Monday, July 24, 2006

Gentlemen and Players

by Joanne Harris

I don't normally read thrillers. To be honest, I consider the genre to be rather dumb — unintellectual, formulaic, opiate-of-the-masses type of drivel. The review of this book that I read (from the Powell's review-a-day e-mail service) probably didn't call it a thriller per se, otherwise I probably wouldn't have read it.

What attracted me to Gentlemen and Players was it's setting: an ivy-encrusted, tradition-steeped English boys' school (with the implied aura of homosexual, or at least homoerotic, goings-on). While my hopes in that regard were not entirely borne out, neither were they completely dashed.

Where the book really delivers is in the characterization and, I must admit, the thrilling plot. Oh, I thought I had it all figured out, but the author skillfully drew my attention elsewhere for just long enough to surprise me with a final plot twist that, in retrospect, I should have expected — since I'm so smart, and thriller's are for dummies. Well, this here dummy got a bit of sunburn because I was too engrossed to turn over or go inside even after I'd been good and truly baked.

The Brief History of the Dead

by Kevin Brockmeier

I guess you could call this speculative fiction. Alternating chapters relate the fates of the dead, "living" in an unnamed city for as long as they are remembered by someone alive on earth, and the doom of all as the last living human slowly perishes in the thawing but still cold enough to be deadly Antarctic.

It's a bonbon of a book, entertaining and brief, without a lot of depth. There's sort of a side plot involving mega-corporations run amok as governments crumble, but it isn't developed enough to be integral to the story; it isn't thought-provoking either, because we all already know corporations are evil and lame, right?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Nimrod Flipout

by Etgar Keret

Short stories aren't for everyone, but if you're a fan, this crisp little collection is for you.

I've heard many writers called "master(s) of the genre," but only once before have I encountered a writer (Murray Bail) who can manage in two pages what takes others upwards of thirty. On the one hand, it can be a little frustrating to read such a short short story; after all, one should pause and let it sink in before barreling into the next story. Then again, what greater pleasure than the pure distilled essence of... a moment, a character, a life.

The stories in this collection range from the slightly humorous to the absurd, but, as you might expect from an Israeli writer, there's often a tragic or melancholy thread running through. The mood of this collection is captured perfectly by the cover illustration: