Wednesday, March 27, 2013

dark places

When Libby Day was seven-years-old, her mother and two sisters were murdered. Libby escaped by crawling through the window and hiding in the freezing woods behind the house (losing a few digits to frostbite in the process). Though only a child, she testified that her brother Ben was the murderer and subsequently, he was found guilty and imprisoned. 

But that is only the beginning of this story. Twenty-five years later, a member of the Kill Club (a community of "fans" obsessed with various murders) particularly interested in the "Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas" (as the Day family murders are known) contacts Libby. He offers her money in exchange for communication and she, broke and lazy, accepts. In the months that follow, Libby confronts the day she never thinks about anymore. Did Ben murder her mother and sisters? Did she tell the truth as a child, or was she coerced? Was their absent, alcoholic father Runner involved? Was Ben a Satan-worshipper, as the prosecution claimed? What really happened on January 2, 1985?

The story is told in alternating perspectives: the year 2000 (told by Libby, in the first-person) and 1985 (switching between Libby's mother, Patty, and brother, Ben, both in the third-person). With this format, Flynn is able to hide bits of the truth while slowly revealing others, always keeping her reader guessing. And she really is a master of pacing. Many of the chapters end with cliffhangers, but even when they don't, you're drawn into the next chapter because of the change in perspective and the temptation of learning more about the Day family.

If you liked Gone Girl, you'll definitely like Dark Places. But like Gone Girl, this story is not for the faint of heart. And if you need to like a book's characters in order to enjoy it, this is definitely not the book for you. Libby is the main narrator and (despite her tragic past), she is rarely sympathetic. She admits it in the first sentence
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ"and becomes even more despicable as we learn about her laziness, mooching, begging, frank rudeness, and kleptomania. Then there's Ben, a moody fifteen-year-old filled with anger and a penchant for violence, and Patty, a good-hearted but weak-willed mother who lets her life fall apart around her. Not to mention absent and abusive father Runner, bossy Diondra, bratty Michelle, etc., etc. This is a world of bad people with bad luck. If you're not willing to enter their world of lies, abuse, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, Satan sacrifice, animal brutality, unprotected sex, neglected children, and all-around desperation, go find another, cheerier book. 

Not that I'm a fan of grimy, depressing stories! I almost gave this 3 stars just because it left me with that desolate feeling you get after reading books like Gone Girl and Fight Club
that the world is dirty and miserable and full of angry, unfeeling, dishonest people. However, this is an intriguing story with fully-fleshed characters that had me interested from beginning to end. And for that, I had to give it 4 stars. I think Flynn is incredibly talented and though a part of me is reluctant to enter her world again, I'll definitely be reading Sharp Objects soon.


TITLE: Dark Places
AUTHOR: Gillian Flynn
PUBLICATION DATE: 1 January 2009
DATE FINISHED: 24 March 2013
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. Darkly delicious.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

black swan green

It's 1982 in Worcestershire, England, and 13-year-old Jason Taylor is having a rough time of it.

Balancing between the popular kids and the losers, he anxiously navigates his school days, sometimes swaying into coolness, other times a social outcast. At home, his sister has labeled him "the thing" and his parents are constantly bickering. Although he loves poetry and writes (under a pseudonym) in a local publication, he fears being found out and viewed as a sissy. He's in love with the gorgeous bully Dawn Madden, but she only teases him. Because of his stammer, he dreads being called upon in school. And to top it all off, he's broken a precious family token (his late grandfather's watch) that his father gave him.

Black Swan Green is a semi-autobiographical look at the life of a teenage British boy over the course of a year. Like Jason, author David Mitchell grew up in rural England during the Cold War, wrote poetry, and has a stammer. Each chapter focuses on an event in Jason's life and (if not for some links in between) could stand on its own. At first this was a little jarring and I wasn't sure I liked it. When you reach the end of a chapter (and not all of them end neatly), that's it. That part of the story is over. The next chapter will start in on something completely new. Of course characters, themes, and small events trickle through multiple chapters, but for the most part, each chapter is its own little short story. The first chapter (or maybe the second?
I can't remember) is a bit strange too, bizarre and fantastical, and so when it ended and the next was more down-to-earth, I wasn't even sure if the events had happened at all. 

However, once I got into the stride of it (and that bizarre section at the beginning is explained later), I really came to love it. It's a pretty simple coming-of-age story, but it's one I hadn't heard before. Partially because it was about a boy (am I wrong to think this genre is dominated by female narrators?) and partially because of the setting and Jason himself. He's very easy to love and relate to, and after finishing the book, I felt glad to have met him (or should I say David Mitchell?).



TITLE: Black Swan Green
AUTHOR: David Mitchell
PUBLICATION DATE: 1 January 2006
DATE FINISHED: 12 March 2013
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. I'm now truly a fan of David Mitchell.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

life after life

On a snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born in her family's home in the English countryside. Moments later, she dies. But Ursula Todd is not an ordinary child. Her life rewinds and she is born again on that same night in 1910. This process of rebirth happens again and again throughout Ursula's life. She dies repeatedly in many different waysdrowning, illness, a fall, suicide, etc.and each time, we go back to that snowy night. However, as she dies and begins again, bits of her past lives remain in Ursula's memory. She doesn't understand them, but they compel her to make changes in her life that will help her avoid death. We follow Ursula through all of these deaths and rebirths (I wish I'd kept a list, honestly, as it does get a little confusing), waiting, it seems, for her to finally "get it right." 

It's a brilliant idea, obviously. And while I've never read Atkinson before now, I hear she has a reputation for such brilliant writing. Her fans seem incredibly devoted and enthused with her, and I predict that once I get my hands on more of her books, I'll soon join their ranks. The concept behind Life After Life is fantastic and Atkinson is a wonderful writer. She throws in entertaining one-liners in unexpected places and she clearly has a gift for the conception/organization of unique novels.

I only wish that this book had been a little more clear. Because while I really enjoyed it, I was also confused sometimes, especially near the end. (P.S. If anyone really knows what was going on there, please leave a comment or message me! I didn't understand the inclusion of the last scene, especially). It would have been nice if Ursula's lives had been labeled (Life #1, Life #2, etc.) or maybe I really should have kept notes. Sometimes I'd lose myself and forget if a plot point had happened in this life or the last. And there are numerous characters who appear sporadically and briefly but are mentioned often, and every time I'd have to rack my brain for their presence in Ursula's lives. 

Finally, I wish I'd liked or felt more connected to Ursula. Although she is the main character and we follow her through numerous lives, I didn't really feel I knew her. She's a plain character with a weak voice (in my opinion), and I wish she'd had as much personality as, say, her parents, Sylvie and Hugh. 

Regardless, I did really enjoy this and I'm incredibly excited to read more of Atkinson's work.



TITLE: Life After Life
AUTHOR: Kate Atkinson
PUBLICATION DATE: 2 April 2013
DATE FINISHED: 3 March 2013
VERDICT: 3.75/5 stars. Loved the idea, liked the execution.
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