Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Corrections to My Memoirs

by Michael Kun

A collection of very-short short stories, most humorous — occasionally laugh-out-loud, other times wince-inducing. I'd probably only recommend it to a connoisseur of the form. It would also make a good toilet book, as the book itself is small and the stories are easily digestible.

Worst things about it are the mock publisher's introductions to each story detailing the fictitious awards not really bestowed upon the author's work. Kind of amusing at first... then cute... then precious... then just plain irritating (rather like an infant).

Best thing about it is the cover, which, along with the title, is a jab at James Frey's A Million Little Pieces:

Oh the Glory of It All

by Sean Wilsey

I don't recall where I heard of this book, but it was pitched as "if you liked Running with Scissors...", and it's by an author who's written for McSweeney's. It lives up to that pitch, having the requisite self-absorbed mother, quirky and precocious child, and distant father, adding an evil step-mother, a series of boarding schools, a dash of juvenile delinquency, and actual verifiable facts. (The author's wealthy and well-known parents went through a drawn-out divorce even after which their relationship laundry regularly was aired on the society pages of San Francisco newspapers.) It isn't as funny as Running with Scissors, but makes up for that with the emotional depth and real pathos that was lacking from Augusten Burroughs' memoir. It could have used a touch more editing, though; I was skimming a bit toward the end.

The Nature of Monsters

by Clare Clark

Another book I read because of reviews. I was intrigued at first, but didn't actually put the book on my list until after a second or third review. It's good, but not great, but definitely good enough to recommend for historical fiction junkies. Reminded me a little of Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson.

I'd like to say there's a strong feminist undercurrent, but the author's handling of it is uneven — a matter of opportunities missed, perhaps. There's a reference to midwifery being supplanted (undermined and sabotaged, in point of fact) by medical "science" at a time when the science was plagued by all sorts of bizarre and mistaken theories, such as the idea that certain experiences or emotions during pregnancy could result in monstrous babies (with dog heads or monkey tails, harelips, birthmarks and the like). But the story ultimately skates over the issues of the vilification and persecution of midwives and the loss of herb lore and "folk remedies" to pin the shortcomings of the emerging culture of male physicians/doctors on the opium-fueled delusions and resentments of a frustrated (and himself disfigured) apothecary.

Ultimately I think this book is more about the way each of us is utterly alone, the challenges of taking care of someone else while struggling with the question of whether anyone will ever take care of us. Rather bleak stuff, but not quite on the level of a Thomas Hardy.

The Baby Jesus Butt Plug: a fairy tale

by Carlton Mellick III

There isn't much I can say about this book. I stumbled across the title somewhere, put a hold on it so I could look at it, wound up reading it just cuz it's pretty short and weird enough to captivate even while it disgusts. (Tries to disgust, I guess, it was too dumb to be truly disgusting.)

It's a punk (not my definition) fairy tale about a future (?) world where people are slaves to corporations run by children, people are copied at Kinko's instead of being born; a world in which some people keep Baby Jesuses as pets (here's a mental image for you: a Baby Jesus with six swollen teats giving suck to a litter of baby Baby Jesuses) and some people use Baby Jesuses as "marital aids" (i.e., sex toys).

I'd recommend this book only to three types of people:
  1. those who like to look at blobs of who-knows-what and/or festering wounds
  2. those who frequently say, "Omigod, this is so gross — taste it"
  3. those who enjoy the smell of their own farts

Just in Case
How I Live Now

by Meg Rosoff

I am an Anglophile. I read young adult fiction. I love Meg Rosoff!

The main character in How I Live Now is a 15- or 16-year-old girl with an eating disorder (which I totally don't remember, but it's in the subject headings) who leaves New York to stay with her auntie and cousins in England. Some sort of unspecified terrorist attack or outbreak of war leaves the kids home alone and auntie stuck wherever she went on some kind of business trip or something. So there's a bit of Swiss Family Robinson element, with the kids trying to feed themselves from the garden and survive without electricity; some Lord of the Flies conflict among them, and some bad stuff that goes down when they leave the relative safety of home to try to find out what's happening only to encounter a band of crazy Mad Max types gone nuts in the seeming apocalypse; and a dash of Blue Lagoon romance. (The anorexic girl bangs her slightly younger cousin, which caused a bit of a stir when the book won the Printz award in 2005, because technically it's incest or something, but, like, whatever, they're cousins, who cares?)

[a few hours later...] Looking back at what I wrote, it doesn't sound like a good book. I don't know why I compared it to so many books/movies when it isn't even very much like any of them. I guess it's hard to explain why it's good. The story is told in retrospect and concludes with the narrator/protagonist returning to see her cousin who was scarred — literally and figuratively — by the same experience from which she emerged more or less unscathed. I don't know what else to say, except that I really liked this book. It's relatively short, so it'd be a good one for teens not that into reading. The shortness also lends itself well to urgent book report needs, and the whole terrorism/apocalypse theme should make it that much easier.

Just in Case is also pretty good. It's a similar teen-friendly length and tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who changes his name and his image in order to try to escape Fate. Not just lower-case fate, and more than his fate per se, because Fate is a character in the book. It's a bizarre conceit to have Fate interjecting threats and heckles here and there, and it's a little annoying, but not too bad because there isn't that much of it. Much more effective and interesting are the parts of the story narrated by Justin's pre-verbal toddler brother, wise beyond his years in a very Zen sort of way. His parents are useless and nearly absent in the way parents often are in young adult books, but Justin gets by with a little help from his friends. More proof that teenagers are temporarily insane.

American Purgatorio

by John Haskell

Reviewers loved this book. Even so, I didn't bite until I'd read several of the glowing reviews. It's been a while since I read it, so maybe that's why I'm having trouble thinking of what to say; but I also remember being a little bored and frustrated with the book, but not enough to stop reading. (At least one review calls the book "mesmerizing," but last time I checked that's not what the word means.) It's kind of gimmicky too.

It must be lifted from the jacket, because several reviews refer to the main character walking out of a gas station convenience store to find that "his life has vanished." Really, it's his wife who's vanished. To the extent that his life vanishes, it's because he can't accept her disappearance and goes off on a cross-country odyssey to find her — a goose chase, in chapters corresponding to the seven deadly sins, on which he ultimately finds himself, so to speak.

******SPOILER ALERT*******
Don't read any more if you think you might read this book, I'm about to ruin the ending...

Alls I got to say is, this guy must have really liked The Sixth Sense.