Gilbert Gottfried brings his dulcet tones to the audiobook version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Ladies, this is probably the voice you heard in your heads while reading it.
The Devil All the Time is Donald Ray Pollock’s first novel, and if talent means anything, I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be his last. While I can’t put my finger on what this book reminds me of, I know it’s familiar; not in a bad way, but in all the right ways. Pollock’s book weaves together the tales of a group of characters based in Meade, Ohio, and Coal Creek, West Virginia, in the middle of the twentieth century.
The book opens with Willard Russell, a WWII veteran who is haunted by what he experienced in the South Pacific during the war, and his son Arvin. They are in a special spot in the woods where Willard has built/installed a “prayer log” for them to use as a tool to pray Willard’s cancer-stricken wife Charlotte back to health. What happens when they are ridiculed by some nearby hunters is Pollard’s first demonstration of the power of faith, and throughout the book Pollard shows different perspectives and effects of faith, including when that faith is real, false, misguided, fraudulent, or lost.
Pollard also introduces us to a myriad of other characters bred in the rural areas around the Ohio River — Carl and Sandy Henderson (road-tripping serial killers), Sandy’s brother Lee Bodecker (a sheriff), Roy and Theodore (roving revivalist preachers with questionable motives), and a host of others. As the story progresses there are some common themes and common threads, but it’s not clear how the various characters are connected to one another or will connect. But then paths start to cross, and it’s almost as if a Divine Being is playing chess with our characters as the pieces.
I was thoroughly impressed by Pollack’s writing style and by the tale he told. Having grown up in Northern Ohio, I always considered the area around the Ohio River to be ”the South”, and Pollack’s book is reminiscent in many ways of the southern lit that I’ve read, albeit with more violence and more graphic challenges to the role faith plays in the lives of the South’s citizens. Put this one in your to-read pile.
Best book news of the decade: Zach Galifianakis to play Ignatius Reilly in film adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces that might actually get made.
Lev Grossman writes a stirring defense of genre and literary fiction:
Literature is not bunk — as Raymond Chandler put it —and genre fiction is not a vice — as Edmund Wilson had it. They’re all just books, and good books are treasures beyond price, and vive la difference.
Flowchart: How to write a Dan Brown Novel
Infographic of the week: Goodreads breaks down the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Interestingly, the part of the country where the book is most read is not where it was most liked.
Sometimes the correct spelling is everything
Colorado governor sign literacy bill in a fairly transparent attempt to ensure that future generations can spell his name – Hickenlooper
Creepy book cover preceded event that it foreshadows by 8 years
The New York Times discusses your most common comma mistakes. Shape up.
Esquire will publish a collection of “men’s fiction” and offers up a definition for the genre: Work that is “plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another,” he said. “And also at the same time, dealing with passages in a man’s life that seem common.
The literary world is seemingly in a collective freak-out about the new trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I’m a sucker for Luhrmann. I was a big fan of his critically-panned adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and his musically-anachronistic, stylized, over-the-top, Moulin Rouge was great fun. If his adaptation does nothing else, it puts Jack White’s blistering cover of U2′s Love is Blindness to excellent use. In a musically anachronistic way. I’m all in.
I’ve been conducting a lot of ancestry research lately so when I found the name of the slave owner that probably owned my husband’s family, I was thrilled but surprisingly very uncomfortable. I can only imagine how author Barbara Frank felt when she found a Bill of Sale for a female slave in an old farmhouse in Virginia, but I do know what she did. Ms. Frank was inspired to write Anna of Corotoman, the first book in a trilogy about a young girl kidnapped from her African home and brought to the United States to be a slave.
In Africa, Anna is a princess in a tribe ruled by women. In 1715 she is captured and brought to the Carter plantation in Lancaster County, Virginia. Anna is fortunate enough to find herself working in the house and not the fields (we all know this, of course, based on movies we’ve seen). The story follows Anna as she learns about her new country, her new place in life, and introduces the reader to many characters that would have played very important roles on a working plantation. Sara is in charge of the kitchen and takes Anna under her wing for many reasons but early after Anna’s arrival, Sara recognizes a mark on Anna which signifies her rank as a very important person in her African tribe. Sukey, the nurse on the plantation, has been around for a couple of generations and is well respected by both blacks and whites. She has been known to never be wrong when she has “thrown the bones” (talking with spirits, predicting the future using bones). Despite what seems to be an easy transition to her new world, Anna never loses sight of her origins and continues to practice as many of her old ways as opportunities arise.
Since Anna of Corotoman is a trilogy, it’s safe to report that she survives her life in America, so I won’t get too much into the details of what happens to her. Honestly though, I was waiting for some explosive, horrible, unthinkable event in the life of this new slave. Spoiler alert – that doesn’t happen. Anna isn’t a typical slave/master story with beatings and cruelty. Although Anna hears about plenty that happens to other slaves, she is spared of this treatment. And really, isn’t being a slave cruel enough? When descendents of slave owners say “….but they were good to their slaves..” I want to scream “But they were slaves – how good could it have been?!” Through Anna, Ms. Frank brings us that other side of the Antebellum South, one we don’t read about often because we’ve come to expect whippings and hangings.
I asked Ms. Frank, who was very receptive to my emails, about the absence of cruelty in her novel and her response:
“The truth is there is little understanding out there of the history of slavery. It was never good, but human nature has not changed that much and there were good guys and bad, just like now. Anna is with a master known to history as a good one, and in one of the most prominent households of the day, one looked to for example and emulation. She suffers bitterly in any case, and loses her life, in essence — the life she was born to lead.”
Ms. Frank writes with an eloquent and poetic style. Once into the rhythm, it’s hard to stop reading. Although not filled with the horrors of other novels of this genre, I felt claustrophobic just reading about Anna’s description of her holding place on the ship that brought her and hundreds of others to the new world:
She willed herself to raise her right hand, then her entire arm to feel the surface above her face. It was of a rough wood, like the place where she lay. She calculated that if she were to draw her body into an upright sitting position, the top of her head would not quite clear the ceiling above her. She would have to duck down and sit with drooping head and shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Frank doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what happened, Anna just doesn’t have a master that beats and rapes her – I suppose that he and his wife show as much respect as they could have for the time period.
I was also curious about the princess thing. Why couldn’t Anna have been just a normal girl? So I again emailed Ms. Frank who in addition to being an author, was a professor at Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia (Ms. Frank, for the record, is Caucasian). Again, she was kind enough to respond:
“The reason I made Anna a princess probably has more to do with my generation’s experience and not with that of yours. She had to be someone remarkable in order to demonstrate and emphasize that the society she entered had neither interest in nor comprehension of who she was. That remained so for generations, on all counts for the most part, no matter the accomplishment or character, with early efforts on the part of slave owners to root out African customs, religion, etc., even though they did not fully succeed. I also wanted to write something for my students — the ones at Howard and at UDC — who struggled with self identity and felt they had little to look to as heritage they could either claim or understand or be proud of. My coming to know them was juxtaposed against also coming to know some of my fellow faculty members at the time who were black, but had grown up and studied in Haiti and in Cuba as sovereign people and acted like it.”
Lightbulb! This gave me a brand new perspective on the story. Anna is based on a true story – there were African princesses that were captured. We aren’t taught this in history class, so I had no idea. Ms. Frank has inspired me to conduct more research on this.
Anna of Corotoman is currently only available in e-book format. If you haven’t downloaded a book yet, let Anna be your first e-book (as it was mine) . Ms. Frank writes a beautiful story through Anna and although the subject matter remains uncomfortable, Anna is a strong girl who makes the best of her life and never loses her spirit. I know when my daughter is a little older, she will enjoy reading about this amazing girl that could have been one of her ancestors.
After coming off of a dismal experience reading the incredibly boring The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I saw Tim’s review of Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and couldn’t help but think it would be the ticket. And it was.
I’ve explained before how I don’t like to be challenged. I read for pleasure. But City of Bohane was a challenge, mainly because it’s written in a completely different language. Sure it’s English, but not the English I know. Barry’s writing is so strong and so powerful that he can use whatever words he wants and he doesn’t care if you don’t know what they mean. But I couldn’t resist the challenge. So as I read through countless “y’ sketchin?” and “hoss polis” and “hoors” and “shebeens” I gradually adapted and began to understand his language. By the middle of the book I wasn’t batting an eyelash as I encountered new slang. Coincidentally, it’s not until around the middle of the book that you accidentally learn that this story takes place in the middle of this century — sort of a post-apocalyptic new world.
Bohane is a city in Western Ireland, and this novel takes place there, combining the Irish mob with noir fiction with a dialect and culture that seem to live separate from the rest of the world. Bohane lies on the banks of the river of the same name, and is surrounded by nothingness — including the Big Nothin’, the area beyond the city’s borders. The story starts with Logan Hartnett, a/k/a ‘bino, a/k/a the Long Fella, the leader of the Hartnett Fancy, the mob that controls the Back Trace. As turf wars begin to fester over Smoketown, the North Rises, and the Dunes, plots begin to unfold and conspiracies take shape to determine the fate of the city and its inhabitants. A motley cast of characters is introduced and we learn (or think we learn) of their allegiances. Jenni Ching, Wolfie Stanners, F*cker Burke, Ol Boy Mannion, Eyes Cusack, the Gant Broderick, Girly, Prince Tubby — the list goes on. Each a freak in his or her own right, and each with his or her own agenda in the power struggle that takes place.
I struggle to think of a writer who struck me as so powerful as Barry. Not perfect, mind you, but just strong and forceful prose, the likes of which I haven’t encountered too often. It may be a chicken or egg argument, but either this book gave me insomnia or my insomnia helped me to finish the majority of this book last night between midnight and 5:30 am.
I’ve already warned my wife off of this one (not that she takes too much persuading), but it really is a guy’s book as Tim noted. And every guy ought to read it.
On this week’s episode, we tackle the important issue of summer reading. Meg lists a few books that might make her reading list, and it sounds like she might be on the fence about signing up for an official summer reading challenge. Be sure to tune in to:
Book Time with Meg: 08
Most of the titles on Meg’s summer reading list come from the list 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10 and the follow-up Books Geeks Should Read to Their Kids: Your Additions to Our List
So, it’s come to this: Court Orders Amazon.com To Adopt Bankrupt Bookstores’ Cats
Most Painful Pun of the week: ”… a Sentence to Write Sentences: When former pharmaceutical executive Andrew G. Bodnar pleaded guilty to white-collar crime in 2009, the judge didn’t throw the book at him—he ordered him to write one.”
Infographic of the week: How books are born
Existential angst of the week: what happens to your e-books when you die?
List of the week: Top 10 Historical Novels
Recommended geeky reading for daughters (or sons): A list of stories about girls that are princess-free
A company that makes novels into posters (you need to see it)
It was a strange coincidence. The day I finished reading Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea, a novel that deals in part with hazing/bullying at an elite prep school, the revelation of Mitt Romney’s hazing/bullying episode at an elite prep school came to light. It cast episodes of the book in a new light, and it made me wonder what fresh episodes of malfeasance the boys in this late 80′s class might be up to now. For instance, how much bad behavior in politics and business has its roots in this description of the prep school where The Starboard Sea takes place:
Most of us who found ourselves at Bellingham had been kicked out of better schools for stealing, or having sex, or smoking weed. Rich kids who’d gotten caught, been given a second chance, only to be caught again then finally expelled. We weren’t bad people, but having failed that initial test of innocence and honored, we no longer felt burdened to be good. In some ways it was a relief to have fallen. To have fucked up only to land softly cushioned, as my dad reminded me, “by a goddam safety net of your parents’ wealth.” Bellingham offered us sanctuary, minimal regulations, and a valuable lesson: Breaking rules could lead to more freedom.
I may be getting ahead of myself here. The Starboard Sea is about more than the rich behaving badly. Let’s start at the beginning.
Jason Prosper is the young man who has been saved by his father’s “goddam safety net.” There is a dark secret in his past. His roommate, best friend, and sailing competition partner (all the same person) killed himself for reasons that are not made fully clear into well into the novel. Almost immediately upon arrival, Jason almost kills a classmate in a boating accident on his first day of sailing class. Starting over, getting over the memory of his lost friend, and being accepted at this new school may be more difficult that Jason imagined.
As a social pariah (initially), Jason gets to know some of the other outcasts in the school: the nerdy townie who works in the cafeteria, an artistic girl who is rumored to have her own demons, the only black kid in the school, the desperate to be liked Southern freshman girl. Each struggles in their own way to fit in, and each pays a considerable price. Be forewarned, this is high school life portrayed in its most demanding and punishing form.
The novel reminded me a bit of other great campus novels like Donna Tartt’s A Secret History and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. It has A Secret History’s prep schooler’s fateful moral transgressions, and it is anchored by a sport – sailing – where The Art of Fielding drew on baseball. Sailing allows the author a clearer path to Melville references (used sparingly) than baseball does, and it allows the author to paint (not so subtle) allegories like this one:
“When you tie a piece of rope, you take a way some of its strength. Most of the time you’re using the knot to connect two things to make them safer. But when a rope eventually breaks, it always breaks at the bight.”
Chester picked up two coiled ends of rope and practiced the bowline knot I’d shown him… “So binding something together doesn’t make it any stronger.”
“No,” I said. ”Not in the long run.”
There were several parts in the novel where I prepared myself to be disappointed. Dermont always managed to stay one step ahead of me and kept me engaged in the lives of her characters. This is a very good book and I recommend it highly, especially if you were a fan of the books I referenced earlier, The Secret History and The Art of Fielding. While I used those novels as handy references, The Starboard Sea stands entirely on its own merits.
Not being a southerner by birth, I was introduced to southern literature at a relatively late age. And despite not having read any of Mark Twain’s works as of yet [insert shock and gasp here], the southern lit that I’ve read has been by and large pretty amazing. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Reivers, Jim the Boy and The Blue Star — all favorites. Having heard the title of Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and having attached some positive sentiment to it for some unknown reason, when I learned it was from the genre I gave it a go.
The story takes place somewhere in Georgia in the 1930′s, and it starts with a downright Of Mice and Men feel to it, beginning with two deaf-mutes who live together, John Singer and Spiros Antonapoulos; Singer is the calm, rational one, and Spiros is the big clumsy oaf. McCullers has a nice, simple prose style — reminiscent of the other southern literature I’ve read — and I was drawn in instantly.
Then things just went off the rails into boringtown. I am sad to say it, given the universal praise this book seems to have garnered, but it bored me to tears. After the first chapter ended and we moved on to some other characters — Mick Kelley, the young tomboy, Biff Brannon, the cafe owner, Jake Blount, the loudmouthed laborer, and Dr. Benedict Copeland, the up-in-arms African American doctor — I just got bored and lost. I was plodding through, just waiting for the story to take an interesting turn, or for me to start caring about any of these characters, and it just didn’t happen.
I would speculate that when this book was written in 1940, when McCullers was 22 years old, much significance was given to her age and her attempt to portray the various dynamics of the old south and the alienation that its inhabitants felt. But that was just lost on me. Call me a modernist, or hearken back to my short attention span; either way, the struggles and challenges of these characters didn’t resonate and I was thoroughly disappointed.
This week on Book Time with Meg, we talk about A-Z Super Heroes an ABC picture book that Meghan made for her little brother with some help from Dad. We got the great idea from the book Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead, which is an offshoot of the Geek Dad column in Wired. You can get more details on the project from the original Wired column. In addition to the excellent links in the Wired column, Meghan and I also made use of the following:
- We used excellent hard-cover blank books from McSweeney’s/McCMullens Author-Illustrator Starter Kit to better withstand the rigors of an active little brother.
- We started the book (after the title and dedication pages) with this excellent super hero ABC graphic.
- We closed the book with this nifty picture of the Avengers drawn in the style of Maurice Sendack
Book Time with Meg: 07
Hey! We were just talking about Fifty Shades of Grey! Check out this Amazon Mother’s Day Commercial to find out the real story behind the book. Don’t watch at work!
Broward County, Florida removes Fifty Shades of Grey from their library shelves in response to the SNL skit. (I’m guesssing.) So does Gwinnett County, GA.
Omnivoracious has book ideas for mom that don’t involve Fifty Shades of Grey
An infographic with the top 10 most read books in the world. Ever.
A less fun infographic on illiteracy in America.
Flowchart: What is weird fiction?
The City of Bohane by Kevin Barry should be at the very top of every men’s book club reading list. Make it happen. It is this year’s The Sister’s Brothers – muscular prose and a cracking story that doesn’t mess around. It demands to be read in a thick imagined Irish brogue with “an honest measure of John Jameson” within reach. And it’s got plenty of literary merit to back up the action. It was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for First Novel.
The tone of the novel is set from the start:
Whatever’s wrong with us is coming off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river. This is the Bohane river we’re talking about. A blackwater surge, malevolent, it roars in off the Big Nothin’ wastes and the city was spawned by it and was named for it: city of Bohane.
Bohane is a jumble of insular neighborhoods that generally range from bad to worse. They are ruled over by a lawless gang, the Hartnett Fancy, headed by the Long Fella, Logan Hartnett. The criminals in this Irish coastal town are nattily dressed and pass the time listening to old ska and calypso records. It is a surprise to learn well into the book that the action takes place in a future Ireland that pines for The Lost Time of peace and prosperity (more or less now). In this future Ireland, electricity is not a given on any particular day and violence is generally brought about by fists and knives. Were it not for a few anachronistic features, the novel could just as well have taken place at anytime over the past 200 years. It has the feel of a timeless story and that has to be by design.
The tension in the novel comes with the sudden reappearance in town of the Gant, the previous gang leader of Bohane who had been long exiled to “the Nation Beyond.” There is a history. Hartnett replaced Gant as the underworld leader, and he married The Gant’s old flame. The entire city is instantly on guard.
Gant is remembered in his youth:
The Gant was a slugger of a young dude and smart as a hatful of snakes. Sentimental, also. He had washed in off the Big Nothin’ wastes, the Gant, and it was known in Bohane there was a good mix of pikey juice in him. A rez boy – campfire blood.
See him back there:
A big unit with deep-set eyes and a squared-off chin. Dark-haired, and sallow, and wry. The kind of kid who wore his bruises nicely.
The descriptions in this novel are solid gold. ”Smart as a hatful of snakes…” What does that even mean? Barry let’s us know that the Gant “washed in from the Big Nothin’” the same as the Bohane river, the source of the city’s badness. He’s not a man to be trifled with.
As the plot thickens, plans are made, sides are taken, challenges accepted and met, bribes paid and received. Intrigue a’plenty. The very future of Bohane is at risk, and everyone has a stake in its outcome. Plot twists and surprises abound as the struggle for Bohane plays out.
One may wonder why everyone wouldn’t just pack up and moved to a more civilized part of the country. The civic pride that runs throughout Bohane is very much of the “this place may be a cesspool of violence and danger, but it’s our cesspool”-variety:
Oh give us a grim Tuesday of December, with the hardwind taking schleps at our heads, and the rain coming slantways off that hideous fucking ocean, and the grapes nearly frozen off us, and dirty ice caked up top of the puddles, and we are not happy, exactly, but satisfied in our despair.
It’s as though we can say…
D’ye see, now, what it is we are dealing with.
As you may have gathered, Barry writes the story in a tough guy argot that takes a few chapters to get a handle on. It’s the language that sells the story and sets the novel apart. (I’ll again compare it The Sisters Brothers in this specific regard.) This novel completely kicks ass, but it is also sentimental and completely charming. And literary, too. It’s almost too much to ask for. I couldn’t put it down.
So says the femme fatale in the opener of the new season of Sherlock. If you’re not watching this fantastic modern-day interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes stories, you are missing out on some of the best TV going. This imagining is so much better than the Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law vision. It’s original, hilarious, and very well written. From episode one of the second season:
Sherlock Holmes: Punch me in the face!
Dr. John Watson: Punch you?
Sherlock Holmes: Yes, punch me in the face! Didn’t you hear me?
Dr. John Watson: I always hear “Punch me in the face” when you’re speaking but it’s usually subtext.
Episode 1 is available to stream on Netflix if you need to get caught up.
Meghan (8) and I double down on the Percy Jackson this week. We discuss books two and three in the series, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse. We branched out and recorded our session at the neighborhood farmer’s market. Listen carefully, because there’s plenty going on in these novels.
Bill Clinton reviews the latest installment of Robert Caro’s ongoing biography of Lyndon Johnson in the NYT Book Review.
A nice overview of how green your e-reader really is.
The most underlined passage of all time in an e-book (according to an Amazon) is from The Hunger Games. Where’s your Shakespeare now?
The fantastic Neil Gaiman get the By the Book treatment in The New York Times. Gaiman on what writer influenced him most:
C. S. Lewis was the first writer to make me aware that somebody was writing the book I was reading — these wonderful parenthetical asides to the reader. I would think: “When I am a writer, I shall do parenthetical asides. And footnotes. There will be footnotes. I wonder how you do them? And italics. How do you make italics happen?”
There is looking back and then there is looking back on looking back. Which is to say that it is somehow the five-year anniversary of the release of my debut novel Lucky Man and I have this new anniversary edition coming out. The release is forcing me to look back, and I have an endless array of feelings associated with doing so, especially because it is Lucky Man, which like so many debut novels, involves looking back itself, to the people we once were, how we changed, what happened along the way, and the music we were listening to as it all went down.
Time for mixed grill? HBO has decided to pass on a TV adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections written by Jonathan Franzen. (Thanks and apologies to Dr J for the tip.)
Speaking of adaptations, Rooney Mara is set to star in the film adaption of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn with a screenplay by Nick Hornby.
Meanwhile, Target says Kindles are no longer welcome in their stores. A market analyst says Target carrying Kindles is “like Starbucks selling Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificates.”
(This is another guest post by our friend Shannon here in Atlanta. Thanks, Shannon!)
Ok, Judgy McJudgerpants, before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain. I will read almost anything that is getting a lot of attention just so I can be part of the conversation. That’s it. Now that that is out of the way, let’s get started. This book is way out of the realm of my typical read. Based on the pictures on the covers of other romance novels (which is the category I assume this book falls within, but I’m basing that categorization solely on the fact that the book contains a lot of “love” scenes). I expect the plot line to go something like this: high society gal falls for sweaty, muscly stable boy and forbidden love ensues, married gal falls for wind swept, muscly sailor man during an ocean voyage and forbidden love ensues, etc.
Fifty Shades of Grey definitely has a forbidden love, not in the expected social or marital status clash one might typically expect, but more of an internal screaming at the main character “Are you out of your f’ing mind! Didn’t you see the Dateline specials on this!” kind of forbidden love. With the disclaimer of my minimal exposure to romance novels in mind, it is possible that I expected too much from this book (like a believable romance or a main male character worth fantasizing about). But I didn’t like it, and I don’t see why it has become such a sensation.
Bear with me as I give you the basic plot. Inexperienced in love heroine, Anastasia, meets the young, incredibly handsome, mysterious, billionaire, Mr. Christian Grey, during an interview for her college newspaper, and it is sexual tension love at first sight. Anastasia soon finds out, though, that Mr. Grey has a dark secret and that, in order to have a relationship with Mr. Grey, she must agree to his terms. Mr. Grey presents Anastasia with a contract in which Anastasia will agree to essentially follow all orders given by Mr. Grey, those that you would expect in this kind of book (i.e. sexual activities – read whips, bondage, etc.), as well as orders regarding what to eat, when to sleep, what to wear, and spare time activities. Failure to follow any order given by Mr. Grey results in punishment. Anastasia is consumed by her intense sexual desire for this man and need to form a meaningful relationship, but she struggles with not really wanting to participate in the control/punishment aspects of the relationship that Mr. Grey so desires.
I have heard a lot about how obsessed women have become with this book. The radio station that I listen to in the morning did a segment on this book and caller after caller raved about this book and the rest of the series. Frankly, I don’t get it. Some of the “love” scenes are kind of hot, but that’s about it. Mr. Grey’s need for control is, in my opinion, just plain creepy, and I don’t think it is believable that an intelligent, witty young lady would fall for this man. At one point in the book, Mr. Grey spanks Anastasia for rolling her eyes at him. I’m not talking about a playful swat on the rear. He bends her over his knee and hits her multiple times accompanied by the very condescending conversation where he asks her to repeat why she is being spanked as if she were a child.
What I really hate about the book is that it seems to encourage this tendency that women have to give into their insecurities and create a beautiful vision of who a man is, or could be, based on isolated positive events while overlooking more obvious warning signs. In order to get wrapped up in the story line about Anastasia’s struggle with loving this man on a basis deeper than his money, good lucks, and sexual prowess, you have to focus on the positive attributes that the author gives Mr. Grey’s character. It seems that he really does care about Anastasia on some level. He certainly gives her a lot of attention and doesn’t want her to leave him. He gives to charity, so maybe he has a good heart deep down. He tries new life experiences as his attempt to try to give her more of a relationship. But, oh ya, didn’t he just order her around like a child? And isn’t she always fearful about what mood he’s going to be in when she sees him or how he will react to things she tells him? And aren’t most of the gifts he gives her for purposes of keeping track of her? She can’t even tell him a joke for fear that he might not think it’s funny and will get angry. Run for the hills, Anastasia. Run…for…the hills.
There’s also a subplot about discovering what has happened in Mr. Grey’s past to turn him into this control crazed man, but this book barely scratches the surface of that issue. I suppose you have to read the second and third books to get those answers, but I have a feeling the final answer won’t be all that interesting. Feel free to give me a spoiler alert in the comments if I’m wrong.
Short stories are a tricky breed. Intuitively, it seems that they would be easier to craft than long form fiction, because you don’t have to keep a reader interested for as long, right? But at the same time, the expectations for short stories are that they will pack more of a punch faster. They’re like novels in concentrated form. So if you’re only going to use so many words, you had better use them wisely and with some kind of a hook for the reader, whether it be an endearing character who develops quickly, thrills and suspense, a unique perspective, or a surprising twist.
All of that is hard to do, which is why short stories aren’t as popular as they otherwise would be for people with short attention spans like me. I have found myself repeatedly disappointed in short story collections, but I Am An Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran came highly recommended by the Barnes & Noble store. So I gave it a shot.
The first story, “The Infamous Bengal Ming”, blew me away. It’s told in the first person by a tiger in a zoo who realizes that he loves his keeper. When he accidentally mauls the keeper to death, he is lost in the confusion of the situation and recounts his tale of trying to fix things. It was a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.
The second story, “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan”, was also fantastic. It’s the story of a man who, secretly from his wife, sets up a medical practice (even though he has no medical training). The story progresses and climaxes with an O. Henry-esque twist. Really well done.
But then Parameswaran’s attempts at tackling unique situations or perspectives begins to falter, and several of the next stories were either incomprehensible or completely forgettable. The only other story that I thoroughly enjoyed was “Narrative of Agent 97-4702″, an interesting take on an Orwellian society in which everyone is under top-secret surveillance by everyone else.
In the end, I’m not sure what to say. I don’t know if the entire collection was worth it just for the three that I really, really liked, or if the fact that he front-loaded the book with the best story set me up for disappointment. I suppose if “The Infamous Bengal Ming” had been buried in the middle of the book I might not have read it, because if some of his middling stories had led off the collection I likely would have bailed. But the brilliance of that first story was enough to keep me hopeful throughout the rest.