January 9, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 9 January 2012

(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.)

Under the Harrow, by Mark Dunn

Under the Harrow
By Mark Dunn

This oversized novel has gotten a bad rap from a lot of reviewers, from being unfavorably compared to other projects for which it shouldn't; it's not exactly a ripoff of The Truman Show, although it shares one of its elements, and it's not exactly a ripoff of M. Night Shyamalen's The Village, despite sharing an element of that, and it's not exactly a steampunk or alt-history novel either, although it certainly feels like both at various moments. Instead, it's a clever epic about a small New England town that seems at first to have come straight out of a James Howard Kunstler post-oil thriller -- one that after an unnamed apocalyptic event has reverted to an insular, pre-tech, Luddite existence, which has had only a copy of the Bible and the complete works of Charles Dickens to guide their arts and culture over the last century, which is why this account of their awakening to the reality of the outside world is written in such delightfully Dickensian prose. The plot itself is best left a surprise, which is why I won't detail any more of it today; but suffice to say that those who enjoy smart and well-done neo-retro genre tales should definitely go out of their way to pick this up.

Out of 10: 8.5

Einstein on the Road, by Josef Eisinger

Einstein on the Road
By Josef Eisinger
Prometheus Books

For those who don't know, physicist and Early Modernist Albert Einstein did quite a lot of traveling as well as heavy thinking while alive; born in Germany, he moved to Italy for a time as a child, then studied in Switzerland, then moved back to Germany and then Prague, visited America, Britain, Asia and Palestine, then fled the Nazis to first Belgium and then New Jersey for the rest of his life. And it turns out that Einstein kept pervasive journals of his travels the whole time too, which have recently been analyzed and interpreted by Josef Eisinger for the book Einstein on the Road, put out by the mostly science-book-publishing Prometheus Books (albeit with this also being the parent company that owns the cutting-edge science-fiction publisher Pyr). But alas, I suspect that the journals themselves are not too scintillating of stuff; because this book is more like a journalist or historian using such material as a source for writing their own original tale, with Eisinger trying as admirably as he can to inject a sense of excitement and globetrotting adventure to these records, but with the few direct quotes he includes making it clear that Einstein simply wasn't a romantic vagabond, and that these journals are for the most part probably mere logs full of dry facts and figures. Interesting as a historical document, this is not exactly the NPR-friendly crowdpleaser that Prometheus is trying to sell it as, although will definitely hold a lot of interest to those who wish to know more about Einstein himself.

Out of 10: 8.0

Loisaida, by Marion Stein

Loisaida: A New York Story
By Marion Stein

This is one of those gritty urban Social Realist dramas with a liberal bent that I'm never quite sure what to do with; for although I acknowledge that there's a large crowd out there who love this kind of work, I myself am not the biggest fan, yet don't wish people to think this book is poorly written just because I found it only so-so. Instead, I find these kinds of stories mediocre merely because there doesn't seem to be much to them, either in originality or overall quality -- it's essentially an interconnecting series of character sketches of lower Manhattanites in the late 1980s, from the simple working-class to the outright lumpens, and so as such, it joins a fine tradition that goes all the way back to the communistic leftist writers of the WPA 1930s, but really with almost no progression in this genre's development since then. Fine for what it is, I just happen to like this kind of stuff only in small doses, but certainly it's something to definitely check out if you've ever participated in an "Occupy" protest or wept while reading a John Steinbeck novel.

Out of 10: 7.5

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:45 AM, January 9, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |