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Showing posts from December, 2012

So Far Gone: A Novel by Paul Cody

Mental illness and mass murder.  The death penalty for a perpetrator who was grotesquely victimized by those he murdered.  Hints of satanic ritual abuse (which could just as easily have been Jack Connor's delusions or dreams rather than memories), though the very real psychological abuse and daily double-binds he suffered at the controlling hands of his sadistic grandmother were just as satanic, and certainly the most destructive and damning forces in the long sad haul of his sorry, isolated existence (I won't call it a life), that he endured in a bleak house that might as well have been Death Row.

Is it seriously possible to empathize with this immature and mentally ill man who killed his grandmother and parents?  Probably not.  Not even when we see how his parents regularly threatened him with yet another psychiatric month-long incarceration at the local institution if he didn't shape up, and stop shuffling around late at night in his dreary attic room, keeping them awa…

A Brief Glimpse Back: Memorable Reads of 2012.

Battleborn ~ Claire Vaye Watkins
I've a strong affinity for stories set in deserts.  Most collected here occupy Death Valley and Las Vegas.  Watkins confronts the mythology surrounding her infamous father's past with most likely more mythology, but also autobiography, though they're so enmeshed it's not possible to untangle her crafty confabulations.  Her debut is generally good and sometimes genuinely great, but falls flat a few times too.  More here.

Black Light: A Novel ~ Galway Kinnell
Another story set in the desert, this time half a world away, in Iran.  A man named after Persia's mythological king, Jamshid (of which mythology Kinnell mines in his anti-hero time and again), so fed up with his dissappointing life, lashes out in an impulsive instant -- a horrible mistake -- and flees his crime for the rest of his life, if a nomad existence on the run can still be called "life".  The version I read was altered by Kinnell in 1980, following the Iranian r…

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

Even had I not already known the particulars regarding the real-life death of author Claire Vaye Watkins' mother, or how "Razor Blade Baby" got her name, I'm positive Battleborn's opening sentence would've still jolted me.  Claire Vaye Watkins' gallows humor knows no bounds, and even though there's little amusing about suicide or the wild-eyed image of an impulsive Charles Manson abruptly "assisting" in a difficult delivery with a rudimentary scalpel, operating in unsanitary, squalid quarters out at some now long-since-mythologized Death Valley "Ranch," I can't help but laugh, disarmed as I am by Watkins' deadpan delivery.  A delivery that often zips with wit, hooks and puns. Fun puns you don't see coming, ones that wallop you, as in the first (and I think her best) story, "Ghosts, Cowboys," a fictive/autobiographical rumination on beginnings both personal and universal in the history of the wild Wild West.

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