BOOK REVIEW | Foe by Ian Reid

 

*I received a digital advanced review copy from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 Release date: August 7, 2018

4/5 stars

No writer confounds and surprises like Ian Reid. His books keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. This book is particularly bizarre, but I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things very recently, so I knew what to expect: philosophical debate disguised by an eerie story in which all is not as it seems.

Junior and Hen have a quiet, rural life together. They work hard, feed the chickens, and enjoy their evenings together. One day, a man named Terrance appears at the farm with a strange announcement – Junior has been long-listed for a potential trip away from Hen via a research project called OuterMore. Terrance leaves, but says he’ll be seeing them again soon. A year or so later, Terrance returns with the news that Junior has been officially selected and will be leaving for the OuterMore project for an unknown amount of time. Terrance moves in with them to prepare and research for the trip. And that’s about all I can say.

Books like this are meant for going in blind -learn as little as you can before diving in, and then enjoy the ride. Reid is asking some big and often contemplated questions here – how well can you truly know another person? How well can you truly know yourself? Where is technology leading us, and is all advancement positive? What is the essence of lasting relationships? What is up with the horned rhinoceros beetle?! Ok, this last one may be one of my lingering questions…

I have to admit that I caught on to the big twist long before it’s reveal, though I wasn’t expecting the second twist right at the end. I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but know that Reid not only carefully crafts his words, but makes subtle stylistic choices that can be revealing. This is for those who enjoy thinking about a book long after it ends, and who are comfortable with an artistic storyline. This book doesn’t wrap up nicely at all, in fact the ending is completely open for continuation. My only criticism of this book is that it could have been longer, gone deeper, explored further. I can’t rate this as high as ITOET, as it doesn’t pack quite the gut wrenching, emotional punch that his first novel did. Reid may very well be one of my favorite new (and Canadian!) authors.

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BOOK REVIEW | You by Caroline Kepnes

3/5 stars

I had a lot of trouble deciding where to place this review. Part of me wanted to leave it at 2 stars, but there are good elements to this book that led me to 3.

Joe is a bookseller with demons. When Beck walks into his shop one day, he knows that she is the one. He stalks her, and eventually finds a ways to weasel himself into her life. The two bond and develop a relationship, but she is never fully committed. Joe disturbingly explains away the reasons for her indiscretions and behaviour, but decides there are people in Beck’s life that are taking her focus away from their relationship. With those people gone, she will only have him to turn to; so he sets out to remove those people.

I’m not sure if it’s the political climate we’re in, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read another book about a man inflicting violence (or worse) on a woman. Yes, Joe is equal opportunity in regards to gender, but something about this book just didn’t sit well with me.

Kepnes wants you to know what she likes, and the relentless name dropping in this book gets tired very quickly. Within a couple of chapters, I started to wonder how long it would keep up; the answer is for the entire book. Kepnes name drops books, authors, movies, music, music videos, bands, actors, and directors throughout the novel, and it quickly goes from being sort of fun to utterly gag-worthy. Sorry, but this sort of overtly pretentious vanity is hard to stomach.

I get it – Kepnes is going for a bit of satire with this – a serial killer who likes to keep up with the arts and the New York scene. That said, I have trouble believing that someone as twisted as Joe would be serving up Larabars to his victims. I will be starting on the follow up to this, Hidden Bodies, next, primarily because I’ve heard that she gets the satire right with that one. Kepnes wrote a compelling story with You, but it’s shortcomings were hard to ignore.

BOOK REVIEW | Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

5/5 stars

“Somebody…should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished – and are perishing every hour.”

This book blew me away. A precursor to Call Me By Your Name (which is no secret that I absolutely love), I can see where Aciman was influenced. Baldwin is such a beautiful craftsman of words; his writing is so simple, yet so affecting. This would have a been a bold and brave book during during the time it was published, 1956, and it’s just one way in which Baldwin continues to astound me.

While living in Paris, David, an American, meets a bartender named Giovanni. A spark is there, and through forceful encouragement, he invites Giovanni out with the group. The two connect, and before long they are living together, nearly penniless, in Giovanni’s tiny 1 room apartment. David struggles with his identity – is he bisexual? Gay? It all seems irrelevant when he is with Giovanni. However, David has a fiancé, Hella, and has to make a difficult decision about the life he wants to have.

While living in Giovanni’s small apartment, David refers to it as a closet he is trapped inside of, and I can’t really put it any better than that. This is a story about feeling trapped, choosing to eschew love out of fear, and the painful regret that comes later. David and Giovanni’s lives go down very different paths, and they must each account for the decisions they make and the regrets they have in the face of death. This book is stunningly beautiful at times, violent and tragic at others; it was an emotional journey that had me in tears more than once.

BOOK REVIEW | The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

5/5 stars

I’ve loved The Talented Mr. Ripley since the movie was released in 1999, and have been meaning to read the book ever since. I finally picked it up, and what a reading experience it was! I absolutely adored this book from the first page to the last, and can’t wait to watch the movie again to compare the two.

Tom Ripley is a fraudster – he tricks people into sending him cheques rather than the bank, and is genuinely proud of himself whenever he pulls off a deception. There is a sense of longing for more: bigger stunts and riskier plans are on the horizon. When an opportunity arises for Tom to go to Italy to convince playboy Dickie Greenleaf to come home to America, all expenses paid by Dickie’s concerned father, he jumps at the opportunity.

Once in Mongibello, the small Italian town where Dickie has been living, he intentionally bumps into Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, convincing them that he is an old friend. Dickie and Marge invite Tom into their home, and Tom soon realizes that he quite likes the life Dickie is leading – maybe he’d like to live this way too. A chance to make an easy dollar soon turns into a frightening obsession, and eventually to murder. What follows is a complex and expertly plotted tale of escape in plain sight. Tom Ripley is a sick genius, able to manipulate any narrative to suit his own.

Highsmith masterfully delves into the mind of a psychopath; early in the book she details a moment in which Tom rubs his hands together while laughing quietly to himself after pulling off fraud, and it’s so deliciously creepy that I knew I was in for a good ride. Throughout the story, it’s easy to both sympathize with and be disgusted by Tom; Tom’s is able to convince himself so thoroughly of his version of events that it’s easy to forget what really happened. My only critique is that it ends so abruptly – I guess I’ll have to pick up Ripley Underground soon!

BOOK REVIEW | Tangerine by Christine Mangan

3/5 stars

Obsession takes stage in Tangerine. This is a dark story of a friendship gone terribly wrong, resulting in both tragedy and despair.

College roommates Alice and Lucy had a tumultuous friendship, but developed a close bond regardless. When tragedy occurs the women go in different directions, leaving behind their plans for the future. A year later, the women unexpectedly reunite in Tangier, Morocco. As the story unfolds, we learn that Lucy has dark motivations, ultimately leading Alice down a disturbing, black hole. The book is also littered with references to how exotic Tangier is, how bright and colourful the clothing is, etc. The story is about a sheltered woman in the 1950’s, but I found the romanticizing of Morocco to be a little tiresome.

Reading this book alongside of The Talented Mr. Ripley gave me whiplash – Mangan was clearly influenced by the amazing Patricia Highsmith. The parallels between the two books are uncanny, though the stories do eventually go down different paths. Highsmith actually mentions Tangier as a place where one of her characters may have ran off to, so it’s incredibly difficult to appreciate this in its own right when it’s so heavily borrowed. Mangan has something good going here though, and I look forward to checking out her future work with hopes that she will find her own voice along the way.

BOOK REVIEW | The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

5/5 stars

In the vast expanse of this unpredictable wilderness, you will either become your best self and flourish, or you will run away, screaming, from the dark and the cold and the hardship. There is no middle ground, no safe place; not here, in the Great Alone. 

Wow, what an epic journey! I was not prepared to become so deeply invested in this book; in fact, I resisted it. I’m not sure why I thought it would be hopeful and light, but boy was I wrong.

1974. Ernt Allbright was a POW in the Vietnam war; there are signs of ptsd, but nothing too overwhelming yet. When he receives word he has inherited some land and a cabin in Alaska, he jumps at the opportunity for a fresh start. His wife, Cora, is steadfast in her dedication to Ernt, so they pack their lives into a VW bus, and head to Alaska with their 13 year old daughter Leni. They are unprepared as they head into the desolate landscape, and resistant to help when they arrive. They soon learn that Alaskans take care of one another, as they are welcomed into their new community.

Through hard work, they family settles in and their new life begins. As the cold arrives, Ernt begins to unravel. He becomes angry, rages, and is violent with Cora. As the years pass, Ernt’s condition worsens, creating a danger in the home that is as frightening as the dangers of the Alaskan wild. We watch Leni grow up, fall in love with a boy named Matthew, and stay by her mother’s side no matter the cost. The story takes a turn that had me cheering (literally), but then the journey swerves into unexpected territory.

I was hooked from the first page; the narrative is gripping, fast paced, and visual – it reads like a movie. Part adventure story, party dysfunctional family narrative, and part coming of age, this book has it all. This is a story of survival, perseverance, home, and the extremes, both good and bad, that we will go to for love.

BOOK REVIEW | I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid

5/5 stars

I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things painted with every color in my reader’s palette. I finished this mere minutes ago, reread certain sections backwards as per Ian Reid’s subtle guidance, and am totally blown away. And I’m sad. This is a profoundly sad book. This is the sort of book that causes book hangover – this story will live with me for a while, and all other books will not stack up. The ending didn’t matter to me as the journey was so enthralling. But the ending, wow.

An unnamed female narrator is on a road trip with her boyfriend Jake. They are heading to the small farm where he grew up so she can meet his parents, but she has one thing on her mind: ending things. She has been thinking about ending things with Jake for a while, but decides to go through with the trip, thinking that meeting his parents might change her mind about the relationship.

Along the way they ask each other many philosophical questions, often alluding to the nature of relationships, how you can never truly know someone else, how your thoughts are the only thing that is real, and whether we can get through life without meaningful relationships. What ensues is, hands down, one of the most chilling and atmospheric stories I have ever read.

This book is touted as psychological horror, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, Reid has painted an incredibly eerie portrait of the old farmhouse, as well as a rural school where our characters end up, but everything going on below the surface is heavy and black once pieced together. Towards the end of the book, it’s suggested that the story is read again, backwards. Each chapter is prefaced by an italicized vignette – a conversation that is taking place about an even that occurred. I read these sections backwards, and was blown away by Reid’s process.

I’ve read many reviews that suggest this book made no sense, and I can see that if it was picked up as a typical horror read. This is not classic horror (though it can be read as such), this is pure psychological horror, dealing with a heavy topic. I don’t want to spoil this for potential readers, but go into this book knowing that everything is not as it seems, and if you enjoy books that deal with the metaphysical or mental health you’ll find a connection here.