April 30, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 30 April 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.)

The Last Hiccup, by Christopher Meades

The Last Hiccup
By Christopher Meades
ECW Press

This quirky piece of literary fiction almost exactly illustrates, nearly as a textbook example, the inherent problem of writing quirky literary fiction; that once you get past the quirky gimmick that draws people in (here, the tale of a boy in 1930s Russia who starts hiccuping one day, and literally doesn't stop for decades), it can become an insurmountable challenge to come up with anything interesting after that, a common problem among academic short-story veterans who try taking on full-length novels. And so in author Christopher Meades' case, he adds a rambling, digressive plot that involves our hero being shuttled away to a sanitarium for years, to re-enter society just in time to not understand the profound changes to Russian society that Stalinism and World War Two have brought, and to get caught up in a series of adventures that help to illuminate Forrest-Gump-style many of the developments this part of the world saw in the early 20th century; and while this can be clever at times, and is definitely at least well-written, the vast majority of the book really has nothing to do with the titular gimmick at all, and in fact it's hard to understand what the hiccups are doing in this story in the first place other than to serve as a "running motif" off which to hang the bland, underdeveloped plot, yet another common thing you see among academic veterans of short fiction trying to pad out one of their ideas into a full novel. Interesting for what it is, it's absolutely worth your time if you ever come across it at the library or on a friend's bookshelf, but I can't honestly encourage people to go and actively seek out a copy.

Out of 10: 7.9

East of Bowery, by Drew Hubner and Ted Barron

East of Bowery
By Drew Hubner and Ted Barron
Sensitive Skin Books

Just to be clear, I really wanted to be a big fan of this story/photography collaboration by Drew Hubner and Ted Barron, both halves taking a look at the hardscrabble lives found in lower Manhattan during its pre-gentrification years, which started life as a web project before being turned into a popular multimedia performance event at the Bowery Poetry Club a few years ago. But alas, apart from its legitimately great value as a historical document, I found the stories and photos themselves to be only so-so, nothing outright bad but certainly cliche-filled documents that feel interchangeable with the dozens of other writers and photographers who recorded this fascinating period in New York history as well. Absolutely worth your time if you have a specific interest in the subject, it can be easily skipped if you don't.

Out of 10: 7.7

The Great Lenore, by J.M. Tohline

The Great Lenore
By J.M. Tohline
Atticus Books

This slim debut novel by J.M. Tohline has an interesting conceit at its core; cleverly combining details from Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby but neither of their actual plots, it tells the story of a young novelist invited to housesit a mansion in Nantucket one winter, eventually becoming emotionally adopted by the upper-class family of misfits next door. The catch? It turns out that not only both brothers of that family but a close family friend have all had passionate love affairs at one point or another with the titular manic pixie dream girl, each of whom know only some of the truth about all of the others; so when said Lenore magically shows up at our everyman narrator's place four days after she apparently died in an accident, the family next door already starting to break down into Peyton-Place histrionics over their loss, needless to say that it throws a real wrench into the entire proceedings, especially after Lenore requests that our hero keep her existence a secret so that she can take advantage of the rare opportunity to see how all these various lovers of hers exactly react to her death. The problem, though, is that once Tohline puts this admittedly fascinating milieu together, he can't seem to figure out anything interesting to do with it; for while the entire thing is definitely well-written, and contains all kinds of knowing asides for the pleasure of heavy literary readers, the last two-thirds of this short book seem to consist of not much more than a bunch of people all endlessly screaming to each other, "I loved her more!" "No, I loved her more!" before building to a contrived climax that feels as if Tohline simply ran out of energy to continue. Fantastic as a short story idea but lacking as a novel, as belies the author's actual career experiences so far, this certainly is a sign of a writer who still has a lot of great work ahead of him, although with this particular book receiving only a tepid recommendation today.

Out of 10: 8.1

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:08 PM, April 30, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |