Saturday, October 17, 2009

Starfish, Heart-shaped Box, The Lake, The Blonde

A few more books from my recent spate...

I finally finished Mizuumi (The Lake) by Kawabata. It's an odd novel, not really unified in any way, and without much of a conclusion. As the novel progresses we learn more about Ginpei, the main character, but in the end he's still something of an enigma. I loved the way Kawabata moves around in time seamlessly, one second in Ginpei's childhood, the next in his time as a school-teacher. Still, this is a hard novel to love on the whole -- Ginpei is completely unsympathetic, and there's no plot to hang your hat on either.

Speaking of books with unsympathetic characters and minimal plots, I finished Starfish, by Peter Watts, recently. The main character is certainly unsympathetic, since the story is about people who live deep underwater maintaining geothermal energy stations. The book's main conceit is that only very disturbed people can live down there, so almost all the major characters are borderline psychotic. There's a plot that shows up at the end of the book, but it's almost perfunctory -- it seems that Watts got through 70% of the book, then decided that nothing had happened yet, and he added a plot (although I understand that it features heavily in the sequel).

Having said all those negative things about the book, I must say that I enjoyed it considerably. Watts's portraits of the disturbed characters are gripping, as we see them gradually acclimatizing to life underwater, and realizing that they don't really want to go back.

I also read Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde. I just checked amazon to see how to spell his name, and I see that most of his writing has been for comic books like Cable. I think that's really the only way to approach this novel -- it's like a prose version of a pulpy comic book. A very fast read (I think it took me all of 6 hours to read), not much to think about when you're done, but a lot of fun while it's going on.

Lastly, I finished Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, which I thought was a brilliant horror novel. People have made a big deal about the fact that Hill is Stephen King's son, but his writing doesn't owe much to his father. King can write psychological horror (as he showed in The Shining), but he also likes to go for the gross-out (as he put it in Danse Macabre). In this novel, a man is haunted by the ghost of a former lover's step-father. He wants revenge because his daughter committed suicide after being dumped, and is trying to get out hero to kill himself. The ghost can't directly affect the physical world, so most of the horror is watching him trying to manipulate Jude (the main character) into killing himself and his current girlfriend. As Jude tries to get rid of his ghost, he ends up growing up -- in some ways this is a coming-of-age novel, even though Jude is in his 40s.

But the main thing that blew me away is how relentlessly tense the novel is. The ghost is a constant presence, and even moments of relaxation are suddenly shattered.

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