REVIEW: What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day

At the request of a dear friend, Pearl Cleage’s What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day was another last minute swap in for my 2017 list.  To be perfectly blunt, I was hesitant about taking it on – from the synopsis, it appears to be one of those novels where everything bad a person could possibly think of manages to happen: overloading the reader with all things depressing.
 
But, I was too quick to judge; What Crazy Looks Like… as well as the main character, Ava, were a true delight.
 
While, yes, What Crazy Looks Like has a bit of a formulaic feel and it’s easy to predict where certain plot lines will lead, the ride is enjoyable. Cleage doesn’t skimp on delivering fully developed characters with relatable relationships and behaviors. As “crazy” as things get for Ava and her sister, Joyce, the stretch stops short of being unrealistic.
 
What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day, is packed full of the drama, joy, romance, and laughter that makes for a quality vacation or rainy Sunday read.
 
Rating: 3 Sneaky Church Ladies
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REVIEW: No Country for Old Men

In 2016 I reviewed Comrac McCarthy’s The Road and was left on the fence regarding his writing style (though I did admit the novel ended up staying with me and on reflection, he deserved a higher rating).  For 2017 I tackled McCarthy again with No Country for Old Men to see if I could come to a definitive conclusion on his style. I didn’t. But…
 
No Country for Old Men is a more enjoyable read, with a smoother flow than The Road, containing whip-smart dialogue making it obvious why the Coen Brother’s turned No Country into an award winning film. McCarthy’s writing in general is visual in nature, he has a graphic, pictorial flare, which combines nicely with the gritty characters. 
 
The only beef I have with Cormack regarding No Country for Old Men is the amount of backstory given for Sheriff Bell (you may be familiar with him as Tommy Lee Jones). Each chapter begins with an inner monologue of Bell’s, and while it probably provided decent info when translating the novel to screen, the monologues don’t do much to serve the story, as they interrupt the flow of the main action.
 
I am continuing my way through McCormack’s works, he keeps me on the hook. No Country for Old Men is worth checking out for the dialogue alone, and, of course, McCormack’s brilliant villain, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
 
Rating: 3.5 Hideous Wigs

REVIEW: The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes

My 2nd venture into the world of graphic literature for 2017 was, regrettably, not as successful as my first (which you can conveniently read about here). Never having read Neil Gaiman’s work, I was determined and enthusiastically ready to explore what he had to offer. Although it is arguable that Mr. Gaiman deserves a lot of the credit he is given by my generation, I wish I had started with something other than The Sandman.

The entirety of The Sandman series in contained within 10 books, I only tackled the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes. For transparency, I have never been a prodigious comic book reader (The Sandman is a comic book series not a graphic novel). While I am in fact a fan of many characters created via the comic book world, I never gained much pleasure from actually reading comic books – something about the form, and the way my brain interprets things has never made for a fluid experience. Since I know this about myself, I have not deducted marks because of my pre-existing issue.

My issue (ha, non-intentional pun) with The Sandman is the set-up.

The first 20 pages or so spark a constant inner-monologue of, “Wait, what, am I supposed to understand this? Did I miss something? Am I dumb? Let me go back a few pages…nope, I don’t seem to have missed anything…” –then The Sandman picks up and keeps up an engaging pace with a very compelling main character. But, one can’t simply ignore the beginning, the section that should be the hook, is an unnecessary mess. One could easily, and understandably, give up 5 pages in and then miss out on what becomes a very solid comic book. So. Points taken off, and Neil is put in the time out chair for the time being.

I may dip into Gaiman’s work in the future. In the meantime, I recommend The Sandman to comic book fans with stamina. But, I am disappointed with my introduction to his work.

Rating: 3.5 Unending Dreams

REVIEW: Mrs. Fletcher

Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher was one of my swaps this year (quite frankly, I don’t remember what it replaced), because when Mr. Perrotta comes out with a new novel the world can’t expect me to wait to read it.

As I mentioned in my review of Perrotta’s short story collection, Nine Inches, he is quite possibly the only author whose complete works I have read. Reading Perrotta is like snuggling up in a warm blanket with hot tea on a cold wintery day. He’s just good for your soul.

Enough of my gushing over Tom. Let’s get to Mrs. Fletcher. This is not Perrotta’s strongest novel (Little Children and Election are aces), but it certainly isn’t a weak novel. Perrotta is an author who has mastered the art of intertwining plot lines/narratives (a technique I’ve discussed frequently on this here blog). He has nailed the technique once again in Mrs. Fletcher.

Alternating narratives between the single, middle-aged titular character (first name Eve), learning how to recreate her life now that she is an empty nester; and her stereotypical, hot jock, son, Brendan, in for some harsh doses of reality as he enters college, Perrotta creates an interesting balance between the generations. (That might be the longest sentence I’ve ever written, and I am sorry.) While Brendan is not an enticing character (basically a teenage douchebag), I challenge the reader to perceive Brendan differently. Brendan is not Updike’s Rabbit (to see my rant on him, click here). Eighteen year old boys are not fully developed humans, and Perrotta certainly captures that through the topical issues Brendan faces and takes part in (bullying, the treatment of women, depression,  relating to one’s parents, etc). The difference between Brendan and Rabbit is the arc Brendan’s character takes over the course of the novel. Perrotta, as he always manages to do, tackles the Brandans of the world with compassion. The same compassion he approaches characters like Eve, who are far more sympathetic beings.

Mrs. Fletcher covers a lot of ground (maybe a bit too much ground.) Between Eve’s ventures in reclaiming her independence and sexuality at the age of 45, and Brendan’s battle to learn from his mistakes and readjust his perception of the world at the age of 18, Mrs. Fletcher could easily split audiences depending on the generation they belong to.

As someone who is exactly in the middle of Brendan and Eve, it was easy for me to appreciate both journeys. 

 

Rating: 3.5 Suggestive Texts

REVIEW: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

This review will be quick and painless.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is neither rave worthy or rant worthy; Gonzo journalism isn’t quite my genre.

Thompson’s narrative style makes Fear and Loathing… a speedy and easy read, but has very little variation in content. While riding a mindless bender with Raoul and Dr. Gonzo is initially exhilarating, it’s ebullience faded for me about 2/3s of the way through the novel. This is not a journey I have a desire to repeat. I commend Thompson for being the founding father of Gonzo journalism, and finding a form best suited for relaying his out of the box perspective and lifestyle; but, it’s a lifestyle I couldn’t keep up with.

Fear and Loathing… could make for a good vacation read, and Thompson is an American staple those active in the literary community should at least familiarize themselves with, but this is not a novel that will be high on my rec list, and he an author I most likely won’t be revisiting.

Rating: 3 Never Ending Acid Trips

REVIEW: Cakes and Ale

Somerset Maugham has topped my TBR shelf for a while now, as he is a favorite author of some of my favorite people (particularly R). So, needless to say, I was excited to get cozy with Cakes and Ale.

I must say that technically speaking, Maugham checks a lot of boxes. Yet, it is not a novel that will stick.

Cakes and Ale explores the world of societal judgment and snobbery towards those who live freely as nonconformists by unfolding the history of our absentee heroine, Rosie Driffield.  Maugham uses a creative narrative to tell Rosie’s story through the character, William Ashenden, as he creates quite a cast around our leading man. Maugham successfully builds up the tension between the socially conservative and socially liberal, a subject frequently explored in British literature, but with an out of the box concept; which is quite refreshing.

Cakes and Ale is a well-written piece of fiction. Therefore, this is one of those times when I genuinely do recommend the novel and author to those who are fans of British lit, it just didn’t bring it all the way home for me personally. I do plan to revisit Maugham, and even reread Cakes and Ale in the future with the hopes of fully jumping aboard the Maugham train.

 

Rating: 3.5 Skeletons in the Closet

REVIEW: Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (which really has an obnoxiously long title I don’t feel like typing out, but would have taken the same out of time as this parenthetical did. Actually it really would’ve taken twice as long) was, of course, on my “Classics I Should Read” portion of my list. Now, as we know, I’m not head over heals in love with many of the standard 19th classics, but, what makes Moll Flanders pretty awesome is that it was written in the early 18th century. Consequently, making Defoe a man well ahead of his time. Thus, he gets credit where credit is due.

Defoe receives major points with Moll Flanders for creating a pretty ballsy female character, literally centuries before you would think some such a character would be acceptable to the literary world. He also gets kudos for his brilliant humor. Our heroine is like a bawdier Austen chick, with the drive of Becky Thatcher (actually this is far less depressing Vanity Fair); so, a hilarious and winning combination. However, towards the end, I was like “enough with the shenanigans, Dan, they are getting overplayed.”

On the whole, therefore, I give a round of applause for Defoe and Moll. But, I might have knocked down the number of men and babies in her life by about half.

 

Rating: 3.5 Affairs