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Tag Archives: 1990s

Zoo (1993): So Far, So Good

Otsuichi, Zoo (Haikasoru, 1993)

otsuichi-zoo-novel

Don’t feed the animals. photo credit: cdon.se

I first encountered the work of Hirotaka Adachi, who writes under the pen name Otsuichi (I have no idea if this is what he meant choosing it, but amusingly, one of the possible translations of his pen name is “first second”), when I saw the screen adaptation of his novel Goth a couple of years ago. While the movie was problematic, it was interesting, and I decided I’d try to hunt down some of his writing. The first thing I picked up was Zoo. And boy, can this guy write. (And boy, can that other guy translate.)

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La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children) (1995): Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning

[I just realized it’s 9PM and I haven’t started the capsule reviews for this month. Well, that’s not happening today. Later this week…]

La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1995)

[originally posted 17Jan2003]

The Doctor, with one of his insane contraptions on his head, adorns the movie poster.

“Well I kept losing my ear trumpet.”
photo credit: myqueue.wordpress.com

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is an astounding talent, one of France’s true living treasures. Along with his longtime collaborator Marc Caro, he’s created two of the finest films of the nineties, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. The former is a comedic nightmare, the latter a nightmarish comedy. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. You’re more likely to be laughing out loud at Delicatessen most of the time.

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Capsule Reviews, November 2014

Only late enough that December’s capsule reviews are coming next Monday…
[update 25Nov2014: and this should have been posted yesterday, but WordPress seems to be having problems with graphics uploads for some reason. I will get there, honest…]

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Love Is Not Because (1998):…You Read This Book

Ruth F. Boorstin, Love Is Not Because (Lone Oak Press, 1998)

The title of the book is all that is found on the otherwise painfully-red cover.

Love Is Not Because This Book Has a Fire-Engine Red Cover.
photo credit: Amazon

Ruth F. Boorstin, the About the Author blurb tells us, was the wife—and longtime editor—of Daniel J. Boorstin, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Library of Congress librarian, seller of many, many books. You have likely heard of Daniel Boorstin. Unless you aware aware of the minutiae of his life, you have probably never heard of Ruth. Having now read the horrifying Love Is Not Because, I know why all too well.

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Ringu (1998): One Ring to Rule Them All

Ringu (The Ring) (Hideo Nakata, 1998)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

A fiery ring surrounds the movie's title on the poster.

Love is a burnin’ thing.
photo credit: dramadownload.net

Welcome to the world of Japanese New Horror (JNH), a concerted attempt by a number of Japanese filmmakers to get away from the excesses of Hideshi Hino and his Guinea Pig films on one side and the emotional manipulation that passes for drama on the other. JNH filmmakers want to do nothing but tell good, solid, scary stories. As a result of stripping away the other layers, such things as emotional manipulation are cast to the wind, leaving spare frameworks within which the directors can weave what artistry they have. Because there have now been remakes from two countries (Korea and the United States), Ringu towers over other JNH films in terms of worldwide popularity. And while it may best serve as a gateway into the neophyte who wants to discover the world of JNH, it serves that purpose well.

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Walking Wounded (1996): The Things They Carried

Robert Devereaux, Walking Wounded (Dell, 1996)

[originally published 23November2002]

The new cover features a hand holding a shish full of heads.

Twenty-odd years of turning sacred cows into shish kebabs.
photo credit: traumabooks.com

To saw that Walking Wounded is Robert Devereaux’s weakest effort is rather like saying that Atom Heart Mother was the weakest Pink Floyd album; when looked at in relation to the rest of the canon, it suffers, but compared to the greater view of the horror novel (or psychedelic rock), you’re still head and shoulders above the cloud. The moon can still eclipse the sun, despite its relatively small stature.

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Birdman (1999): I Wanna Take It As Far As We Can Get

Mo Hayder, Birdman (Dell, 1999)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A bird, with a shadowy figure lurking, decorates the book cover.

Alcatraz this ain’t.
photo credit: Goodreads

Another of the sheaf of new British mystery novelists who’ve been getting picked up by American presses recently, Mo Hayder offers up her debut novel, Birdman. And what a debut.

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Broken April (1998): How Many Opportunities to Die!

Ismail Kadare, Broken April (New Amsterdam Books, 1998)

A stylized painting of the Albanian mountains graces the book's cover.

Oddly angular mountains reflect the book’s prose.
photo credit: Amazon

Some literature exists in a state of paradox, and usually does from the time of its conception. When an author decides to write a book for an audience that is exclusively, or almost exclusively, alien to your source material, you find the need to explicate about that source material in a nonfiction kind of way that really has no place in a novel (or collection of short stories or poem or film or what have you), and that is pretty much a guarantee that your novel is going to end up sucking; no one is interested in didacticism when they’re reading fiction. On the other hand, integrating lessons about different cultures into fiction without breaking the rhythm and flow of the story is an exceptionally difficult task. It can be done, and the specter I want to drag out of its grave to illustrate this is, of course, All Quiet on the Western Front, though you have to turn your head and squint to make that about a different culture (trench warfare is going to be an alien concept even to most contemporary veterans). I’m not sure I’ve come across a single novel written in the past fifty years that does it correctly. Broken April is the latest novel I’ve read that attempts to balance didacticism and story; it does so in the same way many authors try, and it fails in exactly the same way.

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Among the Missing (1999): Follow Me or Die

Richard Laymon, Among the Missing (Leisure, 1999)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

A shadow looms over the woods on the book's cover.

And miles to go before I sleep.
photo credit: Fantastic Fiction

Richard Laymon has been churning out suspense and horror novels since what seems like the dawn of history now, and yet is just this side of unknown in his native land. Across the pond, they can’t get enough of him; few Laymon novels don’t get a first press in England that outstrips his total American sales. (This, thankfully, may be changing; his 1998 novel Bite hovered around the edges of a few bestseller lists before fading into American obscurity, at least.) Once again, the Americans are missing out. I’ve never read a Laymon novel that hasn’t at least been a kick in the pants. The best of them are a right cross to the jaw (Tread Softly, the Beast House novels, etc.). Among the Missing, on the physicality scale, is probably an uppercut to the ribcage; it’s pretty durned good, but straight suspense just isn’t what I expect from a guy whose books tend to be populated with mutants, inbreds, vengeful ghosts, etc. Call it my unpreparedness rather than any defect on Laymon’s part that this book didn’t get a higher rating.

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Waiting (1999): An Accurate Description of the Book’s Pace

Ha Jin, Waiting (Pantheon, 1999)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

A braid of hair hangs halfway down a woman's naked back on the book's cover.

Much more exciting than watching hair grow.
photo credit: theknockingshop.blogspot.com

Waiting, the 1999 National Book Award winner, is something special. It is one of the first few books of what will hopefully become a renaissance in minimalist writing.

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