Monday, March 20, 2017

what's going on here?

Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Are we supposed to pity Dustin Tillman, because of what he went through as a child, hate him for what he did in response, or respect him for being able to put his life together afterward?  I don't know.

Dustin not only can't be relied upon to tell the truth, he doesn't even know what the truth is.  He is described by other characters as spacey, delusional, suggestible, and gullible.  So fine, I promise not to take anything he says at face-value.  This is not difficult because, among other things, he's unable to finish most thoughts, either in conversation or in his internal monologue.  Which makes it hard to take him seriously as the clinical psychologist with a successful practice he's supposed to be.  In the end, this was the most challenging part of the book for me.

So are we supposed to believe what he finally lets on that he really remembers about the night his parents, aunt, and uncle died?  Or perhaps the real question is, do we really care about what happened by that point?

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

to make it up or not make it up

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Review: I'm used to reading non-fiction books that are written in such a readable way that it feels like reading like fiction (e.g. Erik Larson).  That's easy.  Reading a work of fiction, based on true events, and written in the style of narrative non-fiction is easy too, but much more confusing.  I had to look for reviews of this book to convince myself that it is indeed fiction.  I was able to find a article in which Crichton himself says that he did hardly any research, which answered the question for me.

Having settled that, I will say that in some ways this book was much less readable than other books, fiction or non, due to Crichton's (excessive?) use of slang.  In other respects, he does a wonderful job of painting of picture of the times, and I assume that having his characters speak in the slang they would have used is part of that effort.  Unfortunately, although clarity rarely suffers, since Crichton defines the slang terms used as they come, readability does.  Instead of drawing me deeper into the world of Victorian-age criminals, the slang distracted and annoyed me.  No harm in slang, of course, but everything in moderation.