Monday, April 27, 2015

A Great Debut Novel From David Joy

Reviewed by James L. Thane
4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a fantastic debut novel, beautifully written with great characters and a wonderful sense of place. Set in the rural area of Cashiers, North Carolina, the protagonist is eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely, whom we meet one night as he climbs the town's water tower to look down on the high school parking lot as his former classmates leave the building from their graduation ceremony. In particular, Jacob is searching for Maggie, the girl he loves and whose heart he broke two years earlier.

Jacob is not graduating with his class because he left school the first moment he could to join his father in the family meth business. Jacob's father is the kingpin of the local meth industry. He launders his cash through his auto body shop and pays off the cops to look the other way. In truth, Jacob comes from a long line of outlaws and he knew at an early age that he destiny was predetermined. He's been assisting his father for a good many years already, and even if he had higher aspirations, he understands that he hasn't a prayer of achieving them.

Jacob's mother lives alone in a cabin in the woods, surrounded by Jack Pines, having long ago become addicted to her husband's product line. Jacob laments that "I wasn't old enough to remember the day Daddy sent her there. The way he told it, she was stealing crank and spent most of her time climbing around the peter tree. So he sent her to this place. Loved her too much to give her nothing, but giving her anything at all squared things so he'd never have to love her again."

While Jacob knows he'll never escape from Cashiers, he hopes that Maggie will. She's the brightest and most beautiful girl in town, and Jacob know that she's one of the few who has a chance to escape, go to college and make a real future for herself. Accordingly, though they had loved each other since they were children, he broke off the relationship two years earlier so that she would not feel trapped, bound to Cashiers through him. He still cares for her very much, though, and when he sees that the future he envisions for her might be threatened, he acts in a way to protect her, irrespective of the consequences for himself.

In the meantime, his relationship with his father becomes increasingly rocky. His father is a strict disciplinarian who expects Jacob to obey his orders without question. Jacob is not cut from the same cloth, however, and when problems arise in the meth business and things get increasingly violent, Jacob will have some hard decisions to make.

As I suggested above, this is a great read, easily on a par with the best of Daniel Woodrell's books, and I promise that anyone who enjoyed Winter's Bone, for example, is going to love this one. 4.5 stars for me--my favorite book of the year thus far, and I eagerly await David Joy's next book.

Not My Kind of Lover

Lady Chatterley's LoverLady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh man, I wanted to like this soooo bad! So many people complained about it, but I misconstrued their complaints for prudishness or lord knows what. (NOTE TO SELF: Stop judging people's judgements until you can judge for yourself!)

But the fact is, two-thirds of the way in I was done with this. I absolutely trudged through to the end.

Why? It's not because this is basically porn. I luuuuvs me the sex! Apparently this caused quite a scandal and I can see why. The language is sexually explicit, unnecessarily so...or well, maybe not. I suppose it needed to be said at the time or at least some time. However, a person can only take so many fucks before they no longer give one.

And I wasn't turned off by the lengthy asides Lawrence takes while grinding his ax against the industrialization of England's Midlands. Like Melville's treatise on whales in the midst of his adventure novel, Lawrence had an agenda in writing Lady Chatterley's Lover and he often takes the reader out of the main story in order to linger upon his pet project. That can be distracting, but in this case it's not enough to make me hate the thing, not on the whole.

No, my main issue is with the writing, which is a big problem since there's so much of it in books. Lawrence is quite a capable writer, but he does get adverb-lazy now and then, and often repeats words for emphasis.

That last point can be effective, say when trying to instill a sense of forward motion when describing something that's going faster and faster. Occasionally the technique works for him. Usually it does not work for me. Some call it a poetic style. I call it bullshit...what do I mean? Well, allow me to Lawrence-ify it: The technique is bullshit in the most bullshitty sense, by which I mean, it is bullshit. As you see, it looks like I've explained myself, yet I've said nothing. Done with flair, it can sound lyrical, even powerful. To me, it sounds like so much hot air. And what does hot air sound like? It sounds like

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