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Tag Archives: four-stars

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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Ender’s Game (1985): Smoked Pork

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (Tor, 1985)

[originally posted 22Nov2002]

A generic picture of a spaceship adorns the cover.

Well, I’m not sure I would say it was major…
photo credit: Amazon

Orson Scott Card says in his preface to Ender’s Game that one of the main criticisms with the book people have is that gifted kids just don’t act and talk like Ender and his battle school mates. To which Card usually responds with something like “they’re just smart enough not to talk that way around adults.”

Been there, done that. He’s right.

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Everything’s Eventual (2002): Including the Dark Tower Series Not Being Over

Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual (Scribner, 2002)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

A drop of blood has dropped into a glass of water and is spreading on the cover of the book.

…including the decline of Stephen King’s career, but we’re still waiting on that one…
photo credit: Wikipedia

Rumors of Stephen King’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 2002 is gearing up to be another highly productive year for King, and he starts us off with his first short story collection since 1993, Everything’s Eventual. It sure is nice to know that King doesn’t feel the need to turn everything into a novel, and while his short stories have gotten longer, they still pack the punch that the early tales did. However, they pack it in a more literary style. This is great stuff. It’s still recognizably King, but it’s New Yorker King rather than bargain-basement porn-mag King (check the prepub credits in Night Shift).

After reading the title story in this collection, I briefly fantasized about a world where the millions of people who reflexively buy King’s works who’ve never so much looked inside a literary magazine would bring away from this (and other such tales in this volume, notably “Luckey Quarter” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café”) an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of the modern short story such that they could crack the binding on the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, say, and not feel out of place. (From there, it’s one step to getting them to like poetry, and than I can take over the world at leisure.) I came to my senses a few minutes later, but there’s still something to be said for it. Up till now, King’s stories have always been well-defined pieces of work, with strong beginnings and endings and enough happening in the middle to keep people reading. No one would ever accuse, say, “Survivor Type” or “Grey Matter” of being an ambiguous piece of writing. But King was already showing his literary hand as far back as Skeleton Crew (with the haunting story “Nona”), and he tipped it last year with the brilliant “Blind Willie.” Now comes Everything’s Eventual, and he’s laid it on the table; this is the new King, the one I’ve been waiting for during the last couple of transitional releases. These stories are ambiguous, they require thinking (and sometimes leaps in logic) from the reader, and they’re simply better-written than his early work. King the literary author has finally caught up with King the storyteller.

As seems almost obligatory these days, yes, there’s a Dark Tower story. However, it doesn’t feel as invasive as most recent Dark Tower references, because it’s actually set in Mid-World (rather than showing up as a reference, as in “Low Men with Yellow Coats” or Bag of Bones). It’s also very much in the style of early King, despite actually being in a series, and thus begging for loose ends. Oddly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” stands on its own more than any Dark Tower material since the first book. Go figure.

King’s back, and better than he’s been since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I knew he’d get there sooner or later. ****

Resident Evil (2002): The Dead and the Furious

Resident Evil (Paul W. S. Anderson, 2002)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez are armed to the teeth and ready to kick zombie ass on the move poster.

My mama said, don’t go messin’ with a girl with guns.
photo credit: Wikipedia

No, Paul W. S. Anderson is no relation to Paul Thomas Anderson (of Magnolia fame). Anyone who’s seen Resident Evil probably knows that without having to be told. But I get the feeling that even Paul Thomas Anderson fans will get at least a guilty kick out of this movie. Hey, you’ve got beautiful women, hard-case police officers, loud music, a psychotic computer, and a bunch of zombies. What more could you possibly ask?

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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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Bad Desire (1990): Well, She Was Just Seventen, You Know What I Mean

Gary Devon, Bad Desire (Signet, 1990)

[originally posted 8Mar2002]

A black, bleeding rose adorns the cover of the book.

Would it, indeed, smell as sweet?
photo credit: Amazon

Just over halfway through Gary Devon’s second novel, Bad Desire, there is a scene so seductive, so descriptive and well-paced, that despite my reading this in a year that’s only two months old and already notable for the number of strong novels I’ve read, that this particular scene will likely stand out in my mind at the end of the year as the best single piece of writing I’ve come across.

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Mister Sandman (1996): We So Seldom Look on Sleep

Barbara Gowdy, Mister Sandman (HBJ, 1996)

[originally posted 12Feb2002]

A girl's blue eye is juxtaposed with a piano keyboard on the book's cover.

Play the pianp drunk like a percussion instrument until the fingers begin to bleed a bit.
photo credit: Amazon

Mister Sandman was a Publishers’ Weekly Best Book of 1996, and it’s easy to see why. Gowdy’s third novel (and fourth book) is an engaging look into a world the is both completely warped and so close to the surface of reality that sometimes it’s hard to remember that what’s on the page is fiction.

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