August 3, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 3 August 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.)

The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa

The Book of Disquiet
By Fernando Pessoa
Serpent's Tail / Profile Books

This was recommended to me by a friend of mine, Chicago bizarro author David David Katzman, specifically because of the growing influence it's apparently having these days on all lovers of the surreal; because for those who don't know, Fernando Pessoa was sort of the Portuguese version of Franz Kafka, a white-collar worker in Lisbon during the Early Modernist era of the 1910s through '30s, who barely published anything during his own lifetime but left behind over 25,000 pages of brilliantly obtuse work after his death. In fact, this particular novel wasn't even published for the very first time until 1982, which is why it's only now in the 2000s that it's starting to have a wide global influence for the first time, the pieces left by Pessoa in such a fragmented state that modern editors weren't sure what order the snippets should even appear. As you can imagine, then, this leaves the reading experience as a challenge to say the least, but a deeply rewarding one for the dedicated lover of experimentalism who can stick with it for the entire thing, as Pessoa weaves together observation with introspection, served with a healthy dose of cutting-edge style; and it's for sure destined to eventually become just as much a landmark of Early Modernist experimentation as T.S. Eliot or even Kafka himself. It comes recommended to those looking to expand their knowledge of this period of literary history, as well as fans of modern bizarro and gonzo fiction.

Go Carefully, My Friend, by Jo Simon

Go Carefully, My Friend: A Novel of South Africa
By Jo Simon

To be clear, I applaud South African Jo Simon's new fictional look at the last days of apartheid there, Go Carefully, My Friend, which hits each and every single beat that you would expect a story like this to hit; but that's also the precise problem with this novel as well, in that there have just been so many books now published about this subject (and with so many of them so mindblowingly moving as well) that it takes a lot more for yet another look at the topic to be effective than the mere straightforward retelling that Simon does here, essentially the story of one white girl's awakening to the atrocities happening regularly around her, and her attempts to make the situation better. Plus -- and I know this is going to hit a nerve with some people merely for bringing it up -- but no matter how admirable Simon is for writing on the subject in the first place, the endlessly do-gooder tone she strikes is just so earnest as to actually backfire a lot of the time, with I suspect many people who will consider it by the end one of the most preachy morality tales they've seen this side of a 1930s Rooseveltian liberal on the WPA dole; and that's a shame, because pat morality and obvious sermonizing never does a social-realist story like this any favors, with it being instead the ambiguous and unexpected tales that always shed the most light on what are usually pretty black and white issues like these. All in all, I found the book to be very typical of the iUniverse titles I receive -- that is, not terrible by any means, but with there being a serious question concerning why it exists in the first place -- and so comes today with only a mild recommendation, to match its mild tone.

Out of 10: 7.5

The Paragon Connection, by Leonard Finz

The Paragon Connection
By Leonard Finz
Roundtree Mysteries, Inc.

Oh, Tom Clancy Technothriller Fans But With Only Subpar Writing Skills Themselves, where would the world be without you?! Certainly it'd be a less unintentionally fun place, I was reminded of again when tackling Leonard Finz's The Paragon Connection this week, a book which absolutely gets an A for enthusiasm but that unfortunately is the very definition of a problem-filled genre book written by a retired lawyer or corporate executive, the kind of guy who has spent decades penning business articles and legal briefs and so figures that a technothriller will be a piece of cake, who is unused to receiving honest critical feedback from his cowed underlings and so has no idea just how problem-filled their book actually is, and that always inspires you to mumble something about an "impressive effort" whenever the point inevitably comes during the following year's Christmas get-together when they finally ask you what you thought. So let me just collectively take the bullet for all of you who find yourselves in this situation, and confess that this hodgepodge of CIA/terrorist/drug-cartel/conspiracy references has a long way to go before it can be considered even serviceable, not helped at all by at least two dozen grammatical and spelling errors just in the first chapter alone, and that Finz would be wise to take a few classes on fiction fundamentals before continuing work on the eight other technothrillers he currently has in progress (or at least according to the breathless blurbs at the end of this one). A novel that most will find hard to even finish, it does not come recommended today.

Out of 10: 5.2

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:52 AM, August 3, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |