Month: July 2013

Review: The Last Whisper in the Dark

There are not enough superlatives when discussing Tom Piccirilli. The man is a brilliantWhisper and diverse writer: He’s won awards for his horror, fantasy, thrillers and even poetry—bagging the prestigious Bram Stoker award on four occasions.

Previous novels, such as Shards, A Choir of Ill Children and November Mourns, have shocked and terrified, but with his new release, The Last Whisper in the Dark, Piccirilli takes us to a far more tender place.

A tender place, it turns out, just as disarming as his nightmares.

I’ll sum it up this way: I was shedding tears by page three. I think the only other book that has ever had me crying this early in the narrative is Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Piccirilli has a knack for character development and storytelling, and The Last Whisper in the Dark, a sequel to 2012’s The Last Kind Words, may be his deepest work yet.

Concerning Terrier (Terry) Rand, a young thief from a family of small-time criminals, Piccirilli has given us a protagonist as sympathetic as he is fearless. On the surface, the story is about the disappearance of Terry’s friend Chub and the ensuing search that drives him head on into gangsters, killers and a femme fatale.

But on a deeper level, this is a tale of honor and family and the clumsy way we go about expressing our feelings to the ones we love. The Rands are a proud and tragic clan, with dementia and criminality in their blood—as well as an outlaw tendency that keeps them on the fringes of society.

But their strongest trait is honor. Terry is loyal to an estranged friend who stole the only woman he ever loved. He quietly looks out for his sister, even as she rebels against him and helps desecrate their dead brother’s grave. He remains devoted to a family that can occasionally be distant and dysfunctional, but always has each other’s backs.

You can mess with Terry, but you’d best not fuck with his family.

You’ll fall in love with Terry by the end of the first chapter, and you’ll be cheering him on the rest of the novel. And when it’s done, you’ll applaud Piccirilli for this tender bit of noir literature.

Piccirilli is an established icon within the horror realm, but he has yet to crack through to the mainstream, which is unfortunate. This is a writer worthy of notice, and hopefully this book is the one that reaps him the exposure and attention he deserves.

Advertisements

Review, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America

On DissentNot many books from Cambridge University Press make it to the summer reading list, but On Dissent: Its Meaning in America is one of the better ways to revolt against the light-hearted beach-readers out there. Hell, it’s patriotic. America was born in dissent, and we celebrate it still. With fireworks—even illegal ones (though from now on I argue that M-80s are not outlaws, but rather the tools of dissent).

But why is dissent so much of our DNA? What does it even mean to dissent? These were the questions nagging at Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover, two esteemed political scholars who were surprised to find that there was no true analysis of the concept of dissent.

That’s what they set out to create with this short, thought-provoking work.

For the most part, Collins and Skover accomplish their goal. The tone is philosophical in nature, and the authors begin by attempting to define dissent and identify its practitioners. Sure, anyone can point to the examples of Thoreau, King and Paine, but the authors take on trickier issues, such as how clear the line is (or isn’t) between civil disobedience and criminality. What role does violence play in dissent, or does an action cease to be dissent once it becomes violent?

Collins and Skover do a great job, and scholarly service, by identifying the fundamental traits of dissent, such as its being goal-oriented and indicative of a power dynamic. They buttress their definition by exploring hypotheticals and philosophical dilemmas (is a hired protester a dissenter?), and they do it all with an accessible writing style that will appeal to non-academic readers who might not otherwise seek out this book.

Of course, it’s not perfect, and the biggest issue I have is with the authors’ overreliance on expert commentary, such as that of Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader. The quotations are often redundant and unnecessary. The collective intellect of Collins and Skover is authoritative enough, and I recommend skimming through the offset commentary.

But there’s nothing else I would skim over in this book—particularly the epilogue. Here, the authors move away from definitions and thought experiments and present their own take on dissent—that contrary to rebellion, dissent is a vital and cohesive component of a democracy:

“Consent and dissent are two sides of the same coin. Without dissent, consent is meaningless; without consent, dissent loses much of its animating purpose” (152).

On Dissent is a quick and wonderful read. It will get you thinking. It will get you talking. It will remind you that though we may disagree, the freedom to disagree and express opposing viewpoints is what makes us strong.

Stephen King, Joyland

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first three-fourths of
Joyland
are amazing, some of King’s best recent work. The ending, however, is a bit too easy and familiar. King’s previous offering through Hard Case Crime, The Colorado Kid, subverted convention and was far more challenging to the reader.

Infused with heart and the nostalgic thrills of boardwalk carnivals, Joyland is worth the ticket price. The novel begins as a rail-rattling thrill ride, but, in the end, eases too gently into the station.

View all my reviews

The Perils of Memoir: Author vs. Event, or a review of Hope After Faith

Writing a memoir or personal essay is the literary equivalent of a high-wire act. It’s a thing of awe and wonder when it works, but the possibility of disaster is great. The margin of error is razor thin due to the “so what?” litmus test. All nonfiction needs to address this question, but it becomes far more stringent with memoir, which is the book version of going on a first date and talking only about yourself.

As much as I want to love Hope After Faith (as a fan of atheism, philosophy and memoir), it ultimately fails to meet the “so what?” criteria. This is not the fault of content, but rather infrastructure.

The structure of a memoir varies depending if the reader interest is on the writer or the event. One dives into Tina Fey’s Bossypants to learn more about the person. One picks up David Carr’s The Night of the Gun because they’re intrigued by the titular event, through which the reader will acquire interest in the writer.

Unfortunately, Hope After Faith begins with a chronological account of Jerry DeWitt’s life. Nothing personal, but since I don’t know the author, I’m not yet interested in his life story. The narrative would benefit from a stated thesis or present commentary rather than launching straight into DeWitt’s life story.

I’ve heard DeWitt is a great speaker, and I imagine he’d be a fascinating interview, but this is clearly a case where the prospective reader is drawn to the event more than the author. We hope to find the author interesting as well, of course, but the reason we crack the spine in the first place is to hear about his conversion.

That said, while this memoir didn’t work for me, I can see it being of interest and even value to others. Just know that the emphasis is more on the faith, not as much on the after.