Imagine… Leaving your house in the middle of the night. Knowing your mother is doing her best, but she’s just as scared as you.
Imagine… Starting a new school, making friends. Seeing how happy it makes your mother. Hearing a voice, calling out to you.
Imagine… Following the signs, into the woods. Going missing for six days. Remembering nothing about what happened.
Imagine… Something that will change everything… And having to save everyone you love.
This is a change of pace for author Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Literary horror? The Stephen King influence is very apparent and welcome IMO. This is gripping reading – fleshed-out characters that you care about, tightly written, with little flab (as SK is guilty of, at times – generosity, he calls it), and not for the faint of heart, there are some graphic passages. Highly recommended.
Setting is an alternative 1980s London. An underachieving young man comes into an inheritance and orders a cutting edge robot (or cyborg), that is (almost) indistinguishable from the real thing.
This is Ian McEwan as usual, with twisty relationships, lies and secrets, and thoroughly readable, as are all his novels. There is always a sharp wit at play here, which I always appreciate. It is less sci-fi or speculative fiction, than an exploration of human nature and justice. Not his best work, but still head and shoulders above the rest.
This is the 2012 book that the 2018 film was based on. It is Richard Wagamese’s best known work – he is an Ojibwa. It is a powerfully told story of a boy’s survival of the Indian residential school system. Highly recommended.
Almost all my comics contain autobiographical references, and this one is no different.
As a pre-teen, and teen, I gravitated to those books that dealt with (euw) feelings and family matters, than the rough and tumble boys’ adventures. I did love those too – Arthur C Clarke, Tom Swift books, Robert Cormier, Hardy Boys, The Great Brain series, et al. I really enjoyed the ‘girl’s’ fiction, it gave me a window into understanding them, although I am no closer now than I was then, LOL. Judy Blume’s books figured largely, especially Forever, and Then Again Maybe I Won’t.
I came upon this epic novel pretty late. It has somehow become my favourite ‘comfort read’, along with others. (Yes, The Stand is another, though not really a comfort read per se) I have found myself reading (or listening to an audio version) this book again and again.
Author Larry McMurtry transcends the tropes of the typical ‘oater’, by introducing some truly indelible characters. The loquacious, and loud-speaking Augustus (Gus), the stern and laconic Woodrow Call, and the insecure but stalwart Pea Eye.
He challenges them with a ‘cattle run’ up to Montana, from Texas, and all the perils that entails. The story is told in loving detail, and pulls no punches with violence and conflict.
How McMurtry weaves this tale and casts the entire affair in a shroud of melancholy, at the loss of the frontier, and the plight of the Native people, makes this novel as relevant now as it ever has been. Thumbs hoisted highly – I am envious if you are dipping into this novel for the first time.
The funny thing about Woodrow Call was how hard he was to keep in scale. He wasn’t a big man – in fact, was barely middle-sized – but when you walked up and looked him in the eye it didn’t seem that way. Augustus was four inches taller than his partner, and Pea Eye three inches taller yet, but there was no way you could have convinced Pea Eye that Captain Call was the short man. Call had him buffaloed, and in that respect Pea had plenty of company. If a man meant to hold his own with Call it was necessary to keep in mind that Call wasn’t as big as he seemed. Augustus was the one man in south Texas who could usually keep him in scale, and he built on his advantage whenever he could. He started many a day by pitching Call a hot biscuit and remarking point-blank, ” You know, Call, you ain’t really no giant.”
Some books inspire me to write more. French Exit is one of them. Patrick deWitt also wrote Sisters Brothers (made into a feature film starring Joaquin Phoenix). This novel has been described as a ‘tragedy of manners’. The characters are social outcasts; one, a tart widow, and possessive mother; the other, her grown-up son, mired in a permanent state of arrested development.
Here’s a passage:
Susan thought of Malcolm as an exotic pet, a stopgap antidote to postcollege doldrums, but then something terrible happened, which was that she fell in love with him. It was like an illness coming on; it loitered on the edges of her consciousness, then pounced, gripping her mind and heart.
Frances had had enough. She pulled a bottle of perfume from her bag and began spritzing the bouquet of flowers in the center of the table. The waiter looked on from the sidewalk, wondering what she was playing at. Malcolm knew, and he studied his mother admiringly as she removed her lighter from her coat pocket: click! She held the flame to the bouquet and it went up in a ball.
He writes with a droll wit, and some passages will make you laugh at loud. I know I will be reading this one again and again, as I did with Sisters Brothers.
There is a psychic space that this book exists in that is in the same arena as the show Arrested Development, which showcased similarly eccentric and dysfunctional characters.
These two are very popular in North America right now. 15 year wait for these titles at the public library. Might as well read them inside your local bookstore. (if all else fails, buy the thing) I know that Woman in the Window will be a film very soon. Both of them have their merits – highly readable for lovers of the genre, of which I sometimes am. Both have a bombshell plot device embedded within. Shall I tell you what they are? I will not.
The Silent Patient (I keep wanting to say Partner) is written by an author with Greek extraction, and there is Greek Mythology folded into the story. It is told mainly from the therapist’s point of view.
Woman in the Window is about a woman who is housebound, essentially agoraphobic, and is a film buff, especially, and not surprisingly, Hitchcock. Elements of Rear Window prevail. (book shortly to be a feature film which is usually the kiss of death – perhaps this will be another Gone Girl, but I doubt it)
I will not qualify further, just that I roared through these books rather quickly. They kept me guessing, as is the purpose of these books, I suppose. I’m pretty easy to fool, all you mystery authors out there! Good thing I did not try to be a homicide detective – with my abysmal solve record, I’d be busted down to writing traffic tickets.
By the way, now that I’m on a mystery kick, Jane Harper has had me mesmerized of late. She is an Australian author and her books all take place in the outback, a favourite setting of mine. There should be more books set here. Also, the Antarctic. Perhaps, I’ll write that one, since I saw that Werner Herzog documentary.
This a harrowing first person account of mental illness. An extraordinary peek into that hellish world.
Here is a short passage:
When I return, the room is as still and silent as it was when I left, nothing moving but faint dust motes in the lamplight. Not one of the men looks at me, yet I have an unnerving sense that they have been waiting for me to return.
Then it hits me: they know I am a dead man walking, a ghost already in their midst. What are they going to do to me? What have they done? What have they set in motion? How am I to die?
And it is so blindingly obvious then: the car, it is the car; while I was in the bathroom they placed a booby-trap bomb under my car and it will explode and kill me when I turn the key in the ignition. It is their guilt at my impending execution that causes them to avert their gaze: they feel remnants of guilt already that they have killed me.
A sudden sob escapes me. I momentarily break down in front of them, in fear of what is about to happen, and in self-pity. Defeated, deflated, totally abject and bereft now, I accept my fate.
This is a lived reality of mental illness and is frequently gripping throughout. Highly recommended.
I have long tried to understand this illness, given that we have two close family members with the disease. The stigma is still strong, but a lot more understanding of the disease is out there which is breaking down long held barriers.
I have been a reader of Stephen King since The Shining. Go ahead, let me have it. I’m trying, really trying. Picked up Infinite Jest, then put it down. Three quarters of the way through Great Expectations, then onto the Mandalorian on Disney. I do read Insert Books That Are Considered High Brow and Have Won Several Prestigious Awards here. I do.
However, I never NOT pick up a Stephen King release, even if it receives tepid reviews, as his output has been, the last few years. I did not mind Doctor Sleep, especially the audiobook version as read by Will Patton, a truly gifted reader of books. We are thinking of having him come to our house, and read our grocery lists, anything else we have lying around.
Getting back to The Institute, Stephen King delivers a topical and all-too-not 100% improbable scenario to a hair-raising climax. This is as climactic as Firestarter was, another tightly plotted and government-bad novel as this one is. There is a delicious anticipation as things tighten up, and King does what he does best. Ratchet up the tension, as he did so well in 11/22/63, his best in years, IMO.
The Institute one ticked all the boxes on the King list: a granular knowledge of the subject that elevates above lesser authors of the genre. Damning with faint praise, I know, but he is the James Cameron (we call him Jimmy C here in Canada) of the written world (sadly, SK’s movies seldom reach the heights of the books because this granularity (some might say overwritten quality) is lost in a film format) Or the books in question were crap.
He is such a master of the craft that, perhaps it is his hubris, he tends to be overly generous (his words) with the prose. It works as many times as it doesn’t work, in my opinion. He’ll always be my go-to, though I’ll be the first to note that he has written a lot of clunkers. To name a few: Tommyknockers, Lisey’s Story (subjective, found it tedious), The Outsider, Under the Dome, Bag of Bones, It.
Give The Institute a read or listen, a high water mark for King, take it from the expert. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile (sorry, David Byrne), and drifting into oncoming traffic, as you lose yourself in the climactic moments. SK really maintained a fever pitch of tension in the final pages, I must say. Not an easy task.
This is a terrifically gripping read, in the realm of ‘Never Let Me Go’. It is speculative fiction on the subject of loss and memory. Spare and melancholic. Published in 1995 but available in English translation 2019.