Sunday, September 27, 2015

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

The fact that Ree says, "Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered," tells a lot about her character. Hungry, her two brothers has just said they would ask a relative for meat. Kin are supposed to help each other. 

Ree knows otherwise. She's had a hard life and is used to bitter disappointments. Yet she also exploits the fact that she's kin to many of the Ozark crank dealers.

Since her mother is enfeebled, Ree knows it's "all on her." She goes on an perilous pursuit to find the man that owes her family something--her own father.  

Woodrell invented the term country noir. Though it initially seems gritty and dark, this novel draws you into Ree's world. Though its not a pretty world, it's a taut, compelling narrative. 

"Writing fiction is the strangest of professions. Here is a job in which your task each day is to listen to the voices of the people who don't exist and describe events that never were. It's the adult version of Let's Pretend."

Lisa Wingate, in the acknowledgements, The Sea Keeper's Daughters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seduction by M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose's novel, Seduction, superbly moves back and forth in time on a remote island, Jersey Island, where Celtic artifacts are plentiful.

Half of the story is focuses on Victor Hugo's self-imposed exile to Jersey Island after his daughter's death. The other half of the story focuses on a present day woman, Jac L'Etoile, who is shooting a documentary on myths, Mythmakers.

Jac has suffered from hallucinations, mostly olfactory-driven, since she was a teenager. Jac finds herself reuniting with Theo, a man who had a dangerous hold over her. 

While it starts off in a promising way, Seduction quickly becomes  mired by numerous contemporary subplots.

There's a love triangle involving Theo, Ash, and Naomi that becomes more intricate when Jac visits Jersey Island. Then there's a subplot about a grandfather's strange obsession with a ouija board and his two grandchildren, Eva and Minera. The Celtic family who haunts Jac complicates matters still further.

While the subplots set in the present can be confusing, the subplots set in the nineteenth century are much more intriguing.

Rose's Victor Hugo storyline, which, as the author says in an end note, is partly true and partly fictionalized is the richest of the subplots. Hugo and is tempted to make a deal with a figure he calls the Shadow of Sepulchre.

Hugo's story is cleverly used to illuminate the present-day struggles of the Gaspards and the L'Etoiles. Some may disagree but I wish Rose had written solely about Victor Hugo and his circle.

Seduction was listed as Suspense Magazine's Book of the Year in 2013.

Suspense Magazine can be found at

Monday, September 7, 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

In Karen Joy Fowler's We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, the narrator begins in media res.

Rosemary is a well-educated, unreliable narrator. She tells readers she is in mourning because her sister disappeared seventeen years ago and her brother disappeared ten years ago.

In no way is We Are Completely Beside Ourselves a typical missing person story. There's a lot more at play. Rosemary's brother is a domestic terrorist and Rosemary's sister is a chimpanzee for starters. Her father is a psychologist who is keen on treating his children like the psychological subjects he is studying.

Tragic and compelling, this novel explores many tantalizing subjects such as the fallibility of memory, the notion of humanity, and the debilitating effect of family secrets.

For another book about a family's misadventures in animal experimentation, try We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge.