February 8, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 8 February 2011

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk, by Tony DuShane

Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk
By Tony DuShane
Soft Skull Press / Counterpoint

Like many in the indie-lit world, I was dismayed at the demise last year of revered small press Soft Skull, although glad to see it live on at least in imprint name only, over at the larger publisher Counterpoint; and now that its first books are coming out under its new ownership, I'm glad as well to see that they've maintained their editorial spirit too, with this lightly fictionalized memoir about growing up Mormon from punk stalwart Tony DuShane perhaps overly familiar in overall subject matter, but definitely original when it comes to tone and quality. And that's because, just like the best memoirists, DuShane has pulled out a whole series of incredibly specific memories about those years, ones that most of us tend to forget as we get older and older, which is what makes it such a delight when author like this reminds us of them -- for example, the endless erotic possibilities that come to a virgin merely from spying a bit of ass cheek poking over the jeans of a girl sitting in front of them -- and then peppers the otherwise fairly rote tale with details so specific and odd, they simply must be true; for example, the big teen Mormon convention he and his friends would attend each year, where the horny religious high-schoolers would participate in these elaborate Austenesque chaste flirting rituals while endlessly promenading around the convention center's main rotunda, and where the author and his buddies made a big splash one year by dressing in retro Mod outfits, exciting to the ska-listening girls but deemed safely traditional by their clueless parents. Funny and sad at the same time, with an ending guaranteed to get you furious at conservative religious organizations if you aren't already, this is a fine early title from the newly Counterpointed Soft Skull, and hopefully bodes well for the future of the imprint.

Out of 10: 9.0

No Space for Further Burials, by Feryal Ali Gauhar

No Space for Further Burials
By Feryal Ali Gauhar
Akashic Books

Although the pedigree of Pakistani author Feryal Ali Gauhar is one you'd think naturally great for writing a political thriller -- a graduate of Montreal's McGill University, she has been imprisoned in her home country twice now for liberal activism, and currently serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations -- I nonetheless found myself rather disappointed by her fiction debut with our friends at Akashic Books, No Space for Further Burials. And that's because the rickety nature of her house-of-cards storyline is on obvious display right from page one, a needlessly convoluted plot that's just full of glaring holes in logic -- for example, even the main premise itself, that a US military officer would go wandering off into the desert one night by himself without telling anyone, thus allowing for his secret imprisonment in a forgotten rural mental hospital still run under medieval conditions, which then gives Gauhar the excuse she wanted for writing a Canterbury Tales-style look at the various misfits, disabled people and political prisoners found there -- all of this created just to make points that are too on-the-nose to begin with, and that could've been better made metaphorically in a simpler and more naturalistic setting. Although it's certainly as earnest as political fiction gets, I found it both too preachy and too precious for my tastes, and it is not recommended today to a general audience.

Out of 10: 6.7

The News Where You Are, by Catherine O'Flynn

The News Where You Are
By Catherine O'Flynn
Henry Holt and Company

Although everything about it screams "pleasantly middlebrow British character dramedy," readers of the Booker-nominated Catherine O'Flynn's latest, The News Where You Are, should brace themselves for something a lot darker and more depressing; for in telling this story of an aging local TV news anchor, whose most lasting fame is among snotty college students in ironic love with his terrible jokes, right at the same time that the city he lives in is in the process of destroying all his late father's ugly old '70s architectural projects (which themselves replaced a series of crumbling Victorian buildings which no one at the time wanted, which ironically in modern times have now become highly sought after), O'Flynn's main message seems to be, "None of us appreciate things until it's too late to do anything about it, living instead in perpetual dissatisfaction and disappointment at the details of our lives, until finally the sweet release of death comes to us all." And that's a heavy message for what's essentially the story of a bunch of genial, middle-aged, middle-class suburban Brits, and the comings and goings in the small town where they live, which is why I found myself divided over my opinion of the book by the time I finished -- an interesting and well-done read but an undeniable downer as well, one whose pure banality eventually wears you down like ten thousand drops from a Chinese water torture. It's getting an only middle-of-the-road score today for that reason, and only a limited recommendation as well.

Out of 10: 7.5

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:49 PM, February 8, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |