Unusually graphic sex, considering that the protagonist is a cockroach. This is the story of a lopsided war between two forces, one of which is an oblivious human couple. Daniel Evan Weiss's novel has all the trappings of one of those psuedo-sophisticated books that get overly praised by post-high schoolers--it's slick filth, misanthropic and pretty weird--but the later third of the book is so jam-packed with detailing the strange, hypnotic world that the roaches have created for themselves that the book surpasses initial stereotypes. Rewarding? Sure. This is a rewarding book about a cockroach religious/survival movement set amongst a rebound relationship. That has some hardcore sex and scat play.
It would have been best to document my initial feelings about this doorstopper of a novel (800 plus pages, this one), not because I've forgotten the story, but because those initial passions always interest me more than these calm, late night attempts at intellectualism. It is a lovely book, I can say that with all surety. It's also one that I carried with me for months, pausing it often to read at least twenty others, this story "of a powerful man whose callous neglect of his family triggers his professional and personal downfall". The first 218 pages are like an orchestra tuning up, featuring the introduction of nearly all the major and minor characters who will populate the remaining 600 pages, all of which will be pumped full of momentum and motivated by the heartbreak that occurs on page 219. The final pages--like most of the Dickens books I can remember reading--delivers cymbal crash after cymbal crash, the conclusions of so many lives. I read this guy and start to wonder: is this why Western culture has so much a lust for closure? Was it Dickens who made us believe that was a real thing? Under his hands, I find myself almost swayed.
At times, it seems like Ellroy doesn't have his shtick totally figured out in Black Dahlia, but the moments that he does--like the moments when obsession with the unsolved torture/murder of the Black Dahlia begins to drive even the side characters into sorrow, degradation and annihilation--are worth the investment. A trip to Mexico that ends in hostage taking and government-empowered blackmail, the guy who almost gets drowned in pasta, when the knife enters that fucker's eye; all of it described in a staccato prose that Ellroy was still teaching himself how to write. There's so many worse ways to spend one's time, and many of them are people trying to imitate this guy right here.
"I feel drained by an over-violent purge to my emotions, that has taken from me part of my manhood, or my humanity. I feel scraped raw in some inner and most precious part. The earth is an ugly place, senseless, brutal, cruel, and ruthlessly bent upon the destruction of men's souls. The God of the Old Testament rules a world not worth His trouble, and He is more violent, more jealous, more terrible with the years. We are only those poor, bare, forked animals Lear saw upon his dismal heath, in pursuit of death, pursued by death.
I am ashamed not only of this execution I myself have in part ordered, but of being a man."
It can never be said enough: the people who work at the New York Review Books Classics are doing the Lord's good work. The book that Thomas Pynchon started a fanclub for (and wrote a blurb for, if you can believe that), Warlock is a comet, a four leaf clover, a one-time-work-of-genius from a writer who (apparently) only got mad enough to go great this one time. Using the legends of Wyatt Earp, as well as the brutal history that killed the Native Americans, laid down a border, and built the railroads, Oakley Hall wrote down everything that was wrong with the McCarthy era and called the end result a Western. He was playing coy, don't believe it for a second. This is a parable as potboiler, a violent string of men and death, and Hall uses them to lay down argument after argument, crying out to make a case for whether a society deserves what it needs, or what its earned. There's so much to be unpacked and handled here, so many frenzy, and there isn't a drop of waste to be found. This was the greatest book I'd never read.
It seems unusual for an early novel to have so many tricky delivery choices, like shifting narrators or interview excerpts, but if King's famous anecdote is to be believed--he'd written a good bit, threw it away, and his wife later fished it out of the trashcan and forced him to continue--then maybe being weird is just the book's birthright. It's a good story, but just an okay book, mostly reading like the transcript of something overheard, a secondhand idea. Still, confidence--which King eventually earned for real--can be compelling even when it's faked, and there's enough here to propel you through the brief story of Carrie, who was forced to kill her way through her prom because girls are mean and puberty.
Nisbet's Lethal Injection is a more unusual a book than this one, but don't let the boilerplate "ex-cop turned private investigator" plot above the door drive you too far away: there's more here to this one then the generic basics indicate. That doesn't mean there aren't a few cliches to get through, like a detective getting knocked unconscious a couple of times, a woman who jumps deep into a caregiver/fuckbuddy role after some eye contact...okay, maybe there's a lot of cliches, but they're all well handled, and you never get the sense that Nisbet is padding the narrative. And when you get to the end, there's a final paragraph waiting for you that hits like an oven mitt full of lead, right in the fucking breadbox. This book is all meat.
While what probably should be considered the guts of this book--the murder mystery part--are intermittently interesting, the majority of its bestselling pages are devoted to the most obnoxious protagonist in recent memory, an irritation who goes by the name "Rob Ryan", because why the fuck not? (Even better: his real name is Adam, he just goes by Rob to hide his Adam-ian identity.) The rules haven't changed: an audience that needs its lead characters to be "likeable" will forever miss out on some great works of fiction, as they should, because they're five. But there's a line that can be drawn between unlikeable and irritating, and the best place to draw that line is in a circle around characters like Rob, henceforth to be referred to as the most irritating milquetoast motherfucker you're going to find until they start making crime novels featuring Madeline. At every twist of the plot, Rob goes as wrong as possible, up until the point where constant idiocy has forced him, by the sheer fact that he's done absolutely everything possible except what he should have, to happen upon the proper solution. Even French seems to have realized what a dead end the guy was, as her next book focused on Rob's hardluck partner, a young woman of the tough-as-nails variety. In The Woods: this should never be anyone's first choice. It was a shitty present, and I rescind my thank you.
-Tucker Stone, 2012