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

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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

 

REVIEW: Dracula

So, I was pretty stoked to finally read Bram Stoker’s (see what I did there) Dracula. From what I knew of the tale, and from what others told me, it seemed like exactly the kind of dark twisted beauty I’d be into. But, once again I am let down, much as I was with Frankenstein last year.

While, Stoker’s motives for making Dracula an epistolary novel is understandable, being a clever way to represent the intertwining characters and plots before they all come together, I don’t understand why there had to be such a wide variety of sources. Between the letters to and from various characters, the journal entries of various characters, and newspaper articles it got to be too much. TOO MUCH, BRAM. This tactic distracted from the story for me, (a story I was actually quite invested in) and toyed with the pacing.

That being said, it was an intriguing tale; Dracula himself has become an iconic character for good reason. While a clear antagonist, his multiple layers, as well as true human emotion, ensure that Dracula is a character who will continue to hold society’s interest.

Overall, fairly even pros and cons, though definitely not a favorite. But, the creation of Dracula brought us the genius that is Jason Segel’s Dracula musical and that is all that matters – see below:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd5lMDkvzvI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZtwbzUFZE

 

Rating: 3 Drops of Blood

REVIEW: Invisible Cities

As we know, Italo Calvino is one of my all-time favorites (evidence seen here). A huge attribute, making him a standout, is that while his books are so wildly varied in their subject matter, genre, and format – each has a certain je ne sais quoi that gives them the Calvino stamp which transcends the general novel art form.

Invisible Cities is an exquisite example of this. Pieced together as conversations between Kubla Khan and Marco Polo (because…of course), detailing the travels of the latter, Invisible Cities takes the shape of meditation in novel form.

To be honest, Invisible Cities, is not a work whose details will remain with me. Additionally, it isn’t a favorite Calvino work, but its impact while I was reading it was a distinctive one. I effortlessly slipped into the dreamlike world Marco Polo creates; reading for an hour without realizing time had passed by. When I use the word “meditation” I mean it. Calvino’s ability to execute the environments he creates makes for a fully involved experience. When reading him – you’re either in or out, there is no in between. 

Invisible Cities may not be popular among the masses; Calvino’s works are an acquired taste. But, I certainly recommend giving it a spin, if, for nothing else, to let your mind take a break for an hour or two.

 

Rating: 3.5 Meditations on an Ancient City

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

 

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