Review: Young God

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Review for “Young God” by Katherine Faw Morris
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The reason I was drawn to this book was through hearing of its author, Katherine Faw Morris. She’s from a small county in northwest North Carolina, about 80 miles from where I live. The second thing that drew me in was its intriguing title. What could a book called “Young God” possibly be about? Within 10 minutes of reading this debut novel, my question was answered.

The protagonist of this book is 13 year old Nikki, the daughter of a notorious pimp and “the biggest coke dealer in the county.” We never get a proper backstory for Nikki, although it’s hinted that she has spent some time in a group home prior to the opening of the story. At the beginning of the novel Nikki witnesses her mother fall sixty feet into a swimming hole, her body slamming into sharp rocks on the long way down. Nobody cares about it or mourns her, it’s clear early on that emotions have no place in the bleak landscape of this novel. Several pages after her mother’s death, Nikki consoles herself by going home and having sex with her mother’s boyfriend.

It’s a sonorous start for a book, and it doesn’t take long for Morris to completely dismantle your moral center. In the eyes of 13 year old Nikki, events like murder, rape, prostitution, and drug dealing take place with the same normality and regularity as the morning paper. The bizarre father and daughter relationship between Nikki and her father, Coy Hawkins (he’s never addressed as “dad,” but called by his first and last name only throughout the entire book) is at the center of this novel. At one point in the book, Nikki brings her father another young girl, because, of course, virgins make more money. It’s the most horrific case of learning by example, and young Nikki picks up fast. She learns how to buy and sell heroin after seeing her father do it once. And, as we witness for ourselves, she becomes extremely good at it.

Morris does not portray Nikki as someone the reader should pity. Instead, you feel drawn into a connection with her, one that alternates between fear and a creeping sense of foreboding. You feel scared for her, because you know that she probably won’t live to see her fourteenth birthday, and scared of her and her dangerous efficiency. The ending offers the reader no comfort either. While Nikki ‘wins’ in the final pages you still get a sense that her future holds the certainty of more violence, drug dependency, and ultimately, death.

At only about 20,000 words it’s easy to read this book in one sitting. Scenes jump chaotically from one to the next and you’re left wondering what happened in the blank spaces. The writing is sparse and frenzied, with some vignettes going on for several pages and some only consisting of one sentence. The brevity of this book only adds to its raw power, not a single word is wasted here. Morris’ choice in making this book brief was a wise one, if it had been any longer I could not see myself continuing to go back to read it. It’s a one time punch to the gut. And man, I liked it.

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Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls

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Review for “The Orchard of Lost Souls” by Nadifa Mohamed
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Man, this woman can write. I had never heard of Nadifa Mohamed until I wandered into the library one afternoon and casually picked up this book.

The setting of this book is one that I have to admit that I knew very little about, Somalia in the late 1980s. The country was pretty much under a Communist dictatorship until they were attacked by rebel forces with innocent civilians caught in the middle. All of these events foreshadow the widespread famine and the “Black Hawk Down” disaster that most Americans are familiar with, and I enjoyed the fact that even though the book was fiction, it was somewhat of a history lesson as well without being boring or coming off too preachy.

The book is told through Deqo, a young orphan, Kawsar, a well off woman who is treated brutally by the police, and Filsan, a female officer within the ranks of the Somalian armed forces. The book started off a bit slow and difficult to follow at first, but once the voices of three main characters became more distinct I could not put this book down. This book has a quick pace and the stories are fascinating, and Mohamed does an excellent job with making you actually feel like you’re right there in the middle of the village of Hargeisa with her. Of course I don’t want to give the book away, but it was certainly a worthy read for me.

Review: The Opposite of Loneliness

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Review for “The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book behooves me. The tragic backstory of it makes it somewhat critic-proof: to rip it to shreds is just plain heartless, and to sing its praises is to remain oblivious to what’s on the pages. We’re all suckers for tragedy, and that seems to be what draws us to Marina’s book. I gave this book three stars, and honestly, that was being generous.

First off, lemme say that there were some ok pieces in here. Keegan’s fiction is far better than her nonfiction, the latter part of which I largely skipped over. The problem with this book is that Marina is just so…young. There’s a blurb at the beginning of the book from one of Marina’s professors that mentions that the magic in her writing resides in the fact that her works resounds with the voice of a 20 year old. And my God, it does. There’s very little here in the predictable characters and pre-packaged endings to marvel at because it sounds like everyone else’s in a college writing workshop. Her prose isn’t particularly insightful and takes no risks. She has so much room to grow as a writer that I shudder to think of the many young writers out there whose work is far better, who, because they lacked the proper connections, didn’t have a job waiting for them at The New Yorker upon graduation.

In an ideal world, this book would not have ever been published. Because in an ideal world, Marina Keegan would not have died at 22. She would have graduated college, seen her existence beyond the confines of her privileged upbringing, and she would have grown out of her wide-eyed, precocious fascination with the real world. And I can’t blame her, my writing was probably this trite at 22 also. I imagine someone far younger than me would love this, so I read this fairly quickly and returned it to the library.

About that NaNoWriMo thing…

I didn’t win this year. Even though I am slightly crushed, I think I am ok with this.

My intentions were good. I planned for several weeks before–my plot, my characters. I started on midnight November 1st and went about writing MY novel. And it worked at first. Despite my work schedule, motherly duties, the general business of running my household I set aside time for my endeavor. Words flew from my fingers. I was killing it.

I wrote with wild abandon up to the second week, and then something happened.

I began to lose steam. Entering word counts, following schedules, typing X amount of words per day. It began to feel more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. So I stopped recording the word count and stressing about the looming date of November 30.

I am still writing. My novel isn’t dead. But it won’t be finished within the span of 30 days. While I applaud NaNoWriMo’s efforts in just getting people’s off their asses and writing, their 30 day window cannot contain me.

My novel will be finished when I need to finish it. It may or may not have 50,000 words, but it’s cool. It may not make sense either, but that’s ok too. I am writing, and that’s what’s important.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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Review for “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This was my first foray into Haruki Murakami, the wildly popular fiction author from Japan. I had heard good things and bad things about his style before deciding to read this, with views from both sides of the spectrum. This book mostly takes place in the mind and thoughts of Tsukuru Tazaki, a 36 year old railway station engineer that was hurtfully shunned by his closest friends back when he was a teenager. Years later he still wonders (more like obsesses) over why he was cast out of his peer group. References to colors are brought up a lot in this book (each of his friends represent a color—red, blue, black, and white), except him, so he drifts throughout his adult life thinking of himself as ‘colorless,’ a nobody. After meeting a young woman who he develops intimate feels for, he eventually tracks down each of his former friends to find out what happened, and, once he finds answers, has the courage to begin living his life to the fullest.

There’s a secret to this book. There is a plot, and yes things do happen, but honestly, not much really happens in this book. This is the story of a classic introvert, a serious study into Tsukuru’s psychological state of mind. I imagine that Murakami’s brooding, heavily introspective, “non plot” style of writing is the reason why “boring” gets thrown around a lot to describe Murakami’s work. I imagine that Murakami is somewhat an acquired taste, with time you become accustomed to his style and the topics he explores. People who love to sit in the dark by themselves will like this book. There really isn’t the ‘crash’ and ‘bang’ of typical story themes.

Personally, I loved this book. I never once got bored with Tsukuru, because Murakami masters the task of making the most boring and mundane of thoughts into something extraordinary. I liken this book to listening to jazz music–there will always be those who can dig a good jazz song and those who don’t. To a non jazz listener, the lack of words is a problem. But to a seasoned ear, the instrumentation of a good jazz song provides all the words you need and more. Looking forward to more books from this author, I’m hooked!

Review: A Monster Calls

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Review for ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“And by doing so, he could finally let her go.”

The last ten words of this book had me crying like a baby, y’all…

Ok, I’m lying. I cried MORE than a few times. Because this book is one like no other I’ve ever read. I don’t give five stars easily, but this one is in a whole ‘nother universe of AWESOMENESS.

I’ll write a better review later. All I can say for right now is: DAMN.

Review: Tampa

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Book review for Alissa Nutting’s “Tampa”
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the kind of book that people will either love or hate. There really is no in between, because whether you loved it or hated it the character and the motives of Celeste Price will provoke some kind of reaction out of you.

For those who don’t know, this book follows Celeste Price, an attractive Florida middle school teacher who is, by textbook definition, a pedophile and sexual predator. She teaches middle schoolers for one purpose and one purpose alone: to seduce and have sex with preteen boys. This book is full of very graphic scenes of sex between an adult and a child (you’ve been warned!) and tons and tons of really crude language about the subject just mentioned. There’s also a lot of discussion on female anatomy, vaginas, penises, masturbation, sex toys, etc. If you aren’t ready for that, I don’t advise that you read this book, because the frank sexual nature of it is about 80% of its content. I’m not kidding.

Let me say this: I have never, ever encountered a character so unlikeable in my life. Celeste Price is a woman on a mission in the way that she pursues a 14 year old male student, seduces him, and uses him to fulfill her sexual desires. There’s no love here, only sex. Being inside this woman’s head is truly nauseating experience. I had to literally “schedule” time with Celeste (as in, be in a mood where I felt like dealing with her) because whenever you finish reading it the ‘ick’ factor is one where a dozen showers won’t make you clean.

So why did I read it? And why did I like it? Because it’s true transgressive fiction, in its purest and best form.

What this book forces you to do is question the way we as a society view adult-child sexual relationships. We all seem to agree as a society that any adult engaging in sex with a child under the age of consent is wrong, and in turn, there are laws designed to protect minors from sexual abuse. But the way we view the child victim, depending on whether they are male or female, is problematic. A teenage girl who has a sexual relationship with a male teacher is almost always a victim. In the book, however, the people surrounding Jack do not consider him a victim. Nor does Jack himself consider himself to be victim. He is just being a red blooded American boy, living out a teenaged male fantasy of being dominated by a sexy older woman.

Because we get to live so closely inside Celeste’s mind, seeing how truly depraved she is, we have no choice but to express outrage when the law allows her to escape justice because she is a physically attractive female. There is also the trope of the assumption that women are the fairer sex and not inherently evil. We don’t want to imagine women as aggressive, sociopathic sexual predators because it goes against our ideal of women as caregivers and loving people. We assume females are a passive gender and not capable of sexually abusing a man.

So I liked this book, because it made me think. Even if those thoughts were truly vile, I feel it was absolutely necessary, to understand the larger point that the book is trying to make. I’m glad I read this book, but I would clearly never, ever read it again.