Douglas Coupland's 1994 novel Life After God is super weird. It's about going going though normal adult stuff. Like many works of literary fiction, the plot is not really the main point, though I do not wish to imply that this story lacks in action. The scenes with the exploding nuclear bomb are pretty quick paced if that is important to you.
I want to say that this is a book about finding community and connection even in an isolated world. Now granted I am suspiciously able to find those themes in every book I read, but in this case the reviewer blurbs back me up.
This book is dangerously quotable. A few instances:
"His main pick-up technique was to pump out negative signals so that women with low self-esteem would be glued to him."
"Before we know it, too much time has passed and we've missed the chance to have had other people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sound like a quiet tragedy."
"As I--we--get older, we are all finding that our conversations must be spoken. A need burns inside us to share with others what we are feeling. Beyond a certain age, sincereity ceases to feel pornographic."
Coupland's writing reminds me of Russell Banks, with the shrewdness of the main character's perceptions. And I think it's not too much of a stretch to compare this book (it really is weird) to The Little Prince, though it's less whimsical and more the-march-of-time-comes-for-us-all.
Also there are lots and lots of little pictures throughout the book, which is pretty great, more books need this please.
System Collapse, the latest in the science fiction series of novellas-approaching-novels by Martha Wells, was released four days ago. I did extra housework to get in the listening time so I could discuss it today. My floors are looking nice.
Murderbot is a security unit, a construct of human and machine parts. Its job is to provide security to a group of human researchers, who keep getting into mortal peril when they visit other planets. Its likes include watching soap operas. Its dislikes include getting attached to humans, who are messy and complicated.
Narrator Kevin R. Free does such a good job with this series. I am especially fond of the voice he does for ART, the sentient research vessel that steals every scene it's in. I'm almost as fond of ART as I am of Murderbot. Don't tell Murderbot I said that.
Don't start with this one of you're new to the Murderbot Diaries. Go back to the beginning with All Systems Red.
I realize I haven't said anything about this book specifically. I don't think I'll go into plot details, but I'll say that it made me feel some feelings the same way poor Murderbot felt them.
"I was having an emotion, like a big, overwhelming emotion. It felt bad but good, a weird combination of happy and sad and relieved, like something had been stuck and wasn't stuck anymore. Cathartic, okay? This fits the definition of cathartic."
Contemporary literary fiction is so disappointing to me, so often, but I keep going back to it because sometimes you'll find a gem like Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. Also it is short, and that is an admirable quality in a book when your time for leisure reading is limited.
Somewhere in northern England, seventeen-year-old Sylvie is on holiday with her parents. Sylvie's dad is a huge history buff and wilderness survivalist, which is why nobody in the family has bathed in several days. They're too busy foraging hazelnuts and mussels like their Bronze Age forebears.
It sounds like the setup for a comedic novel, and while there are moments of hilarity, that's not the primary emotion at work here. This is a dark, violent, ugly story about domestic violence.
Sarah Moss reminds me of was Kate Atkinson, but as I was reading reviews, I found a better comparison: Flannery O’Connor. I think that's about right, Flannery O'Connor with some Shirley Jackson. It's about bad men hurting their families, and how individuals and communities perpetuate violence, and in the middle of all this you find yourself snort-laughing because Sylvie said something droll.
This is another one where I recommend the audiobook if you can get it. The working class v. posh accents play a role, and narrator Christine Hewitt does an outstanding job.
I confess I haven't finished the audiobook yet for Stone Blind, written and narrated by Natalie Haynes, but it's based on Greek myths so I'm sure everyone is happy in the end and no one dies.
Okay so. I was not expecting much from this, for the very simple reason that Madeleine Miller's Greek retellings knocked my socks off, and Claire North has a retelling out recently that I expect will additionally knock my socks off, and there's only so much room for talent to go around.
Oh I was wrong.
Haynes is funny, let's get that out of the way first. The section she wrote from the perspective of a crow had me clawing at my throat for more air, I was gasping so hard. Or here's this bit from the perspective of an unnamed Nereid:
"Mortals have a word for this kind of arrogance, the kind that makes a person think she can compare herself favorably to a goddess. The word is hubris. And while I am all in favor of using precision to describe something, might I suggest that you would be better off not doing something so dangerous so often that you need a specific word for it. Perhaps develop your self-control rather than your vocabulary."
Contrast that to the section where the gods of Olympus were marching to war with the giants. It's told from the point of view of Athene and I swear I felt an emotion I can only describe as battle lust. I wanted to march with some comrades in arms and hit something. For the record my typical emotional response to anything is crying a lot.
I was never much into the gods when we studied classical antiquity in high school English. I found them capricious and arbitrary. Haynes maintains these flaws while making them believable.
As for her prose: follow me for any time and you will find I am insufferable about word-smithing. I have such unforgiving standards. And here I was listening to the prose and wondering if maybe I could write like that, if I worked hard at it.
As for the narration: it is perfect. Haynes is not a voice actor and doesn't bother attempting different voices for different characters but it doesn't matter. She's so expressive with each one. And she has the type of English accent that is kryptonite for American listeners. Occasionally Medusa comes out as Medus-er.
p.s. It's also a fine time to listen to Tom Waits singing "Stone Blind Love."
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.