REVIEW: Invisible Monsters

Last year I did not tackle any of Chuck Palahniuk’s collection, though I did mention my constant struggle with him in my review of Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction as follows:

“I absolutely adored Fight Club, but none of his other novels has met that bar. Yet, I keep reading him. While I do enjoy most of his works, I am frequently left with a less favorable aftertaste, as they are not as well executed as Fight Club. My extreme love for Fight Club possibly warped my ability to fully enjoy the rest of Chuck’s collection.”

 Invisible Monsters is the closest I have come in my Palahniuk adventures to thoroughly applauding his genius as I did with Fight Club. Closest but still no cigar.

The heart of Invisible Monsters is a beautiful one; an exploration (albeit a twisted, graphic, and gory one) on the struggles of self-identity and body image and the difficult (Tarantinoesque) journey to becoming the person you want to be. The characters, though beyond heightened, evince kernels of universal truths. The overall plot line, engaging and quirky. But. But. But. It just gets to be too much, Chuck. Chunks of the novel involve road trip like expeditions with 3 of our main characters, and after a certain number of these excursions I was done with them. Yet, they kept trucking along. Similar in essence to the road tripping adventures of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, but instead with a newly disfigured former model going through an existential crisis, a pill-popping transgender woman who is the glue holding it all together, and a fairly unnecessary jerk of a guy. 

When the Prozac Nation tour isn’t occurring, we are jumping back and forth in a convoluted time line of our mutilated model. While this backstory ultimately ties some loose ends together, it is once again, TOO MUCH, and hindered my empathy towards our anti-heroine as opposed to enhancing it.

All of that being said, Palahniuk executed the ending of Invisible Monsters masterfully (a trait he often lacks), and, as mentioned before, the overall arch and concept is strong. 

Though this wasn’t quite kissing another Palahniuk frog, it still wasn’t the prince I’ve been hoping for.

Rating: 3.5 Brandy Alexanders

REVIEW: Turtle Diary

I’m back and I’m in love…with Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary.  This is yet another novel which falls under the “book my father begged me for years to read and I stupidly kept putting it off” category. (Seriously, father really does know best.)

Hoban checks all my boxes with Turtle Diary: short, masterfully alternates narratives, straightforward moving plot, well developed realistic characters. While each of these characteristics is flawlessly executed, the novel as a whole manages to transcend its parts.

Hoban creates magic, and a hint of mystery, with Turtle Diary. Though written in the 70s, Hoban’s depiction of the sobering loneliness that can come of flying solo in modern society evokes an even stronger message today. In a world where majority of our interactions take place through technology, it is easy to fall in line with our narrators’ (William G. and Neaera H.) need to become a part of something bigger than themselves. Something tangible. Something that requires an honest connection, even with a stranger.

Turtle Diary has moved its way to being one of my top recommendations; a novel I would encourage all to read.

Rating: 5 Turtles Swimming Freely

REVIEW: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair exemplifies the power that can be wielded by a well-formed poetry collection. While poetry collections can be tricky to review due to the subjectivity of the art form, it would be difficult for me to do anything less than gush about Neruda.
Infamous for his blatant sensuality, Neruda never employs carnality as a gimmick. Threaded throughout Twenty Love Poems…, is the exploration of the many facets of love, loss, and sexuality. Neruda writes with a raw honesty and a bittersweet nostalgia that is relatable (at least to this reader).  While every poem may not strike a personal chord, it’s hard to avoid Neruda’s power to reel the reader in; especially those with a sentimental heart.
Personal favorites:
So That You Will Hear Me
I Remember You As You Were
I Like For You To Be Still
Tonight I Can Write
Rating: 4.5 Hearts

REVIEW: The African Queen

I watched the film adaptation of C.S. Forester’s The African Queen many moons ago at the recommendation of my father. I was totally engaged and enamored (how could one not love Kate and Bogey), but, as my memory for plot sucks, my recall of detail was slim. Last year, one of my loyal followers highly recommended the novel (thanks, EK!), consequently, it made the 2017 list. I expected to enjoy the journey, knowing I would be embarking on a classic tale of adventure and romance, but ended up appreciating it for so much more.

As a woman, The African Queen was an immensely inspiring novel. This “classic tale of adventure and romance” (yes, I quoted myself from two seconds ago, just go with it) is actually a badass feminist narrative reaching far beyond its classic realms. Forester did impressively well by our heroine, Rose Sayer, especially considering it was written in the 1930s, and especially considering Forester is a dude. The beauty of literature over film is its ability to reveal the inner monologue of characters, and Rose’s internal narrative is a true inspiration.

Accompanying a woman as she leaves the world where she lives in the shadow of men (and God), to one where she fully and willingly embraces her strengths and expands her comfort zone just because she freakin can, is beautiful. The added treat is the reader’s invitation to be in her head as she goes through these changes. Obviously, Rose is a fictional character, but her thoughts and heart are so incredibly palpable and relatable, she may as well be real.

The excitement of Rose and her companion’s (Charlie) journey contributes plenty to keep the reader engaged, and is well executed by Forester. Even if the novel lacked the additional layer provided by Rose’s feminist character, it would gain top marks from me. But that extra dose of heroine fierceness is what turned The African Queen into a piece of literature I will return to whenever I need some strong feminine motivation.

 

Rating: 4.5 Torpedos

 

REVIEW: Factotum

Charles Bukowski became a blip on my radar when I was 17. My father obtained tickets to a screening of the film adaptation of Factotum at Lincoln Center. The event included a talk back with the director, Bent Hamer, and the lead actor, my celebrity crush, Matt Dillon. I attended the screening with the sole hope of getting a chance to interact with my dreamboat. Having indeed captured a couple of moments with Mr. Dillon, (I have the photo and autographed book to prove it. Also. He’s even more beautiful in person) I left on a high. Needless to say, that while I enjoyed the film, my focus was elsewhere. 

However, something about the feel of the film, and Henry Chinaski’s nomadic and troubled artist lifestyle always stuck with me.

Cut to: 10 plus years later.

Having matured since the ripe age of 17, and beginning to broaden my intellectual horizons, Bukowski quickly popped into my brain as a writer I should explore. And of course, I started with Factotum.

Bukowski was worth the 13-year wait. The vibe of the film, which stuck with me all these years and was paralleled in the novel, engulfed me (well, really the film paralleled the book, but I experienced them in the opposite order. You get the point).

Bukowski’s writing style is uncomplicated; poetic, yet simple. Realism at its finest. You traverse this snippet of Henry Chinaski’s life – the cities, women, jobs, alcohol, and writings – and yet as tumultuous as the journey is, Bukowski gives you the gift of calm.

There’s a voyeuristic aspect to reading novel’s like Factotum, as though you are peeking through a window; the novel contains no set plot structure, you are merely catching a glimpse into a segment of Chinaski’s life.

I’ve always maintained a fondness for this breed of novels and films; the lack of a period at the end of the story, because life presses on.

 

Rating: 4 Shots of Whiskey