Tag Archives: fiction

Duma Key

I know what you’re thinking. Goddamn, man, do you even remember how to read?! As it happens, I do. I mean, it’s only been three weeks, right? And, being a Stephen King novel, it was pretty darn long, too. But these are basically candy-ass excuses; the truth is, I’ve just been busy with a lot of other things, and therefore reading slowly. I think it is somewhat unlikely that I’ll read 50 books this year, if things keep going the way they are; right now, for example, I’m on track for a mere 36. But, we’ll see!

Plus, I think I have a subconscious inclination to savor Stephen King books, as though each one is probably the last he’ll ever publish. This is almost certainly not the case, and yet it’s the mindset I’ve been stuck in for at least three years now. Well, as much as I don’t want it to be, I think that I could be satisfied if Duma Key actually were the last one. It was just really good in a way that I can already tell will be difficult to express. I think what really got me was how personal the scope of the story was. I mean, maybe it was personal to King, but that’s not what I’m saying, as I’d have no way to guess it. Rather, despite that it spanned a century and irrevocably altered the fates of three families, everything that happened was vital and immediate and kept me engrossed on the behalf of protagonist Edgar Freemantle.

Following a horrific construction-site accident, Edgar leaves his first life behind for an extended stay on Duma Key in Florida, where he hopes to take up drawing, recollect himself, and discover what’s left of him. He could never have dreamed of the talent he will find, and far less of the power with which that talent is imbued or the slumbering evil that inhabits the southern half of the island. Luckily, he also finds real friends to help him through the many trials that lie ahead, some far more dreadful than the accident that brought him to Duma Key in the first place.

Hey, look, it’s a jacket cover! (At least, that’s the kind of thing I imagine that they say.) One of the many cool things about Stephen King is how he effortlessly glides between genres. If you take away the spooky demon-ghost lady and the supernatural paintings, you’d still have the core of one of those feel-good dramas about people putting their lives together again after vast adversity, like what I imagine Stella getting her groove back must have entailed. I have insufficient interest in that kind of story to seek it out, but here it is, right in the middle of my horror novel. By and large, I approve of this; mostly because it provides depth and breadth to what would almost certainly otherwise be a dry well by this time. King understands what terrifies us, sure, but he also understands our essential humanity; as far as I can tell, he always has, and that’s what keeps bringing people back to him, not any temporary frights in the small hours of the night.

Black Hole

I keep wanting to say that I’ve found evidence that the modern graphic novel is not for me, but there’s clear evidence that it is, in the right format. Sci-fi or horror or allegorical fantasy, and I’m basically in there. Plus, of course, the superhero genre, which, y’know: tradition! But at the same time, I’ve read a few lately that seem to be just telling a regular modern fiction story (except with pictures) and I keep failing to wrap my head around them. Unlike Jimmy Corrigan, I can at least say that Black Hole wasn’t a complete slog. But at the same time, it feels like there are strands and aspects I failed to grasp despite my best efforts.

It’s the ’70s, and it’a high school. So everyone is focused on being popular or not, taking drugs, and having sex. The problem being, there’s this STD called simply “the Bug”. It has a 100% transmission rate, and if you get it your body changes somehow. It might be concealable, or it might be completely deforming, or maybe somewhere in between. And we follow the lives of a girl and a guy over the course of several months or a year as they interact with a) the diseased, b) the drugs and alcohol to prevent having to deal with any of it, and c) eventually, perhaps with the disease itself. And from time to time, d) with each other.

As a straight-up story, it’s pretty good. Bleak as all get out, but effectively told. High school interactions are completely magnified by the Bug issue, with outcasts being relegated to a tent city in the woods where nobody has to see them, rather than just one corner of the lunch room. There’s a bit of horror, both the stark version where one mistake can ruin your life (so, okay, that’s magnified high school stuff too, maybe, to an extent) and the more literary version where murder is unleashed into the diseased populace. But it’s the metaphorical layer I can’t get my head around. AIDS fits, albeit imperfectly. The fact that the story was begun in the ’80s despite a 2005 publication date on the collection makes it feel more timely, which helps. But why are some people able to go unnoticed while others are branded? Why isn’t it deadly in itself? Why does nobody outside of the high school population seem to be infected? It’s not about pregnancy, since guys are affected as easily as girls. It’s not about the act of having sex, because clean people have no problems at all, as long as they stay away from the diseased. Like I said, I just can’t nail it down. And it’s all the odder because outside of the disease part, a nearly identical story could have been told with the same plot. So it’s mostly there (I believe) solely to be a metaphor for something. And here I am, with just no idea what’s up. Lame!

Brief Lives

a4bd3d100d9f3f35934316d5567444341587343I realized in the midst of all the graphic novels I’ve been reading, I had completely neglected my Sandman collecting. So I immediately ordered Brief Lives, and read it a much shorter than usual time afterward. (I mean, I buy stuff and then don’t touch it for a while, due to the stack.) And I’m so glad, because it’s probably my favorite one. I’m also glad because of how much more depth I’m picking up this time. Foreshadowing and all, sure, but there are just so many layers all over the place that I could probably re-read the series annually and not run out of things to love.

In Brief Lives, Delirium (which is to say, the personification of the human experience of delight, inevitably corrupted by time and perspective) decides upon a whim to go in search of her mysterious elder brother, frequently referred to in the series but never identified, who some centuries ago decided to abdicate his responsibilities to his family and to his role; after all, he claims, they’ll continue along this path whether I’m here to oversee things or not. The consequences of her decision are the driving force behind the now-inevitable climax of the series.

So, pivotal turning point, plus my favorite character in the cycle, from the moment I first laid eyes upon her. Some fictional characters just do it for me, I guess, in ways that are inexplicable to other people. Well, some of them are probably wholly explicable, but I fancy that the choices I can think of offhand aren’t. Laura Ingalls, when I was reading those books as a kid? A crazy, literally Endless girl that has the ability to render me insane almost in an instant, if she got it in her head that I had done something she didn’t like? (I mean, maybe I did, but maybe I didn’t. She’s crazy, remember.) Okay, I can’t think of anyone else offhand, so I guess it doesn’t happen that often. But still, these can’t be normal tastes. Despite all that, I remain convinced that Brief Lives, with its wide-angle focus on life and death and how much life is enough and which deaths are timely, plus the awesome plot part, is a high point in the Sandman series, if not the high point. But, as I’ve tried to imply, I might be biased.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

This book has in macrocosm what most zombie stories have in microcosm, the thing that has always attracted me to them. Here’s this world, usually Earth, with people going about their lives in the way that people do, and then suddenly everything is completely different, and it’s time to find out who people really are. World War Z has a pretty cool conceit behind it. During the rebuilding years after the Zombie War, a commission is established to report on everything that led humanity to its direst straits and the manner in which it extricated itself. This is not that report, but it is the personal stories and reflections that were gathered and then deemed to be outside the scope of the commission’s directive, published by the researcher who did the bulk of the gathering.

So there are these stories of survivors from all over the world: doctors, military personnel, human transporters, filmmakers, politicians. It’s never spelled out exactly what happened or exactly how, but there are enough stories from enough places to get a wispy, watercolor picture of how things were, and of the myriad ways in which the world is a completely different place in this future that is less than a generation away. It is surprisingly well done, by turns touching, engrossing and horrifying, for someone whose previous résumé is mostly in on-screen comedy writing.

Plus, of course, zombies. Right? Right.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

I think what keeps me from reviewing this graphic novel is the fear of being sucked back into the depression of it all over again. So I sit here staring at the blank screen that is in one incarnation or another over 24 hours old now. Which I’ll have you know isn’t all that uplifting itself, even by comparison. Therefore, I’m going to buckle down and power through it.

So there’s this dude, Jimmy Corrigan, right? He is named after his grandfather. In one timeline, adult semi-modern Jimmy is slouching towards middle-age in an apparently dead-end job with only his nursing home resident mother for real human contact. In the other timeline, young James is trying to survive his abusive father’s daily tirades while navigating the casually racist turn of the century Chicago school system. Both of these people are missing a parent, both of them are desperately unhappy with their circumstances, and both of them are due for a gradually worsening spiral from these rosy points of origin.

Without all of the misery bringing me down, there would have been a lot of interesting things to take note of. For example, the women in Jimmy’s life almost never have faces. (Notably, the only ones that do are women that James has seen.) Both men have vibrant fantasy lives; James’ allows him to briefly escape his genuinely tragic circumstances, while Jimmy’s is mostly farcical reimaginings of how his life might be going instead, each of them ending more pathetically than the already quite low reality. I suppose the point of the exercise is to watch each of them gradually get past their current lives and into a better place? I will opt not to reveal the secret answer to this question. I am willing to divulge that Jimmy Corrigan is not the smartest kid on earth. In fact, that may have been an example of this newfangled irony thing I keep hearing about.