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Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Oh Idaho, you are one shattering novel.

It’s a gentle shattering like a child tapping on the shell of a boiled egg. There’s no single punch to the gut but rather a gradual build-up that leaves you devastated. At the heart of the novel – and revealed early in the book – is the death of a six-year-old girl at the hands of her mother. But that isn’t what devastates. Rather it’s Ruskovich’s almost tender exploration of the years preceding and those that follow this one unimaginable moment.

In a way that’s both frustrating and yet fitting for a novel about forgiveness (not redemption) and love, Ruskovich never truly provides us with the details of what happened on that fateful day. We get snippets of information from Wade, the husband, who witnesses the after effects of the crime, but not the crime itself. When we meet Wade, now remarried to music teacher Ann, we discover that he’s suffering from early onset dementia, which is erasing what memories he does have of that day (not that he was ever chatty about it). We know that Wade and his wife – Jenny – were chopping and cleaning and collecting birch wood. We know that their daughters, Jenny and May, were horsing around as their parents worked, arguing and singing and swatting flies. And we know that Jenny took a break from all that birch in the front seat of the ute, that she was joined by May and that moments later, with the hatchet she used to clean the logs, Jenny murdered her youngest child. In the ensuing madness and horror her oldest daughter, June, ran into the woods never to be seen again.

The rest of Idaho is only partly about untangling that one irrational, violent, shocking moment. This is not a crime novel, or a psychological thriller with a startling reveal that exonerates Jenny or brings May (somehow) back from the dead. Rather it’s a character piece exploring the mental-state, the make-up, the motivations of Jenny and Wade from their perspective and that of others like Ann or Jenny’s cellmate Elizabeth who are drawn into their lives. Ruskovich achieves this by pushing the narrative forward and backward in time – the first meeting between Wade and Jenny… Ann’s initial encounter with Wade and his request that she teach him to play piano… June and May’s relationship days before the crime occurred… and forward in time… Jenny’s time in prison and her relationship and eventual friendship with Elizabeth… Ann caring for a gradually fading Wade… and in among these moments… vignettes dealing with the lives of people touched – even briefly – by the crime… the boy who June had a crush on… the old couple who first come across Wade, and his wife and their dead daughter – and it’s all presented to us in the most gorgeous, compassionate prose. There are no hard edges here. And no easy answers either.

For all the weightiness of the subject matter and the tragedy that shadows each sentence this isn’t a difficult book to read. Ruskovich’s brilliant control of language and her capacity to draw sympathetic characters makes for a novel that’s hard to let go of even while slowly, but surely, it tap, tap, taps away at your emotions.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

So what to make of Steve Erickson’s Shadowbahn. It’s already been described as the first post-Trump novel, which is a tad ironic given the President – not named – in Erickson’s near future (the book is set in 2021) is female and it’s under this female President (look, we know it’s Hillary) that America fractures into a “disunion”. Not even Erickson, for all the weirdness that occurs in Shadowbahn, could imagine a Trump Presidency. That said, he has no difficulty describing a broken America.

And that’s basically what this book about. The death of America – or at least the ideals and dreams that famously underpin the country. Erickson employs a multitude of metaphors to describe this. The Twin Towers reappear in South Dakota twenty years after they were destroyed. Music begins to vanish from radios, from CDs from people’s memories. On the 93rd floor of the newly minted Twin Towers, Jesse Presley – the still-born brother of Elvis – wakes up on a board table. And in an alternative history, JFK never gets the Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, losing it to Adlai Stevenson. Each ingredient, as disparate and strange as they are, all hit the same basic message. America is no longer the country, the dream, its people thought it was – assuming it ever stood for anything, assuming there was ever a consensus.

Initially, Erickson makes this point with burning hot prose and some wicked humour. The first third of the novel is terrific. Not just the appearance of the towers, but the reluctance of officials to take jurisdiction and responsibility. There’s this laugh out loud moment where the Attorney General forces a soon to be retired sheriff to enter the Towers.

“I believe,” says the attorney general, with the faintest trace of a smile that the sheriff would love to stick a gun in, “the whole wide world has come to the conclusion that you’re the perfect person for this job.”

“I believe the whole wide world has no idea whatsoever who I am,” she answers.

“Exactly.”

And I did love the sections set in an alternative history with JFK standing silent at the National Convention watching a political dynasty fade before his eyes.

But the book is also a nonsensical whirlwind of… I’m not sure what… featuring on the nose imagery such as the scorched grave of the twin-towers and a bewildering set-piece involving a Sonark (the audio equivalent of a lighthouse). If you’re obsessed with American music and particularly the work of Elvis – I’m not – there are passages here that are going to resonate like a well tuned something or other. Otherwise you either go along for the ride or give up. Because there’s very little actual story to hang your hat on and nothing even remotely linear about the plot. Yes, there are characters – Parker and Zema, a brother and sister who hold the only source of music that still exists in America – but they drop in and out of the novel on a whim. It’s a frustrating book. What it says about America, this idea that there never was a dream or set of ideals to aspire to, and even if there was it certainly died the day the Towers fell, is powerful – and yes very relevant in a political environment where Make America Great Again is the catch-phrase. But I’m not sure Erickson pulls it off. It feels like he’s struggling against the basic structure of a novel, at times happy to go back to a narrative, and other times ignoring what little story he’s created.

For all that though I admire Erickson’s ambition. To somehow sum up the rot at the heart of American in just over 60,000 words. If his acknowledgements are anything to go by this wasn’t an easy book to sell (not shocked at all) but I’m glad that a publisher took a punt with it. Because while this is a befuddling novel, one that goes on tangents galore, there’s something exciting about an author writing without any net. Maybe if I loved music more, or gave more of a crap for Elvis, this book might have been a greater success. As it is, it’s a failed but fascinating experiment.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone spans a fourty year period.  It begins in the 1960s when Margaret, an American living in London, marries John, who while charming and charismatic has also been battling with depression since he was a teen. Moving back to America they have three children, Michael, Celia and Alec. For most of the children’s childhood John is able to keep the depression at bay, but when his business falls apart and the prospects job wise look grim he decides to take his own life. If that’s not awful enough Michael, the eldest child, suffers from chronic levels of anxiety which results in a lifelong addiction to the drug Klonopin.

Imagine Me Gone reminded me of Miriam Toews brilliant novel All My Puny Sorrows. Both books, with great sensitivity and a dose of humour, not only explore the effects that the mental health of one individual has on an entire family, but raise the uncomfortable idea of suicide as a welcome relief for the one who is suffering. There is this profound moment in Imagine Me Gone where Michael, in the nightmare process of weaning off Klonopin, tells his brother Alec that there’s an “ethical limit to what anyone should have to endure,” a limit that can’t be negated with “sentimentality… with the idea of some indomitable spirit.” It’s hard to acknowledge that sometimes all the hugs and love and compassion in the world won’t mitigate the pain of living another day, another hour, another minute.

Inspite of the subject matter Imagine Me Gone is an accessible, engaging, often laugh out loud funny novel. Haslett gives each family member a distinct voice and there is a warmth to the novel that avoids sentimentality, that’s still grounded in the real and painful.  As a consequence Imagine Me Gone is a novel that earns each emotional moment – the tragedy and the joy.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy

Jon is a public servant in Westminster who hates his job. He’s just left his wife – who was having an affair – and struggles to be a decent father to his daughter. In his spare time he writes love letters (for a small fee) to single women looking for companionship, even if it’s in prose rather than in person.

Meg is an alcoholic and bankrupt accountant. Putting the pieces of her life together she works part-time in an animal shelter looking to find good homes for lost animals. As she struggles with her sobriety and the occasional suicidal thought Meg stumbles across a letter writing service for single women…

A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet is not an easy book to read. In fact if a novel ever deserved a trigger warning stuck on the front cover, this would be the one. There are plenty of books about people struggling with mental health issues, people who are damaged and lonely and struggling to exist day-to-day. But I vouch that none of them present their characters in such intricate, intense detail. While the novel isn’t written in first person we are exposed to Jon and Meg’s every single thought. If you thought Stephen King overdid italics in the 1980s, wait till you flip through Serious Sweet. There are times when it’s easy to believe that the Kennedy has written the entire novel in slanted text. It is an unrelenting barrage of insecurity and fear and an inability to find solace. But then for those who suffer from depression, from anxiety, there’s rarely a quiet moment.

Hilariously, Serious Sweet is, at its fractured heart, a love story. It’s the most awkward, cringe-worthy, uncomfortable love story I’ve ever read. It’s never clear – not even after you’ve finished the book – whether Meg and Jon will find some peace together. But they certainly love each other, and I suppose that’s something.

I am caught betwixt and between with this book. I’m not sure if it’s a staggering piece of genius or if it’s overlong, pretentious and indulgent. While I never considered not finishing the book, there were certainly times when I dreaded reading another passage about Jon’s hatred for his colleagues or Meg’s struggle with alcoholism, or their joint overwhelming sense of loneliness. But I did finish it, and a bit like Hanya Yanagihara’s The Little Life, this is a book that will stay with me, even if I can’t say I liked it. I’m not going to forget Meg and Jon in a hurry.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

My blog might be 20 or so reviews behind my Facebook page but I thought I at least report on what were my favourite ten books for 2016 (with an eleventh just for luck and because it’s brilliant).

But before I list my favourites for the year here are some stats.  Overall I read 117 novels (and a smattering of novellas).  Of those 65 were by men and 52 were by women.  In regard to the genre literary divide that plagues us ALL!!!! I read 82 books that lean to the genre side of the ledger while 37 of the novels were more literary.

And so here is my top 10 (or 11):

  1. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (2016)
  2. The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts (2015)
  3. The Shore by Sara Taylor (2015)
  4. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015)
  5. Martin John by Anakana Schofield (2016)
  6. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle (2016)
  7. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (2016)
  8. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015)
  9. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)
  10. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)

And number 11..

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (2015 – though first published in South Korea in 2007).

So that was 2016 for me.  Obviously I highly recommend the books above.  Though I could easily have recommended another 30 or more books.  2016, for all the talk of annus horribilis I read some really fine fiction.  Hoping 2017 produced something similar.

 

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an overlong multi-generational saga mostly set in China that deals with more than 60 years of the country’s history, starting with 1949’s Communist Revolution moving onto the Cultural Revolution (1966) and climaxing with the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In between these major events in Chinese history we have a framing story set in Canada and present day Beijing.

There’s a good deal going on in this novel. In among all the revolution Thien shows off a passion for music – in particular Shostakovich, Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Prokofiev – and less successfully mathematics. The book is structured so that the two halves of the novel meet at a zero point. The mathematical symbolism of this went a bit over my head, but all the stuff to do with music and musical theory is fantastic, a true highlight of the novel. Classical music gets centre stage because one of the main characters of this multi-generational saga, Sparrow, the son of Mother Knife, cousin of Zhuli, nephew of Wen the Dreamer and Swirl and most importantly best friends with Kai *takes a deep breath* is a brilliant composer. Influenced by the composers noted above he’s working on a symphony that will never see the light of day because of the tight restrictions placed on art and creativity – restrictions that eventually result in the Cultural Revolution. The tragedy, and message, repeated throughout the novel is that strict ideology – right or left – is the best way to kill creativity, imagination and genius.

One of the other main themes of Do Not Say We Have Nothing is this idea of history as a fluid and shifting narrative. This is symbolised by the “Book of Records” a fictional, but incomplete novel, found by Wen the Dreamer and copied by he and his extended family – including Sparrow and Sparrow’s daughter. This collection of journals, as originally written, stopped at number 17 and the family, starting with Wen, have, over the years, been adding to the narrative, telling their own story in line with the intent of the unknown author. This is reflected through the framing nature of Thien’s novel. It opens in Canada in the early 90s where young Marie, whose father has just committed suicide, is introduced to Ai-ming, Sparrow’s daughter, who has escaped to Canada after Tiananmen Square. Through Ai, Marie learns about her own father and his connection to Ai’s father. The bulk of the novel, therefore, is Marie’s retelling of that history, her attempt at creating a “Book of Records” based on what she’s been told by Ai and varied sources she picks up along the way. Marie creates a narrative from the bare bones of history she’s given, a narrative that ultimately makes sense of her father’s suicide. It’s clever stuff. But…

… it’s too long.

There’s so much history in the novel that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed.  A multitude of characters popping in and out of the narrative means it’s difficult to feel fully invested in any particular person (although Big Mother is awesome). Having said that, it’s worth reading the novel to experience Thien’s account of the lead-up to Tiananmen Square and the eventual suppression of the protest. The last third of Do Not Say We Have Nothing could, on its own, have been a short novel. It’s powerful, intense and awful. All the more so that the people at the time, many of whom remembered and survived the Cultural Revolution, could not comprehend why the Army would be shooting at its own people. There’s a visceral aspect to this section, that goes beyond the graphic moments of violence.

This is a good, if overlong, book that brilliant in patches. Probably the most poignant and subtle moment in the whole novel is where Thien in the acknowledgments thanks those in China who helped her but who she is unwilling to name. It reminds you that freedom to speak, to opine, to critique, is not something everyone can take for granted.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

The Schooldays of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee

It’s been pointed out to me that this isn’t the best place to start with Coetzee. Not just because this is the second book in a planned trilogy (the first novel being The Childhood of Jesus) but because Coetzee, with his long, distinguished, Nobel Prize winning career has written many a fine novel and this particular one – The Schooldays of Jesus – is not one of his best. And while this might be the case I still enjoyed it.

Because it is the second novel of a series, I skimmed the plot synopsis for The Childhood of Jesus. The important points are that Simon, on a boat travelling to Novilla, comes across David – not his real name – a five-year old boy who is travelling to the city to find his mother. At some point in the novel Simon and David meet Ines (I believe she’s playing tennis at the time) and David decides that this woman is his mother. After some toing and froing Ines is convinced of this as well and when the authorities want to send David to school all three decide to escape to the adjoining town, Estrella. And it’s in Estrella where the bulk of the action of The Schooldays of Jesus takes place.

In Estrella Ines and Simon decide that inspite of their fears they need to deal with David’s education. They don’t want to send him to a State school because they’re concerned (a) that the authorities will take David away from them and (b) David doesn’t jibe well with traditional teaching methods. When a tutor fails to engage David it’s suggested that he be sent to one of the Academies – Dance or Music. The Academy of Dance is chosen and three sisters enraptured by this precocious and otherworldly six-year-old agree to pay for his education. At this point we are introduced to the beautiful – angelic – dancer Ana Magdalena and her enigmatic husband Senor Arroyo. And let’s not forget Dimitri. A caretaker for the museum next door who has an unhealthy obsession for dear Ana.

In his review of The Childhood of Jesus, Benjamin Markovits describes the setting of Novilla as a theatre stage. The same description can be applied to Estrella. There’s something flimsy and unreal about this small town and not just because it’s never made clear where Estrella is actually located – though the mother tongue would appear to be Spanish. More than that, it’s hard to put a finger on when (temporally) this book is set. People have cars and there are phones, but no-one seems to watch or own a TV – there’s very little technology on display.  Discussions about the stars and the philosophy of numbers have an almost mystical quality and while there is an institution called the Atom School where they teach kids to look at… you guessed it… atoms through a microscope, this is a society that – in terms of astronomy – seems stuck on the notion of the Spheres.  It’s a muddle.  But entirely deliberate.  Coetzee is clearly not interested in world-building or creating a place that feels remotely real.  Rather the setting is an ephemeral reflection of the character’s discussions about morals, ethics and the passions.

This is a book of ideas, a book that puts philosophy ahead of plot, it’s also a character piece about parenthood and fatherhood. Simon, as our point of view character, deals with the frustration of not understanding the anarchic thought processes of his adopted son. The relationship between David and Simon is key to the novel. For all the philosophical posturing around numerology and the passions, for all the literary allusions that went over my head, this push / pull bond between a confused adult and a highly intelligent six-year-old is the heart of the novel. Simon’s desire to do best for David, even – and especially – when David is rejecting him, seeking attention from Ana and her husband and Dimitri, is the consistent thread that keeps the hazy aspects of the book together. The highlights are the discussions Simon has with David in regard to passion, in regard to love, in regard to violence and tragedy.

Maybe this isn’t Coetzee at his best. But it is a very smart and human and compassionate novel. I look forward to see where he takes David, Simon and Ines next.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

It’s bad form when a reviewer critiques a novel for not being the book her or she wanted.  Unprofessional even.  And yet here I am writing a critique that does precisely that.  It’s not my fault though.  I blame Virginia Reeves for constantly reminding me, teasing me even, with that better novel hiding in the shadows.

Work Like Any Other is set in 1920s Alabama. Roscoe Martin, an electrician by trade, reluctantly joins his wife, Marie, and son on his father in law’s farm after the old man has passed on. Not willing to get his hands dirty with the muckity muck work of agriculture, Roscoe, noting the powerlines near the farm, decides to build his own transformers, put up his own poles and siphon some of that sweet, sweet Alabama electricity. He believes (and rightly so) that a farm working with electricity and all the advantages that provides – especially in terms of harvesting equipment – will make his wife’s property the premier plot of land in the region. So, with the help of the local farm hand Wilson, Roscoe sets about his task bringing Marie’s 1200 acres into the 20th Century. And for two years it goes exactly as Roscoe speculated – the farm makes money hand over fist – that is until a young man from the power company fiddles with Roscoe’s home built transformers and electrocutes himself.

Roscoe is sent to Kilby prison – 10 years for stealing the electricity, 20 years for manslaughter. Wilson, on the other hand, as a person of colour and no prison willing to take him, is leased to the local mine where he has the privilege of spending his day underground. Marie, without her husband and Wilson – the man who essentially ran the everyday operation of the farm – is forced to keep the property operating, while also raising her son and paying back the debt to the electricity company.

The story I wanted to read was about how Marie survives, how she keeps the farm going, how she deals with the crushing debt. I also wanted to know how Wilson managed to live every day working at a coal mine where occupational health and safety was not a consideration. The story I got was about Roscoe and his time on Kilby Prison. It’s not the entirety of the novel. We do check in on Marie from time to time and in the last third of the novel we get an appreciation (of some sort) of what Wilson experienced, but essentially this is Roscoe’s book.

Now, let’s be fair here, Roscoe doesn’t have it easy in prison. While he does have the freedom of breathing fresh air – unlike Wilson – and enjoys milking the cows, working in the library and, eventually, working with the dogs who are employed to chase down escaped prisoners, Kilby does face threats on his life. At one point he is near gutted by a fellow inmate. At another point his arm and shoulder is rendered mostly useless by the brutal treatment of a guard.  But Roscoe’s story reads like every prison narrative you’ve ever read. Cut and paste it with Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and you get a similar, well trodden vibe (well, except for the bit where Andy Dufresne digs a big hole in the wall of his cell). But this is the story Reeves is interested in telling – namely how Roscoe survives prison, but also how he deals with his own guilt, killing a man, sending Wilson to a coal mine, leaving his wife in the lurch – and his frustration, the fact that Marie never responds to any of his letters and he never hears from his son.

Work Like Any Other is a perfectly readable novel. Roscoe’s work on the prison and his continued interest in electricity is mildly interesting. But each time we check in with Marie or get a snippet out of Wilson and his experience in the coal mine – he’s released earlier from “prison” due to him losing an arm and a muck up with his paperwork – I wanted to stay with that story. Instead we return to Roscoe, a man were meant to feel increased sympathy for as he’s betrayed by his wife who falsifies divorce papers while Roscoe is in prison. The last quarter of the book where Marie is, for all intents and purposes, framed as a villain, ends the novel on a sour note. Not that it mattered. The story I was invested in wasn’t the one being told.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

The Many by Wyl Menmuir

Wyl Menmuir’s The Many is a frustrating read in as much as you can see what the author was striving for – grief explored through dream and symbolism – but fails to reach the mark.

The bulk of the action takes place in an isolated fishing town on the coast of what I assume is the UK (but given the dream-like aspect of the terrain could be anywhere). Timothy, looking for a place to relocate with his wife, buys a ramshackle house near the village. This purchase doesn’t go down well with the residents, especially fisherman Ethan, who, ten years previously, buried the owner of the house, their dear friend Perran.

This is a book that thrives on the enigmatic. There are moments throughout, surreal and unexplained, that would have made David Lynch proud. The translucent fish captured by the villagers, purchased by a woman in grey, is only one example of the pervading sense of oddness. Then there’s the three container ships off to the horizon, rusted and rotting that hint at an almost post apocalyptic setting. And among all the strange fish and broken ships there’s the mystery of Perran the previous owner of Timothy’s house.

All this ambiguity and mystery and oddness is wonderful, but like a good porno their needs to be a climax, a money shot that while not spelling everything out at least gives the reader a framework to work with. But even when we discover who Perran is (or was) – a revelation that is a tad on the nose – the remaining questions sit there alone and unanswered. And because there’s bugger all to work with the reader has to devise their own unsatisfying answers such as Ethan and the town and the weird fish are part of Timothy’s dreamscape, an expression of his grief.  Of course we – that is me – could just embrace the surreal nature of it all, which normally I would but I don’t think Menmuir’s writing is strong enough to pull it off. His use of conventional flashbacks to provide context to Timothy’s character and relationship with his wife Lauren struck me as a writer showing his nerves, a form of diluted exposition that only undermines the overall atmosphere of weirdness the book is trying to exude.

Last year Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers did a similar thing – explore grief though symbolism – soooo much better. If you haven’t read that brilliant book instead.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

All That Man Is by David Szalay

David Szalay’s All That Man Is isn’t so much a novel* as a suite of nine novelettes. What connects these novelettes isn’t a character – although there is a genetic connection between the protagonists of stories one and nine – or a setting – though traveling through Europe is a consistent feature of each story – or a plot – though Szalay’s does explore different stages of life – but gender. As the title suggests this is a story about nine men starting with 17-year-old Simon and his feelings of unrequited love and ending with 73-year-old Tony whose thoughts are almost exclusively about mortality.

This is a book that explores masculinity at different points of time. How the younger man thinks mostly of his cock, how the thirty-something think mostly of his career, how the fifty-something realises this is it, that everyday from this point on will be the same, and how the octogenarian lives with mortality and a failing body. It’s a fascinating idea for a book, sadly though there are no new observations here. No moments of profundity as these men travel through Europe and deal with their current circumstance. I left this book thinking – yes… and?  For the most part the men who occupy Szalay’s narrative ponder about the same sort of subjects and themes that swamp most literary fiction – when I’m young I want to fuck, when I’m middle age I feel I’ve wasted my life, when I’m old I fear death. The stories in the second half of the novel, depicting older men who are either approaching or leaving a mid life crisis, conclude in much the same way. This is all there is. Which is a perfectly fine observation but also seems the less interesting narrative choice.
This lack of originality is not helped by the fact that woman for the most part are described as objects in the novel – something to fuck or avoid or appease depending on how old you are. It’s also frustrating that all the men depicted are straight – that is until the very end where we learn that our octogenarian has hid his gay predilections for 45 years. In other words the one gay man in the book is still firmly in the closet.

And yet, having said all that, the prose is extraordinarily good. I kept reading because Szalay’s voice is perfectly pitched based on the age of the protagonist. The story of Bernard and his travel to Cyprus is played like a comedy and is laugh out loud funny – even if it does involving quite a bit of fat shaming. The fifth chapter reads like a political thriller as deputy editor of a Copenhagen tabloid, Kristian, travels to Spain to face an MP – who happens to be a close friend – about claims that the MP has been having an affair with a married woman.  And then there’s Tom story, the final piece in the novel / story suite that perfectly captures – in terms of voice – the anxiety of a man who knows that his best days are well behind him.

So, yes, the writing is fantastic. But the content… given how much I appreciated the prose I expected something smarter and less obvious than what Szalay delivered. Something that genuinely explores the varied nature of masculinity, especially in an age when the there’s this growing view that men’s rights are threatened by political correctness and feminism. Ok, maybe it didn’t need to be that topical or controversial. Clearly it’s not the book Szalay wanted to write. But this book – as fine as the prose is – provides little that’s interesting, fresh or provocative.

* I’m using the term “novel” here to mean a sustained single narrative with an appreciation that this definition is narrow and needlessly restrictive.

Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.

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