"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Changeling

TITLE: the changeling
AUTHOR: victor lavalle

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I wanted to love it. But I didn't. It reminded me of "The Stolen Child" by Keith Donohue, another book about changelings, but didn't live up to that book's emotional impact on me. That book focused on the changeling and the child it replaced. This book focused on the parents, mainly the father, a man with a troubled past. Apollo Kagwe's white father disappeared when he was a boy. Raised by his hardworking, black mother who had emigrated from Uganda, Apollo had a love for books and reading that led him into a career as a used book seller. He falls hard for a librarian, and soon they're married and parents to a boy they name Brian, for Apollo's absent father. Things are going well, until Apollo's wife, Emma, snaps, does something unthinkable, then vanishes. As Apollo comes to grips with what happened to destroy his idyllic family and searches for Emma, he slowly learns that magic is real and evil exists, in both human and non-human form.

I might've gotten more from this book if I were a parent, but even so, the first half of the book was great, spinning a nice tale of family life in New York City. Lavalle's style is simple, even a bit repetitious. Lavalle lives in New York and he fills the prose with lots of specificity, like street names and details that sound more like they were written by someone who did a lot of research on New York City and wanted to show it off. But I appreciated that he showed New York City as more than just Manhattan.

The second half of the book slides into a realm of magic, where fairy tales aren't fiction, and that's where I started feeling letdown. There are wonderful plot twists and revelations, yet the prose keeps a practical tone where something more lyrical would have been nice. This book was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2017 and I can see why. It's a good story that shows just how much a parent would do to protect or save their child, but it has one foot in realism and one foot in fantasy, as if Lavalle couldn't decide which to embrace. And because of the realistic tone, the loose threads and unanswered questions at the end bothered me more than they should have. They probably aren't enough to warrant a sequel, but for me, they remain irksome, leaving me mildly disappointed in a book I wanted to love.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

World of Trouble

TITLE: World of Trouble
AUTHOR: Ben H. Winters

I can't believe I forgot to post this. I think I'll chalk it up to a senior moment.

At any rate, the impending impact of the asteroid Maia has humanity in a downward spiral in this third book of the Last Policeman trilogy. Former police detective Hank Palace chooses to spend the last two weeks before impact searching for his sister. There's no central mystery setting up the story this time, just one man trying to find and spend what are likely humanity's final days with his only family. Even more than in the previous two books, the desperation of the people he encounters is a prime focus of the book, and the ones who have chosen a more graceful way to spend their remaining days.

But a mystery presents itself, one final crime that Hank is determined to solve before impact. Winters shows an impressive understanding of psychology, presenting what feels like a realistic look at what could happen should a giant asteroid be on a collision course with Earth. I'd love to see a follow-up, but maybe it's best to leave that to our imaginations.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Countdown City

TITLE: Countdown City (The Last Policeman Book II)
AUTHOR: Ben H. Winters

There was no letdown from the first book in this near future trilogy. This time, Hank Palace is no longer a police detective, but he's still obsessed with solving a mystery, a missing person case. With the asteroid Maia hurtling toward Earth, the husband of Hank's long ago babysitter asks him to find her husband and bring him back home. Hank's search for Brett takes him into an increasingly chaotic and lawless landscape. He has to deal with anarchists forging their own society with their own rules, groups of hoarders, and a lack of the basics of life we all take for granted.

The mystery is almost beside the point, its main function being the thing that gives Hank's life meaning when life is slowly eroding into meaninglessness. The details feel alarmingly real as Winters weaves his simple story with big ideas. This is a future that could realistically happen and Winters covers a myriad of human reactions that are just as plausible. Given the current political climate, this series feels incredibly relevant.