Humble Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Had you ever been separated from family or familiarity as a child? Couldn’t locate your parents in a busy mall, or walked a few blocks in the wrong direction and lost your bearings? At a young age, this can be a very scary thought – you’re mostly dependant on the care of others. When that link is severed, even momentarily, panic soon sets in.

That’s the basic idea behind The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, where nine-year-old Trisha becomes separated from her mother and brother while on a hike in the wilderness. With each failed attempt at reasoning for the best course of action, she finds herself deeper and deeper into the woods, all alone.

That sense of loneliness slowly begins to dissipate, however, when she discovers she packed her portable radio and can tune in to baseball matches featuring her hero, Tom Gordon. As her mind starts to slip, she imagines him by her side, comforting her.

At the same time, a malevolent presence stalks her, feeding off her fear, waiting for the right time to show itself…

I loved this book exactly for what it was – a focused, self-contained popcorn novel. No external factors to complicate things, just the story beginning with a girl going on a hike. We get shown some of the family dynamic, but after the point of separation, it is just a story of a young girl fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory.

Trisha is a well-sculpted character, everything she does is believable for her age. The addition of imaginary dialogue between her and her hero also means the book doesn’t resort to strange self-narration, due to being the only character around.

It felt a bit like a departure from King’s norm, in that the main character stumbled onto the home of this malevolent spirit, not the other way around. It took a very passive role overall, unlike the majority of King’s antagonists. Arguably, the main antagonist wasn’t the spirit, but more the natural elements themselves.

Still, a great read and like the story itself, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was disconnected from the larger Stephen King Multiverse – but in a comforting way.


Humble Book Review: Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents is a brilliant summation of most of his former works. His explanations for human nature involving the id, the ego, and the super-ego structure pairs up with the individual’s struggle to exist in a civilization.

According to Freud, we are defined by opposing forces Thanatos (death drive), and Eros (sex drive). These internal struggles lead to human aggression, showing itself either internally or externally, depending on the makeup of your idand super-ego. These individual discontents eventually manifest themselves into human aggression on the civilization level, and the question is posed whether we will ever be able to overcome these frustrations.

This was a very engaging read, primarily because it opened up and formally collated many disjointed notions of the world I’ve held before. My thoughts on civilization and my micro-frustrations towards it, along with the way the world is, were only fleeting across my consciousness. But I knew they existed. Having read this text, I can at least bundle them together and assign them as something that we all supposedly go through, which provides more comfort.

Will we ever be able to overcome the aggressions Freud discussed? It’s a weighted question. Given that these aggressions tie to our fundamental human nature, it seems very unlikely to change.

Humble Book Review: Bag of Bones

Recently, I counted all the Stephen King novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books. It comes to a grand total of 71. If there’s anyone who can claim they can write like the Devil, it’s King.

With completing Bag of Bones, I’ve now reached 41 books read. I’m on the home stretch! Now, to hope that I can keep up my reading speed with his writing speed…

Stephen King always seems to combine two distinct themes in each of his works; one natural, and one supernatural. In The Stand, it was about rebuilding society after it’s collapse (natural), and the war between omnipotent good vs evil (supernatural). In It, the central characters had to acknowledge their childhood and overcome their fears (natural), facing a powerful entity not from their world (supernatural).

This is no different for Bag of Bones which vaguely divides into two distinct themes: haunting, and conspiracy.

Mike Noonan, a novelist, finds himself unable to continue with his profession with the passing of his wife, Jo. After several years of sickening writer’s block, and nightmares relating to their summer house on Dark Score Lake, he decides to return to this home away from home to alleviate both of these issues.

He stumbles across a young widowed mother, Mattie, fighting a hopeless custody battle over her daughter, Kyra, against her withered yet relentless millionaire step-father, Max Devore. As Mike steps in, he begins to unravel a much larger conspiracy that seems to be connected to his restless summer home.

King needs to be congratulated for being able to tie all of the many mysterious threads together towards the end, because my initial gripe with the book, halfway through, was that I had no idea how everything fit together. He threw a jigsaw puzzle to the ground, and while I assumed the completed picture would be incredible, I resigned myself to the fact that some pieces would have scattered under the couch, or down a few cracks. However, there is an unusually satisfying conclusion in Bag of Bones which answers more questions than you can shake a plastic owl at.

There is a little weird vibe of creepiness, though, with Mike’s pseudo-relationship with the young Mattie even though he is pretty much old enough to be her father. He is aware of this, but sometimes the way it is written, it comes off as creepy uncle-type stuff. The town talks greatly of this, which I suppose mirrors the gossip of real life small towns.

This is a great take on a Gothic style novel, showing a town full of secrets that you really want to unravel. Just don’t expect everything to make sense until towards the very end.

Humble Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I must admit, I was pretty late to get on the Harry Potter bandwagon, having only started the series when I was 25. I missed out on all the hype that had been generated from the public with each successive release until the supposed final book ,Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Imagine my surprise when I recently visited a random store, and on the shelves was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, supposedly the eighth book in the series, if you believe GoodReads. Yet again, the hype had eluded me.

Well, there’s a good reason – this is not really a continuation of the series in the traditional sense. This is the Rehearsal Script Edition of a West End play with the same title, penned by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling herself.

The story of the play revolves around one of Harry’s children, Albus Severus Potter, who is now old enough to attend Hogwarts. He finds a friend in Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, and the two of them try to come to terms with being outcasts. Soon, they find themselves in trouble after trying to prevent an untimely death. Harry, who finds that being a good parent is his most difficult challenge yet, counts on his own friends to save his son, and the damaged relationship with him.This book is difficult to judge, since it isn’t technically a book at all. Being a rehearsal script, you only get the dialogue of each character, and a few sentences describing the scene or major actions within it. You don’t get the subtle nuances of style, the creative metaphors, or the larger painted world in your mind. Therefore, this format only works if you know the characters and settings already, which is precisely why it has only been seen for a series as popular as Harry Potter.

The story itself is okay, with a good mix of fresh and returning characters. It moves at a lightning pace, which can be expected from a script format. The choices of Albus and Scorpuis have weight, and greatly influence the events from the past books. Arguably, the main point of the book is to show the life of Harry as a parent, and his struggles with a normal life as a parent, which is dealt with relatively well.

Unfortunately, what this ultimately feels like, is a dabble at fan-fiction for a beloved series. The characters feel a bit two-dimensional due to the script’s restrictive format. Of course, it would be much better to watch the actual play than to read the script, to make up for this gap.

If people go into this, thinking it is the 8th Harry Potter book like GoodReads portrays it, they will be disappointed. To avoid this, if possible, it would be much better to go and see the play for yourself.

Humble Book Review: Rose Madder

From the late 80’s to early 90’s, King ventured away from his modern twists on classic supernatural tales and claustrophobic encounters with psychotic individuals, to explore the dark and hidden horrors lurking within the walls of the unassuming home. Rose Madder marks the end of this informal “domestic horror” era which included Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and arguably also Needful Things.

With this final entry, King really drives home the message in a very blatant way, within the realm of an engaging cat-and-mouse story.

At the beginning, we see Rosie Daniels suffering from a horrifying case of domestic abuse, brought upon by her psychotic police detective husband, Norman. Flash forward another nine years, and Rose is still married to this beast, while turning more submissive from his continuous abuse. However, one day she discovers one small drop of blood which causes her to mentally snap. She then leaves the house with nothing but her husband’s ATM card.

What follows is a dangerous escape into an unknown world, one she has felt disconnected from for 14 long years. As Rose loses herself in a new city and is taken in by the kindness of strangers, Norman slowly loses his sanity while trying to locate his lost “possession” in utter disbelief that he didn’t see it coming.

Initially, I regarded this as a standard thriller, with the usual high stakes of death if Rose was caught. And there are some very close calls to keep you hooked. However, there was a certain point which brought a fresh twist, marked by Rose’s discovery of a particularly alluring painting, aptly namedRose Madder. The other-worldly properties of it created a very interesting sub-plot, which I found myself far more interested in.

Then came a moment that all Stephen King followers love; the allusion to one of the other books in his multiverse. This wasn’t just any reference, but a direct reference to the ideology of the centrepoint of all universes – Midworld. Ka is a wheel.

Through strange means, you get to know the main figure in this strange painting, and she alludes to herself as being even more mysterious and dangerous as any other King character I’ve met. I believe there are strong connections between Rose Madder and the Crimson King, but I haven’t been able to find anyone else’s thoughts on the matter. She seems like too big of a player to only appear in this one novel.

Once Rose is established in her new city, and Norman reaches it to look for her, you can quite easily draw upon the metaphor of the Minotaur in the maze, blindly hunting down the victim. Well, King doesn’t mistake upon this, as towards the end of the novel, the metaphor slowly but surely becomes so blatant that it almost mimics the ancient Greek mythological story to the point of absurdity.

Perhaps the only drawback, and it is a quite major one, is that the psychotic husband Norman has absolutely no redeemable traits at all. As a character, he was very one-dimensional, trying to get back what is his. Although he does slowly slip into insanity, and you can gradually follow it, I did not care for him at all. Rosie, on the other hand, does transform quite well into an independent woman. You can’t help but also feel excited when she’s happy to do the things we disregard as routine or mundane.

I’d call this one of King’s hidden gems, depending on whether you care for those King cross-references to the larger multiverse or not.

Humble Book Review: Battle Royale

I’ll just get this out of the way from the beginning – yes, I had read the Hunger Games trilogy before this, and yes, there are similarities that run so deep, it’s almost impossible that Suzanne Collins had not at least subconsciously borrowed elements from Battle Royale.

Although you might think the similarities are endless, many of them are smaller details in comparison to the overall narrative. Each book has it’s own style and target audience. Personally, I found Battle Royale to be a fast-paced and thrilling read, more aligned to what I really wanted in a totalitarian-run free-for-all.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami, is the story of a class of 42 Japanese high school students who, as part of the totalitarian government’s terrifying program, have been kidnapped and shipped to a small island against their will. It is this setting where they will be each given a map, food, a random weapon, and an explosive collar attached to their necks. They have been told to kill their classmates – and friends – in order to survive. If they choose not to, those explosive collars could detonate. In the end, only one student can be the sole survivor and deemed the winner, allowed to return to society.

Upon frantically running away from the starting point into every direction, the students are faced with an ethical dilemma beyond their years: do they “play the game” and increase their individual chances of survival? Do they attempt to trust their classmates and band together to increase their odds of finding a way out of the system? Or do they choose not to participate in killing at all?

Each choice; constantly moving or hiding, becoming a killer or a pacifist, to trust or to distrust; these are crucial decisions each of the 42 students need to answer quickly.

First of all, it must be said that with 42 students in the mix, a potential reader might be dissuaded with trying to juggle so many characters. However, the author had chosen to stick with 2 major protagonists, and around 3 or 4 major groups to check in with from time to time. Your head won’t be spinning with trying to remember names, but what this novel does extremely well, is flesh out each of the characters adequately. None of the characters are clones of each other, they are all unique and interesting with their personalities and actions.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the game, the more you get to know the characters, the sadder you’ll become since according to the rules, there can be only one survivor. These high stakes urge you to fly through the pages to see how your favourites fare against the more cruel students.

Secondly, George R R Martin ain’t got nothing on the death count per page here. You need to be aware that not all of the students will make it out alive. Hell, two students don’t even make it out of the briefing room due to the overzealous and egotistical program manager Sakamochi. It is because of these reasons that you’ll find yourself heavily invested in the outcome – will the students either escape, or defeat the program itself?

Perhaps the only let-down for me is the writing style. Due to it being a translation from a Japanese author, the novel suffers from an inevitable sense of awkwardness. Metaphorical language is practically non-existent, and it sometimes reads as an objective journalist’s recounting of the events from a distance.

However, I think the incredibly engaging plot and fast-paced action more than makes up for elements lost in translation. If you’re looking for a book of what the Hunger Games should have been, this is for you.

Humble Book Review: Dolores Claiborne

What would you do if you were stuck in a loveless and violent relationship? Would you sit idly by, paralyzed by fear, or would you make a stand and reach a level ground? And after a long time together, with a growing family, if you found out a dark and sinister secret, would things change?

Dolores Claiborne, in the novel of her namesake, reminisces about her past and her struggle to remain on top, not to be fooled by her abusive husband. She opens up about her history only days after her employer, Vera Donovan, passes away in suspicious circumstances. Suspicious because Dolores, at 65 years old, was Vera’s head housekeeper, and also because on the small island they lived on, Dolores had developed a reputation warranting wariness.

Throughout the novel we only delve into Dolores’s memories, which is told in the way of a casual interview between the accused, an officer and a stenographer. There are several key moments in Dolores’s life which are worth knowing for Vera’s death, and for the protagonists’s character in general; her relationship to her husband, and to her children, particularly her eldest daughter.

There are a few great moments of suspense peppered throughout, and its all told from her very casual style of storytelling. It works quite well, since King normally gives us that corner-of-the-diner type casual vibe with his novels. This is at it’s best a character novel, and you do want to know what had happened to made her so hardened in spirit and sharp of tongue.

But, this is one of King’s lesser known works for a reason. There is some writing style experimentation going on here, with the pure singular retelling of a life, and also no chapter breaks at all can make it seem like a tiring stream of consciousness. After finishing the book, I found it wasn’t overly bad, but it didn’t really captivate me either. It’s as if this was really meant to be a novella, but it was padded out just a bit, so it could be a standalone novel.

In fact, due to the somewhat significant connection it has with Gerald’s Game, I’d have thought they’d go well together in some sort of collection.

Either way, not a bad read, but there are many King novels that rank higher. But if you’re mad on King novel cross-references like me, at least you’ll get that excited feeling of recognition.