Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Book Depository: Part IX

Thursday, December 28, 2006
127: I Married a Communist - Philip Roth. The middle volume in Roth's American trilogy takes the form of Roth's alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman talking to an old high school teacher, Murray Ringold, about Murray's brother Ira. In his younger days Nathan was greatly inspired by the Iron Rinn (as Ira was called) and by the ideas and passion of the Communist Party. Ira was heavily tied up in the Communist party and through the conversation with Murray, Ira's life is laid bare. All of the success and passions and rage and faults are exposed and through Murray's eyes we see Ira's marriage to a Hollywood Starlet and how this marriage perhaps ruined his life all the while bringing him more fame than perhaps he could have imagined.

I think I Married a Communist is the weakest of this loose trilogy (American Pastoral and The Human Stain complete the trilogy). Perhaps it is the monologue narrative style with Murray Ringold narrating to Zuckerman that failed to engage me, but this story was far less imperative and powerful than those of The Human Stain and American Pastoral. Those were "Great American Novels" while I Married a Communist is just (just!) a solid work by one of America's Master Novelists. It felt that Roth allowed too much digression and the characters dancing around some part of the story that might allow the novel to resonate more with me. I don't know what part that was and I know the digression is part of conversation, but it did not work like it could have.

128: I Am Legend - Richard Matheson. The vampire story that inspired Stephen King. I Am Legend, the title novel of this collection, tells the story of the last man left on Earth in an L.A. which has been overrun by vampires. His family, his friends, everyone. In the daylight the man goes out into the city for supplies and to hunt vampires. When the sun goes down he barricades himself in a garlic lined house and waits for daybreak because the vampires hunt him.

This is a damn good story and a creative look at vampires and what might happen if they start to overrun the world. How would the survivors cope?

I Am Legend can be a very scary story if told / read in the right setting with the lights mostly out. It's a well written story and one which vampirism is plausible (and mostly explained) and is less about vampires than about one man trying to survive madness as he is the only living person he has encountered, though he holds out hope that there are pockets of survivors elsewhere in the country and the world.

After the title novel there are several short stories by Matheson and he writes good horror. This is a volume worth checking out.

129: The Prestige - Christopher Priest. My wife and I saw the movie and we loved it. We wanted to see it a second time but thought that reading the book might help us figure some things out. It didn't. The book and
the movie only follow the basic core story.

Set mostly near the turn of the twentieth century in England, The Prestige tells the dual (and perhaps duel) tales of Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden, two magicians who had a fierce and violent rivalry. The book starts with one of Borden's descendants being given a book on magic written by Alfred Borden and that book was part diary. Borden Descendant follows a lead for a newspaper story to the woman who sent him that book: a Descendant of Angier. Then The Prestige moves into the Alfred Borden diary segments, then back to the present day, then to Angier's journals, then back to the present day and Christopher Priest constructs this novel well enough that everything fits and makes sense, but there is still a bit of a confusing mess in a well constructed novel. There is just a lot going on as to why these two magicians are feuding (in the movie there is a very good reason, in the book it all seems so petty).

I am already engaged in the story because of how good I thought the movie was, but Christopher Priest had a lot to live up to as source material and this is a very good novel. I think the movie is somewhat superior (the movie gets a bit less weird at the end than the book does), but Priest still spins us a good story. I wanted to move past the present day stuff to get back into the fued of Angier and Borden and since Angier's perspective came second in the book we can see everything Borden wrote being tempered by our new knowledge of Angier's side and how they seem to remember things differently. This is one thing Priest excelled at: he gives the first person perspective of different characters distinct voices and speech (and writing) patterns so that we can tell who is writing and telling the story and they do not feel the same. It's a very well written book and without the movie I would probably say "Outstanding!" but with the movie I'll just say the book was rather good.

130: Carrie - Stephen King. Carrie is the first novel of Stephen King's which I have read and which is not part of the Dark Tower sequence. It is also his first published novel which could mean that the writing was
a little rough around the edges but damn, King can tell a story!

The title character is Carietta White. You know the girl. She was in your high school, just with a different name. She was different. Her family was different. The other kids flocked like vultures and teased her without mercy. You know the girl. She grew up mostly without friends. Even the other outcasts wouldn't go near her. Carrie's mother was ultra-religious and certainly stunted Carrie's social growth and skills. Even the teachers didn't really like her. This is Carrie.

But Carrie is different. Carrie has powers she barely understands. Carrie can make things happen. Telekenesis. She can move things with her mind. Under very stressful circumstances things happen. A rain of stones which only falls on her house. Exploding lightbulbs. Shaking bookcases. Things happen.

When Carrie has her first period in the girls shower after gym at the age of seventeen and thinks she is bleeding to death because she does not know what is happening the other girls are mean, like a pack of jackals literally smelling blood. Now it's begun. Both the novel and the transformation of Carrie White starts here.

This is Stephen King we're talking about. Things will take a turn for the worse and end in that famous prom sequence we've heard about and seen in the movies. Carietta gets pushed one too many times and her power makes her very, very dangerous.

Like I said, King can tell a good story. There is a bit of clunk around some of the edges, but King's writing has passion and we can feel for Carrie even when we see her slowly slipping and slowly cracking and slowly snapping. Carrie isn't the villain here, which would be a twist on a normal horror story. Carrie is a victim who snaps. A broken protagonist.

I didn't know that King could write this well. Sure he's sold a kabillion copies of his books, but from Carrie I think it's clear: this is a special talent. He writes books people want to read. The American Dickens in his first novel.


Anonymous said...

My favorite is The Stand. I read the unabridged in high school. My friends Chris bet me dinner that I couldn't read it in four days. For a week I dreamt that everyone I knew had a cold!!! lol!!! Awesome book though!!! Read it!

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