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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

joylandThe ghosts of summer past haunt Stephen King’s beguiling coming-of-age novel Joyland (Hard Case Crime, purchased paperback), set in a North Carolina coastal amusement park in 1973. For rising college senior Devin Jones, working at the park means wheeling the popcorn wagon and running rides, hearing the fast-paced pitch of the carnies — “time to take a little spin, hurry hurry, take a ride upstairs to where the air is rare” — and little kids squealing at the sight of Howie the Happy Hound Dog doing the Hokey-Pokey. The sweat pours down his neck when he is “wearing the fur” in the melting heat, but a shiver runs down his spine in Horror House, where a pretty girl was viciously murdered a few years back. Dev, nursing a broken heart, is intrigued by the stories of her pleading ghost, especially after hearing details of the crime from his landlady and the strange behavior of his buddy Ted who saw “something” on the ride. Add in a pragmatic fortune teller whose prognostications have a way of coming true, old-timers who know more than they tell, a sick little boy with supernatural sensitivity and a beautiful mother, and Dev’s got a summer he’ll remember the rest of his life.
Joyland reads like the memoir of a mystery as Dev looks back; the atmospheric narrative is laced with nostalgia and an older man’s musings on mortality and friends gone by. But King grounds his characters in reality and tethers the dialogue and details to the time. Take it for a spin. Enjoy the ride.
oceanlaneNeil Gaiman’s hushed new fantasy The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow, review copy) is a dream of a book, one that leaves you unsettled and staring at shadows, trying to remember…
The nameless narrator is attending a funeral when he takes a break and drives down the English country road where he lived as a child. The house is no longer there, but the landscape is familiar enough for him to recall when his bookish 7-year-self was caught in a mysterious battle between good and evil. He remembers his parents and sister, the cherry-faced opal miner who boarded with them, a nasty governess called Ursula, and the neighbors down the lane — Lettie Hemstock, her mother and her grandmother. They are old-fashioned, and it turns out, immortal. Their magic is somehow mixed in with the pond that Lettie calls her “ocean,” and when something monstrous buries its way into his heart, the Hemstocks’ secrets come to his aid. But then the hunger birds descend to rip the world to pieces.
So yes, it’s a dark dream, but one tempered by Gaiman’s lovely writing and imagery, plus a suitable ever-after of an ending.
shininggirlsSomething seriously creepy stalks Lauren Beukes’ genre-bending The Shining Girls (Little, Brown, digital galley), a serial killer with a whopper of a secret — he can travel through time. In 1931 Chicago, Harper Curtis stumbles from Hooverville into a house that turns out to be a portal to future eras. Inside the house are the names of his future/past victims and anachronistic souvenirs he will take from one murdered woman and leave with the disemboweled corpse of another. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that; Beukes’ explanations tend toward the vague but all credit to her for keeping track of Harper’s victims, “the shining girls” he spots in one time and returns to kill in another. Only Kirby Mazrachi, first spotted in 1974 as a 6-year-old, survives Harper’s attack in 1989, and in 1992, while working as an intern at the Sun-Times, she begins to connect the mind-boggling dots with the help of a cynical sportswriter.
The tricky narrative jumps around from Kirby hunting Harper, to Harper hunting victims, to victims unknowingly living out their last days or hours. Not for the faint-hearted.
bellwetherHow did I miss Benjamin Woods’ The Bellwether Revivals (Viking Penguin, digital galley) when it came out in hardcover last year? Now available in paperback and e-book, this British academic mystery — a cross between Brideshead Revisited and A Secret History — is so my cup of tea.
Oscar Lowe, bright, bookish and working as a health care assistant, is drawn by organ music into the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge, and thus into the privileged world of the Bellwethers. He’s taken up as almost a mascot to medical student Iris Bellwether, her musically gifted brother Eden and several of their friends. But his love affair with Iris is threatened by Eden’s increasingly bizarre behavior, underscored by strange musical therapy experiments.
Readers know from the beginning that something terrible happens involving at least one body and Oscar waiting for the police, but the trip from there to the end is still suspenseful, strange and lovely.

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Late summer 1935. On board a train barreling through the north Florida wilderness, World War I vet Arlen looks into the eyes of his fellow Conservation Corps workers and sees swirling smoke, a sure sign of impending death. But he can only convince his young friend Paul that his premonition is the real thing, and so the two, to the jeers of the others, stay behind at a remote station. The train continues to the Florida Keys – and straight into the path of the infamous Labor Day hurricane that killed thousands.

By the time Arlen and Paul hear the dreadful news, they’ve taken refuge at an isolated boarding house run by the beautiful and secretive Rebecca Cady. But the storm is not the only threat at Cypress House. A powerful  judge and a conniving sheriff are intent on making their stay a short one with the help of a murderous swamp rat family. Neither Arlen nor Paul want to leave Rebecca alone, especially after a traveling salesman is incinerated in his car and Arlen, a coffinmaker’s son, again sees skeletal hands beneath live flesh.

Michael Koryta expertly mixes backwoods Depression-era adventure and betrayal with a tinge of the supernatural in The Cypress House (Little, Brown), which is even better than last year’s So Cold the River. It’s as if Peter Matthiessen’s Mister Watson met Stephen King in the swampy, fetid frontier of corruption and poked a nest of water moccasins. Florida noir. Intense and atmospheric, the novel has the momentum of that doomed train as its characters try to outwit fate. Smoke gets in their eyes.

Open Book: I downloaded a digital advance copy of Michael Koryta’s The Cypress House (Little, Brown) through NetGalley. The digital galleys expire into the ether after a certain period of time.

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Coming soon to this space my take on Justin Cronin’s The Passage, but we are having a helluva thunderstorm and I’m logging off for now….

If the lights go out, it will be so appropriate.

Ok, it’s two hours later, I’m back, and so’s the electricity. Made me think of the residents of First Colony in Cronin’s post-apocalyptic world, tending to their turbines but knowing they’re running on empty and it’s only a matter of time before the lights go out. And when the darkness descends, so will the smokes, the virals, the drinks, the flyers, the jumps, the sticks. Whatever you want to call them. Not vampires, though, as Auntie writes in her diary, remembering the Time Before, long ago when she was Ida Jaxson in Philadelphia, and her daddy “told me no, vampires were something in a made-up story, nice-looking men in suits and capes with good manners, and this here’s real, Ida.”

So real that Cronin spends the first quarter of his 800-page novel detailing how a secret military medical experiment on a dozen death-row inmates gets out of hand, leading to the end of civilization as we know it.  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”  (In the new one, the Gulf of Mexico is one massive oil slick. Like that could ever happen).

At the center of both worlds is a little girl named Amy, aka “the  Girl from Nowhere — the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years.”

The Passage covers only about a century, jumping from Year Zero of the virals (who are kind of like vampires, kind of like zombies, kind of like humans) to a hundred years or so later, when the world has been rapidly depopulated by the bloodthirsty, soul-sucking creatures of the night. Most people die, split asunder stem to stern on the spot. Others survive the infection only to succumb years later to bad dreams that get worse on waking.

The Passage has been lauded as an “unconventional vampire story.” Actually, it’s the most conventional of tales, drawing on any number of familiar genres and tropes from science fiction, westerns, horror, adventure, fantasy and world-building. It’s Stephen King’s The Stand meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road  meets Mad Max and I Am Legend and The X-Files. It mixes Michael Crichton with Margaret Atwood. It’s mostly harrowing and thrilling, but it’s also digressive, even plodding as Cronin heaps on the many characters’ back stories. But Cronin can really write, and every time I tried to put the book down, the darn thing kept calling me back to its brave weird world. (Cronin quotes Shakespeare and Katherine Anne Porter, among others, at the begining of each of the 11 sections.) I had to find out what was going on with the good FBI agent and the enigmatic nun, and Peter and Michael and Sarah and Lish and Theo and Maus, and Amy, especially, always Amy.

The Passage doesn’t so much end as stop for a pause in the action, which is kind of a let-down cliff-hanger. Two more volumes are in the works. Also a movie. Anyway,  it’s going to take me awhile to catch my breath and stop looking up at trees at night and hoping that fluttering whoosh is the neighborhood owl. Meanwhile, please keep the lights on.

Open Book: I purchased the digital version of  Justin Cronin’s The Passage and read it on Nanook, which is what I call my nook. I had to recharge the battery. There’s irony for you.

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