Monday, April 2, 2018

This Boy's Life

This Boy's LifeThis Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know if I've been specifically targeting good reads subconsciously or if I've just been lucky that they're falling into my lap. Regardless, the kinda funny, a little sad, quite insightful This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff struck the old chord with me and continued that trend. Long may it last!

As a somewhat rudderless boy myself I enjoyed this story of a somewhat rudderless boy growing up with only a transient mother and the occasional uncaring, abusive stepfather. This is a fairly typical coming-of-age tale, which in this case includes vignettes on getting into fights, making and breaking friendships, girls and their potential for a horny young man, trying to be cool, cars, guns, etc and then some.

Published in '89, this feels a whole lot older. Probably because it mostly describes things that happened in the late '50s and early 60s. It reminds me a bit of A Christmas Story in that way, just more morbid. Perhaps likening it the tv show "The Wonder Years" would be more to the mark. Yes, just think of the young Tobias as a more real, less Hollywood-chipper Kevin Arnold.

Wolff's prose is a joy to read. Every once in a while he lays down a sweet-ass line that makes ya go "hmmm". *does the Arsenio move* There were times when I got quite lost in his words. However, this is a particularly intimate memoir and there are a few intense moments that draw you right into the scene, making you hold your breath and possibly pray for a positive outcome. That's quality writing.

While I doubt this will be a five star book for everyone, Wolfe's writing style and the stories he told were utterly relatable in my mind. The book felt familiar to me and some of the aspects of my own coming-of-age story. However, even readers who can't relate personally to the content should still be able to derive a good deal of enjoyment from it.

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The West-Coast Block

Cinnamon Kiss (Easy Rawlins #10)Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I feel like a west coast version of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series, I turn to Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, and so far I haven't been let down.

Scudder is a white, middle-aged New Yorker, who's been through some shit.

Rawlins is a black, middle-aged Los Angeleno, who's been through some shit.

The narration of both relates a world-weary, experience-wise character with a plethora of baggage that keeps him simultaneously on edge as well as away from the edge, for who will care for their children or at least pay the child support should they act rash and get their head blown off?

Cinnamon Kiss is the tenth in the Rawlins series, which is set in the '60s. This one takes place in '66, so approximately a year after the Watts Riots and just as the hippie movement got going. Rawlins heads north to San Francisco to take on a high money case that could keep him from having to take part in a more lucrative, but more dangerous job: a heist that he would do if he had to, because his daughter is dying of a rare disease that would cost dearly to treat if it were even attempted.

As you see, Mosley is great at putting his MC's back straight up against the conflict wall. Human emotion and humanity's wide-ranging behavior infest everyone who walks through his scenes. There's barely a stiff to be found, unless we're talking about the dead kind.

I loved the look back at the Haight-Ashbury scene. I enjoyed how Mosley portrayed the older, war vet Rawlins as completely new to and somewhat baffled by these long-haired, free spirits. The mystery and detective work Rawlins is tasked with is quite contentious and plays hard upon the character's moral indignation. At times the book slides into heated romance that gets slightly pornographic to the point of feeling a bit out of place, but really it's just taking the old detective fiction of the '40s and '50s one step further than they were already treading.

Every time I finish one of Mosley's great books I always end up telling myself, "I need to read more Mosley!"

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