BOOK REVIEW | Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

3/5 stars

I finished this up a couple weeks ago, but have had no time to write down my thoughts. I’m finally playing catch up! Here’s a quick review to get myself back up to speed.

Judas Coyne, the now middle-aged front-man of a popular metal band, is obsessed with collecting macabre items. He has sketches from serial killer John Wayne Gacey, a trepanned skull…even a snuff film. When he discovers a ghost for sale on an auction site, he can’t help but place a bid and purchase it. Judas soon receives a black, heart-shaped box in the mail which contains a suit said to house the spirit of a deceased man named Craddock. Turns out, Craddock is the stepfather of a young groupie that committed suicide after a past fling with Judas, and he is angry, vengeful, and hell-bent on killing the rockstar.

Hill shines in ability to take an unlikable character and build him up to someone we can root for. Initially Judas is not someone I felt invested in, there was nothing particularly interesting about him, and he refers to his girlfriends by the states they are from, rather than their actual names (Florida, Georgia, etc), which is just plain rude. I didn’t hate him, but didn’t like him either. Throughout the story, we get to see him evolve, his current girlfriend having a significant role in his change in character. As he learns more about her and her past, he also learns more about the girl who committed suicide, coming to realizations about how he has treated the people in his life.

This was not my favourite Hill – nothing can top NOS4A2 – but it’s certainly as unique and wild of a story as expected from this amazing writer. His stories are always such a blast!

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BOOK REVIEW | Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

4/5 stars

As soon as I saw Sabrina on the 2018 Man Booker long list, I knew I wanted to check it out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a graphic novel up for a major literary award before (please correct me if I’m wrong!), so I was definitely intrigued. I put in an order right away even though it was on backorder, and then waited nearly two months for it to arrive. It finally showed up at my house a few days ago and I couldn’t help but dig right in. This story is nothing at all like I expected – it’s a grim take on our media consumption and the ways in which we process violent crime.

A young woman, Sabrina, disappears suddenly and her grieving boyfriend, Teddy, goes to live with Calvin, an acquaintance, while he deals with the ambiguity of the situation. Calvin, who is in the Air Force, traverses working his desk job and ensuring Teddy is taken care of, as well as a separation from his wife and daughter. A mysterious videotape emerges and it’s clear that Sabrina has been killed; what follows is overconsumption, conspiracy theories, and an obsession with seeking footage of the crime taking place. The minimalist artistic style accentuates the character’s banal existences, devoid of intimate connection. It works well with the impersonal feel of the book.

My only real criticism of this story is how it ended; it was sudden and introduced a scene that I can’t quite make sense of. If you’ve read this, I’m referring to the man and woman arguing outside of Calvin’s room after he moves. Perhaps it’s a subtle statement about violence against women, or relationships. I haven’t quite pieced it together. I enjoyed this way more than I anticipated, but know it’s quite depressing and a bold commentary on our detached, digital lifestyles. I’m certainly impressed that Man Booker has this on their list, I wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise.

BOOK REVIEW | The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh| Man Booker Prize 2018

3/5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect going into The Water Cure, but comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are no joke, so I guess I was expecting a lot. This is an eerie book, telling the story of three sisters living on a secluded island with their parents (“mother” and, aptly, “King”). Women’s bodies are under siege, and on the island they are safe from the outside world and its “pollutants”.

Grace, Lia, and Sky share a sisterly bond that is beautiful and touching at moments, dysfunctional and violent at others. The sisters must navigate treacherous waters, both metaphorically and physically, as they seek survival with their tyrannical parents, and then later on as men arrive on the island. The arrival of the men marks a turn for the sisters, and they must learn to handle the complex emotions and circumstances that inevitably arise. At the heart of this story, I believe, is the enduring power of their relationships with each other.

There’s depth missing in this story, a greater significance that could have put this book on another level  –  something felt distant and cold, and the plot never fully connected for me. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters and was unsure of this book’s message, but Mackintosh writes with dreamy, lush prose that I raced through in the first third of the book. Something slowed in the pacing in the middle section of the book for me, but things did pick up again at the end. This was a really unique and atmospheric read, though I’m not sure it’s one that will stay with me in the long term.