A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Mike’s review

In fairness: I’m starting to read this in SFO for first adult vacation (non-extensive road trip variety), to Hawaii.

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Author photos are always so serious, kinda pretentious. Think I need to be real earnest in one (I’m guilty of this too). Naked and vulnerable once, too.

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Our need to isolate, but also be embraced. How we think it’s only one or the other, but is both, always pulling in competition and sometimes we let one win and we depress because we want to be free to be contained.

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Plot summary: A married man and woman are separated. They have not told anyone. The woman receives a phone call from her husband’s mother, saying the man has gone missing. The mother asks the woman to find the man and for some reason the woman goes to Greece (?) to look for the man. Supposedly to then finalize the divorce or something. The reasoning is tenuous. And then the woman just hangs out in Greece for a really long time. This would have been a really good novella where the woman debates whether or not she should go and then decides not to; the reader would get all the juicy philosophizing about relationship and obligation to former families, but we wouldn’t have to sit and do nothing on a weird non-vacation for so long.

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Accidental solo vacation…coincidence?

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“[Every romance requires a backdrop and an audience], even–or perhaps especially–the genuine ones, romance is not something that a couple can be expected to conjure by themselves, you and another, the two of you together, not just once but again and again, [love in general is fortified by its context, nourished by the gaze of others].” Holy shit, this may be right.

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This benefitted greatly from being read on vacation. Otherwise it would have taken me two months to finish. Beginning had tones of epiphany-like beats and then just slow drudge.

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Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle

Mike’s review

I have this bad habit of not writing the titles of the books on the paper I’m using to take notes. I did this here. And I didn’t leave myself much in the way of notes to spur my memory. I know I’ve looked at these notes before, trying to figure it out. I’ve googled “simple math and its consequences” before and it hasn’t helped. But this time I remembered. Probably because I recently saw a “Most anticipated of 2017” list and Darnielle’s new book was on it. The human mind is a crazy thing.

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Surprised it opens with disfigurement stuff and not game stuff. A bit tough for me to stick around for.

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It’s challenging enough to not be told what happened in the accident, but to then add in the ambiguous trial is a bit much. Hopefully something is revealed soon.

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Like two pages later, “murder” is illuminated. Guessing I’ll have to wait a while (possibly never) to find out about disfigurement.

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And then two pages later, I find out exactly what happened (still no why). Guess that means he waited pretty much the exact right length of time to reveal.

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“simple math and its consequences”

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It’s been so long since I’ve read this, no way could I do a legitimate plot summary. Something about a role playing game is all I remember. Despite the issues I had with this, I am genuinely eager for Darnielle’s next book. I mean, this is one of the people who’ve written a song that’s guaranteed to make me cry every time I hear it, so of course I’m eager.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Mike’s review

I suppose it makes sense to start with a plot summary first. The world is over-run with a spore that causes people to spontaneously combust (well, it’s more like combust under stress, but still). The sick are outcast because no one knows enough about the spore to know the sick aren’t contagious when alive; rather, it’s their ash that is infectious. The book follows Harper from before she was sick to getting sick (and pregnant), to her joining a camp of hiders. The camp has discovered a way to live in harmony with the spore. Unfortunately, they haven’t totally figured out how to live in harmony with one another… (How’s that for a teaser at the end!)

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Emergency Kisses in The Portable Mother is the cutest frickin’ idea ever.

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“‘Your personality is not just a matter of what you know about yourself, but what others know about you. You are one person with your mother, and another with your lover, and yet another with your child. Those other people create you–finish you–as much as you create you.'”

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Structurally obvious, but Harold Cross’s diary sections are great and I kinda what them to be every other chapter. I think this is out of longing for something different. Everything is at least pretty good through the book, but I have to think some of the earlier stuff could have been trimmed out. So the Cross sections add some needed pizzazz.

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How could I not love the theory that the spore was hidden in ice caps and when we melted them, we released it, were karmically paid back for the destruction we wrought on the Earth.

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This isn’t surprising coming from me: no way to the nurse and fireman love each other. They’ve seen each other like four times this whole book.

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The fact that no one thinks Martha Quinn’s Island is a trap must mean it’s a trap, right?

Every new clue it’s a trap is agonizing.

How do you accidentally sign Christmasland instead of North Pole?

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If there are still healthy animals why not move out to the deep woods?

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Hidden story like a hidden track on a CD!

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Mike’s review

Jesuits are such a well-adjusted branch of Catholicism. Healthy questioning of the way things are/could be. Inquisitiveness, not Inquisition. Even their self-doubt is plain and matter of fact. They’re so practical. So the search for self I was hoping for here probably won’t manifest.

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I get the point of the future/now sections, but they’re such a slog. I think there’d be just as much suspense, more even, if I didn’t know everyone dies and Emilio’s a prostitute and murderer (boy does this even end up to be a letdown). Also, not a spoiler because it’s revealed pretty early in the book.

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Plot is pretty simple. Jesuits discover a planet with life. They fund a private voyage to the planet. Only one priest makes it back alive. The story is told with alternating chapters set in the past and the now, during something like Emilio’s (the living priest) trial amongst his Jesuit peers.

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“From a culture gone mad with documentation, publicity, broadcast, narrowcast and pointcast, where every act of public and private life seemed to be done for an audience […]” This was written in 1996! I don’t remember that being a concern then. Wasn’t that about O.J. time though, which was arguably the start of that culture. But were people aware of it yet?

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“‘What is a whore but someone whose body is ruined for the pleasure of others? I am God’s whore, and ruined.'”

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I feel a genuine sense of wonder at first contact.

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“‘on the fate of Cleveland in the World Series of 2018′” so close. And may still come true!

“‘Anybody can have a couple of lousy centuries.” re: being a Cubs fan. The Cubs continuing to lose is a small recurring joke through the book that would have been real funny had I read it 2 months earlier than I did. As it was, it was still a little amusing to think about.

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Mike’s review

Plot summary: A Maine teacher is shown a wormhole that takes him back to 11/22/63. The person who shows him the wormhole convinces Jake (the teacher) that the most important thing he could possibly do with the wormhole is prevent the assassination of JFK. But he needs to be sure Lee Harvey Oswald acted (acts?) alone. So he spends a bunch of time track Oswald. He falls in love. The past fights back because it doesn’t want to be changed.

There were a solid handful of logical fallacies/lack of thought-out plans that frustrated me here. A friend gave me a hard-sell on this book and I think I expected more. There seemed to be a lot of waiting around, which seemed silly. And a lot of poor decisions made that were pretty obviously poor just to add tension. And there could have easily been exciting bits just by exploring the past and seeing what the world was like then. Overall, I thought a lot more could have been done in a book which was so large.

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78 pages read in the first day. Which, after not finishing Unaccustomed Earth because I just couldn’t, was a nice change of pace. Not that this is especially good. It didn’t pull me in until the end of the day, but it’s readable and enticing.

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Why would you stay in Derry for two months? Go do something. See the baby-world. Why just hang out in nowhereseville?

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Wouldn’t it be more efficient to go back to present day and ask Harry his father’s name/where they lived as kids?

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I suppose I should point out that there was a bit with the yellow card man that creeped me out pretty hard. I didn’t write it down, but I think it was when his card turned black. Again, though, I think the yellow card man was another thing that could have been mined that was mostly ignored. There was very little about the ethos of time travel and exploring the yellow card man could have easily done that.

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Kinda slow while waiting for Oswald. Surprising because it’s a rollicking presence and didn’t expect this pacing from King, but makes sense given when wormhole drops off. And, ultimately, the stakes are raised by this lull. Harder to go back each time because he’s given up so much of his current life.

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Why not use spare time to learn Russian? At least acknowledge it: “Not a possibility, would raise suspicion that I was a commie sympathizer. And without a past to vet…” It’s probably dumb of me to bring up logical fallacies in this sort of thing, but these brought me out of the story a lot.

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Isn’t it significantly more likely that de Mohreaschildt  (I’m not looking that up to see if I copied the spelling correctly) was an orchestrator than actually having pulled the trigger? And if Oswald’s dead, he’ll just have someone else do it?

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And why not kill Oswald in New Orleans so you have some getaway lead to get to Jodie?

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How could it possibly be a good idea to bring Sadie to the future? Best case: she gets her face fixed but lives in isolation/constant surprise/wonder. Worst case: she dies when going through the wormhole.

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And a few notes about the Hulu series I watched after reading the book, too:

Good decision with Al’s voiceover-guided narration. I was worried about long stretches with no human interaction and this solves that and makes sure we don’t take forever setting up all the rules/guidelines.

Carving the tree is such a simpler way to prove you can change the future in the past. Haha. The convoluted bits that King used were one of the things that were actually super illogical that didn’t pull me out of the story at the time.

I wasn’t super into the series either, but if you feel like you’re only going to pick one, I think I’d choose the series due to it being less of a time commitment. It felt less disappointing, but that might be because I was already disappointed by the book and maybe my expectations were lower. I really wanted to like both of these and I didn’t. They weren’t bad, but I expected greatness and got mediocrity.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s review

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” This is what I strive for. I don’t know that I accomplish it. Can you write sincerely when your characters themselves are insincere? When your characters need distance from their own emotions, can you say that you write with an emotional truth? Or are you a anarchist (in principle, not in style) Brett Easton Ellis?

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It’s a dumb thing to say, but “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” is so smart. And somehow not at all cynical, which is downright impossible to do while writing about TV (and writing about writing about TV).

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Marking out hard to read that DFW detassled corn as a child. We all share a bond. I didn’t find it that hard/grueling as is the common feeling.

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David Lynch pees a lot? I pee a lot!

“Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victim’s various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughly Lynchian.”

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Legit makes me want to watch tennis. Is it because his writing is so good or because his love of the sport is so strong? I can’t think of an essay about any other sport that shows such genuine love/passion. Lots of rage and feelings, sure, but this is like an 1800s declaration of patriotism, it’s so strong.

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Leaving cabin and darting back after 15 minutes to catch cleaning crew is dick-git one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

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The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich

Mike’s review

The plot isn’t the plot and the actual plot would be 100% spoiler. But…Woman comes home to find boyfriend dead, attacked by dogs. Her three rescue dogs covered in blood, she locks herself in bathroom and calls cops on her dogs. In death, more is revealed about the man. He isn’t entirely who he said he is. Every lie reveals more about the tangled life/death of her fiancé.

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I would absolutely put my dog down rather than leaving her in solitary confinement forever.

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The instant placement into scenes is jarring and takes time to figure out where I am, who I’m with (still not sure who Katie is), but I like that it wastes no words. May like it more because I’m being overly verbose in my own writing now. Brevity must be impossible in a collaboration (this was written by two people–Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment–A.J. Rich being their together-pseudonym).

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Hard to allow a reader to see the twist coming and still have the reader say “Fuck you” when it happens.”

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Basically read in a single plane ride, which is one of the most perfect ways to read a book.

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Kind-of spoiler alert for after the next line break.

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Like the day after I read this I fucked a person who said she was going to tell her other lover about it for his pleasure and I freaked the fuck out after just reading about Billie’s power play/trip over Bennett. So, what are the ethics of that? Can you involve Person C verbally in Person B and A’s sex life without Person C’s consent? Is that a form of sexual assault? Why is it that the only time I’ve ever asked a real question in these things, it’s hidden behind a spoiler warning where possibly no one will read it? For the record, I will absolutely let you tell your boyfriend I fucked you.