Ian started at Avid in June of 2019, just short of celebrating his 20th year in Athens. He spent most of the last 2 decades tending hipster bars and playing loud music (some folks would say you could swap those adjectives). In fact, he’s often spotted reading in dark, noisy bars. Most of his free time is spent nose-in-book, playing old video games or rewatching classic talkie films like Midnight Madness and Cabin Boy.
In my opinion, it's very rare to see the STORY-WITHIN-A-STORY-WITHIN-A-STORY format pulled off as gracefully as Mr. O'Brien did here. And to top it off, it's a brilliant and sneaky comedy. So many re-readable character interactions... Loved it.
This book reads like a blueprint for the best of the dirtiest and darkest early Western films. It's all here: The questionable and faulty hero. The local cowards and drunks. Miners on the verge of strike. Multiple showdowns. The sacrifices of/for "Family" and/or "Friends". Way better than the movies...
Markson takes us into the mind of either A) someone suffering the trials of dementia, or B) the last person on Earth. Both scenarios worked for me. It's a highly entertaining view into cabin fever of the human brain.
Who/what were the Visceral Realists? Though bookended by the protagonist's tale of curiosity, the meat of this book sandwich is an amassment of varying opinions on its two founders that spans three decades and four continents. It reads like journalistic nonfiction which forms a bond between reader and aforementioned truth seeker. Good eats!
Wow... I'm still processing this one. It's sensory overload in three acts. ACT ONE: a bit of Primer for what's to come. ACT TWO: a brutal nightmare-journal documenting multiple creative deaths of our narrator. ACT THREE: a rollercoaster dia/monologue reminiscent of Godard's 'Weekend' or 'Contempt'. A discussion-worthy ending to boot!
In theory, there's nothing funny about war, feverously managing a trading post in the middle of the jungle, going mad working on an automobile assembly line OR scraping away a living as a broke doctor in the slums, but this snarky protagonist makes it all so in this adventure.
Here are four unique character studies, each one longer than the previous. I felt an emotional attachment for all four of the subjects which grew in intensity from story to story, so look forward to reading more Sebald in search of that fifth story or/and character.
The tale of a once-thriving ghost town told by its 'surviving' ghosts. Each apparition's narration slightly overlaps to cofabricate a shuffled timeline and scattered outcome. I tossed it into my 'Highly Re-readable' bucket.
A few glimpses and side-glimpses of a side-world in which born-into castes predetermine each character's role, but not their fate. Almost every piece of the chessboard's story is told. Loveded it.
Though it was his 'Forty Stories' collection that gatewayed my obsession with D.B., it was the story 'The Balloon' (pg. 46) that would have been all I need to get hooked. These are Death Stars™ served up as Gobstoppers™. Please don't sue me.
A must-read-and-reread for kids AND adults. A permanent resident of TopTenTerritory. Don't be fooled by the simplistic cartoony look of the Bone cousins. Both the artwork and story grow darker and more complex as the adventure advances. And hilarious? Yes, it's hilarious. "Out From Boneville" is the first collection in the series.
'The Hero's Return' from Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut' encapsulates every one of my favorite tropes of the Roger Waters/post-Barrett era in just 2 minutes 43 seconds. A great intro for folks that only know them as a concept album or songs-the-length-of-side-B band. 'Lot 49' is Pynchon's 'Hero's Return'. A g(re)ateway to an artist that some find a little intimidating. Granted, no one ever did a laser show based on Pynchon's works, but I'd be first in line with a posse, so someone get on that.
My favorite Pynchon book. It's historical fiction and hysterical diction starring both a talking dog and an invisible duck.
(This book cannot be returned.)
Imagine you and your coworkers under the same IHOP roof, boothed throughout most of the diner. In a manic moment, you start a pancake food fight, triggering an out-of-body experience. Circling over their heads, you reveal each and every workplace/interpersonal drama with an imaginary 'reader'. Now pick up this book and imagine you're that 'reader'. This was my intro to the beautiful insanity of Antrim.
The livid viscosity of a dark tale is always well accompanied by a slick sense of humor. One bite of this macabre macaron and I was hooked. BE NICE TO ANIMALS...
If at the last second of the experiment, Thomas Pynchon wandered into the Coen Brothers' teleportation device to ask for directions, the creature emerging from the murky shadows would be this book.
(Tip: Stretches via cringing can avoid cramps caused by dint of laughter.)
I'm that sucker for time loops and/or alternate realities that gets pretty miffed when they're handled poorly. I'm SO far from miffed. I'm touched and charmed, even.
I've attempted a review free of spoilers, but there's not much that I could offer to an educated guest that wouldn't bruise this apple.
Thrown almost immediately into the action, the first half of 'Norco' slingshots the reader through a play-by-play-to-the-millisecond account of this overly-armed and loosely-organised heist, with multiple pit stops to... just... breathe...... The pace of the second half, though calmer, is no less entertaining as the trial hits more speed bumps than the high speed chase in part one.
Four stories wheelbarrowed down a potholed pathway of flawed love 'round the fecund pond in history's horribly funded public park. The cartoon-strength attitudes of the four (or five) wonderfully constructed main characters gave me the strength to accept each of their fates with que seras and a sigh.
It sure looks intimidating, but 20 pages in I was swept away by an incredibly ardent undertow. These paragraph/sentences (sentegraphs?) read like I was pulling the string of a Mattel See-N-Say, bouncing from character to character with such flawless fluidity that I occasionally had to come up for air, have a nice float, then dive right back in. An insane conclusion, to boot!
'Greenwood' boomerangs the timeline whilst remaining linear, scattering and pollinating its mysteries throughout. A family name is a nickname and time is a game of telephone. A family tree, on paper, can just look like a post-tornado pile of branch scraps. Optimism can be dark. That's when I find it most convincing.
This is a Kennedy assassination saga that avoids most of the stench of conspiracy and/or what's been grade-school-history-booked into our basic-fact-singed brains. A compendium comical, emotional, and liberally fictional, like the Ford Theater tale without all that Booth-talk. A sweet digestif to follow DeLillo's 'Libra'.
This book is 'Gravity's Rainbow Framed/Censored Roger Rabbit' AND Punch and Judy in the Marx Bros' script-doctored 'Waiting for Godot' AND 'Barton Fink' directed by the Zucker Bros. AND The Last 20-odd minutes of '2001' as a Pigs in Space sketch ALL wrapped up in one anthill. It's highbrow AND lowbrow. It's UNIBROW, like Bert and Ernst. It's comedy punches up AND down, like Intendo's 'Punch Out' (pun nintended).
I was late in the game in discovering this gem. 20 years late. In that literal score, I've mined and cashed in many literary nuggets. I've amassed, squandered, and gambled away a mental fortune. I've climbed the highest of peak contents, sailed the smoothest C-listers, and toiled through some plain ol' stinkers. Sometimes a book just finds YOU. It pulls you out of your post-voyage funk and says "Hey buddy, I've been here all along. Let's hang." SPOILER ALERT: This book is now my father.
This is a Whitman's sampler of characters and their varying slow burn relationships with Neva, a magical Christ-like figure cursed/blessed with the power to dispense seemingly endless love. But this is delicious, vulgar, beautiful, sick Vollmann. One chump's polished turd is another's oxygenated jewelry. Some sulk in the moonlight as others bask in surplus sunlight bouncing off of a big space rock. However, all of us are users, abusers and addicts of love. I walked away from this book with a much higher awareness of the worth of everyone around me: the stars, the understudies, the chorus, the backstage crew, the audience, the ticket takers, the folks in the alley behind the theater.
A spilled inkwell set into action by a 14 year old boy wanting to see naked girls. Seems commonplace enough, but in lieu of cleaning up the mess, Mathieu lets the the ink slow-flow through the grooves and divots of the 1990s drawing board. A dysfunctionate and affectional domino effect that often turns left though the right blinker's been on for miles.
This squelched my classic-tale-of-revenge fix, though my head is spinning in the attempt to bullseye the moral. A: no one really gets what they deserve, however B: what does ANYONE really deserve? Is Michael Kohlhaas a 16th century John Wick (sorry) or the cranky codger that won't leave city hall be until they put up that derned stop sign they promised, like, last year? For fans of 'Captain Blood', 'Prince of Foxes' and the like.
I just spent a guilt-free rainy day with these high calorific, double-stuffed short stories. Located within: A traffic jam turned tribal via survival, some playful narrator juggling, an escapist daydream that O. Henrys into an R. Serling nightmare, and fiery relationships that literally burn to literal litter. Looking forward to more rain.
This book is flat-out fun. The comeuppance of an awful, awful protagonist immediately ignites my stinkin' thinkin' lobe. This book is flat-out fun. By page two, the ink of the portrait of this punching-bag-of-a-scumbag has dried. Everything that follows is just a comical, fowl-mouthed, feces-fling of a farce that takes this jerk down a coke-fueled paranoia parade, spraying the town with evidence of his guilt like a topless blender set to liquefy. This book is flat-out fun.
Though not an underlinin' highlightin' dog-earer, I'll scribble rough/illegible/coded garble on whatever bookmark or receipt that ends up in my current book's progressional path. Many scripted scraps and 20 pages into 'Speedboat' I accepted that the notable moments in the book just WERE the book. I put the pen away and recycled the receipts recyclable. The bookmark stays, as I will re-read and reference this one for many years to come.
The evolution of a moment and the miles between chance encounters in the stylings of an intentionally skip-riddled record. When others jazzercise through "...to B" Meyer sits and meditates on "From A...". Peak bleak! Short on time? Read "The Crack" then reconsider your schedule.
Imagine this classic switched-at-birth situation (names and time periods ignored): The director of “Twister” picks up the script for “Inception.” On day one of filming, the A.D. pleads “But boss, this seams to be a film about dreams-inside-of-dreams-inside-of-dreams” and the prideful director, refusing to own up to the clearly near-sighted mistake replies “Nope! It’s a tornado movie! ROLE CAMERA!” [For realsies, the calls to my mother and moments shared with my cat whilst inside this beautiful, exhausting, exhaustive maelstrom were more the precious to me, though COMPLETELY unexplainable to them.]
I imagine Neil Simon picking up Asher (our narrator) from Raymond Chandler's yard sale in L.A., thinking that with a little dust up and polish, he could find a swell use for him. Back in New York, with too much on his plate, Simon lends Asher out to James Purdy on the weekends. Somewhere near the end of this arrangement, there was even a scare when Asher was left in a Yellow Cab driven by Donald Barthelme.
This book is perfect short, perfect sweet and perfect to the point. Hot dog.
I'd love to hear these bizarre fables of personified thoughts, rogue clothings and fanciful drunk fantasies told in front of a roaring fire. Each story both eery and cozy as a waiting room designed by Winsor McCay, full of jokes, mightedly tidily dressed up in funeral wear.
Both optimism and pessimism are doled out evenly enough to turn a played-out teeter-totter into a much needed park bench, pinpointing the humor in stress and excitement of the blah. The stories share similar themes and flow together like a long peek into a randomized ‘What If?’ contraption. My favorites are the third person tales (’Attention’ = my vote for Prom Queeng) that left me questioning 'Do I love this character, the narrator or, why not, both?'
I cried and laughed out loud so many times throughout this book (a couple moments that inspired both were the breakdown of how it feels to have $25 billion vs. $20 billion in your bank account and 'The Golden Child' volume/valium story). Similar to his previous novel's ('The Instructions') main character, Belt's style of breaking down a single moment of thought was so addictive. I kept wanting more but some paragraphs/pages made me feel like I just ran a brain marathon, so many breaks from reading were taken. That's not a diss! As a once physically sick and mentally questionable child from a family on a tight budget, I felt the mother/son flashbacks were perfect in so many ways. I'm fighting back the urge to jabber on about how much I loved these near-tears moments (and heavy tears after her letters to Belt near the middle of the novel). The father/son relationship was very hard to decipher at first, but the third third of the book was swimming in wonderful interactions. (I have more to say, but it all leads to Spoilertown. My full review is on my Goodreads page. You've been warned...)
An unguarded pile of cash just gathering dust in an old defenseless widow's house? Sitting there under a coat in an unoccupied room? Of course a couple of young ne're-do-wells hatch a plan to just walk right in and grab it, but loose lips instantly sink ships. Right out of the gate there are too many crooks in the kitchen, sometimes one entering just as another left moments ago, creating a convoluted mess of a crime scene and a delightful read. From the street thugs to the seasoned looters to the Las Vegas white-collar criminal, everyone is far too blinded by the thought of getting their hands on that cash to think/act reasonably. This leads to a revelation for one character, a nondrinker, who chooses an AA meeting to be his alibi as the crime goes down (way down). Listening to the stories of one member he realizes, tearfully, that crime is his booze, but from here on out he will live his life crime-free! After he gets his payout for this last one, of course... then he'll quit. The story is messes upon mishaps upon misfires which makes for great pulp.
Bolaño is a master of controlled rambling. Like the conductor of a train that was thrown together by a child whose father turned his back on the model kit, but no worries, the tracks were assembled by the manufacturer and well-maintained. The train rides like the story of a beggar waiting to receive a wealthy merchant’s coin, only to be sidetracked by the tales of each content of the latter’s pocket, which may include a sci-fi adventure that leads to the grocery store receipt’s origin and/or the tear jerker legend of the movie stub. To top it off, the choo-choo’s points of departure (beggar) and arrival (merchant) are as equally fascinating and off-brand as the journey. Cowboy Graves is both a short, sweet intro to Bolaño’s style and a must-get for the completionists.
Communication’s a key ingredient to our daily life. Even choosing to avoid it says multiple somethings about us. Be the relationship cave painter and archaeologist or mother and son, down to the nanosecond most of us (speaker and auditor) repeatedly fudge it up. In that last sentence, for example, the subject choices and use of the word ‘fudge’ paint both a true-ish and false-like picture of this reviewer. But this isn’t about me (or is it?). [Ahem] Through a panoply of pitch-perfect analogies, George Saunders puts the writer/reader at the reader/writer’s la-z-boy/typewriter. With hang-out-sesh tonality, he weighs the beauty in misunderstanding against how utterly frustrating it can be to simply get what you’re being told. Fans of Understanding Comics or How to Read Nancy might enjoy placing turn-of-the-century Russian masterpieces under the microscope. It’s been over a week since I finished A Swim... (“not about me,” eh, me?) and like a kid home from camp, not a day has gone by without a few thoughts of this deep moment or that fond element. All that’s missing from that analogy is me repeatedly checking the mailbox to see if George wrote me a postcard, but that would be a downer of an ending to this wonderful book’s review (not to be confused with a wonderful book review), so it’ll surely be edited out.
Amidst a Scooby-Doo-esque mystery set primarily in the offices of an eccentric-family owned, practically unknown and partially incomplete encyclopaedic dictionary, two employees’ bizarre work days, separated by six score and several weeks, go horribly right.
Somewhere within a collection of stories, after reading, for examples, the one about the tiny faded castle, then the one about the bubble-releasing treasure chest, and the few peppered throughout about fish that drop hints of other fish from previous tales, we’ll realize that we’re reading a book about a single fishbowl. Substitute the fishbowl parts with husbands behaving badly, vague hauntings, views of Hollywood from the dirty south, and cats and cats and cats, and for the most part you have MOVIE STARS. But nearing the end, the camera pulls back to reveal the true subject matter of the book: The author sitting at home, lit by moonlight in a powerless house, staring at nothing and everything, slowly emptying the entire content of the fish food shaker (against all warnings) into the bowl. And once again, I forgot to mention up top that this book is, no joke, hilarious.
Jack Levitt is a dilapidated shanty with Getty Museum guts. When all who pass through his life just get a view of a defective-septic-tank-induced swampyard, Don Carpenter gives us a tour of the house’s inner workings. Originally released in 1964, Carpenter’s use of realist magicism monitors a unique balance between true-to-its-time and ahead-of-its-time. I’d like to say this book is perfect, but so isn’t anything.
Returning to his hometown on military leave, Mick walks into a whole slew of family problems that he initially attempts to avoid, secluded in a cabin and chock-full of bourbon. Being called on to assist in tracking down a murderer puts him hesitantly back on his feet. It’s a distraction and we immediately see that he’s equally brilliant and broken enough to solve (kinda sorta) the mystery with ease. But even with a name like The Killing Hills and a body discovered in the first few pages, I still look back on the murder mystery as the book’s B Plot. Chris Offutt paints Appalachia so brilliantly, that, though pleasantly so, it’s distracting. The towns in which growth just means a larger hospital, diners exchanged for faster food, a new prison and improved state roads that aid travellers in quickly passing through without noticing much more than the aforementioned. Populated for generations by a handful of families who in turn depopulate via hard living and occasional vengeance. Driven by conflicting nostalgia, ill-defined chivalry and a hangover, Mick’s story is either one of a farewell visit or a return towards retirement.
I get way too excited about this book, turn into the Micro Machines Man suffering hiccups. I don’t know where to start, so I open seven sentences all at once. Lacking Namwali Serpell’s skills to gracefully braid them into a concise (yet carnival-ride-bumpy) narrative, I just sound like a maniac. One who imagines some seamonster muse washing up a barrel of characters, demanding that she “Use them! Use them until they are worn down to mere near-nothings! When someone walks out the door for good, BE NOT DONE WITH THEM!” Y’all, I really don’t know how to review this one... For one thing, labelling it Sci-fi or Fantasy is like calling a person with two cats a Cat Person. It just IS. And what that “IS” is is Kid-In-A-Candy-Shoppe-With-A-Credit-Card Fiction. It’s all over the right place at all over the right time. I loved it, and remember [hic] if it doesn’t say Micro Machines [hic] it’s not the [hic] real thing.
Mostly an experiment in style, mapping the journeys of a brain left on autopilot in the neighborhood of eerie and hilarious. A scenario, smack dab in the middle of the book, in which Child asks Mother to buy a Balloon, sums up the vibe. Mother does so, but makes it clear that if Child frees Balloon, there will be no purchase of Balloon Two, no matter the tear count or temperature of tantrum. “Why would I let go of what I so obviously desire” quickly spins into “now all I can think about is letting it go.” Each story a unique fresh dent on the hungover brain’s sedan.
Stories built on foundations of unbalanced karma, the self identifying itself and male douchebaggery where (oftentimes) the inner pessimistic optimist lets the outer optimistic pessimist’s joy really bum him out, only to then retaliate with focused blind passion. I was introduced to the term “get your poops in a group” in this collection, and that, in a nutshell, is the goal of it’s protagonists, though some poops do get lost here and there.
I read the first 40 pages after work, keys in hand at the front door. Clocked out, lights off, door unlocked, I stood there sampling the first page and then, well, the receding sun said “nope, lock up, take it home like a normal person.” As a fellow jotter (I jot a lot) of every light-bulb-moment, I instantly fell in love with this book. Amid all the references to Penelope’s indeterminable wait for Odysseus’ return, there lived my favorite flavor of the book: the love letter, in a series of notes, to the one-in-waiting’s notebook. [sigh...]. A painting of Wittgenstein’s Mistress in Renata Adler’s Speedboat biding its time on a velvet, deceptively raging river.
Oh boy, this book... This moral-trampling morale trampoline... Twist endings dressed up as punchlines to nail the job interview... A mobius highway with thematic billboards displayed throughout, off-tempo to your personal speed limit, bleeding bad moods into light-hearted jokes and mild yuck-em-ups over graphic shoot-em-ups... Satire barking “Yahtzee” in the face of the Sublime, but, hey, best 2 out of 3? This book… oh boy.
I’ve never enjoyed a story’s derailment as much as this, and it hops the rails again, again and again. Every section of ELADATL starts off as pie and instantly morphs into cake. With two authors at the helm, it has an Exquisite Corpse vibe, but clearly in the hands of professional aeronauts (just compare the oceanic difference between good and bad improv [either team’s name: The AeroNutz!]). What starts off as a collection of short stories, set in an alternative California, quickly becomes a movie and/or/about/within a dream and/or vice versa and so on. This sounds like a mess, I know, but like I said up top, every turn the book takes makes for a delightful treat. Baron Munchausen meets The Savage Detectives.
The load bearing frame of this little coming-of-age powerhouse is composed of such comforting and well worn-in tropes (The Kids who don’t think twice before eloquently letting loose what I was just stinkin’ thinkin’ at that age; The “Cool” Young Teacher who’s really just as lost as the students; The Podunk County that has the hallmarks of a prison ship lost at sea), which is why, when the story takes a sudden series of macabre dives, it still left me wanting, especially expecting, everything to work out for all involved in the end. And, in it’s own way...
Weeks before an impending war on American soil, a harmless prank, well, not a prank, but kind of harmless nonetheless, goes wrong. And when trying to do the right thing, while not exactly in the right, things just get worse. Meanwhile, a humorous night at work leads to a neighborhood’s nightmare, an elaborate sex party must go down without a hitch, and people all over town are calling in bomb threats to get out of daily resposibilities. We ride along with Della, who, with the best vermouth of humor, is all at once trying to fix, create and flee from every anxiety in her playbook. A real tag team throwdown between empathy, sympathy, hostility and not giving a hoot ensues.
As is the case for many of his books: Like a Fisher Price Little Person in a multi axis trainer set to “Medium Low”, Dag Solstad’s protagonist is locked in place at the epicenter of the action to excessively observe the moderately spinning days away. And we, the readers (the staff of NASA: Toy Division [Silly Existential Affairs Unit]) are there to merely observe (and in my case, report) with a steady, if not occasionally confused, smirk on our faces.