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Saturday, January 31, 2009

What I'm Reading: January 2009

This month I read a horror graphic novel, a title by a favorite literary fiction author, and a novel that disappointed me a bit.

I will begin with Joe Hill's newest work, Locke & Key: Welcome to Love Craft a horror graphic novel, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. This is the first of a planned series following the Locke family's return to their ancestral home in New England after the murder of their father. This is no ordinary home, however. There are doors that when opened have you drop dead and turn into a ghost (you don't stay dead) and a demon itching to be set free in an abandoned well. The illustrations are beautiful, but graphic. Hill's story mostly follows the 3 Locke children (a grade school boy and teen aged boy and girl). Thus, the story is both about the children's grief, coming-of-age issues and the evil force stalking the entire family. In true horror fashion, the conflict is resolved, but the evil lives on, in this case taking the form of a teenage boy who has befriended the Locke kids. This is a satisfyingly creepy read.

For readalikes, you could try the graphic novel versions of Hill's Dad's (Stephen King) Dark Tower series. Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels would also be a good choice here. In terms of novels, Gaiman's The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, both combine the supernatural evil element with a coming-of-age story much like Locke & Key. The works of Bentley Little are also a good bet for those who enjoy the popular "small town horror" subgenre. For those interested in horror in general, here is a link to my previous posts on what is new in the world of horror.

I have had Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs loaded on my computer awaiting listening for about a year now, but I was daunted by its length. However, once I started listening, I was hooked. I should warn you that Russo is one of my favorite authors to begin with though. Bridge of Sighs recounts the life of Lou C. Lynch (known as "Lucy") in Thomaston, NY. Thomaston, like many Russo settings, is a former manufacturing town, looking at hard times, in upstate NY. The novel follows the stories of Lucy, his wife Sarah, and his best friend Bobby beginning in the present and weaving in and out of the past, recounting their stories from childhood to middle age. It is the story of a town, of family, of friendship, of art (Sarah and Bobby both become artists, although with completely different trajectories) and the meaning of each of these things. Like all Russo novels, Bridge of Sighs seems like a simple novel recounting the life of a few characters, but when it is all said and done, you have learned a lot about all people and yourself throughout the course of the novel.

Authors who are similar to the award winning Russo are Richard Ford, especially his Frank Bascombe trilogy, Anne Tyler, and Michael Chabon (try Wonder Boys). Each of these authors uses their novels to examine the human condition and a specific town much like Russo. Those also interested in Venice (where Bobby lives as an adult and where the Bridge of Sighs is) can click on the link for reading suggestions.

Finally, I want to share a more disappointing reading experience. For a few months I have had Beginners Greek by James Collins on my to-read list based on its glowing reviews. It was touted as using all of the chick-lit conventions only in a "unique" way. Well, I finally read it, and I disagree. I think this book was seen as "unique" only because a man wrote what is normally seen as a women's book. The whole story revolves around a couple that keeps missing each other; every time they should get together, something else stands in their way. There are many side plots about the other characters and their love lives. Everything ties up way too neatly and the foreshadowing is too blatant.

If you want to read some good chick-lit, try The Time of My Life (scroll down the post to read about what I thought about it) by Allison Winn Scotch, the novels of Jennifer Weiner or Sarah Bird. Also, Kristin Gore's political, chick-lit is unique and well written. I wish some of these good female writers of stories of women's lives and relationships would get as good reviews as this weak offering by a man.

Enough ranting, that's the month that was.

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