Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Martin Amis, Night Train

Martin Amis, Night Train. Well. I feel like I was bludgeoned in the back of the head, finishing that - one of those nasty, brutish and short novels. A stylized hard-boiled police narrative sort of book, but written by a British literary AUTHOR consciously trying to get the essence of the form down. The narrator was a tough ex-alcoholic female detective writing in Ed McBain dialect: there was a little too much Latin sprinkled around to be quite convincing, but he definitely got the world-weary cynicism down. The ending was purposefully unsatisfying and discouraging. I felt a little bewildered through the book, because I think I had Martin Amis mixed up with his father, Kingsley Amis (oops - he's the guy who wrote Lucky Jim), and was expecting a different kind of book, funny at least, which is why I wasn't ready for all the blood and cigarettes. But the man can write; he can't turn it off even when he tries.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Year's Best Science Fiction (2001)

The Year's Best Science Fiction (2001), ed. by Gardner Dozois. This was my Christmas break binge reading. Anything that boasts "more than 250,00 words" on the cover isn't exactly highbrow, but it was a blast. I was talking with my mom about how the short story is the perfect vehicle for certain genres (chief among them SF and hard-boiled mysteries). Most speculative fiction authors don't excel at character development, at least it's not their focus nor ours when we pick up their work. The reason we read their stuff is the ideas, the fantasy, and the fabulous brain twisting, which are perfectly displayed in a short story which doesn't drag you along with some bland action-hero for hundreds of pages. Anyway, lots of good stories. I really enjoyed a story by Brenda W. Clough, May Be Some Time, about a revived member of the Terra Nova antarctic expedition - it dreamily combined the elements of an adventure story, comedic British imperialism, and time-travel. Part of my delight in science fiction short stories might be nostalgia - I remember reading old Asimov's Science Fiction magazines at my grandparents' Beulah Beach cottage (where lights-out was laxly enforced) late into the night and feeling deliciously sinful.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Frank Conroy, Stop-Time

Frank Conroy, Stop-Time. At the very end of this memoir (in the last ten pages), I got the distinct feeling I had read this book before. I couldn't remember any details, so perhaps it was just literary déjà-vu. Anyway, I didn't really like Frank in the book; but I saw myself in him, especially his escapism and unwarranted self-superiority. The book's a little Salinger-esque, very east-coasty, full of angst, exactly what you'd think an author's childhood memoir would be like. I liked it, but I disagreed with the blurb on the back cover in which William Styron praised "its almost total lack of self-pity"; I thought there was much calculatingly understated self-pity through every chapter. One thing that I liked was that it was such a solitary memoir, very much about being a lonely child, growing into a lonely young adult.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion. A beautiful compact small fairy tale. It has historical figures, but it's not historical fiction. A cook for Napolean and a Venetian pickpocket/courtesan/gondolier tell their stories. Elements of magic realism? Maybe surrealism? Not even really a romantic novel, despite the name and the cover; it's alternately creepy and precociously lovely. The narrators contemplate passion, disguise, truth, present, past, death, the nature of time... I'm not describing this well at all; I think it's the tension between gambling everything and choosing not to play that's the central conflict. Unclassifiable.