play on that, too.

This review ended up sounding far more negative than I intended it to. The thing is, despite the flaws that come up now, when thinking about it in retrospect, I enjoyed reading it more than the George Saunders collection I recently reviewed, The Tenth of December. Saunder’s collection was better, unquestionably better for my money, but it wasn’t as enjoyable. So, check this guy out.  It is a very good collection, he is a very good read, and it is most certainly worth the time and effort. Hell, I even accrued library fines because of my desire to finish it. And I’m a cheap bastard, so that’s a pretty big deal.

As always, the B&N link to the collection is below and I collect no monies from my suggesting/whoring them.  B&N Miniature Wife: And Other Stories

Tenth of December by George Saunders – review

February 11, 2013

I’m not a big George Saunders fan. I had tried to get into The Brief and Horrible Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation and they just didn’t do anything for me.  It’s been long enough that I don’t entirely remember the specifics about what I disliked about them, only that they didn’t carry much weight for me.  Despite the rave reviews (and, no, I don’t buy the NYT saying Saunders has already wrote the best book of the year – I liked it, but I not that much), my past experiences made me leery.  Saunders might just be one of those writers I don’t really connect with, something that I find happening more and more as I get older. I wonder if this is on me, that maybe age is just closing me off to the world in a way that youth didn’t, or if my sensibilities just don’t match up with where the literary world is going- or at least where American literature is going.

Tenth of December (TOD) didn’t start off well for  me. The first story, “Victory Lap,” felt gimmicky and tiresome when it began. It seemed to be more concerned with its flair than with its story, though of course part of the story is the flair. the first handful of pages lacked balance, though, and I was tempted to just skip to the next story and see if it was any quicker off the line. I stuck with it, though, and there came a point where Saunders just sort of hit his stride and the story took off. He found his balance, and the story just worked.  I think it was the moment the third character, the would be murderer/rapist, enters the story.  Until then the story was like a table with only two legs, doomed to always topple over because at least three legs are required for stability (bonus points for anyone getting the KitH reference).

Then I just sort of stuck with the collection. None of the stories are bad, but the first time I picked the book up and flipped to the table of contents I couldn’t truly recall what each of the stories had been about aside from “Escape from Spiderhead.” I didn’t recall this story because I enjoyed it appreciably more than any other story, I’m not sure why I recalled it at all, but the rest of the stories blended into a haze. Flipping through the book and re-reading a page or two here and there would later bring each story back to me, allowing me to fill in the bits and pieces of what I had read, but they still didn’t create any real lasting impression.

If you’re a fan of Saunders, I’m going to guess that you’re going to love this collection. If you haven’t been a fan of Saunders (like me), this might be the collection to get so you can say you’ve read him.

Barnes and Noble

Book Links 2/10/13

February 10, 2013

From time to time I gripe about the length of some books. I enjoy reading, I would say I love reading, but there are also times where I wonder where the hell editors have gone to help reign in authors and tighten books up  a bit. Galleycat has a nice little article up with a graph showing how a handful of fantasy series have grown and shrunk over their lifespans.  I have a hard time wanting to invest myself in a series of books if the shortest comes in around 700 pages.

Here’s a couple of articles about Amazon. The Seattle Times has an article up about Amazon’s inability to gain much market penetration in China, despite massive investments. At the same time, Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen has an article about Amazon and their possible foray into used ebooks. Given that one possibility of Amazon diving into the second hand business is to further weaken publishing houses  and push a larger market share back to their own servers, I don’t really mind seeing them have a tough time in China. There really isn’t anything new to say about Amazon and the publishing industry with either of these articles. The responsibility for saving their rears still rests largely with the publishing houses themselves, and the only way we readers can really help is by not shopping through Amazon – something the majority of people seem wholly unwilling to do if  it saves them a buck fifty. So it is what it is.

What author had the largest fingerprint on 19th century literature? Apparently, it was Jane Austen.   #2? Looks to be Sir Walter Scott. Not much more to the article.

Alright, that’s what I have for now.

Book Links 2/7/13

February 7, 2013

Alright, I’m trying to get back on the horse and start posting again. I have three or four reviews partially written, and I’ve been accumulating links in my bookmarks. The past week or so has just been a mess for me, though. Partly it’s an actual, physical mess.  The apartment is a random jumble of papers and detritus. We’re in the midst of a hopeful soon move, trying to buy a house on a short sale and waiting for a couple of banks to sort their stuff out. So an impending possible move just sort of looms in the background, along with an assortment of partially filled plastic totes and milk crates.  I’ve also had maintenance lounging about my bathroom for the past few days, tearing out about a two foot square section of bathroom wall to fix some plumbing and then trying to put the wall back together again. They need some more knights and men to help them, though. Just took a look at the job after the maintenance guy went on lunch, and it’s a lot of grout held together with some porcelain.  I think the guy is trying really hard to make it look decent, though. I get the feeling he doesn’t have a lot of experience with tiling. Anyway, some links…

Barnes & Noble has been getting some attention this week. Atlantic has up what is essentially a love letter and plea not to leave. Please evolve with the times but also keep all of your brick and mortar stores open! Yeah, I hope they can, despite not enjoying their stores as much as I enjoyed Borders, but I think it’s unrealistic. I think our hope has to be that B&N can keep a fair amount of stores open in the majority of urban areas, but not be a ubiquitous presence. At the same time, Forbes is playing the role of guy with a placard beside the road foretelling the end is nigh. They close with the oft repeated, “innovate or die.” It’s true, it’s necessary, but I really just don’t want to read doom and gloom pieces for awhile. It’s probably my own version of the confidence fairy, but I worry that our prognostications will have a bad habit of making themselves come true. In the meantime, go and shop at brick and mortar stores. It’s worth it. I just bought a collection of Jules Verne stories the other day, and it’s a pretty book and my kid likes it. It’s just far more enjoyable to pick these things out in person than to order it and have it show up in the mail.

The LA Times has a google hangout video with George Saunders up. I’m not a huge Saunders fan, though it’s changing a bit with his latest collection (more on that later this week)(hopefully), but this interview is enjoyable. If you’re fan, or if you’re not, give it a look.

Finally, flavorwire has 11 of the coolest museum libraries. In my dreams, my house would have all of them contained within its walls. My house would be a museum library.

Book Links 1-30-13

February 1, 2013

This week’s Comics World podcast is just wonderful to listen to.  I wanted to sit here and say this or that particular part was my favorite, but the whole thing is my favorite. I’m a recent convert to this podcast, so I might be a bit behind the times here, but check it out.

The Millions has an article on Ayana Mathis’ novel Twelve Tribes of Hattie and the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Okay, it’s mostly about Oprah’s book club, but it’s still a good read. I never followed Oprah, or her book club, but I never understood the flak this whole enterprise took. Here was a megawatt celebrity with a ton of sway across America saying, “Hey, go pick up this book and read it!” and people actually did it,  yet “serious” people still want to complain about it? Are you nuts? I’m going to leave the whole gender angle alone, Millions wades into it very well. I think it’s just painfully stupid for anyone involved in writing or publishing, whether they’re a writer, editor, publisher, whatever, to complain about someone not only shilling for the profession, but doing it effectively. She sold books. She probably got some people to read who wouldn’t have read before. And once you get  people to buy one book, and enjoy it, you probably have someone who will buy a second book. Oprah can go ahead and push whatever book she wants.

And the Guardian has a short piece about lit mags. It’s quick, but not earth shattering. If you have a free minute or two, you could probably scan through it.

 

Alright, that’s what I have right now. first group of links in a long while, but just haven’t found much that I think have been overly interesting.