Do you ever delay finishing a book because you don’t want it to be over? Or find yourself unable to start a new novel because you need time before you fully move on from the last?
I finished East of Eden in March of 2018. I still miss it.
Through a seemingly simple premise, East of Eden, explores a variety of familial and romantic relationships and their many layers in this multi-generational saga. Steinbeck has a grace and subtlety of language, which allows him to treat his characters with care; you feel his love for them.
While the obvious biblical symbolism of Cain and Abel throughout the generations of the Trask family could easily become tiresome, each set of sons has a unique identity and hardships to bear. Consequently, the reader becomes more invested in their journey than the symbolism. Every character in East of Eden is compelling and fully developed; whether they comprise the center of the story or its orbit. The strength of Steinbeck’s supporting cast, especially in the character of Lee, elevates the novel from a solid piece of literature into a masterpiece.
Steinbeck is the rare exception to my rule of “every story can be told in 350 pages or less,” I wouldn’t cut a single word of this 600 page masterpiece.
P.S. Cathy Ames is one of the greatest characters ever created.
Rating: 5 Acres
One of my first reviews was for Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. It was also the review where I found my voice; something about Ellis’ writing inspired me.
I decided it was time to explore more of Ellis’ work, and to start at the very beginning.
Ellis’ debut novel, Less Than Zero, while not finely tuned, clearly foreshadows his potential . (He wrote it when he was 21, so, I mean, why am I even critiquing? But, here we are). Told in the first person, with a heavy stream of consciousness vibe, similar to that of American Psycho, Ellis uses viscous prose to take us on a tour of the 1980s college party scene in California.
Our guide, Clay, leads with a somber and introspective voice; a young man trying to find his place in a community with blurred boundaries. Clay’s commentary and perspective on the scene, as well as the problems of his time and generation is an element Ellis continues to explore later in his career through Patrick Bateman (adding in graphic details and serial killings, of course).
There is a looseness to Ellis’ style in Less Than Zero, which fits the setting to a degree, but allows for a bit too much meandering in parts; this weakens the novel.
While I wasn’t as engaged and fueled by Less Than Zero as I was by American Psycho, Ellis’ unique voice is certainly alive enough in this debut novel to keep the reader on the journey.
Rating: 3.5 Stoned Nights
Though C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew contains many of his signature strengths as a writer as described here, it lacks in one vital area. Written as a precursor to The Chronicles of Narnia, it serves its purpose in creating a foundation for Narnia, it does little else. The Magician’s Nephew is, quite obviously, an afterthought.
Learning the history of a beloved magical world is intriguing, but this novel doesn’t add to, or enrich the experience of the rest of the series, being neither compelling or vital to the series.
While our young and adventurous protagonists, Diggory and Polly, do breathe life into The Magician’s Nephew, the surrounding characters appear to be thrown in simply to move the plot forward. It’s like coming up with a great punch line to a joke, and stumbling over the creation of the set up.
Am I disappointed I read The Magician’s Nephew? No. Do I think it is a requisite read in order to thoroughly experience The Chronicles of Narnia? No.
Rating: 3.5 Magic Rings
As discussed in my reviews for Another Roadside Attraction & Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk and I have had a long and turbulent relationship. After reading 5 novels of Palahniuk’s with the hope of rekindling our initial love affair which began with Fight Club, I finally found a work that justifies the special and twisted place he holds in my heart.
Survivor, stemming from another warped and satirical Palahniuk premise, has a sensitivity and depth to it, which engages the reader nailing you to your seat from beginning to end.
At the center of this nosedive of a novel is our protagonist, Tender Branson; a misplaced soul, with an intriguing and disturbing narrative. Branson, one of Palahniuk’s strongest characters, worms his way into your mind, gets you hooked, and then heartbroken when you have to part ways.
I expect to weep upon finishing a Hemingway; I never expected to weep when finishing a Palahniuk.
Welcome back to my heart, Chuck.
Rating: 4 Black Boxes
Oof. Disjointed. Meandering. Whiny.
The above were my notes on Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier. Clearly we are in for a glowing review…
The Good Soldier begins with the famous line “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” and yes, the story relayed to us by John Dowell is certainly tragic, what is even more sad is the writing.
Ford jumps back and forth on an arbitrary timeline that doesn’t serve anyone – not the reader, nor the characters. Though a well-developed plot at its core, and an examination of the muddy truth behind appearances, The Good Soldier is so disjointed, and Dowell so obnoxiously arrogant in his tower of innocence and victimhood, it detracts from the heart of the novel.
It is beyond me as to why The Good Soldier continuously stays on multiple lists of “best novels.”
Rating: 2.5 Bad hearts
William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist is worth every hour of sleep it will make you lose.
Blatty brings to life a mother’s worse nightmare through an exploration of mind, science, and faith. The Exorcist is certainly more terrifying on the page than on the screen, which relies on visual gimmickry to evoke shock and omits the more horrifying aspects the novel. The novel is more three dimensional: delving deeply into possible mental causes for Reagan’s journey from innocent young girl, to possessed demon as well as the leap of faith required to explain the transformation in terms of religion. The writing is jarring and chilling thanks to Baltty’s sharp skill at bringing every character and horror to life.
The Exorcist is a one of a kind novel with Blatty’s ability to inject heart into the horror genre, much like King does.
Rating: 4 Bowls of Pea Soup
I tried PKD and I loved him.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick came highly recommended from a trusted source. That source is still trusted.
With an intricate but not convoluted plot and strong conflicted characters, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch offers an exploration of philosophy, religion, and the complex realities of human nature. It takes a moment to feel oriented in the world PKD creates, but once you give in to the surroundings, you are in for one hell of an insightful, colorful, and trippy ride.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch will leave you wanting more.
Rating: 4 Hallucinatory Escapes