August 3, 2017

July Reading Recap

July was a busy month, writing and otherwise, so I haven't had time to post since my last batch of book reviews. I also didn't have quite as much time for reading, but I did enjoy two new novels:

THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle reveals its core premise in the title, and if not for that hint, you might get quite far in before guessing that dark, supernatural forces are at work. While the book describes itself as a fairy tale in the opening sentence, the first third is the realistic story of a family in contemporary New York City. Apollo is raised by a hardworking mother and starts his own career at an early age, buying and selling used books. He meets Emma at a library book sale, and they fall in love. Their baby is born under some unusual circumstances, but their experience of parenting an infant is full of the normal joys and pressures, with too many photos shared on Facebook and not enough sleep.

When the novel takes a turn, it's a very, very dark one that will make it not suitable for all readers. Even then, the full nature of the horror isn't revealed for a while. The story shifts through several apparent realities before the end, and Apollo has to battle numerous types of evil. Throughout, the characters are portrayed with as much care and detail as when this started as an account of a family just trying to get through the day.

LaValle has crafted a stunningly disturbing story with a ton of emotional impact. It's a harrowing read, but it earned a place on my list of favorites.

MADE FOR LOVE by Alissa Nutting: Hazel decides it's time to leave her husband when he wants to implant a chip in her brain to connect the two of them wirelessly. Byron's the genius founder of Gogol, the tech megacompany built on collecting and analyzing everyone's data, so for him, it's the natural next step in human relationships. For Hazel, it's the final straw after a decade trapped in a controlling marriage. She flees Byron's compound, aware that his surveillance abilities are limitless and afraid that he may kill her if he can't get her back. She seeks refuge at her father's house, where she discovers Dad has just purchased and married a sex doll. After that, things get weirder.

All the events in this story are over-the-top and bizarre, which made for frequent laughs, constant surprises, and occasionally some trouble connecting to the characters. That said, Nutting does an admirable job creating layered characters with real emotions and anxieties in the midst of this somewhat alienating plot. I was always concerned about what was going to happen to Hazel and the others, and it was always more odd than anything I could have guessed. Nutting is imaginative, to say the least, with the skill to render her story worlds in vivid, compelling, hilarious detail.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Charse Yun considers the complex issues involved in Deborah Smith's flawed translation of Han Kang's "The Vegetarian": "I can't emphasize enough how different Han Kang's writing style is in Korean. Han's sentences are spare and quiet, sometimes ending in fragments. In contrast, Smith uses a high, formal style with lyrical flourishes. As one critic noted, the translation has a 'nineteenth-century ring' to it, reminiscent of Chekhov." (Thanks, Book Riot!)