Monday, September 24, 2012

Threats by Amelia Gray (2012)


The latest pick for my amazingly wonderful book club (Go DAFFODILS!) is Amelia Gray’s 2012 novel, Threats. None of us really knew anything about the novel or Gray, except that the book was recommended on a list of new fiction, and the plot sounded interesting. Having read the book and several reviews, the novel is definitely divisive (which I think will make for some good discussion), but I fall on the side of really liking it.

David has a box on his kitchen table. It contains the cremated remains of his wife, Franny. Something mysterious and violent and deadly happened to her and she died (probably). It quickly becomes clear that David is not mentally stable and hasn’t been for a very long time (if ever). Officer Chico is trying to figure out what happened to Franny, which isn’t particularly easy. And then David starts finding typewritten threats in unusual places around the house and seeing Franny and a man who looks exactly like him around town. Did Franny leave the notes before she died? Is she actually dead? What is really happening and what is part of David’s increasingly complicated set of delusions?

As the book moves forward things both escalate and slow down and everything becomes very physical and disturbing.

This isn’t an easy book, especially if you are feeling sad or unhinged or fragile, but I think it is ultimately a rewarding read with a good balance of literary technique and attention to plot. Plus it is often surprisingly hilarious.

Some choice random quotes, and another threat:

He was by no means attracted to the girls, who, with their unmarked faces, shared more features with ambulatory fetuses than with women.


It was clear that in a past life the detective had been a phone booth beside an empty highway.


“Everything Is Dead, but It’s Still Kind of Nice,” said a woman observing the frozen house plants on the porch.


There was a page in the sock, but he was tired of knowing how to read, so he opened his mouth and inserted the page.



On a related note, this is the first book I’ve ever read completely on an e-reader. I got a Nook as part of a study I’m helping with at work (we are looking at how students and faculty can use e-readers in an academic setting), and to help familiarize myself with all the options, I bought this book electronically and read it both on my Nook at work and using the Nook app on my phone while I was at home, in line, and basically anywhere else. At first I found it a little off-putting, and I missed being able to flip ahead and see how much was left in a chapter or section. As I stuck with it, though, I ended up enjoying the e-reading experience. I don’t think I’d want to use it for everything, but being able to read it anywhere, and being able to easily mark passages that I wanted to remember, and to quickly look up words in the built-in dictionary was pretty great. I thought the screen on the Nook was easy on my eyes, and the interface wasn’t distracting at all. The only downside is that I couldn’t loan my copy to another book club member after I finished it, and I won’t be able to sell it on Amazon or Half Price. Still, I’m intrigued by this whole e-reading thing, and I’m going to try and work it into my regular reading routine.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Once is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann (1973)

Sometimes a girl just needs to read a trashy, goofy novel. While some might pick up the Twilight series or dip their toes into Fifty Shades of Gray, I prefer my trashiness to be slightly older than I am, and Jacqueline Susann never disappoints.

Following on the success of The Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine, Once is Not Enough (1973) was the last book the rather fascinating Susann published before her death from cancer in 1974 (her Wikipedia article is worth a read).

There are so many plots and sub-plots in this baby that I could spend all day writing, but I'll try to hit the highlights via some character descriptions:

1. Mike Wayne is a famous, handsome, and rich movie producer. After his wife kills herself (depressed and lonely because of his constant affairs), he puts his young daughter in an elite boarding school and continues his playboy lifestyle. When his luck and money run out, he marries a rich woman so that he can keep up his lifestyle and provide for his daughter.

2. January Wayne is Mike's beautiful and naive daughter who grew up infatuated with her larger than life and often absent father. She has a serious Electra complex and no other man can compare to Mike in her eyes. After she graduates from boarding school she goes to Italy with Mike as he works on a movie. After a forward suitor nearly rapes her, she and he get a motorcycle accident that leaves her in a coma. She spends three years recovering and learning to walk again at an isolated hospital in Switzerland, and when she returns to New York the flower children have bloomed and she is unprepared to be thrown into a world of free love and open drug use.

3. Dee Milford Granger is one of the richest women in the world, and she wants Mike Wayne as her husband because it would look good for the cameras. She is determined to set January up with her nephew, David Milford, and isn't afraid to wield the power of her inheritance to push the two of them together.

4. Karla is a Greta Garbo / Marlene Dietrich hybrid -- a reclusive Polish beauty who has retired from an iconic film career. She is simultaneously having an affair with David and with Dee, although neither one knows about the other. An intense subplot follows her back to her tragic experiences WWII-era Poland.

5. Linda Riggs went to boarding school with January and is now the editor of a successful women's magazine. Since writing for women's magazines is a very popular pursuit for wealthy "career girls" of the 1960s, January naturally starts writing for Linda. Linda in turn introduces January to all the hip new attitudes, pursuits and pharmaceuticals of late-1960s New York.

6. Tom Colt (!) is the Jack Daniels guzzling Hemingway/Mailoresque author to whom January transfers all her unrequited father-figure lust.

January wants Mike, Mike doesn't seem to want anybody, Dee wants Karla, David wants Karla, Karla wants David and Dee, Linda wants everybody, January wants Tom, Tom ironically has a tiny dick and only sometimes wants January. And then people die! And January starts doing lots of drugs (starting with some "vitamin shots" [aka speed], and moving to crazy acid trips, including a hallucination-induced near jump out of a high window!).

The writing isn't great, but it isn't horrible either, and it has a fast pace with lots of sex and intrigue mixed in. This clip from the 1975 movie of the book is indicative of the very blatant psychology and "feminism" of the novel, but the trashy fun of the novel definitely loses something in the plodding literalism of the movie script.

If you were one of the dozen people who borrowed my copy of Wifey by Judy Blume, I'm pretty sure you would be interested in this one too. Although reading it once probably is enough.