Releasing a fiction sequel more than thirty years after its predecessor is the kind of gambit only Stephen King can pull off (though credit is due to The Shining movie he’s so consistently talked down) and King, fortunately, seems to recognize the absurdity of trying to pick up where we left off in the 70s. Doctor Sleep, The Shining’s 2013 sequel, is cast forward — through Danny Torrance’s troubled teenage years and his struggle to forget the Overlook (uh, YEAH), and into the present, where Obama is president, the Internet exists, and an adolescent boy band called ‘Round Here is at peak popularity. Even Twitter gets a mention.
In the present, Dan has learned – mostly through drinking – to temper his visions, and wanders from town to town doing odd jobs until some drunken episode forces him to pack up and move on. It’s only after settling down and getting sober that he is forced to face his shining head-on, and in so doing stumbles across a young girl in need of his help.
Dan is 100 percent an Official Stephen King Male Protagonist: scrappy guy with a dubious past, a heart of gold and maybe a substance-abuse problem (see: Eddie fromThe Dark Tower series, Stu in The Stand, Dale from Under the Dome, etc.) But Danny is, of course, no stranger – we’ve already seen him defeat evil shrubbery and a bathtub-hoarding lady corpse – and so I was from the very first page rooting for him, and against whatever wicked shit I assumed King had cooked up.
Here’s the thing: I read at night. I mean, not only at night – also on the train, and on weekend mornings, and during commercials, and during superfluous portions of TV shows (read: all of X Factor). But I do a lot of reading at night, in bed, acting as a human Berlin Wall between my cats and further damaging my grandma eyes with the light of a propped-up iPad mini. (I actually have a book holder/travel pillow that, for the record, is dope.) I like to read in the (extremely relative) quiet of Bushwick-After-Dark, when the 18-wheelers stop rolling by for long enough that you might catch the sound of a bump in the night.
Which is all to say that The Shining is most definitely not a night book.
Everyone and their mother has been pointing me to Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, which came out in 1977. But it irks me to read sequels without reading their predecessors, so even though I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s famous film adaptation about 65 times, I wanted to check out the original material.
About a quarter of the way into Dave Eggers’ new novel, Mae is summoned to the office of her immediate superior at The Circle. Mae’s presence has been requested at the behest of Alistair, a developer from another department who is peeved that Mae — after being sent three notices — failed to RSVP for or attend his brunch for staffers interested in Portugal. Her “non-participation,” a mortal sin in the world of The Circle, is grounds for a passive-aggressive tongue lashing from her boss, plus a note on record with HR. When it comes to “engagement,” The Circle don’t play.
As an Eggers fan and closet Luddite, the concept of The Circle appealed to me. The novel is set at a large tech company, whose efficient and superior services have come to dominate the Internet slash world. Mae, a 20-something desperate to escape her job at a local utility, is hired by The Circle on the recommendation of her friend Annie, who is a high-level executive there. Through Mae’s nascent and later significant experiences as a Circle employee, Eggers’ latest chronicles the company itself, a business darling whose thinly veiled aspirations of world domination are excused by its image as a benevolent superpower, intent on making the planet a better place. And while The Circle’s true motives are something of a narrative foil, they also – in the grand scheme of things – don’t entirely matter: Good intentions or bad, is there a point at which the price of omniscience is too high?
I have two secret wishes that I think betray how awesome I’m going to be at old age. The first is that I have always – always – wanted to go on a cruise. A children-less, alcohol-fueled cruise to various ports of call, at which I would disembark for the better part of an afternoon to buy tchotchkes and eat meals in fancy ocean-side restaurants. I’m not saying I’m not aware of the various misadventures that can befall one on maritime vacations (we all went through poop cruise); I’m just saying that in a best-case-scenario, where the weather is lovely and my room is spacious and there are no icebergs, I think a cruise could be fun.
My other Secret Old Person Opinion is that I am pumped to live in a retirement community (again, in a best-case scenario where my room is spacious and there are no icebergs). My very first job was as busperson (feminism) for the swank dining room of a upscale retirement community in the DC suburbs. Outside of the elderly’s very serious demands when it comes to seating arrangements (“But I always sit at the third table on the left”), the job wasn’t bad: generally respectful clientele, no kids throwing food on the floor, and free dinner (plus waffle-bar Sundays). But more importantly, it didn’t seem that bad for them either. Retirement communities are where you can chill with other old people, take things slowly, have your meals delivered and be cranky without etiquette-related ramifications. I mean, I bet you only have to wear shoes like, 30% of the time. And finally, perhaps mostimportantly, in a retirement community you got people looking out for you.
Ruth Field, the protagonist of Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, could stand to check out a retirement community. At 75, Ruth lives alone by the ocean, in the Australia house she once shared with her now-deceased husband. Ruth’s children are adults, and their relationship with her is perfunctory, distant. One day, she is visited by Frida Young, a magnetic and intimidating woman who claims to be a home aide sent by the government to help care for her. Dubious but perhaps unconsciously eager for the company, Ruth opens herself up to Frida, who wastes little time imposing her will in the household.
When you say you’re reading a novel about werewolf politics, there’s an understandably large group of people whose first inclination is to tune out. Generally speaking, I would be one of those people. But sometimes, a political werewolf novel is both a political werewolf novel and just enough more to be good.
Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon takes place in a fictional present where 5.2% of the population are lycans, which is to say – werewolves. Lycans can control when they “turn” (it involves hairy bodies and bleeding gums) but are still maligned by the general public and forced to endure certain indignities, like a national registration and a government-mandated sedative to suppress their aggression. Compounding the tension, a small faction of lycans have formed a resistance movement, which is carrying out acts as small as vandalism and as large as terrorism in defense of lycan rights and the independence of the Lupine Republic, lycans’ native country, which the U.S. is occupying and milking for uranium.
All of this is the backdrop to the vignette-like trajectories of several main characters, each with their own unique role in the lycan conflict. Claire and Miriam, lycan relatives reunited after Claire’s parents are killed by a mysterious Tall Man; Patrick, the famous “Miracle Boy” survivor of an in-air lycan plane attack; Chase, the uncouth politician benefiting from the conflict and “Buffalo,” his sadistic sidekick. Through these characters and others, Percy sheds light on a country close to collapse, and a society on the verge of self-destruction.
People who have read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl tend to have opinions about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. And I mean OPINIONS. Loved the first half, hated the second. Loved her, hated him. Can’t believe they cast Ben Affleck in the movie. And so on.
Personally, I was a fan. Flynn’s approach to the mystery genre was weird and interesting and unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable. I can get down with that. Which is why I’d been looking forward to reading her first novel, Sharp Objects.
Sharp Objects homes in on the same creepy vibe as Gone Girl, centered on characters who seem just a touch shy of believable, but interesting all the same. The novel focuses on bottom-tier Chicago reporter Camille Preaker, who is assigned to write about a series of murders in her small hometown. Spending time at home is trouble for Camille, who must face her passive-aggressive hypochondriac mother, her 13-year-old half sister (think Regina George meets Satan) and a slew of other characters from her not-so-great childhood. Truth be told, Camille is perhaps not entirely in her right mind, having recently spent some time in a mental institution.
The most important line of I Am Malala arrives on page 111, nearly halfway in:
“I was ten when the Taliban came to our valley. Moniba and I had been reading the Twilight books and longed to be vampires. It seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires.”
Moniba is Malala’s best friend, classmate and fellow over-achiever, and together they are the one thing that much of the Malala coverage in the last week has failed to keep in mind: regular teenagers.
Like most of the world, I have a touch of Malala Fever. It’s hard not to. When I was 16, I could barely drag myself to school in time for first period, let alone be bothered to defend my right to attend at all. Surely if someone had stopped my bus (or 1993 Dodge Neon) mid-commute and shot me in the face over the matter, I’d have given up education entirely. Sorry pre-calculus — shot in the face. So long gym requirement — shot in the face. And so on.
But Malala, as we all know, did no such thing. After being shot in the eye socket over her (and her father’s) advocation of girl’s education, she became a global activist. At 16, the girl has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and appeared on The Daily Show. Oh and right: [co]-written a book.
No matter how many accolades Wolf Hall has gotten, it’s hard not to tuck into a “Thomas Cromwell trilogy” without feeling a bit like the 73-year-old version of yourself (just with fewer afghans; I plan to have a lot of afghans). And for the first hundred pages of Hilary Mantel’s inaugural Cromwell novel, I wondered whether I had perhaps jumped the gun on King Henry-themed historical fiction: For all its wit and depth and (what I assume is) contextual accuracy, Wolf Hall was failing to take me out of myself. It seemed a book for a quiet afternoon at the library, or a peaceful morning in bed, not the kind of novel that might make itself heard over the cacophony of a subway commute.
Wolf Hall is, put simply, a fictionalized biography of Thomas Cromwell, from his time as right-hand man to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (lots of Thomases in this book) through his ascension in the court of King Henry VIII. The novel won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and has already been picked up for the stage and television. Its sequel, Bring up the Bodies, also won the Man Booker Prize, reminding us that British lady authors can write bestselling literary series that don’t include wizarding schools or vomit-flavored jelly beans.
Six years ago, Tana French had zero books. Today she has four (five if you count The Secret Place, set for publication in 2014) and they are for the most part pretty awesome. Set in Dublin and surrounding neighborhoods, each of French’s novels tracks a high-profile homicide and its investigation by a member/members of the Dublin Murder Squad, a parade of gruff yet nuanced detectives with personal backgrounds that range from the tragic to the merely unfortunate (we’re talking everything from missing/murdered childhood best friends to suicidal moms).
In Broken Harbor, which I feel compelled to admit I finished a few weeks ago at the beach (I’m running behind, okay? DON’T JUDGE ME) the case in question is a triple homicide: Patrick Spain and his two young children are found murdered in their home in a once up-and-coming (or once aspiring-to-up-and-come) beachfront-ish housing development. Wife/mom Jenny Spain barely survives the attack, and is laid up at the emergency room recovering as Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy begins investigating the case. Of course, per the aforementioned personal background requisite, Scorcher has his own history with Broken Harbor (the presciently sad name of the housing development) and so must contend with his own emotional roller coaster as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the murder.
There’s a strong chance that any attempt on my family’s part to co-operate some sort of theme park would end in both tears and shouted insults regarding business acumen (also probably bankruptcy). You see, we Bindrims are not meant to work in concert, and it’s really in everyone’s best interest that we reserve our interactions for lesser affairs, like the Thanksgiving table. Still, whenever I stumble onto a movie or book predicated on the notion of a family-run entertainment venue (in a fit of boredom, I even watched Dolphin Tale a few weeks ago) I can’t help but envy the unique camaraderie that comes with providing a bit of wacky family-run family fun.
Which brings me to Swamplandia! A gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades, Swamplandia! is owned and operated by the Bigtree family, whose implied tribal background is just that: implied. In reality, the Bigtrees are made up of dad (the Chief), mother Hilola, daughter Osceola, son Kiwi and daughter Ava, the last of whom is our narrator. The family-run operation — accessible only by boat — is chugging along smoothly until the relatively sudden death of Hilola, who in addition to being the maternal unit is also Swamplandia’s star attraction: Every night she dives headfirst into a pit of alligators in what’s referred to as “Swimming with the Seths” (all of the alligators are named, and referred to as, Seth). After Hilola’s death, her surviving family members are distraught, and Swamplandia struggles to retain its fan base absent a main attraction.
Then things start to get weird. Strapped for cash and withdrawn from his family, Chief Bigtree departs for the mainland to try and raise funds for his Swamplandia recovery plan. Left to their own devices, the kids splinter: Kiwi defects to World of Darkness, a rival theme park; Osceola begins communicating with (and dating) long-dead spirits in the Florida swamps; and Ava, stressing the gradual disintegration of her family, departs on her own mission to try and bring them back together.