When the Question is “natas”, the Answer Is What?

I have thought of myself as a citizen of the Internet, but yesterday I took a step deeper into the swamp of Netdom. I made a video response to a You Tube video. I’ve been watching the online morning show, Good Mythical Morning, by the singing comedians Rhett and Link. Last Friday, they asked what the best board game ever is according to their fans, and I recorded for them my story of playing a few minutes of Backwords with a some friends in college. Backwords is not the best board game ever by far, but I thought my story would add to the conversation.

See my response here, and if you want to watch the original video, go here.

Faces in the Fire, by T. L. Hines

I have to give T. L. Hines a lot of credit. In Faces in the Fire he has, first of all, broken with standard Christian genre fiction in making his message implicit, not explicit. You’ll search in vain here for a conversion moment or an explanation of the way of salvation.

Secondly, he’s messed with the form. It’s not that nobody has ever written a story out of sequence before, it’s just that Christian novelists, in general, don’t have the confidence to do something so experimental. Faces in the Fire begins with Chapter 34, and proceeds to tell the major characters’ stories out of sequence, showing us the consequences before we see the causes. He does this pretty well, with the result that the reading experience closely approximates the mystery that is all of our lives.

Also, it’s the rare Christian novel that features a hit man, an e-mail spammer, and a drug addicted tattoo artist as sympathetic main characters.

We’re talking grace here, not works.

The story begins with Kurt Marlowe, a metal sculptor and sometime over the road trucker, who hears ghostly voices (he calls them “spooks”) in the used clothing he buys at estate sales. He does not respond to the voices, but uses their messages as inspiration for his art. Then one day he picks up a pair of shoes that put a picture in his mind more compelling than any he’s seen before. It’s an image so compelling it scares him. So he tries to throw the shoes away. But they keep coming back to him.

He meets a woman in a truck stop, who gives him a ten digit number written on a napkin, in a plastic bag. Then the story switches to her background, and passes from her to yet another character…

It all comes together pretty neatly in the end. The plot strains a bit at points, I think, but that’s almost inevitable in a tightly woven story of this kind. All in all, a very good read.

Recommended, with cautions for adult subject matter.

A niche in a Nook

If you’re a faithful Barnes & Noble customer, and have been waiting for Troll Valley to appear on their site, I have wonderful news for you. B&N is now carrying the e-book for the Nook.

Alas, we haven’t been able to include the cover art with this file. So here’s a nice big version, which you can save to your favorite device and have for your very own:

Tell your friends. Tell your acquaintances. Tell your co-workers and courteous, trained service providers.

I haven’t gotten a new review in a couple days. Feeling a little antsy.

Blood and Thunder, by Max Allan Collins

Like the rest of the country, I’d seen in the papers that Huey had, on the floor of the Senate, accused FDR of aiding and abetting a murder plot against him; something about conspirators meeting at some hotel somewhere. But I’d really merely read the headlines, skimmed the stories. Nobody was taking it very seriously. After all, Huey made a habit out of such accusations. He was a wolf who kept crying little boy.

I’m delighted to have rediscovered Max Allan Collins’s Nate Heller novels. They’re textured and well-written, and something like George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels in providing entertaining, excellently researched history lessons. I knew almost nothing about the death of Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long before I read Blood and Thunder, but now I do.

The novel starts in 1935. Chicago private eye Nathan Heller has been persuaded by Senator Long (who met him on an earlier visit to the windy city) to become one of his bodyguards. After a visit to the Oklahoma State Fair they return to Louisiana, and Nate is introduced to the continual circus that is Huey Long’s presidential campaign. Formerly a supporter of the New Deal, Long has broken with Roosevelt, and dreams of taking his populist wealth redistribution campaign to a national stage. He entertains visitors and reporters in his hotel suite dressed in green silk pajamas. He writes music. He parties hard. He has connections with organized crime. Heller has about had his fill of it all (in spite of an enjoyable affair with one of Long’s ex-mistresses) when Long is shot to death. According to eyewitness reports he was killed by an angry dentist who was then riddled with bullets by Long’s furious bodyguards (Nate is off on an errand at that moment). Nate goes home. Continue reading Blood and Thunder, by Max Allan Collins

Not Worried About the Novel’s Future

Dan Rosenblum writes about author Jennifer Egan’s talk on technology, life, and reading:

But Egan said she wasn’t afraid for the future of the novel because of the form’s genesis as a “crazy grab bag” had left it with the ability to assimilate many different forms.

“Really, almost everything that’s been done since was done in Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy. So I find that very heartening, too. Just remember this was invented as a flexible, strong and swaggering form that could do all kinds of things that other forms couldn’t do,” Egan said.

Preaching a Different Gospel

The remarkable growth on Christianity in Africa “has been tainted by an American-style prosperity emphasis that focuses on health and wealth at the expense of sin, redemption, and repentance.” Nigerian Femi Adeleye is fighting back in his book, Preachers of a Different Gospel: A Pilgrim’s Reflections on Contemporary Trends in Christianity, drawing clear distinctions between biblical gospel with the message of self-satisfaction.

DVD review: “The Beaver”

It was a great misfortune (but not a forced error) that the movie The Beaver came out just when pretty much everybody in the country was mad at its star, Mel Gibson. Alas, Mel’s particular form of weirdness doesn’t fall within the bounds of Acceptable Deviancy under Hollywood rules, so not many people saw it. But you can get it on DVD, which I did this weekend, and I found it well worth viewing.

The story is of Walter Black (Gibson), the president of a once-dynamic toy company now drifting aimlessly, due to Walter’s chronic depression. Walter inherited the company from his father who (we are informed almost parenthetically) himself fell into depression and committed suicide. Walter has a loving, frustrated wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), an adoring young son, and an older son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), who hates him out of fear that he himself will end up as his grandfather did, and as his father seems likely to.

When Meredith finally kicks Walter out of the house for the sake of the children’s safety, he (in a remarkable scene of black comedy) attempts unsuccessfully to commit suicide. It’s in this awful moment that The Beaver, a discarded puppet he found in a dumpster, starts “talking” to him. (It’s always very clear that Walter is saying the words, but the personality differences are great enough that the Beaver takes on a weird reality of his own.) The Beaver tells him he’s come to save his life, and under his inspiration Walter revitalizes his company with new ideas, and reconnects with his youngest son and his wife (though she’s very skeptical). Son Porter alone refuses to play along, seeing in the Beaver the flowering of the insanity that scares him. (There’s also a very nice subplot about Porter courting a girl at school, trying to find his own way to be a man while terrified of himself.) Continue reading DVD review: “The Beaver”

Twice the critical goodness!

Today we have two blog reviews of Troll Valley.

First, from Will Duquette at The View From the Foothills:

They always tell aspiring writers that they should write what they know. As commonly understood, I think this is hogwash—a writer needs to be able to go beyond his personal experience to date. But there’s no denying that when it’s done well, the personal touch can bring an immediacy and a concreteness to a work. And that’s precisely what Lars has done here.

Then, from Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall:

For the record, I hold little in common with the characters of Troll Valley. I’m not of Norwegian descent, I’m not Lutheran, and the closest I’ve come to even setting foot in Minnesota is a trip to friend’s wedding in Wisconsin. But I still found them engaging. Walker understands that literature is supposed about the stuff of universal human experience, and he uses his characters’ specific situations to touch on it. Alienation and belonging, love and lust, faith and doubt — all make appearances.

Thanks to both.

Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane

I think the general consensus is that, of all Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie/Angela Genarro private eye novels, the most perfect, memorable, and troubling was Gone, Baby Gone, which was also turned into a very good movie that not enough people saw. In that story, the detectives, who were also lovers, nearly split up for good over the decision of what to do about a little girl kidnapped from a neglectful home. The conclusion of the book was heartbreaking and a real moral puzzler.

After more than a decade, author Lehane has picked up the story again in Moonlight Mile. Much has changed for the Boston investigators. Patrick, having barely survived a gunshot wound, has turned to less dangerous forms of detective work, doing contract jobs for a large firm. Angela is working on a graduate degree. They have a four-year-old daughter who is the light of their lives. Money’s tight, but if they can hold out until Angela finishes school, life ought to be good.

And then the past shows up. The aunt of Amanda McCready, the little girl kidnapped in Gone, Baby, Gone, who originally hired Patrick and Angela, approaches Patrick. Amanda, now sixteen years old, has disappeared again, she says. She fears it has something to do with the girl’s stepfather, an ex-convict and drug dealer with a record of sexual abuse.

Continue reading Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane

The Unseen, by T. L. Hines

I think I’ll just start my review by saying that T. L. Hines’s The Unseen is one of the most impressive thrillers I’ve read in some time—not just among Christian books, but among thrillers in general. I liked Hines’ first novel, Waking Lazarus, quite a lot. I was less impressed with The Dead Whisper On, his second. But this book—in my opinion—knocks it out of the park. It works on many levels, not only as a straight thriller, but as a cultural metaphor.

Lucas, the hero, is not strictly a part of the normal world. He makes a little money doing temporary, menial jobs, but he doesn’t need much money, because he’s essentially homeless. He moves from place to place in Washington, DC—abandoned buildings, service tunnels, even the sewer. He lives to watch other people, from hiding places he sets up behind walls and ceilings, “between the seams of society.” He’s not a voyeur in the ordinary sense. He doesn’t spy on women in dressing rooms, for instance. He watches people in public places, or at work. He imagines what their lives are like. It’s the only thing that makes him feel good, that calms the incessant buzzing he hears in his brain.

But one day he meets another man who’s a watcher like him. Through that man he learns of a whole organization of “creepers,” people who install cameras and make secret videos of people in their homes. They film acts of domestic violence and murder plots, but they refuse to do anything about them.

Lucas does something about them. Only the results aren’t what he expects, and the more he learns the stranger the mysteries grow, until he finds himself pursuing—and fleeing from—spies and counterspies and mysterious scientists who may hold the secret to his own forgotten past.

Aside from the originality of the concept, I liked the way Hines progressively amped up the tension (some of the action is kind of hackneyed, but it’s effective) and managed to make sympathetic a character who could have been pretty repellant. And Lucas’s watching obsession obviously mirrors various pathologies in modern society, from which (I suspect) few of us are entirely free. (Porn, anyone? Reality TV?) I suppose most readers won’t identify with Lucas as strongly as I did, but I think most will identify to some degree or another.

Highly recommended for older teens and adults. Well done.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture