Misery by Stephen King; 4.5 stars (out of 5)
This might need to be 5 stars. This was my first ever Stephen King, way back at the beginning of 7th grade in 1988 or so. Reading it now I can easily see why he hooked me right away and has had me ever since. The man can write. This is classic King writing and pacing, with no (virtually no?) missteps along the way.
It starts out right in the middle of the action (not the same heart thumping action as he starts Firestarter but still, you’re right in it from the get-go) and it just revs up from there. The writing is pretty flawless and the story is a plausible reality of terror. It’s completely realistic in a weird way, probably because of his excellent character development (which is thinner in this book, actually; and that in turn is ironic since the entire book is more or less 2 characters).
There is a lot in this book about Paul’s feeling as he writes, how he knows he’s in the zone by “falling into the hole in the paper” and I really wonder if this is Stephen King’s own experience. He writes so much, as Paul, about the writing and the pain of writing and the feeling of the writing, and it could easily be all fiction, or it could be at least some of how he actually feels about writing, or experiences his own writing. Not that it matters, but I’m curious.
To me, this is one of his strongest books. I prefer stories without supernatural elements in it, and he delivers a doozy with this one. He carries metaphors of caged animals/Africa, pylons/tide, and the hole in the paper through the entire book to great effect. The writing is crisp and tight, the story is creepy and feels right. Very strong effort. Lots of references to writing and process, and to how things would turn out in a book but this is reality. My only “meh” moment is his description of mental illness (depression versus psychosis) and I’m not sure he gets that right, but also how he didn’t need to say that Paul knew about it; he could have just said ‘Paul read somewhere that’ or ‘Paul thought’ or whatever, and then it doesn’t matter if he gets it right about mental illness. But that’s such a minor peeve. I’m also not sure that he needed to go quite as far as he did, with [redacted for spoiler]. I don’t think it’s implausible or out of place, but I’m not sure he had to go that far in service of the story. I’m getting softer as I get older and while I’m pretty sure the young me read that gleefully, it was harder this time around. If it’s too far it’s not by much, so it might just be me, needing a bit less gore as I age. I can’t think of anything else to complain about. Such a good book.
“The cellar windows, as if reflecting Annie’s paranoia (and there was nothing strange about that, he thought; didn’t all houses come, after awhile, to reflect the personalities of their inhabitants?)…”
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley; 3.25 stars (out of 5)
I think this is my first noir. I really liked what Mosley did with the characters and making race so front and center. I liked the writing and the structure and the way he wrapped it up and set it up for the series to continue. I wasn’t as interested or excited about the plot, which seemed a little convoluted and flat – why were were looking for this woman and do I care about what she was hiding? I wanted a little more to make me care about that and it held me back from liking this book more because I didn’t. But everything else is so good, I mean so clean and deeply correct, that it more than carries it, and I mostly didn’t care that I didn’t care. I actually had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t care about the story because I was taken away by the characters and the setting. (I liked this book a lot for not caring about the plot.) So good characters, good writing, and I’d be really surprised if I didn’t like the other books in the series with other stories that I’ll probably care more about.
“His grip was strong but slithery, like a snake coiling around my hand.”
“They figure that you did something because that’s just the way cops think, and you telling them that you’re innocent just proves to them that you have something to hide. But that wasn’t the game that we were playing that day. They knew my name and they didn’t need to scare me with any holding tank; they didn’t need to take my fingerprints. I didn’t know why they had me, but I did know that it didn’t matter as long as they thought they were right.”
“That was why so many Jews back then understood the American Negro; in Europe the Jew had been a Negro for more than a thousand years.”
“But I was worried about that fingerprint.
I knew that I hadn’t touched the knife but I didn’t know what the police were up to. If they really wanted to catch who did the killing then they’d be fair and check my prints against the knife’s and let me go. But maybe they needed a culprit. Maybe they just wanted to close the books because their record hadn’t been so good over the year. You never could tell when it came to the cops and a colored neighborhood.”
The Poet and the Donkey by May Sarton; 3.5 (out of 5) stars
I think this is the first May Sarton I’ve ever read. And it’s quite lovely. A little whimsy of a book, with a sweet story, with a bit of self-discovery, about how we save ourselves, often with outside help, animal or otherwise. It felt, at first, like a child’s tale for an adult, maybe a bit like some of Mark Twain’s stories. I really enjoyed this; it is small but holds a lot, including good writing.
“How often, in human affairs, just such a simple misunderstanding of motive or need causes all the pain and anger! Because we have all the words we think we can explain ourselves to each other, but how often words fail – the elusive fish of personal truth slipping through them unseen and unheard. But, Andy though, in relation with an animal we are back in the good wordless world which tests our naked sensitivity. Intuition, sensing, is everything.”
“…holding the motion of a poem in his hands…”
Disgrace, by JM Coetzee, read this month. 1.5 (out of 5) stars.
I so often don’t have a great relationship with Pulitzer winners.
I guess I’ll have to read this again to see if I feel the same way about it, but this felt to me like an aging white man unable to come to terms with changing sexual and racial equality, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know if I’ve been reading too much commentary lately about books written by white men for white men, but I’ve never read a book that felt more like that than this one. And, I think because of that, all the annoyances (or worse) that I felt toward the main character or the story, I can’t seem to separate from Coetzee, who I’d never read before, and really know nothing about.
David Lurie has “an affair” with a student of his, which looks exactly like rape, and which is never remotely described that way. (Even ignoring the professor/student relationship, she expressly says no, after he plies her with alcohol. I don’t know the laws in South Africa, but he’s committed rape three different ways in the USA, and I suspect it’s the same there.) So this is a story of a man who loses control of his life, from his job and his home to his relationships with friends and his daughter. The racial stuff I don’t know enough about South Africa to really evaluate. His character, though – it seems that we’re not supposed to think of him as a bad guy (even if not a good guy) although he’s completely reprehensible. His salvation in the end? I couldn’t be made to give a shit.
“‘…a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.'”