Review: Waste

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Review for "Waste" by Andrew F. Sullivan (2016)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Larkhill, Ontario, 1989. Late at night two teenage friends, Jamie and Moses, hit a lion while driving down a darkened back country road. They throw the carcass in a ditch and make a promise to tell no one about the incident. Moses goes back to the no-tell hotel where he lives with his eccentric mother and discovers she is missing and begins to look for her. Meanwhile at his job in a butcher shop, Jamie discovers a decomposing body in a can of bone waste. All the while this is going on, there’s a pair of sadistic, bearded ZZ Top looking brothers who love to kill people with power tools, searching for the person who killed their pet lion, Falcor.

Don’t start thinking there’s a light at the end of this bleak-ass tunnel.  (p. 2)

The very first page tells you to not expect anything good out of this book, so I didn’t. Overall, this book is a very dark tale about the goings-on in a small Canadian town.  From the first to the last page it never lets up in its bleakness–nasty hotels, people with dirty jobs, violence with impunity, shuttered factories. Everyone in this book is some version of a loser, stumbling through their wasted lives as addicts, dealers, wannabe skinheads, or just assholes in general. There’s a healthy dose of black humor that breaks the emptiness every now and then, but the bleakness drags this book on much longer than it should. The first quarter moves moderately fast, but the middle was a snooze fest. I considered DNF’ing but wanted to get to the end, which was pretty decent. For a book that’s so keen on violence, the only acceptable end is a violent one. “Waste” certainly delivers that.

Three out of five stars. Read if you’re into Donald Ray Pollock, Chuck Palahniuk, or Irvine Welsh-type stuff.

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Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

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Review for "The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story" by Douglas Preston (2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If you like pulpy, Indiana Jones-ish kind of stories, then this book will probably appeal to you.

“The Lost City of the Monkey God” is about a 2015 expedition of researchers to the Mosquitia region of the Honduran rainforest, a remote, inhospitable jungle landscape where the legendary La Cuidad Blanca (or “White City”) was known to exist. The author participated first hand in the expedition, writing and documenting the story of the team.

The first third of the book is all about previous expeditions to the area and why the White City has remained undiscovered for so long. This section is not very interesting and reads like a textbook. I can understand why it’s included here, but I skimmed through most of this. It gets more interesting in the middle portion, which is about the expedition itself, including finding the White City and the team’s handling of the numerous dangers of the region (poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, dangerous drug cartels, etc). The last section of the book is about leishmaniasis, a face-eating parasitic disease that Preston and several of the members of the team contracted while in the jungle. It’s really gross, but I guess it makes great fodder for those who believe that curses follow ancient things and the people who disturb them. Oooh.

Since this expedition has been made public, there’s been extensive debate among scientists and archaeologists over whether or not the discovery made by this team is actually the legendary White City or not. First, the very existence of a “White City” is a myth–and one that’s been debunked by scientists. Second, there are many locations already marked on maps of the region as having archaeological ruins. How do we know that this is one is the fabled White City? Third, there were no actual archaeologists on the team making this ‘discovery,’ though it is mentioned that they “worked with” them. Well ok. Fourth, most of the team’s claims of finding the White City go back to images they discovered on LiDAR (a remote sensor that surveys the land with lasers). While no one is debating that there is indeed Something in the area resembling ancient architecture–is this Something really a new discovery? Is it really the legendary “White City”? For all we know, this could be a known (and previously) excavated site.

Preston does address some of these arguments here, but I don’t think his critique goes deep enough. He makes it plain that this is his story and he’s sticking to it. Given the shouts of foul from the scientific community, however, you have to ask what this book’s real knowledge contribution is. Even after reading this, I’m not sure. Whatever it’s trying to tell me, I’m not convinced either.

There’s some really cool venom-spitting snake stories in here though. Three stars.

Review: The Weight of This World

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Review for "The Weight of This World" by David Joy (2017)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is my second David Joy read, the first having been “Where All Light Tends to Go.” I read that one, gave it 3 stars. This one is slightly better, though not by much.

This book literally begins with a bang–with shocking act of violence committed by young Aiden McCall’s father upon his mother. Without parents, he is sent to a group home that he quickly runs away from. Aiden finds a friend in Thad Broom, a brooding, often violent boy with his own problems. The two boys grow up in the same home together, though Thad eventually leaves to join the Army and fight in Afghanistan. Thad returns from combat injured and hopeless, a shell of a man. Aiden, without his friend for six years, doesn’t fare much better: he’s unemployed, bitter, and a part-time drunk. He hopes to escape from their miserable lives and move away, but Thad will not hear of it. In the meantime both Thad and Aiden do drugs (mostly methamphetamine) to get through their days.

In the middle of the drama is April, Thad’s mother. She lives with secrets of her own, and also wants to move on and, in her words, “get off the mountain.” She is swept into the subsequent drama when Aiden and Thad’s drug dealer accidentally kills himself and leaves all three with a large stash of drugs and cash. What follows after this point in the book is a really dark and violent cycle of revenge, suffering, and just plain bad decision-making.

None of the characters in this book are likable, but I think in the end their likability is completely irrelevant to the reason why I gave this book three and a half stars. I can see that the author is perhaps meditating on the power of fate over free will, though as a reader after a while I was just plain tired of the characters and their ensuing Stupidity Olympics. You realize that these people don’t want to better themselves and they simply want to be miserable, end of story. I tried to feel some kind of empathy (nope!) for their choices, maybe even some kind of compassion for these characters but there’s none (absolutely none!) to be found. Three-quarters into this, I just got tired of reading and plodded my way to the end. Needless to say, I was glad when it was over.

Despite my rating, I would recommend this book. Though the violence is not for the faint of heart, but the author’s writing is not that bad and this novel does, in many ways, still manage to hold your attention.

Review: Moxie

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Review for "Moxie" by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I know this book has gotten glowing praise from many of its readers, but I was underwhelmed with this one. I know I’m jumping off a cliff by saying this, but this book was just ok for me.

Vivian is an average teen living with her single mother in a small town in Texas. Aided by her mother’s Riot Grrl memorabilia and fed up with sexist administrators, Vivian makes an anonymous zine to protest the unfair treatment of girls at her high school and empowers them to fight back. The zine catches on, and most of the girls at the school eventually join in her fight. In the middle of all of the brouhaha, Vivian manages to snag the hottest artsy guy in school, who, it turns out, is sympathetic to her feminist goals.

My main concern with any feminist text is how it addresses intersectionality. As a woman of color, I’m critical of any text that claims to be feminist, yet focuses exclusively on the voices of White middle class women. Fortunately the author does address the issue, about midway through the novel when Vivian reveals that her mother once said that “Riot Grrls weren’t as welcoming to other girls as they could have been.” Well, no ma’am, they weren’t. There is a Latina and and Black girl at Vivian’s school who join the Moxie movement, yet we’re supposed to believe that their perspectives and concerns (jerky football players and dress code checks) are the exact same as Vivian’s. Sorry, but I simply don’t believe this. Where is race here? How does the author manage to make women of color so one-dimensional in this book? Gimme a break.

Which brings me to the last issue: race. While she does addresses the problem of inclusivity, Mathieu’s fictional small-town Texas world is devoid of any mention of racism. I praise the author for addressing the elephant in the room, but I just don’t think it goes far enough. As far as gender, there is a reference to a lesbian character, albeit a brief one. The problems that arise from race, class, sexuality, and gender will always overlap (hint: why it’s called intersectionality), and I simply wanted more from the Black, Latina, and LGBTQ characters here. What you get instead with this book is a lot of romanticizing on the 90’s Riot Grrl movement, which, let’s face it, was not as inclusive to race and gender as it should have been.

Overall, not a bad book, but not a great one either. Three stars is my best recommendation here, though I look forward to (possibly) reading more of this author in the future.