I think my reading experience here suffered from a case of inflated expectations. I’d heard nothing but praise for Octavia Butler and so my expectation was that even if the subject matter wasn’t what turned my crank personally, this book would introduce ideas from outside my comfort zone and the writing itself would be excellent.
This book is okay. I started off liking it quite a bit, thought it was going to rank up there with the Sarantine Mosaic, but then my interest lagged in the middle, and I probably would have put it down and let it stay half-unfinished forever except for the 107 books initiative, that says finish it or quit it decisively, and I feel like a loser when I don't finish books. So.
It's another of Kay's historical fantasies, this time set in Britain at the cusp of centralization and Christianization, about the tribal skirmishes they have with each other and with the vikings (called Erlings, in this) that regularly plague their shores. It has the ensemble cast that Kay's books are famous for, giving you a panoramic view of the conflicts and how they affect people at all levels of society, it has the excellent prose and mythic resonance that make lit-crit people sit up and take notice when Kay writes a book, and it has a number of capable and influential female characters. But really, the same could be said for all of his books (except possibly Ysabel, which was mind-numbingly dull), and this one didn't stand out. The characters couldn't compare to The Sarantine Mosaic, and the plot couldn't compare to Tigana.
Verdict: fun! Diverges quite a bit from the book (as in, Brad Pitt's protagonist doesn't exist in the book) but it's quite entertaining, and though I am no connoisseur of zombie movies, probably the most intelligent and realistic one I've seen. No real surprise, given the source material — if there is one thing Max Brooks knows, it is how a zombie apocalypse would go down.
I'm not actually a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. A lot of people seem to envision themselves riding out an apocalypse like Mad Max, all fun and lawless games, but I know myself and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't survive the first wave. I'd be very handy to have in your shantytowns post apocalypse, because I'm resourceful and DIY-minded, but I'm also useless in a fight and not very good at keeping my head in a crisis.
So yeah, here's to hoping the world doesn't end!
Never thought I’d say this, but I actually prefer Yoshimoto Banana’s short-form fiction. She’s very good at sketching out characters’ lives in relatively few words, at evoking the dissonant push-pull of love when it doesn’t fit together quite right, but I’m not sure she has the substance to sustain longer works.
It should be said though, that np is wildly misrepresented by their design choices for the cover:
Pink and purple, swirly font for the title, a hip young woman looking boldly at the camera, “a mesmerizing novel of Japan’s Generation X” — this is chick lit, right?
So I went out on a date, my first in like five months, I’m very proud of myself. I swear, I am catnip for bicurious straight dudes. We came back to my place and watched Dr Horrible and I beat him at Scrabble and sent him home. Then I settled in to read a book, and what I grabbed off the shelf was Black Blade Blues.
What follows is less of a review and more the commentary I was jotting down as I read, joined by my BFF as she wandered in drunk and started reading Judge Dredd comics for the first time. Recall that I promised to read at least 50 pages of a book before giving it up as a lost cause.
I started reading a John Updike book, because it sounded dystopic and vaguely relevant to the Dredd fic I’m writing. Made it about twenty pages before I was like, “Man, fucking boring old people.”
Then I picked up Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and found fucking AWESOME old people.
The Sparrow tells one story in two parallel timelines: when humans discovered that they weren’t alone in the universe and eight brilliant people set out to make first contact, and then decades later when the single broken survivor came limping home.
This book was excellent, and I never want to read it again. Rural poverty gives me the raging heebie jeebies, I don’t even know. This was 300 pages of helplessness and despair in a world where everything tastes like failure. I read it cover to cover.
And then today I sat down and wrote all damn day. I am four thousand words richer than when I woke up this morning.
Takeaway lesson from Bastard Out of Carolina: details. Details, details, details. To make it real, make it plausible, make it unique, make it immersive, make it sympathetic, to make it something the readers can believe every word of and lose themselves in. By rights, each and every character in that book should have been a stereotype, but the sheer amount of humanizing detail about these people and their lives made them much more than that.
Read it if you’re a writer, or if you like stories about fucked up Southern families.
Back in August I was telling one of my random hookups about my 107 books project and he asked, “Which one are you least looking forward to reading?” And my answer was, “Uhm… none of them?” Because I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t want to read them, right.
Okay, so — this was difficult to review, because it was everything I want in a book, except for when it wasn’t.