Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"The Fates Will Find Their Way" by Hannah Pittard

I found the beginning of this book so oddly familiar that I even checked to see if I might have read it before. I confirmed that I hadn't; it was first published in 2011, and I haven't blogged about it until now. And anyway, once I hit the middle of the book, the deja vu was gone--although the story did remind me a bit of The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve.

In Fates, a group of teenage boys collectively tells the story of their classmate Nora Lindell and the effect she (and her disappearance) has on them into adulthood. They never know for sure what happened to her, but they never forget her and never stop speculating. Some questions are never answered . . . which is a bit frustrating because I am sure Sissy (or Danny, through her) have several answers; they just never see fit to share them with the reader. On the other hand, I can see that being left to wonder might possibly be more satisfying than the truth would actually be.

One of the strengths of this book is the characters (if not their descriptions). I hardly know what the characters look like, but I know what they are like, and they are real and three-dimensional, like living, breathing humans. I would like to see this story as a movie, if only to see how the characters appear on screen. But alas, no movie version is appearing on the horizon.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"The Cry of the Owl" by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith is the master of dread. Not in the over-the-top way of King or Koontz, but she forms subtle, understated suspense in such an everyday way that you hardly realize every muscle is tense and you're holding your breath as you read. In this book in particular, for the first half my apprehension built because it was clear something was going to happen--it just hadn't happened yet. Then. When things begin to happen, the plot speeds to a breathless pace and the tension (but how could it possibly?) increases even more.

Another impressive quirk of writing that Highsmith perfected: developing a main character who is simultaneously so weird and yet so sympathetic. She did it with Ripley, and again in Deep Water, and Robert Forester is no exception. He's obviously a bit off, but I still rooted for him with no qualms. Well, maybe I should say few qualms.

This is the story of a man who likes to watch a young woman through her kitchen window, for entirely asexual (but still abnormal) reasons. I know what you're thinking: That can't be a good start to a friendship, right? Yeah, you're right. And the dread begins to build.

I really enjoyed this book (except for an overly melodramatic bit at the end). It had a very satisfying conclusion (almost too satisfying, because of its neatness and completeness), but it wasn't until the very last line that I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"The Winter People" by Jennifer McMahon

I enjoyed reading this story, but I spent most of the first half comparing it to Stephen King and wondering why it didn't feel like a guilty pleasure. (Pleasure, yes. Guilty, no.) It's the same sort of suspenseful thriller with a supernatural element that King might have written. Weaving together storylines of characters from different periods of time, The Winter People tells about sleepers, dead loved ones who are temporarily brought back to life.

Why do Stephen King's books feel like a guilty pleasure to me? I'm a bit ambivalent about the author. The good: he is a skilled storyteller who comes up with some CREEPY and unique subject matter. The bad: I'm not sure I have any solid evidence to back up this statement, but I have this vague idea that he has a higher opinion of his own writing than his writing deserves. (Haven't I read disparaging comments he has made about other authors' writing? And he actually wrote a book about writing, didn't he?)

Stephen King is obviously a very popular and successful author, but somehow that is also a negative. If so many people are pleased by something, can it really be that great, or mustn't it be a watered-down version of true greatness? Right or wrong, this is obviously not a universal truth. I mean, think of the Beatles, Harry Potter or Star Wars. Just because almost everyone loves them (including me!) doesn't mean they aren't great. Have I merely fallen prey to the snobbish view that Stephen King isn't a serious writer?

I didn't intend to write more about Stephen King than The Winter People. I probably ought to make a few more comments on the book I'm posting about. Sam asked me if I loved it, liked it, didn't like it, or hated it. I liked it. I think it would have seen some improvements if two "info-dump" sections had been reworked, but the rest of it was a pretty captivating read. But (and perhaps this is another reason I'm not a bigger fan of Stephen King?) it did not evoke an emotional response, nor did it encourage deeper thought (beyond trying to work out the mysterious goings-on). And you know what? I liked it anyway.

I still haven't worked out why I feel more respect for Jennifer McMahon than for Stephen King. I suppose it comes down to one of two things: 1) I didn't have preconceived (negative) notions about McMahon before reading her book, and/or 2) her writing is better than King's.