Doomed – Chuck Palahniuk

doomedDoomed, by Chuck Palahniuk

My name is Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer, and I’m a ghost. Meaning: Boo! I’m thirteen years old, and I’m somewhat overweight. Meaning: I’m dead and fat. Meaning: I’m a piggy-pig-pig, oink-oink, real porker. Just ask my mom. I’m thirteen and fat—and I will stay this way forever. And, yes, I know the word ulcerate. I’m dead, not illiterate. You’ve heard the term midlife crisis? Simply put, I’m currently suffering a “mid-death crisis.” After some eight months lodged in the fiery underworld of Hell I now find myself stranded as a spirit in the living-alive physical world, a condition more commonly known as Purgatory. This feels exactly like flying at Mach 1 aboard my dad’s Saab Draken from Brasilia to Riyadh, only to be trapped circling the airport in a holding pattern, waiting for permission to land. Plainly and simply put, Purgatory is where you unwrite the book of your life story.

Welcome again to the sequeldom era. After Madison Spencer escaped hell in Damned, we would’ve expected, maybe, a mind-blowing realm of the dead confrontation with Satan or something. But, no. Maddy is now in Purgatory, reminiscing her past sins among the world of the living (At least that’s Palahniuk’s version of purgatory), posting her life stories on an afterlife blog.
She explains ketamine:
Ketamine, Gentle Tweeter, is a common trade name for hydrochloride. It’s an anesthetic that binds to opioid receptors in brain cells, and is administered most often to prepare patients and animals for surgery. It comforts victims trapped in terrible car crashes; it’s that strong. To acquire it you can either buy ketamine for huge sums of cash via a covert network of third-world laboratories run by organized crime syndicates in Mexico and Indonesia, or you can just give Raphael, our gardener in Montecito, a hand job.

Back on Earth, what a crazy world it has become. Because of her misleading psychic messages from the underworld her ever so lunatic parents are unintentionally inspired to establish a new crazy religion, with Maddy as its patron angel, where insults are the new prayers and rudeness is the new politeness.  And if the plot doesn’t sound ridiculous enough, here’s another punch: Few years before Maddy wasn’t fat. And she also had killed a mysterious exhibitionist in a dingy public toilet. Unintentionally squished the later turned out to be not so mysterious pervert’s genital with a copy of Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. So Satan was right after all. She is the end of humanity. The Armageddon. Or is she? Of course, this is a Palahniuk novel. So obviously there will be some plot twists coming.

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King

Doctor_SleepDoctor Sleep, by Stephen King

On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground. The Overlook was declared a total loss. After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler. The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present. Three survived. The hotel’s off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler’s steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve. Two of the survivors were the caretaker’s wife and young son. The third was the Overlook’s chef, Richard Hallorann, who had left his seasonal job in Florida and come to check on the Torrances because of what he called “a powerful hunch” that the family was in trouble. Both surviving adults were quite badly injured in the explosion. Only the child was unhurt.
Physically, at least.

Maybe every prolific writers, some of them are just a bit too productive for their own good–they write too much books, have to come to their sequeldom era. In sequels, the very productive writer doesn’t need to build an entirely new story and fill them with another recycled plot and recycled characters. All she or he has to do is put their old characters on an entirely new, or at least new-ish, story arc.
In Doctor Sleep we meet a grown-up Danny. But Dan, the grown-up Danny, alas, is also becomes a recycled character. He is now a drunk, just like his father Jack Torrance was. And then there is Abra, the new psychic kid, the new Charlie McGee/Carrie White amalgam. The only draw down about Abra is: her personality, and her psy power, are way stronger than Charlie McGee and Carrie White combined. Too powerful to a point where she sometimes make the plot and her character less interesting.
The antagonists are ‘True Knot’, a watered-down version of The Stand‘s Las Vegas group with RVs, roaming the world for centuries, technically a band of psychic vampires, hunting people with ‘shining’ power. But if they were really that ancient, where were they back in the 70’s? Why would it take them more than thirty years to bump heads with Dan Torrance?
And when the True Knot finally try to hunt Abra, we naturally would expect some kind of an all out ESP war. But instead, Dan’s plan, with the aid of Abra’s own dad who’s most probably never fired a single bullet in his entire confusing but quite peaceful life–let alone killing people, is to simply hunt them back and settle the score…in a gunfight.
The Shining was less than 500 pages, so King really didn’t need to push this past 500. Doctor Sleep would be much better if it were slim and simple, around 300 pages top maybe, like Carrie or The Running Man.

Inferno – Dan Brown

infernoInferno by Dan Brown

“The human mind has a primitive ego defense mechanism that negates all realities that produce too much stress for the brain to handle. It’s called denial.”

Question: If a mad genius is spawning an evil plan to disrupt the world, why on earth does he left so many very specific elaborate clues for others to trace and foil his lunatic plan? Because, Robert Langdon explains, the lunatic has a flair of symbolism and dramatics? Hmm?
Well, the whole plot might sound quite ridiculous, written in an almost identical template as The Da Vinci Code: another mysterious old man is dead, and Langdon with the company of another beautiful lady sidekick once again running around all across Europe, this time starting in Florence, hopscotched from one historical site to the next to solve the mystery. The writing is, yeah sure, Brown certainly not the best writer around. Critics might laugh their butts off. But it sure is fun to ride along in another installment of his (admit it) unique art-thriller series.
Architectural descriptions might be too Wiki-style, but they indeed are enlightening. Historical lore and geographical explanations might be inaccurate or embellished, but they surely will spark your curiosity (or book your next holiday to Istanbul and Italy). The story twists might be eye-roll-inducing and at times aren’t even that surprising, but they are there to keep you guessing, and reading.  If you read Angels & Demons and asked aloud, “The Pope had a child. So what?”, this time Brown gives you a more interesting, more thought-provoking (Jesus had a child?? Who cares??), a bit Crichtonesque, non-Vatican and non-Freemason, MacGuffin. And the action? It’s non stop. Run, Robert! Run! Langdon doesn’t even have time for a toilet break. Literally.
So, Mr. Hanks, ready to shoot another sequel?

2012 Man Booker Prize: The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse, by Alison Moore

‘I’m going home,’ she said, meaning New York, meaning three thousand miles away. It was only after she had gone that Futh realised she had not left an address. He looked on the pin board in the kitchen but all he found was the start of a shopping list, her handwriting an almost flat line, a dash of Biro, indecipherable.
He looked in the library for pictures of New York, finding skyscrapers with suns rising and setting in their mirrored windows and all lit up at night, the light reflected in the river.
On his father’s side, there was German, although his father had never been to Germany until they went there together when Futh was twelve. Futh’s granddad had left home young, could not get away quickly enough. He settled in England and did not see his parents or his brother again.
‘He never went home for a visit?’ asked Futh.
‘No,’ said his father. ‘He thought about it a lot, but he never made it home.’
Futh did not like to think that someone would just leave, and so abruptly, and never see their family again.
Abandoning the top bunk, Futh feels his way down the ladder to the bed underneath, and the cold air follows him.

He woke in the night and his mother was there, her round face above him, lit by the moon through a gap in the curtains. When she left his room he was alone in the dark with her scent – the smell of violets – and the sound of her footsteps going down the stairs.
By breakfast time, she was gone, and his father was already drunk. Before she left, his father never hit him. Afterwards, when he did, it was without warning, or nothing Futh noticed in time. It was like when birds flew into windows with a sudden sickening thud, and then having to look at the bird lying terribly still on the ground outside, perhaps only dazed but probably hurt or broken in some way.

Broken homes spawn more broken homes. Divorced people do learned something, everything, from their divorced parents.
The Lighthouse is like silent meditation, and a mute observation. Of sleeps, baths, sour marriages and past regrets. Of emotional wounds. One after another, over and over again in every chapter, in the lives of the two main characters: Mr. Futh, of England, and Ms. Ester from Germany.
And how exactly do they relate to each other? Other than being a guest and the bar-guesthouse owner, nothing more. Futh and Ester don’t even have any proper conversation. Not a single one.

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies
Narcopolis
Swimming Home

2012 Man Booker Prize longlist reviews:
Communion Town
The Teleportation Accident
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

2012 Man Booker Prize: Swimming Home

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy

When couples offer shelter or a meal to strays and loners, they do not really take them in. They play with them. Perform for them. And when they are done they tell their stranded guest in all sorts of sly ways she is now required to leave. Couples were always keen to return to the task of trying to destroy their lifelong partners while pretending to have their best interests at heart.

Kitty Finch, a neurotic stammering botanist and nudist, sparks some very uneasy interactions with her quite embarrassing arrival at a holiday villa in Nice. Her intention is to meet Joe, a middle-aged accomplished Londoner poet, staying at the villa with his war journalist wife Isabel, his teen Nirvana-fan daughter Nina, and another British couple.
Swimming Home is a self-explanatory novel with good story structure about alienation and loneliness, and some swimming sessions. Sometimes Deborah Levy quite successfully translates that in Nina. But most of the times, they’re quite paper-thin and might even be too personal. We know these characters and the holes in their hearts, but we can never quite understand their choices of actions, and ultimately, the consequences they take. In Kitty Finch, we can blame it on mental problems. But what about Joe and Isabel? Are being a holocaust survivor and an absentee mother make a guaranteed recipe for empty, loveless, marriage?

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies
Narcopolis

2012 Man Booker Prize longlist reviews:
Communion Town
The Teleportation Accident
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

2012 Man Booker Prize: Communion Town

Communion Town, by Sam Thompson

I spent the whole night going over those words. I took a late run to calm down. Maybe it doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and then that the city can clobber you whenever it likes, but the odd thing, it occurred to me as I pushed myself forward with my head bowed under the streetlamps, tarmac filling my vision and grit scraping between my soles and the pavement, was that just for a moment I had been on the side of the malcontents. As I had walked away I’d been half-mad with resentment. That can’t be right, can it?
I ran through the small streets around my place, encountering cars, dark and crouched with their headlights up, waiting, their intentions obscure. It was one of those stifling nights when the lamps only smear the murk and, run as I might, my past opened up underneath my feet: I found my legs working in emptiness and I drifted like a balloonist over the depth of my personal time, seeing straight down to the bottom. Long ago, I felt, I had been the victim of some fleeting violence, of no great importance to the perpetrator but enough to leave me bent and scarred, sculpted casually into what, now, I’d always be.

Communion Town is more like a city than a town, somewhere, anywhere, in the western hemisphere. You will learn much but not enough about this unreal yet not entirely unfamiliar place, its architecture, its music and its people in ten chapters from ten different perspectives: an unnamed man, an unnamed self-thought musician, a boy, a private detective named Hal Moody, a butcher, two girls named Dawn and Andie, a detective assistant named Cassandra Byrd, an unnamed university administrator, a bar guest, and finally, a guy named Simon.

‘What kind of city is it,’ he asked, ‘where we sit here and gobble up this stuff, then shake our heads and do nothing? And tomorrow we buy the paper again for more. How do we explain it to ourselves? Tell ourselves we’re not responsible? Doing nothing has its own cost.’

It can be any city or any town really. Floating in the sand of time. Ageless.
While this context can be a strength, it’s also becomes Communion Town‘s weakness. Most of the stories really could happen literally anywhere, everywhere, town or no town. Sam Thompson could have just renamed and reframed it as ‘London’, ‘Oxford’, or even ‘Chicago’; and it could as well be five, or fifteen, or even twenty stories, without much difference to the readers.

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies
Narcopolis
The Teleportation Accident
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

2012 Man Booker Prize: The Teleportation Accident

The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman

The Haus Vaterland, which had been opened the year before last by a shady entrepreneur called Kempinski, was an amusement complex, a kitsch Babel, full of bars, cinemas, stages, arcades, restaurants, and ballrooms, with each nationally themed room (Italian, Spanish, Austrian, Hungarian, and so on, but no British or French, because of Versailles) given its own decor, music, costumes, and food. Up in the Wild West Bar where Loeser and Achleitner now sat, a sullen Negro jazz band wore cowboy hats to perform, which gave a sense of the Haus Vaterland’s dogged commitment to cultural verisimilitude, while downstairs you could take a ‘Cruise along the Rhine’ with artificial lightning, thunder, and rain like in one of Lavicini’s operas. It was as if, in some unfashionable district of hell, the new arrivals had established a random topography of small territorial ghettoes, each decorated to resemble a motherland that after a thousand years in purgatory they only half remembered. The whole place was full of tourists from the provinces, always strolling and stopping and turning and strolling and stopping again for no apparent reason as if practising some decayed military drill, and it was as loud as a hundred children’s playgrounds.

Welcome to an alternate history of the world where teleportation machine has been first invented around 1679. Of course it wasn’t a real Star Trek-style or Christopher Priest’s The Prestige-style teleportation device, but merely a mechanical special effect contraption for theater plays; or at least, people thought it wasn’t real.
In 1930’s Germany, a sex-hungry and sex-depraved theatre set designer Egon Loeser tries to–no, a teleportation machine is not the most important thing he would care about–woo a girl named Adele Hitler, who sleeps with so many, too many, important men and some less important men in Berlin, and outside Berlin, except Egon Loeser. He chases Adele to Paris, where he meets Scramsfield, a con man with cowardly past, only to find that the girl had already gone to Los Angeles.
Along the way across the world, Egon encounters lots of fictional artists, writers, composers, citing fictional movies and musical pieces, reads fictional books; all delightfully coexisting along Brecht, D.H. Lawrence, Lovecraft,  Shanghai Express, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Chateau Marmont, Siemens, General Motors, CalTech, and other real–our real–European-American historical cultural products; and finally, although unintentionally, confronts the real–not our real, supposedly functioning teleportation machine prototype that supposedly will run on the energy of…love; or at least, it appears to be real. How outrageous is that?

Check out my other 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies
Narcopolis
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry