Monday, March 30, 2015

A Very Entertaining Debut Novel from Tom Cooper

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

The denizens of Jeanette, a dying community in the Louisiana bayou, have never really recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And then, as they are struggling to get back on their feet, they are walloped again by the disaster that flows to their shores in the wake of the BP oil spill. Many of the citizens of the tiny community barely eek out a hard scrabble living as shrimpers and as the oil fouls the waters for miles around, the already beleaguered shrimping industry is dealt a devastating blow.

But these are not the sort of people who will bow to the fates and give up easily. Fiercely proud and independent, they struggle on in a variety of ways, both legal and illegal, to preserve the way of life they've known for generations. The cast of characters includes a teenage boy named Wes Trench who has been estranged from his father since his mother was lost in Katrina. Wes and his father barely communicate any more, but tradition and the circumstances of fate decree that the two must continue to work side-by-side on the father's shrimp boat, falling further and further behind both emotionally and financially.

Meanwhile, a one-armed, pill-popping treasure hunter named Lindquist, when not working his own shrimp boat, pores over maps and spends countless hours roaming the bayous with his metal detector, searching for the long-lost pirate treasure that he's certain will allow him to finally fulfill his dreams. The cast also includes a pair of seriously twisted twins who are farming high grade marijuana on an island that they guard against all comers and a couple of small-time crooks on the lookout for an easy dollar.

Throw in a smarmy oil company representative who's trying to buy off for a pittance those who were harmed by the oil spill, including even his own mother, mix thoroughly, and the result is a great read that is at times hilariously funny and at others heart-breakingly sad.

Tom Cooper has gathered together a great cast of characters and set them loose in a perfectly rendered setting. He obviously knows the people and the landscape of this region very well; he writes beautifully and the story moves along at exactly the right pace. This is a wonderful debut novel that evokes echoes of writers like Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard and Daniel Woodrell, and I'm already looking forward to Cooper's next book.

Stewart Skewarting US Politics

America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy InactionAmerica (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America (The Book) is not the Daily Show, but it's damn close.

This is one of those cases where it might seem like a good idea to listen to the audiobook and hear the actors' deliveries in order to mimic the feeling of watching the tv show as much as possible. However, then you'd miss out on the high school textbook mock-up layout and that's missing half the point.

A Citizen's Guid to Democracy Inaction is modeled after a civics class text replete with horrible study guides, misguided questions, those pop-out boxes for more incorrect information, etc and also etc. It's all one big lampoon of laughter and I loved it!

Yes, it can sometimes be silly in a juvenile way...

“It's not that the Democrats are playing checkers and the Republicans are playing chess. It's that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are in the nurse's office because once again they glued their balls to their thighs.”

And its insight isn't exactly mindblowing (or is it?)...

“If "con" is the opposite of pro, then isn't Congress the opposite of progress? Or did we just fucking blow your mind?!?”

However, occasionally a particularly spot-on, cutting remark is made...

“Classroom Activities
1. Using felt and yarn, make a hand puppet of Clarence Thomas. Ta-da! You're Antonin Scalia!”

Stewart and crew roast the U.S. Government time and again, so as you could imagine, it's a great read for Jon Stewart Show fans, it's also a good one for liberals in general and a tolerable one for Republicans who can take a joke.

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