Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: In the Deep Midwinter by Robert Clark

This book is elegiac and exquisitely described, as it reaches rare depths of reflection on being human, making mistakes and needing forgiveness, all the elements at the base of existence. The book was written in the 90's in Seattle but is set in the 40's in St. Paul with absolute authenticity. Clark traces the changes in a family surviving several blows, the first of which is the death of a brother in a winter hunting accident. Several stories interweave, with painfully accurate descriptions of family dynamics, reactions to loss and love, and the world of medicine half a century ago. This describes how people work and react so accurately that it reached down into my own thoughts and changed the way I think even though my family situation is very different from the one described. It's that universal. The closest comparison I can make in tone and style is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which is a near-classic, so I suppose this must be a near-classic, too. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: A Kingdom Far and Clear by Mark Helprin

I have no idea why this children's book trilogy is so hard to find. At its heart, it is a fairy tale (I seem to read a lot of those come to think of it) about chivalry, honor, and hope. Helprin writes in his typical fanciful style, which is somehow opinionated, dense, and fun at the same time, with countless parallels to Winter's Tale. Illustrations are by the same artist who drew Jumanji and The Polar Express.

The three books collected in A Kingdom Far and Clear are different in tone and narrative viewpoint but also tell a single story effectively, with more ups and downs than the typical fairy tale. The second one is my favorite because of a moment when science and faith come together absurdly and beautifully like the sun and the moon in an eclipse. Let's just say it has to do with a blatant violation of the laws of thermodynamics, and the fact that I'm even mentioning this about a children's book shows you what a brilliant book it is. All I know is, because nobody seems to know about this book, I have a ready-made gift for children whose parents will read to them, because this book is an incredible find.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This book is what would happen if Edgar Allen Poe lived today and knew how to draw (and had his style influenced by the strict character limits of social media). Five sharply plotted, truly scary stories that let you see just enough in the darkness to imagine the rest. Chilling fairy tales with an old-fashioned heart.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: Revival by Stephen King

Revival looks like it will be about faith, but it's not. It's really a mad scientist story with a dollop of Lovecraftian occultism, all dressed up in priestly robes. Since I'm happy with a story about either science or faith, I'm happy with this, but caveat emptor that the title's scientific meaning is the primary one. This book has more doubt and despair than The Stand or Joyland, and it's the most genuinely scary story of King's since "1922". Even so, I think "1922" was better. The psychology of guilt in "1922" seemed more real to me than these characters. It's hard to put my finger on why this one didn't quite come together for me. It's got great elements: hidden secrets of the universe, a Terrible Sermon to end all sermons, good detail about the life of a rhythm guitarist. It just gets so bleak that the sky seems devoid of even stars by the end. And it's the stars I appreciate most about King's work. So this is clearly a well-written "Late King" story and was worth the time. It's just, as my kids say when forced to eat something too bitter for their palates, "not my favorite."