Books read (all or part of) this week:
Soil by Jamie Kornegay
The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyker
The Turner House by Angela Flourny
Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro
Benefit of the Doubt by Neal Griffin
Mercy 6 by David Bajo
I was back into the swing of the Indies Introduce readings this week – some pretty good, some outstanding, and some… The tricky thing here is that because of the sheer volume of books I have to get through for this thing, I have yet to finish more than a couple of them. The good ones, I shall return to – with more to report, hopefully.
A Small Indiscretion: see Week 30. I don’t have anything more to say on this one, other than that I keep dipping back into it, which continues to surprise me.
The Book of Speculation: the circus, librarians, mysterious books… the pieces are there, but this thing just isn’t keeping me hooked for whatever reason. I’m sure it will go through into later rounds – and most likely be a indie bestseller. Think Night Circus etc.
Soil: this is right up there with Young Skins as one of the better books I’ve encountered for this panel. A gritty Southern Gothic in the vein of Tom Franklin written by the owner of an independent bookstore in Mississippi. I’m listening. I can already tell (100 pages deep) that this is one of those divisive books where readers are either totally on board, loving it or can’t stand to be in the company of its characters for more than a few pages. One of the main narrators is one of those guys that makes horrible decision after horrible decision, forcing us to watch his descent down the slippery slope of madness. What would you do if you found a dead guy on your property in the aftermath of a flood? A: call the police? or B: chop the body up in to small pieces and burn it into charcoal in your backyard? But it’s really great.
The Sunlit Night: also fairly outstanding. Two narrative threads gradually come together – Frances is adrift after college and heads to an apprenticeship at a Norwegian art colony above the Arctic Circle and Yasha has spent his formative years in a Flatbush bakery, never yearning for more until his life is forced in directions he never expected. The narrative has a weird little lilt to it that I really like – Frances’ especially, with her painting only in yellow under the 24-hour Norwegian sun. If I didn’t have all these other books to wade through, I’d be reading this one.
Orhan’s Inheritance: atmospheric (set in two timelines in 20th-century Turkey) and well-crafted, at least 50-something pages in. When Orhan’s grandfather offs himself in a vat of indigo dye, the presumption is that the family business will go to Orhan while the assets and the family estate will go to his father. But grandpa’s will says otherwise – and the homestead has been left to a woman in California that no one in the family has ever heard of. So Orhan tracks her down to try and sort things out. I’d keep reading this – which is saying something, I guess.
The Turner House: the main character is a man named “Cha-Cha.” I’m already gone. This one seems like it’s struggling to be a story about a large family from Detroit, but there’s a strange ghost story element that keeps rearing its head, keeping the whole thing from ever getting flowing. Maybe after 100 pages it hits a narrative stride, but what I’ve read of it just keeps spinning its wheels. (I found the most surprising element to be that the author is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Hmmm…)
Pieces of My Mother: there’s nothing wrong with this one, per se, just that personal memoirs about mothers aren’t really my thing. It’s fine, really. Next.
Benefit of the Doubt: oh, if I were actually able to give this book the “benefit of the doubt” and just politely decline and move along. But I really want to know how this got published. I know this is a bit mean spirited to poke fun at an untested debut novel – not to mention, relatively dangerous, since the author is a cop in a North San Diego County city. But this has been vetted as an entry for this process, edited by professionals, represented by an agent, and even blurbed by SoCal crime novelists Joseph Wambaugh and Don Winslow. Fair game, I say. Here’s an excerpt from the prologue – this bad dude, Harlan has just shot this woman in the gut:
Her eyes shone clear and hateful.
“Go to hell.”
“You first, Missy.”
Harlan took aim and squeezed the trigger a smooth four times. The sacs of silicon that had created the sensual swell of her round breasts erupted an instant before her heart did the same, spraying blood and other fluids in all directions.