Monday, September 17, 2012

Verdict, No. 17

 (find judgment here)
 Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
"What I wouldn't give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds."
In one word: wow. It's the first book where I agree with every back cover quote. And I found myself stopping to pencil down favorite bits and lines for future reference. And, by the end, all I wanted to do was read it again.

 It was that good. It was everything, and it was amazing.

Cloud Atlas is a beautiful tale of human resilience and what makes someone good. Is it something taught or experienced, or realized at the most dire time? It's a story within a story within a story within a story, and at the heart of it is a tale of a man unknowingly influenced by all the highlighted lives before him. It's interesting to imagine what impact a life has, and it's beautiful to see them ricochet between stories here. And if you wonder how Mitchell can pull off six stories in one book--ranging from nineteenth century letters of a sailor to a post-apocalyptic man unaware of what the world was--don't you worry about it. He is a genius of storytelling and characterization. Every story feels different, every character feels real, and every twist makes me want to read it over and over again.

It really was more than a book, more than an escape--it's a second life, and it claims you whole. I found myself mesmerized for hours, absorbed by each character and each varying story, landscape, lesson. Even for its heart--that being one of redemption and reincarnation, second chances--it never came off as preachy. Just metaphysical. And I loved the...wonderment.  It was astounding. Breathtaking. Intoxicating. Liberating.


I loved it. It's a new favorite, and I don't see it being replaced any time soon.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Judgment, No. 17

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
"Brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky."
I found this while watching movie trailers. Well, no, I watched the trailer for this movie and then, about five seconds later, I bought this book on rush order via Amazon.

See, movies are powerful. And if a trailer gives me chills, I hope the book sends me into conniptions of awesomeness.

Basically it sounds like a mess of stories that span time and place, where love triumphs and hope prevails and, above all, life is lived (insert oohs and ahhs here). I know, right? It actually sounds like quite the puzzle and I'm curious to see how these stories, so far-reaching, can interconnect in a way that doesn't seem trite or contrived. I imagine there's a bit to do with sci-fi, though hopefully no...aliens. I imagine there will also be sex and swearing (see previous post for that rant), but I hope beyond hope it will be, uh, tactfully done. Or this really will be my last adult novel.

Because this is also a book heralded by critics, trumpeted by writers, editors, publishers alike. Everyone seems to love it. And I hope it is because it really is a perfectly original tale done with artistry and craft rather than just some mess of events everyone is scared to complain about in case they're the only ones who didn't get it (like the movie The Tree of Life. Nobody actually gets it, they just don't want to be the one to admit it first).

But here goes. Another foray into the inexplicable and often dull world of adult fiction. Here's hoping there's less shock and awe and more just general wonderment. A girl does like to be wowed, after all.  

Verdict, No. 16

(find the judgment here)
The Dog Stars
by Peter Heller
"I wake from dream into dream and am not sure why I keep going. That I suspect only curiosity keeps me alive. That I'm not sure any longer if that is enough."
An apt example sentence if ever there was one. For this is exactly what I found myself wondering about...two pages into the book. What is it about adult fiction that makes writers suddenly feel free to go crazy? I know I am a self-proclaimed lover of young adult literature and people don't tend to take me seriously because of it. But maybe it's because adult fiction is really just a bunch of grown-ups trying to prove they're not kids anymore. But they do it in the most asinine way possible. 

Now, I wouldn't exactly call myself a prude. There are books with swearing, sex, or drug use that I can appreciate. As long as there's a reason for it--as in it makes sense. So the first few F words, fine. This guys living in a crappy world filled with awful people, I guess a dirty mouth only makes sense. But this book averaged about three F words a page. At some three hundred becomes a little excessive. And then there's the whole sex thing. I know, I know. People have sex. It happens. It's a thing of life. And men who go nine years without it I'm sure would naturally think about it were a beautiful woman to suddenly walk into their lives. But I don't need to know every awkward detail just because it's happening. With or without the sex scene, the book would happen. So why be so blatant and crude about it? Since when did vulgarity equal maturity?

It's kind of an unfair standard: if drugs, sex, and swearing are in YA fiction, people are up in arms claiming literature is ruining their kids' moralities. It's YA books that are banned from schools, too awful for their dear children to face. Books like Catcher in the Rye or anything Mark Twain. But when I read something about F-ing with some hot young thing and all the...let's say intimate details involved, I want to turn around and yell "Right back at ya." Cuz things here just got awkward real fast. 

This is why I read YA, people. 

And maybe it is just me, but I think this book would have been just as strong without all that. Okay, let's be fair: without so much of it. But I doubt it would have gotten so much attention. Because people like the shock and awe factor. They like inexplicable gore and violence and sensuality. You see it in movies, you see it in books. So maybe it's inevitable. Maybe I should let adult fiction be just that: adult. So let's ignore all that lovely stuff and focus on the story. Did I like it?

Maybe. I can't really say. I wasn't at all invested in the main character, Hig, or his life decisions. But I was interested in the world he was forced to reside in. And there was a certain effortlessness to Heller's Hemingway-like prose. It was simplistic. Stylistic. Choppy. Desperate. Interesting (once you got into the swing of it). Heller does a great job at characterizing a heartless world and, while there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the plot, that same inexplicability makes this desperate world seem all the more real. And Hig's heartbreak for his dead wife is...beautiful. The obsession for the dog--practically titular--is unexplained. In fact, it's mostly forgotten after about thirty pages in when the animal, well, dies. It became almost awkward when Hig brought it up later--as if Heller realized that maybe if he wanted "dog" in the title, he should keep mentioning it throughout. Even as a way to keep someone from killing him. Cuz that would work on me.

So, yes, this is a chilling novel, a frightening world, and it's a story about a broken man's search for wholeness in a shattered world. There were definitely some heart-wrenching, hopeless and beautiful parts. But they were far and few between, tangled around a mess of distracting vulgarity. Call me quaint, but it just didn't work for me. So if this is the best of new adult fiction, count me out. I'd so rather have a taste of YA any day. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Judgment, No. 16

The Dog Stars
by Peter Heller
"Both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human." 
This is a new book in the ever-tired genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Only this time it's not about girls and boys pretending to be grown up, sticking it to the man, fighting for their lives amongst zombies and vampires whilst falling in love with the mysterious new boy/girl. This is about a man and his dog and their search for happiness after they've lost everything. Well, after everything they've lost was taken from them.

So, it has everything I love (at least at this point in my life): dogs, disasters...and a lack of teenage drama. It sounds amazing.

But, really. Everyone from Oprah to the Salt Lake Tribune is raving about it. It's been a while since I've judged or even read adult fiction (now, don't be crude) so I'm not exactly sure how to go about this. The predictability of YA is gone. I would say, though, this seems like a cross between I Am Legend...and any number of dog-people books. I'm sure there will be love/making which could be beautiful/awkward. Hig, the main character, will probably be a callous guy whose only soft spot revolves around the memory of a wife and his faithful dog.

In any case, I am excited to read again. I am excited to read this. And I am excited to see if it really is as amazing as everyone is saying.

Here's hoping.