Saturday, January 14, 2006

Read Me A Story

Hey kids! Happy New Year and all that stuff! Slyde sent me a note the other day to write something new for his blog, and after careful consideration I found that I have absolutely nothing to say. Nada. Zilch. Bupkiss. He and I can talk on the phone for an hour about his son’s most excellent day of pooping on the potty or what we think is going to happen on this week’s episode of “Lost”. This is very entertaining stuff to us (and to a few other we know), however, when trying to put pen to paper, something gets lost in the translation. Then, out of the blue, my friend PTJ started off a conversation with “So you’re pretty well-read...blah, blah, blah”. That got me thinking. I’m really not well-read. I do read a lot. Not as much as I should, but probably more than your average bear. I just don’t read the stuff that I SHOULD be reading. You see my taste in reading material matured when I was in the 9th grade or so. I like my fiction on the fantastic side, if you please. Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy, etc… That’s what it’s all about for me. Oh, occasionally I will try to upgrade my literary…er…ness by picking up the latest book by Chuck Palahniuk or trying to get through “Moby Dick”, but I find that I’m mostly kidding myself. Just like Popeye, I am what I am.

So, in an effort to show my lack of literary range and to prove to Peter that I most certainly am NOT well-read, here are the last six books that I’ve read with a little mini-review for each. Enjoy!

“The Tomb” (F. Paul Wilson) – So I read this book way back in the mid-80’s when it first was published, and I just recently found it again. It’s central character, Repairman Jack, is a man with no identity who works outside the law “fixing” his customer’s problems. In this case, he was hired by an ex-girlfriend (who was none too fond of his sometimes violent occupation) to find one of her aunt’s who has gone missing. An Indian man who wants to find a necklace that some thug stole from his grandmother’s neck also hires him. Pretty soon we find that the two cases are connected with an ancient evil that has recently been re-awakened that involves both the family of the Indian gentleman and the British in-laws of his ex-girlfriend.

I always liked this book and it’s main protagonist. Jack is the kind of hero I enjoy reading stories about. He is dangerous and intelligent but with a heart of gold and an unwavering sense of loyalty and revenge. I would constantly check the bookstore for the many sequels that I hoped would follow only to be dissappointed again and again. I guess I stopped checking for them sometime in the mid-90’s. Well, Repairman Jack is back with a vengeance! Wilson re-released “The Tomb” in 1998 (updating some of background info that had previously dated it), and has written half a dozen sequels since then. I haven’t tried to hard, but I will eventually find them and read them like a madman. This is good macho stuff!

“Two Trains Running” (Andrew Vachss) – Think about Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis. Better yet, think about the movie that film was based on, A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood. Better yet, think about the movie THAT film was based on, Yojimbo starring Toshiro Mifune, and you will have an idea what this novel is about. A lone gunman for hire comes to a town where a number of competing gangs are on the verge of a street war. It’s all mixed in with the some early references to the JFK presidential campaign and the race riots of the early 60’s in one big mish-mash of a noir-ish tale.

I’m a huge, huge fan of Andrew Vachss especially of his Burke novels, but I gotta admit that this one left me a little flat. Vachss dialogue always reminds me of David Mamet at his worst with the vague threats and hidden messages, but this one contains some of his cheesiest. Add that to an even more confusing ending than he usually writes (Vachss likes to end his books with a bang), and this one gets a thumbs-down from me.

“Night Fall” (Nelson DeMille) – Reading a novel about the investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 while on a plane is probably not a great idea, but I had wanted to read this one since it was published and I finally got the chance recently. I’m not a big fan of DeMille’s work, but I do like the John Corey novels. Much like the loner characters in the previous two books, Corey is a can-do type of hero who works best outside the establishment. Unfortunately he is a former NYPD officer who is currently working with the federal government’s Anti-Terrorist Unit ala Jack Bauer in “24” so that doesn’t always work out for him.

This was a great read, not diminished at all by the fact that I knew exactly how the book was going to end. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the events lead us up to NYC in September of 2001 and the book was written in 2004. Doesn’t take a genius to connect those dots, so it worked just fine for me. I’ll keep reading John Corey books as long as Mr. DeMille wants to write them.

“Midnight Mass” (F. Paul Wilson) – I found this book one day while looking for some of the Repairman Jack novels, and failing to do so. It’s a tale about a world in which vampires have taken over and a small band of freedom fighters (including a priest falsely accused of pedophilia, a rabbi and a lesbian agnostic) from New Jersey fight on the side of Good.

Wilson returned to the classic (or semi-classic) interpretation of vampires for this one. No lovesick, poetry-reading, sensitive vamps in this one. Vampires are evil incarnate here, and they are held in check by the symbols of Christianity (the cross, the altar, holy water, etc…). In the forward to the novel, Wilson bemoaned the dearth of good ole’ vampire tales since Stephen King wrote “’salem’s Lot” so many years ago. Now, I’m not saying that this book even approaches the scares that King’s classic vampire novel gave us back in the day, but it was a nice change of pace from Anne Rice.

“Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” (Gregory Maguire) – I started to read this one back in the summer and it never really left the ground for me. I found it again a week or so ago at my mother’s house and decided to give it another go. This, of course, is the book that inspired a Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the tale of the life of our favorite green girl from “The Wizard of Oz” from a far more sympathetic angle. The self-proclaimed Wicked Witch of the West was, in fact, an intelligent outsider in Munchinland whose past as a political insurgent (and terrorist) was, at times, aided by unforeseen forces.

Maguire’s novel puts his readers on the side of Elphaba from her roots as an odd-duck of a child born of dysfunctional parents to her untimely death at the hands of the little girl from Kansas who stole her sister’s shoes. He also manages to transform the fairly tame and antiseptic world of Oz (as rendered in the film, at least) to an incredibly diverse and interesting parallel to our own reality. I have to admit that some of those parallels are a bit beyond me, and I finished the novel with a great many questions, but I think really good books do that. “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman had me researching various cultures’ old myths almost as soon as I finished it. Great books leave you wanting more, and that’s what “Wicked” did for me.

“The Runes of the Earth” (Stephen R. Donaldson) – The first chapter in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. That probably doesn’t mean much to most of you, but for us fans this is a godsend. After a long wait, Donaldson brings us back to the Land that he wrote about in six previous books about a leper/writer who is transported to another world where he is believed to be the reincarnation of a legendary hero named Berek Half-hand. Covenant was suspected to be Berek because he had lost the first two fingers in his right hand to leprosy and also because of the white gold wedding band that he wore even after his wife left him. White gold was also wielded by the hero Berek in the past, and it gave its’ user power over the wild magic that was bound directly to the Land itself. Covenant’s belief (or Unbelief, as it were) that he was dreaming and that the Land wasn’t real led to some bittersweet consequences for our anti-hero. That played itself out during the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

This novel takes place ten years in our world after the events of the last trilogy. I mentioned “in our world” because time moves much fast in the Land than it does in ours. I’ve only just started it, but I can tell that Donaldson hasn’t lost his touch. I was going to wait until all four (aargh!!!) of the books were published, but I just couldn’t hold off. The first two series (both trilogies) are some of my favorite books ever written. I read them for the first time when I was in high school, but I’ve re-read each series four or five times since. I even persuaded Slyde to read them after years of lobbying, and he agreed that they were great books when he finally did read them. I know that I’m going to be pissed when I finish it because I’m going to want to read the next one immediately because that’s how we roll, but what can you do?

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