Putting off prepping for back to school with quick, half-formed mini-reviews of books I read. Lucky you!
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. This is Wilson’s first novel (he previously published the fantastic short story collection TUNNELING TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), and it more than lives up to the promise of his stellar short fiction. The Family Fang: Caleb (Dad), Camille (Mom), then Kid A (Annie) and Kid B (Buster). The Fangs spent the 80s and 90s performing art in public. Fang art is generally comprised of creating small pockets of shock and chaos out in the world (handing out fake coupons for a free chicken sandwich at a mall food court, having the children street perform terribly, as examples). Of course Annie and Buster aren’t the most well-adjusted people in the world, but would you be if your parents had you wear fangs for the family photo? Yeah, I suppose you would. Anyway, the novel bounces back and forth between family art exploits from the past, and how Annie and Buster are trying to put the pieces back together in their own crumbling adult lives, while also trying to figure out where their parents disappeared to, or if their parents actually died horribly. I’m sucking at this plot synopsis and I don’t care. Just read the book and enjoy the kookiness, the unforgettable characters, the writing (chops galore, mr. wilson has), and the emotional payoff you get from my new favorite dysfunctional family. The Fangs abide.
Ready Player One by Earnest Cline: It’s the novel that most folks seem to be talking about. Or at least most geeky folks. I am a geeky folk. And there’s no denying it’s a fast, fun, entertaining book. Cline is incredibly clever with almost all of the 80s (and some not 80s) trivia, and the techno world he built was mighty impressive as well. That said, I thought the characters were a little flat, and maybe I’m looking for something to be there that doesn’t have to be, but I was looking for a little more depth, and meaning, and some sort of exploration of why we cling to obscure pop cultural reference points; why (beyond simple escapism) some of us, particularly in geek culture, measure worth for find a measure of our own worth in how well we know a movie, a band, a comic, a video game.
Let me put it this way with a geek comparison. I wanted this book to be like an episode from the golden years of the Simpsons. I can watch an episode like the stonecutters or the lemon tree and not only recognize the pop cultural references, but the use of the references bring a deeper meaning to the joke, the story, the characters, the satire, and even the viewer, and it’s those jokes/bits/scenes from the best of the Simpsons episodes that become instantly memorable, or quotable.
Instead of classic Simpsons, this book was like a decent Family Guy episode (which are few and far between). Yeah, a FG episode can be entertaining, but only minutes after a viewing, I usually can’t remember any of the jokes because it’s all surface and very little substance.
Now that that’s settled…
Machine Man by Max Barry: Odd dude loses a leg in an industrial accident, builds a better leg, then wants to lop off other parts to become a better being. The conceit is straightforward, and props to Barry for following the story to it’s extreme conclusion. Purposefully detached, robotic first person account notwithstanding, the book could’ve used a little more heart.
The End of Everything by Megan Abbot: She’s fast becoming a favorite author of mine. It’s Reagan-era 80s and thirteen year old Lizzie’s best friend has just gone missing. It’s a first person account (from Lizzie’s POV) and a memorable one. It’s a hazy and fevered narrator who’s trying to figure herself out, her own urges and desires and fears, while trying to understand the people around her. Simultaneously quiet and riveting, The End of Everything is challenging and vibrant.