Review- “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

image

Let me just get it off my chest right off the bat. I absolutely loved this book, and disliked myself for liking it. With about fifty pages to go, I forced myself to bend the page corner and call it a night so I could be awake for an early obligation. After tossing and turning for over an hour, thinking about this book- that damned protagonist Libby Day who I loved to hate, or that clue I might have missed that would reveal the secret to the mystery of who murdered the Day family- I gave in to the inevitable and turned my lamp on to finish the story and clear my head.

The problem with my “bright” idea (get it? Turned on the lamp? Bright? Wow, am I cheesy) is that this is not a story that you finish and it leaves your mind. It’s the kind of novel that makes you feel dirty having read it, like you should change your sheets first thing in the morning or wash your face right after reading. Think In Cold Blood, The Silence of the Lambs… That kind of dirty. Add to that the excitement of the big reveal along with a sense of frustration aimed at half of the cast of well thought out characters, and you’re in for a restless night.

So, let’s talk about those characters. To say that Gilliam Flynn has an incredible talent for writing the most unlikeable, fucked up, insane, deadbeat, you get the picture characters is an understatement. If you’ve read Gone Girl, youll know what I’m talking about. Dark Places is written from the alternating perspective of three characters- its anti-hero, Libby Day in the present, and Libby’s mother Patty and brother Ben on a fateful day in 1985 that left Libby’s mother and two sisters brutally murdered with fifteen year old Ben convicted of the slaughter.

All three of these characters are vastly unlikeable, yet you can’t help but empathize with their situations. Libby sums her personality on her own in the opening chapter of the book-

I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs

She’s mean, she’s lazy, she doesn’t care. Her favorite pastime is shoplifting and stealing from other people, and she extorts money from a group called the Kill Club who hires her to help prove her brother’s innocence.

Ben and Patty both tell their stories from a past perspective. Its hard to feel dislike toward Patty, a divorce single mother of four whose ex-husband is the definition of a scum bag, but you do. Every decision she makes, you think what the hell, woman? all the way up to her last, worst decision of all. Ben is a misunderstood teenager who is as fun to deal with as every other misunderstood teenager. That should tell you all you need to know.

I dont want to talk much about the plot, because I don’t trust myself not to give anything away. Instead, I’m going to be WordPress’ laziest reviewer and copy and paste the description from Goodreads (I BEG OF YOU, FORGIVE ME! It’s insanely late, and I’m tired).

Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she had been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family

To wrap the review up, it’s time for the final word and the rating. Reader, I always struggle when assigning a set of stars to literature. How do you compare one book to another? How do you compare crime fiction, stack up In Cold Blood (which as a side note is my all time favorite novel) against Dark Places, much less compare outside of genres? I give points for prose, dialogue, pacing, character development (this novel had them all!) but in the end it is all about the entertainment.

Flynn delivered another page turner that kept me on the edge of my seat. Praised as one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, it isn’t hard to give a great rating to Dark Places.

4.25 out of 5 stars. And an apology for not giving my best of reviews. Like I said, sleep is at the forefront of my brain.

Advertisements

Review- “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)

image

Reader, I had a lengthy inner dialogue with myself before writing this review about whether or not to give a forewarning of the almost excessive positive bias I have for J.K. Rowling. Obviously, I chose to make the responsible decision as a reviewer and make that disclosure.

Like many of you other twenty-somethings out there, Rowling was a spirit guide whose fantasy world of Harry Potter comforted me through the awkward stages of teenage life. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the novel that made me fall in love with literature. It awakened a previously hidden love for reading and writing I never knew I possessed, and all her work that followed, I have absolutely raved about with friends and coworkers. What I’m trying to say is that reader, be warned. The queen, Madame Rowling, my one of my idols, both in literature and in life, and rave review you’re about to be given is going to be soaking with bias. So let’s get to this damn fine story of Whodunit, shall we?

The Silkworm is the second volume in the Cormoran Strike detective/mystery/thriller series that picks up several months after the conclusion of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Strike and his lovable assistant Robin have achieved nation wide fame after solving the murder of world-famous supermodel Lula Landry, taking his dying detective business from near foreclosure to a booming brand, attracting suspicious husbands or divorcing wives who want to gain an advantage over their spouses. Read a synopsis of The Cuckoo’s Calling on Goodreads here.

Business is at an all time high for Strike, but he’s quickly grown bored of lucrative but unfulfilling assignments. All that changes when Leonora Quine, the eccentric wife of writer Owen Quine, walks into Strike’s office and hires him to find her husband who has gone missing.

Leonora tells Strike that her husband disappears for days at a time on the regular, but Strike soon realizes that there is something much more going on under the surface in this particular instance. Just before disappearing Quine wrote and submitted for publishing his self-described “magnum opus”, Bombyx Mori, that cruelly slanders and reveals the deepest secrets of publishing bigwigs, coworkers in his own publishing company, his rivals, and his own family and friends. The leaked manuscript is the talk of the London publishing world, and it’s soon apparent that many people have a very large motive to get rid of Quine.

When Strike finds the author brutally murderer, Quine’s wife is the main and only suspect of the police and it’s a race against time for Strike and Robin to find who really murdered Owen Quine.

As usual, Rowling’s prose is just breathtaking. She has a way with words comparable to the Steinbecks, the Garcia-Marquezes, the Prousts (like I warned you, I’m a Rowling fantard. You were warned). She writers dialogue better than anyone in the game. The awkward dialogue that is the bane of many writers, those moments that make readers think, “Who in the hell talks like that??”- they don’t phase her. She is truly a master of her craft and while she is very acclaimed, she still doesn’t get the credit she deserves for being such a brilliant writer.

The underlying themes are still apparent, even in a classic Whodunit crime mystery novel. There is the continually developing theme established in the series’s kick-off volume of a soldier’s life after the hell of war. How you get by with an amputated leg as a result of a war injury with a government that has all but forgotten you.

Another strong theme she plays with in The Silkworm is the idea that while women have advanced vastly, there are still double standards and expectations of women that make things difficult in their family lives. Robin’s finance’s disdain for her career choice and her work environment and obligations not only lead to further developments in her character, but highlight the still unfair social expectations of women.

Her criticism of the Darwinistic world of the publishing industry is what shines through most. From the delusions of authors past their prime, to the ruthlessness of publishers, you really get a sense that she’s telling us stories of personal experience. This is summed up in one of the books finest quotes from Quine’s rival writer-

…writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendships and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

She also highlights one of the major challenges authors and publishing companies alike face in the modern world of literature with

The whole world’s writing novels, but nnobody’s reading them.

The Silkworm really was just a fantastic, greatly written thrill ride that improved where its predecessor failed. My main beef with The Cuckoo’s Calling was that Rowling provides clue after clue to solving the mystery along side the duo, but it was such a jumbled picture that it was impossible to guess ‘who dun it.’ I’m not going to pretend that I was clever enough to guess the killer in this installment, but the right clues were given for a wise enough mystery solver to guess the killer.

Reader, all I can really say is just read it. Head down to the used book store tomorrow or get on your e-reader and start this insanely entertaining series now.

5 out of 5 stars!

Review- “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

image

Maybe I should have let this one marinade for a day or two before really sitting down to write a review. The Handmaid’s Tail, like it or not, is one of those novels that really makes you think; it makes you question what you’re reading and wonder how it relates to what is actually going on in our society almost twenty years after it was published. But I’m not going to wait. I’m going to write immediate thoughts because I’m upset.

I’m a huge Atwood fan. I love the worlds she creates and the themes she explores in her books, and this one was no different, but we’ll talk about that in a bit. For now, picture it- me, sitting in one of those awful 24-hour diners where the server is always female, refers to you as ‘hon’, and is too old to be working so hard and too tired to care. I’m fifty or so pages from the end, so eager to get to the finale and the resolution to protagonist Offred’s fate that my scrambled eggs and toast have officially become a very ignored third wheel in my date with Atwood.

Page after page, I can sense that Marla is becoming a bit annoyed by my presence in her booth. I’m so engrossed that I barely notice the sigh she lets out as she sets down my fourth cup of coffee. Then that “Bam!” That feeling of betrayal that engulfs you when the novel you’ve invested so much energy into ends in a way that makes you too upset to even move. I felt like a rabbit who had spent hours and hours chasing a carrot on a string that finally realized it had been dupped… But more on that in a bit…

The Handmaid’s Tale is a distopian novel by Margaret Atwood, set in the fictional Republic of Gilead. Fundamentalist Christians have, seemingly overnight, enacted a brilliantly planned government coup, seizing and freezing bank funds, closing the boarders (but this time to keep people in), and placing women back into a Middle-Ages role as property. Its a first-person narration, the story of Offred who, like all women, have been stripped of their families, their rights, even forbidden to read or socialize, and placed into one of four roles assigned for their purpose in society.

Offred is a Handmaid. Humanity is slowly dying off from infertility rates of extinctual proportions. Payment for our sins. Our destruction of the planet, viruses as a result of our dangerous disregard for overpopulation, destruction from new war techniques. Handmaids are the few, the fertile. Their function in this grim look at the future is to serve as slaves- reproductive organs transfered from home to home, family to family, and legally “raped” by the male family head once a month (reveiwer’s note: its never referred to as rape in Offred’s narration, but it is a forced sexual act for both the male and female, almost as if both parties are victims who empathize with their wrongdoer, which is the reason for the quotes) in hopes of getting pregrant and repopulating society. They are upheld as the most valued women of society while being the most reviled.

Atwood’s prose is really stunning in this work. The disjointed timeline of events in the narration flash back and forth from Offred’s present day hell, to a happier time- “The Time Before” the coup when she had a husband, a child, property, access to knowledge and rights. You root for her. The development of characters is amazing as Atwood slowly reveals the ugly traits found in the ‘good’ and human traits in the ‘evil’.

The warning calls sounded by Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale are every bit as real and scary as Orwell’s 1984. “It will never happen here…” But in the back of your mind you know it could. Faceless corpses being hung off of walls- those of people who were known athiests or Jews or homosexuals or even scientists in The Time Before. Those who rebeled from the new Old Testament law in even the most minor way hauled away in daylight and never heard from again. Her criticism of fundamentalist religion, especially toward its disregard for women’s rights isn’t even slightly disguised.

But back to me in the diner, the ending. Reader, I don’t want to disuade you from reading this thought-provoking work just because I hated the ending. The epilogue made me so upset that I wanted to carve “Margaret Atwood sucks!” or some similarly childish graffiti into the diner’s bathroom stall. But while the destination turned out to be disappointing, the journy was exhilarating as a reader. Fans of distopian fiction or authors with a feminist perspective will thoroughly enjoy this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars.