Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: Tenth of December by George Saunders

I can't help but feeling this collection comes off better in short in the magazines it was originally printed in--The New Yorker and Harper's primarily.  I can easily see reading these in a magazine during a transitory visit to an airport or in a 20 minute trip to a library.  A sort of brief distraction if you will, that makes you pause ever so briefly to wonder if your own existence aligns with those of his characters but ultimately concluding that while I agree with his view of the modern world, his characters are not those with whom I can find enough of myself in, nor are significantly attached to in the time I spend with them to care about their plights.

While I enjoyed the stories, all of which are modern in topic and some of which border on science fiction, I found none of them particularly resonant with the exception of the titular work in which a disaffected young boy saves the life of a suicidal older man and vice versa.  Never did I imagine myself buying a dog from a meth-head trailer trash family or a lower-middle class father trying to keep up with the Jonses by hanging poor immigrants from my trees as a decoration.

The rest of the collection touches on returning soldiers, manipulation of mental states, modern suburbia, etc. which are all typically in my wheelhouse for interest...I just never found an emotional connection to any of the characters outside of the aforementioned two.

Saunders is by all accounts an awarded novelist and short story writer so maybe it was I who didn't bring something to the table that would allow the connection with his works, but for whatever reason, it wasn't there beyond the time it takes to consume the media.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review--Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Quite the bummer this one...

Covered with praise from numerous publications (USA Today, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, NYT, etc.) and coming from someone within the US Intelligence community (Matthews has years of experience working in the clandestine service of the CIA) I had high hopes.

I should have realized that given Matthews was given a 7 figure advance on the book and its two sequels before a word was put down and a movie deal signed shortly thereafter for Jennifer Lawrence to star in a film trilogy based on these books that this was no serious effort but instead a pre-packaged media driven vehicle to create a new "Hunger Games" (same director even) or "Twilight" series with only pretensions of seriousness.

 Further hints of the lack of real work here comes up early on when the female protagonist, written purposefully for Jennifer Lawerence to play, is detailed to have a heretofore unknown version of synesthesia that gives her the superpower like ability to determine the character and truthfulness of another person via the colors she sees surrounding them like an aura.  Over and over and over "this person is surrounded in yellow...this one is colored in blue...this one in red..."  blah, blah, blah.  Profoundly tiring and hackneyed one comes to view the female character as one of little real talent or intelligence but merely imbued with genetic abnormality that makes her good at her particular job.

And what is her job?  Well, to even sell the film series more...she's a "Sparrow" a Russian agent trained to seduce foreign individuals with their physical wares...Insert eyeroll here...This serves only for the author to engage in his puerile sexual fixations and set up Jennifer Lawrence to parade around on film in skimpy outfits.

For those hoping to hear of true tradecraft I suppose there are nuggets here and there--the Russians using a "dust" of a kind that can then be scanned for on the personages of their own people to see if they have been in contact with other spies, etc....but mostly?  Its stuff like "He left his hotel...he didn't want to be he walked around in a random pattern for hours looking for followers..."  Great...real groundbreaking stuff.

If you want to read a trashy novel to prepare yourself to watch a trashy movie and think that you are being progressive because Putin makes multiple appearances in the novel as the ultimate bad guy string puller...this is all you...Roundfile this otherwise...