Review: The Devil All the Time

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Review for “The Devil All the Time” by Donald Ray Pollock (2011)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Even though this is only my second time reading Donald Ray Pollock, he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. He continues to create such interesting casts of characters, and this one’s is no exception. This book is very much in the same vein as his first volume of short stories,Β Knockemstiff–poor, rural people in desperate situations. This book’s got a little bit of everything: a man who sacrifices animals and other roadkill to rid his wife of cancer, along with his morally conflicted son, who’s willing to sacrifice everything for a sense of peace. There’s a spider-eating preacher and his guitar-playing sidekick who are convinced they can raise people from the dead, and a murderous husband and wife duo that pick up male hitchhikers, torture and photograph them, and kill them.

The beginning of this novel starts off strong, but I had to admit that by the middle of the book I was a little hesitant to continue because wasn’t sure where this book was going. The characters don’t appear connected, other than their desolate settings. I am glad I was patient, because everything came together so spectacularly by the end that I couldn’t believe I was looking at the last page. The way the plot twists and tangles together is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, with characters on separate paths who manage to meet together dynamically by the book’s end.

I’m anxious to read more of Donald Ray Pollock’s writing. Four and a half stars, no complaints at all.

Review: Another Brooklyn

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Review for “Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is not just a novel. It’s poetry, it’s memory. It’s a testament to Black girlhood.

With events written in non-linear, prose style, Another Brooklyn is the story of August, a young academic who travels to her Brooklyn home to attend her father’s funeral. She runs into an old friend on a train and from there, you are transported back to specific memories of August’s childhood in the 1970’s. Brooklyn, we learn, was a place where she found the friendship of three other Black girls, each from a different home situation. There are memories of growing up without a mother, of DJ parties, of first love, and so many other things that to describe them all is to give this book away and not let you experience this great novel for yourself. My only complaint was that this book was not long enough. It’s a short (less than 200 pages), but I could have read Woodson’s gorgeous prose for another 200 pages, that’s how great this book is.

Another Brooklyn deserves all of the Top Ten lists and press it’s getting. A must read!

Review: How to Set a Fire and Why

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Review for “How to Set a Fire and Why” by Jesse Ball (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hey. It’s been a while. The fall semester has started. I’ve been reading, but for those who follow this site, I only give you my best reviews. That means if I read a book and can’t find anything to say about it or write a decent review, you’ll see nothing here.

Anywho, I think I’ve broken my dry spell with this one.Β This is such a nice, dark little read. I was definitely impressed.

Immediately the first thing you note about this book is that teenager Lucia Stanton has been dealt a really shitty hand in life. Her father is dead, the only memento she has of him is his Zippo lighter, which she clutches onto for dear life. Her mother is in a mental hospital with an unspecified mental illness in which she doesn’t recognize her own daughter. When the story opens, she has been expelled from her current high school for stabbing a boy with a pencil. The bright spot of this book is the relationship Lucia has with her aunt, with whom she finds acceptance, and together they squat in a tiny garage with one bed. Her aunt finds her another high school where she falls into favor with a group of kids who set fires for anarchist purposes.

The brilliance of this book is in the characterization of Lucia. She is a bundle of contradictions. She is cynical, whip smart, angry, and completely authentic. I normally don’t go for quirky, “philosophical” teen narrators (I’m probably one of the few people in the world that doesn’t find anything special about Holden Caulfield) but I LOVED Lucia’s voice. She rewrites her club’s arsonist manifesto, she plans big fires–and all of it makes perfect sense because her aunt is a proud anarchist, as was her mother. Hell-raising is one of the few things in which Lucia has as a family legacy. Lucia is self destructive, yet her unapologetic brand of self-destructiveness never grated on me or made me want to put the book down.

I feel like I can’t write enough to do this book justice. It’s engaging and smart. It’s written for adults, but I can definitely see its appeal as a YA novel.