Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

This is an almost embarrassing admission to my bad reading habits: if I get into one author, I'll abandon anything else I'm doing and I'll read All the Books. Gone Girl was a maddening novel, and I didn't want to stop feeling infuriated at the characters--so I bought Dark Places straight away and read it in the next couple of days. I couldn't begin this entry with a quote from the book or a picture of my actual copy (although you can see it resting under the Jeeves book in the previous entry) because I already gave it to a friend to read. Apparently, not only did I read all of Flynn's novels within a couple of weeks, but I became a Flynn spokesperson overnight.

This binge reading also proved to me that it's a stupid idea to read everything from one author in one sitting. I wanted Dark Places to give me exactly the same as Gone Girl did, and when it happened, I was disappointed: what, is Flynn some one trick pony? Totally unfair toward the author.

The one trick is this: both Dark Places and Gone Girl use the same style of narration. We have multiple narrators or view points, and we also have one narrator in the present tense, and another in the past. Both of them are, in their own way, leading up to an event: a murder. In Dark Places, it's a heinous massacre that a sister is attempting to solve years later, while her brother is serving time for murdering her other siblings and mother in some Satanic ritual. The present is attempting to find out who really did it, whereas the past is hurtling inevitably toward the murder, with a countdown ticking.  And we the readers simply do not know what to believe. I'm so smitten with this style of narrative and the unreliability of the narrators, but at the same time, I wish I had either read Sharp Objects first, or put some more time between these books. I probably would have appreciated Dark Places much more that way, instead of now having this feeling of didn't we just do this thing? The thing I love so much!

Still, Dark Places is not a copy of Gone Girl. Dark Places is about good people who get into a really bad mess or hang out with the wrong crowd, at a time when small towns believed that any teenager wearing black was sacrificing babies to Satan in the woods. In Gone Girl, you just kind of hate everyone, and it's so satisfying to hate them, whereas in Dark Places you are worried about how small town mentality, mass hysteria, and rumors can ruin people.

They are both about evil incarnations, but in different ways. Fear not; there's blood in both of them. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

It is impossible to be unhappy while reading the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster. And I've tried. - Christopher Buckley (lifted straight from the book cover)

Everyone needs a little pick-up from doom and gloom every now and then, and Jeeves and Wooster are there for you for your merriment.

The TV series starring Hugh Laurie as the upper-class half-wit Wooster and Stephen Fry as his gentleman's gentleman introduced me to Wodehouse in my early teens, but despite loving the show madly I didn't get around to reading the stories until this summer. Because I bought these books, they've unfortunately gotten trampled by furiously reading any books I've needed to return to the library. 

The Jeeves stories remind me of Austin: they involve someone wanting to get married or forced to get married, but this time from the point of view of an early 1900s dumbo who'd rather not settle down. Wooster's schemes usually get him into such trouble that his man servant Jeeves is summoned to rescue him. Add some ridiculous slapstick and silliness, and that's Jeeves and Wooster. 

In this particular one, Wooster tries to help his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, a nerdy newt collector, marry Madeleine Basset, a doe-eyed dreamer who'd marry Wooster if no one else were around. Hence Wooster's dedication in this mission. 

Unfortunately, Madeleine has put Gussie on a vegetarian diet, which leads him to elope with a cook who makes a mean ham sandwich. 

The sub-silliness involves an African artifact that family members are using as a pawn in their own schemes, whether it is to get a vicarage, convince others that Wooster is a klepto, or to unify reluctant family members. 

My favorite parts involve the mild-mannered Jeeves figuratively kicking Wooster's butt: as a hired hand he cannot talk back or go rogue, unless the situation is so dire that only his help will do or when Wooster's relatives of more influence borrow him on their missions that usually make more sense than what Wooster was planning to do. 

In this story, Jeeves absolutely despises Wooster's new hat: a bright blue number with a pink feather on it, straight from the Swiss Alps. When Jeeves pretends to be a police officer and arrest Wooster, supposedly a known criminal, he tells the victim that among the Scotland Yard, Wooster is known as "Alpine Joe", the man who will go nowhere without his silly alpine hat. When the victim wonders why on Earth this ghastly criminal hasn't come up with a better disguise, Jeeves retorts, "You would indeed [think he'd have the sense], sir, but the mental processes of a man like that are hard to follow." Zing! 

I'd like to quote more because so many lines and situations made me laugh out loud, but all of them are at their best wrapped in their context. It's a short book! Read it!