Monday, March 26, 2007

I actually read Jess Walter's The Zero last weekend but haven't had a chance to post about it yet. It opens with NYPD detective Brian Remy coming to after having shot himself in the head in an apparent suicide attempt just days after 9/11. However neither he nor the reader knows why he did it or what brought him to that place. In fact, there are a lot of things Remy doesn't know: why his son is mourning him as if he'd died in the attack, why he's losing time in large gaps, and, most importantly, what he's investigating and for whom. We are limited to Remy's point of view, so when he dissociates, we lose time with him. We have to try and piece together what's happening exactly as he does and it is maddening and fascinating and exhilarating watching him navigate his increasingly fragmented existence. I flat out loved this book and am awed by Jess Walter's ability to make these incredibly artistic jumps with each novel he writes. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh is a funny little book that takes shots at Hollywood, the commercialization of death, and basically anyone without the least bit of self-awareness. It features a love triangle between Aimee, a cosmetologist at the funeral home; her boss Mr. Joyboy, the embalmer; and an English poet named Dennis, who works at a funeral home for pets. It was clever and funny, and while I understood Aimee's ultimate fate, I didn't necessarily buy it. I felt the way she was portrayed indicated she would have dumped both her suitors instead, but maybe that's too much to expect of a book written in the 1940's.

Last night I finished Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, who continues to impress me more and more with each book of his I read. Citizen Vince takes place during the week before the presidential election in 1980 when the titular character, who has been relocated to Spokane by the witness protection program, finds his old life catching up to him. His struggle to truly break free of who he was mirrors his struggle deciding who to vote for. It sounds like a forced analogy, I know, but it really works, giving Vince a shot at true freedom and humanity for the first time in his life.

And now... I'm diving back into Proust. Wish me luck.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I held off writing about I Have Lived In The Monster by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman until I finished The Evil That Men Do by Stephen G. Michaud with Roy Hazelwood because they cover similar topics, namely serial killers and the involvement of profiling in assisting the investigations. Ressler's book includes large chunks of detailed interviews he conducted with both Gacy and Dahmer and his interpretation of their answers, which are the most interesting segments of the book. The rest of it mostly covered serial killers in other countries, particularly the UK and South Africa, with a last chapter about the sarin gas attack in Tokyo in 1995. This last chapter felt tacked on and didn't fit in with the rest of the book thematically and I wondered why it was even there until I realized the book was published in 1997, so at the time it was written it was all new and probably even would have been a selling point. Throughout the whole thing Ressler comes off as arrogant, certainly, but also defensive, which was actually kind of unintentionally funny after a while. Ressler is a competent writer, but not an artful one, sticking mostly to the bare facts of the cases and his involvement. The Hazelwood book is the better written of the two, and I think noticing the order the authors are listed for the two books goes a long way toward explaining why this is. Michaud's book becomes almost a biography of Hazelwood through the history of cases he worked on. I enjoyed this approach much more and found their exclusive focus on sexual predators made for a more cohesive work. I appreciated the moments of humor (such as describing the profiling unit as "a football team with eleven quarterbacks"), and Hazelwood comes off as extremely dedicated to his work, but still able to appreciate a joke. Some of this is due, no doubt, to Michaud's respect and awe for Hazelwood, which is obvious, but doesn't seem to get in the way of the reporting. Of the two, it's definitely the better book, and I'm looking forward to reading another of their collaborations.


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