Monday, August 26, 2013

Review & Giveaway: "Mystery Girl" by David Gordon

TitleMystery Girl
AuthorDavid Gordon
PublisherNew Harvest
Date of Publication: July 16, 2013
Pages: 304

How I Heard About It: I'm reviewing "Mystery Girl" as part of the book's extended tour, hosted by TLC Book Tours. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! They have also generously provided one giveaway copy for one of my readers. Leave a comment on this post and I'll enter you into a my super official drawing in which I write your names on post-it notes.

Two Sentence Summary: Sam is a failing novelist, a connoisseur of film and literature, whose life begins to unravel when wife Lala announces that she wants to leave him. In an attempt to land a stable job, he finds himself the (un)-official assistant to genius and madman Solar Lonsky, who sends Sam deep into a case involving a mysterious woman, whose punk rock life and famed underground-artistic-collaborations Sam must retroactively track to untangle Lonsky's mystery.

"That's why almost all books about obsession are to some degree artful lies: real obsession, thinking that one thought over and over forever, is so boring it would be unreadable. In this regard, all of literature's great maniacas of love, Stendhal, Miller, Hamsun, Nabokov, even Proust (although he pushes it farthest for sure), distort the endlessness of true fixation, the monotony of pain and desire, as they transform it into pleasure, into art."

Things I Think: This book is a treasure trove for the literary nerd. Protagonist Sam is insanely well read, and while his ability to draw Proust parallels has failed to serve him well in life, the referential constellations he creates make this a geekily enjoyable read. I found myself flagging many of the film and book references to follow up with later; they all play a crucial role in the plot, and heavily inform Gordon's stylistic choices.  (In press releases, the author calls out Hitchcock's "Vertigo" as particularly influential.)

Gordon's characters are fascinating in their wackiness, and he has successfully fleshed out their back stories with enough intricacy to make their oddities fully believable. Self-appointed detective Solar Lonsky is the finest example of this impressive character work.  Morbidly obese and agoraphobic, his choice to hire Sam as his eyes, ears and legs in the outer world makes perfect sense. Lonsky veers in and out of manic episodes (which inevitably land him in psychiatric lockdown) but maintains a firm grasp of the "mystery girl's" case he is so desperate to solve. 

For a mystery novel to be written with such literary diction and affection for the academic was a definite surprise for me, and it was certainly welcome. I plan to immediately follow up this read with Gordon's award-winning debut novel, "The Serialist."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review: "Zinksy the Obscure" by Ilan Mochari

Title: Zinsky the Obscure
Author: Ilan Mochari
Publisher: Fomite
Date of Publication: April 15, 2013
Pages: 342

How I Heard About It: I'm reviewing "Zinsky" as part of the book's extended tour, hosted by TLC Book Tours. Thank you to the author for the review copy!

Two Sentence Summary: Narrated by a brilliantly neurotic young man (Ariel Zinsky) with an entrepreneurial spirit (though misguided and dangerous at times), "Zinsky" is a record of massive failure, flux, and fiscal triumphs. The (im-) balance between deep interpersonal baggage with an obsessive desire to create a (football expert's) legacy creates an addictive tension; coupled with Mochari's consistent stylistic choices, it's an impressive read. 

"Oh readers, I must confess - the naive 22-year-old Zinsky still believed the pendulum of romantic karma would swing in his favor! He had a divination of deserving idyllic coupling because of all he'd suffered. Does it sound corny? Naive? Or worse - typical? Perhaps I should have known better."

"A successful Guide could make me the Dickensian hero of my own life - could provide indisputable evidence that all my beatings and sufferings and subsequent musings had amounted to something: I'd have risen from my circumstances and triumphed. I'd have earned the right to guiltlessly share my story as a tale of valor."

Things I Think: The comparisons other reviewers have made to Dickens, or to "A Confederacy of Dunces," are entirely accurate, both stylistically and thematically. Mochari's diction and lexicon in "Zinsky" hearken back to more classic literature, and the bursts of dark humor and self-deprecation continually made me think of similar loops in "Tristram Shandy." To have found a voice like this still exists, in our generation, is as much a relief as it is enjoyable.

The narrator is compelling in his realism - nothing is sugar-coated here, readers! Paternal abuse suffered by the narrator, mishaps of puberty and sexual encounters, ultimately selfish decisions that will become closeted skeletons ... We are spared nothing when it comes to gory detail, and though Zinsky sports no shortage of flaws, his willingness to "own up" in his account allows us trust his tales. 

I am absolutely looking forward to more work from this first-time novelist.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: "Something Pretty, Something Beautiful" by Eric Barnes

Title: Something Pretty, Something Beautiful
AuthorEric Barnes
PublisherOutpost 19
Date of Publication: June 1, 2013
Pages: 262

How I Heard About It:I'm reviewing this as part of the book's extended tour over at TLC Book Tours.  Also, Eric's going to be in San Francisco this Tuesday at Green Apple Books doing a reading and signing, so if you're in the area.... swing by!

Two Sentence Summary: Brian Porter narrates the intensely dark saga of his high school years, a four year period that wreaks of violence and destruction as his group of friends becomes tangled up with the seemingly sociopathic enigma Will Wilson. The plot weaves between present and past, toying with ideas of memory and perception and landing heavily on the fallout created from years of driving, at hundreds of miles per hour, headfirst into mayhem.

Things I Think: This is the kind of book you read with a constant grimace on your face, gritting your teeth so hard your jaw feels like it might explode by the time you get to the last page. Watching a group of teenage boys self-destruct under the tutelage of a peer pressure master isn't a new topic (think "Clockwork Orange" set in modern day Tacoma) but the eerie quietude, the smiling-ness with which the characters execute atrocity, makes "Something Pretty..." a disaster tale all its own. 

What's more, Barnes plays with time in a way that makes us uncertain what we know, down to whether or not the characters themselves have been fabricated, drug-induced hallucinations, or if Brian Porter's memories are concrete and reliable. 

Read this and feel better about the bullshit you pulled in high school. Read this and look around you and be glad you're not dead at the bottom of a gulch because of a dare, a prank, you couldn't refuse. I lost a night of sleep after I finished this, mostly feeling electric with relief to not be any of the people in this book.