REVIEW: The Death of a Beekeeper

I have been writing my reviews on a fairly long delay. Not intentionally, just because life happens. But, I’ve found it has helped me create clearer views on these postponed reviews.

When I finished Lars Gustafsson’s The Death of a Beekeeper I wasn’t smitten. It certainly didn’t spark the ranter in me, nor did I pinpoint anything specifically flawed in the novel, I didn’t for some reason connect with the narrator on a personal level. So, as I finished the last page I had a general feeling of “eh, alright.”

I was very sad to inform my father of my reaction, since The Death of a Beekeeper was yet another of his suggestions, and, as you know, he has been batting a thousand thus far.

Pops recently brought up the novel again, partially to kindly (impatiently) inquire as to when I was actually reviewing the novel, but also to express his reasons why it struck a chord with him. After this exchange, and the writing of a few more overdue reviews, I realized that much of Gustafsson’s words have, indeed, stuck with me over the 2 ½ months since I finished the novel. (Yes, I’m THAT delayed).

The Death of a Beekeeper truly is a uniquely and beautifully written work. And, no, I couldn’t always get myself to feel engaged with our titular beekeeper, Lars (though I could sympathize with his condition…the title is pretty blunt in what we are dealing with here), but the overall essence never left me. In fact, in rereading sections I highlighted, I became quite emotional.

Now, maybe my sentimentality was heightened because of my association of the novel with my father, or maybe something in myself has shifted over the past couple of months. But, The Death of a Beekeeper has moved up in the ranks for me, and I’m glad I waited to share it with you (something I wish I had done last year with The Road, that book has never left me). And, if you don’t trust my unstable judgement, trust my father’s, he always finds the beauty in hidden gems and brings them to light.

 

Rating: 4 Stingers

REVIEW: The Shining

Stephen King is an author I haven’t revisited in about a decade. Partially because Ive been distracted by other authors, partially because I’m a scaredy cat. But, finally I have conquered the book so creepy Joey hides it in the freezer, The Shining.

The psychological aspects of The Shining are incredible, and far more developed in the novel than the film (I see why Mr. King took many an issue with the latter). If you take out all the redrums and I see dead people moments, what you have is a study of an addict battling his demons, and the impact it has on his family. Not only is Jack Torrence an exquisitely executed character struggling with alcoholism and rage, his wife, Wendy, is an exceptionally well developed, layered character (POORLY depicted in the film). The most fascinating parts of the novel are the inner monologues of the couple – their love for each other and their son is palpable, as is their inner turmoil as they attempt to navigate a relationship in light of the rough hand they’ve been dealt.

The use of supernatural elements and isolation in The Shining, especially when experienced through Danny (the son), creates an even more vulnerable environment for the Torrence family. With the personal battles they are facing it’s only natural for them to be highly susceptible to the otherworldly forces running the show in the Overlook Hotel.

The Shining is a solid piece of literature, and I didn’t even mind that it was over 300 pages. This one has certainly earned a spot on my “Most Likely to Recommend” list.

 

Rating: 4 Unstable Boilers

REVIEW: Slaughterhouse-Five

Last year Kurt Vonnegut came into my life and I fell in love at a Hemingway level (see here). So it was only natural that I would add Kurt’s most famous classic to my list this year, Slaughterhouse-Five. It is now tied with Turtle Diary for my favorite book of the year.

From Vonnegut’s succinct and poignant style, to the plot, to the characters, to the black humor, to the unique perspective on topical issues…I can’t find a flaw. What fascinates me about Vonnegut most is how seamlessly he integrates science fictional elements into novels which would otherwise be characterized as modern realism. Vonnegut uses this tool in Slaughterhouse-Five to bring into focus themes of free will, suffering, warfare, and ethics – very down to earth elements. While Billy Pilgrim (our narrator’s lead) is a relatively fantastical character, his journey is true to human nature.

Slaughterhouse-Five has become a staple of American literature for a reason. Its honesty. Vonnegut takes the dark and complicated aspects of what it means to live in this society and strips them down to their truest form, to expose what is at the heart of life. So it goes.

 

Rating: 5 Poo-tee-weets

REVIEW: Rabbit, Run

John Updike, you’ve left me utterly confused.  Rabbit, Run was one of my “this book (and its sequels) is on every MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE list so I should probs check it out” books. And it was one I was looking forward to reading – seemed to be my cup of tea from what I knew about it. And, while I was reading it continued to feel that way. Then I put the book down. And now I don’t know what to think about anything.

I read Rabbit, Run in one day. Obviously I was invested, and Updike just as obviously writes with a unique and engaging literary style. But my first thought when completing the novel was “I freakin hate that guy” (full disclosure, that sentence contained more “F” bombs than just the one and of the non “freakin” variety). Now, when I say “that guy” I mean our anti-hero, Rabbit, not Mr. Updike. And when I say “hate” I don’t mean in the fun way we love to hate anti-heroes (what up, Don Draper) or a solid villain, I mean I hate him. He has zero redeemable qualities, there was maybe one moment where I thought “okay, maybe you aren’t THAT bad.” However, I never once rooted for him to turn it around, nor did I care if he did. Pretty much, zero part of me cares about the future of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. And zero part of me understands how there are 5 million other books about this jerk, and why I am expected to read them if I am to be considered well read.

So, now what am I supposed to do? I can’t sit here and say I got zero pleasure from the book and denounce John Updike’s ability to write a clear and intriguing story, but I don’t want to applaud the creation of one of the worst characters I’ve ever come across. Honestly, I would take a slew of Ayn Rand’s horrible creatures over this dude.

Read this book. Or don’t. I certainly won’t be continuing the series, unless it’s to be able to feel further justified in my attitude towards the man. On a positive note, I was very into the supporting female characters and would happily read a novel or two based solely around the character of Ruth.

 

Rating: 2.5 Entitled Bros

 

REVIEW: Persepolis

The graphic novel market is one that has impressively expanded over time and is the perfect vehicle for Marjane Satrapi to engage audiences in her memoir of the after-effects of the Islamic Revolution in Iran during the ‘80s, Persepolis.

I am a fan of non-fiction and take pleasure in learning as much as I can about the world and it’s citizens, but it can be daunting to take on history books or at least those whose intended audience is assumed to have a background and the lexicon to support it. Usually lacking a clear narrative and heart, they leave me cold. I absorb knowledge more easily when personal context is involved.  

Young Marjane’s experiences of the revolution translate beautifully to the graphic art form. Upheaval in society, rioting, and war are all issues that pack more punch when depicted visually; not just reliant on the written word. It’s easy to become detached from and dehumanize events like the Islamic Revolution when you are simply reading recorded facts. Satrapi makes it impossible (much like Art Spiegelmen did with Maus in the ’90s) for a reader to disengage via the graphics of Persepolis. None of the imagery is explicit, but it puts a face to a piece of history. In addition, there is the added impact of experiencing events through the eyes of a child, which broadens the allure of the memoire. 

We should be indebted to those authors like Marjane Satrapi who incorporate the use of the visual arts to bring knowledge to the masses.

Rating: 4 Protests

REVIEW: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I decided to add a contemporary YA novel to my list this year for a few reasons, one of them being that I have little to no idea what’s out there for kids these days (beside the Twilight and Hunger Games worlds), additionally the YA novels of my time were integral in shaping my love of literature and sense of self. I was very pleased to discover that a novel like Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda exists.

Even if the character development and writing style were stripped away, Albertalli would still get high marks solely for the basic narrative in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Adventure. A problem generally exhibited in YA novels, films, and TV is the attempt to tackle every topical issue at once as opposed to focusing on one major issue and allowing others to pop up organically. This flaw weakens the intended impact.  Albertalli, on the other hand, hits the nail on the head with her approach to dealing with common teen issues in today’s society without over saturating her plot. While the main story follows Simon and his journey as he copes with his sexuality, Albertalli peppers in other issues (cyber bullying, heartache, alienation) without distracting from the main narrative.

Now, we add in Albertalli’s easy but high quality style (another general issue I have with YA…we should be upping kid’s literacy game, not dumbing things down for them) and fully realized characters. Well, there’s very little to critique.

Far too often we project unrealistic images onto younger generations of what their high school experience should be, Albertalli’s ability to keep it real throughout Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is what corralled my attention from beginning to end. I was giddy (yes, me, giddy) getting caught up in Simon’s email exchanges with his mystery crush. I felt a part of Simon’s social circle, because I’ve been there too.

Rating: 4 Secret Admirers

Special shoutout to SW for the recommendation

 

REVIEW: Of Love and Other Demons

Gabriel García Márquez. An author who has continuously entranced me with his vibrancy and ability to balance the surreal and real. An author I have committed myself to because he had me at “hello” (I reviewed him last year as well: The Story of a Ship-Wrecked Sailor). But, as with all relationships, the honeymoon phase had to end at some point and now we get down to the nitty gritty.

Don’t get me wrong, Of Love and Other Demons exhibited many of the qualities which led me to fall for Márquez: an air of mystery, passion, ­­­and fluid writing. Yet, I was not fully invested in the plot. I started Of Love and Other Demons about 3 times in an attempt to determine if my current mood was the factor deterring me from becoming engaged. However, as it transpired, the novel never grasped me.

Much like my feelings towards The Sound of Things Falling (legit spent about 10 minutes coming up with that title because it left such a little impression on me), I can’t quite put my finger on why I couldn’t connect with this novel. I find this to be frustrating. As I hope I have made obvious, I like to be able to support and express my opinions with clarity. I believe my discontent was a mixture of a few things:

  • The balance Márquez generally creates was off; typically, the fantasy Márquez adds never detracts from the ability of the reader to accept that his stories are capable of existing in reality, it merely enhances them. The fantasy Of Love and Other Demons enhanced the narrative a bit too much for my taste. 
  • I was disinterested in the characters. They are well constructed, but I was apathetic to their fates. I can’t work out why.
    • As a result I was indifferent to their relationships. And since the novel’s main focus is on the relationship between a young girl and a priest, this was an issue.
  • You know I’m seriously struggling sorting through something when I start making lists. (Holy alliteration, batman)

So for now I will go with: well written book, still a fan of the author, the general concept just wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Rating: 3.5 Rabid Exorcisms