BOOK REVIEW | Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Victor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park. His creator, Chuck Palahniuk, is the visionary we need and the satirist we deserve.

My thoughts:
On the surface, Choke is a seedy look into the world of a sexual compulsive. Our central character, Victor, is a sex addict and we follow him through his many explicitly detailed trysts.

However, it becomes quickly apparent that Victor is lost: a self-proclaimed “doormat” who works as a historical interpreter and caretaker to his sick mother, Victor’s sexual deviance is the more or less his only selfish endeavor. He gives his time and money away easily, asking for little in return. His mother seems to be holding onto a family secret, and much of this story is Victor’s journey to uncover the truth. He discovers early in life that if you nearly die by chocking, the person who saves you will want to continue saving you forever. All of this cumulates with an oddly satisfying ending.

Stylistically, this book is unique. Highly satirical with lots of repetition, and strangely poetic prose. This was my first Palahniuk, but I’m curious to read more and see how these elements translate in his other work. Learning Palahniuk’s story and inspiration for this book makes it that much more fascinating – be sure to look it up after you’ve read it!

This book is not going to be for everyone – not by a mile – but for those willing to think outside of the box, or those who are interested in the darker side of things, this is definitely worth the read.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Shining by Stephen King

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

My thoughts:
Man, Stephen King can tell a story like no one else. The Shining was a (creepy and terrifying) pleasure to read. It has been so much fun working through the King’s catalogue!

The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper.

Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic and down on his luck. He’s lost his teaching job, but needs to take care of his family. A friend sets him up with a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, and he quickly accepts. Jack moves into the hotel with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny. Danny has always been special – he can shine. His ability to shine means he can read people’s thoughts and you guessed it – see dead people. Shortly after arriving at the Overlook, Jack discovers details of the hotel’s history and some of the crimes that occurred there. Many presences haunt the Overlook, and the hotel slowly begins to manipulate Jack, ultimately turning him against his family.

Jack is a fantastic villain – I didn’t know if his words were his own, or a part of the hotel’s manipulation. It always sort of felt like a combination of both, that the hotel brought out his inner demons, rather than completely overtaking him. Nothing is scarier than the devil you know, right?

I’d love to know what happens to Danny, so may jump right in to Doctor Sleep!

BOOK REVIEW | Sweetland by Michael Crummey

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island.

     That coot is Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, haunted by memories of the short and lonely time he spent away from his home as a younger man, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses refuses to leave. But in the face of determined, sometimes violent, opposition from his family and his friends, Sweetland is eventually swayed to sign on to the government’s plan. Then a tragic accident prompts him to fake his own death and stay on the deserted island. As he manages a desperately diminishing food supply, and battles against the ravages of weather, Sweetland finds himself in the company of the vibrant ghosts of the former islanders, whose porch lights still seem to turn on at night.

My thoughts:

Life is beautiful…And we love it because it ends. And we fight for it because it ends. – Michael Crummey

This quote, taken from an interview at The Star with Michael Crummey, makes me want to weep. How beautiful is it to realize that we have to fight for the life we desire? We have to fight because it will be over so quickly.

Sweetland is my second novel by a Newfoundlander in 2016 – the first being Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio – and I absolutely love reading about the way of life and landscape of seaside towns. This is an area of Canada that I would love to explore, and books like these paint the region so beautifully. In Sweetland, Michael Crummey explores a dying way of life as well as mortality, aging, history, and mental illness.

Moses Sweetland, a lifelong inhabitant of his town that bears the same name, is set in his ways and is not interested in the government relocation effort that is taking over the town – despite being offered a generous sum of $100,000. There is one other person who resists relocation as well, but soon enough Moses is the sole resistor. To receive their compensation all residents must agree to relocate; as a result of his resistance,  Moses becomes the recipient of threatening messages. Moses eventually agrees to the government’s plan, but a tragic accident causes him to fake his own death and return to the island. The second part of the book begins here, with Moses alone on the island, struggling to survive.

You may be thinking that a book with a single character in it for 150+ pages would be boring or not worth the read but, for me, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I adored how quiet this book was, how Crummey painted a vivid portrait of the town that allowed us to better understand Moses and his history. I felt so connected to Moses, this curmudgeonly man who slowly descends into a poor mental state, and rooted for him the whole way through. The final chapter is so heartbreaking and beautiful that I immediately read it a second time. This is a  work of quiet beauty that had me from the first page to the last.

BOOK REVIEW | ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in ‘Salem’s Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to ‘Salem’s Lot hoping to cast out his own devils… and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of ‘Salem’s Lot.

My thoughts:
I have loved vampire stories for as long as I can remember (please tell me someone remembers the Are You Afraid of the Dark? vampire episode), but somehow I had yet to read ‘Salem’s Lot.

I absolutely loved reading one of King’s early works – this book is so distinctly his. His style is already in place early on, and it’s no wonder that he has become one of the greatest writers (not just a horror writer!) of our time. Simple moments like this are classic Stephen King to me:

<i>He was sitting on the rocker next to her, and without stopping it’s slow movement forth and back, he leaned over and pressed his mouth on hers…She began to rock also, and the movement made the kiss into something new. It waxed and waned, light and firm.</i>

King brings classic horror to the table with awesome tension building and just enough gore to satisfy fans of the macabre. I highly recommend Stephen King’s introduction on the audiobook – it’s an awesome listen and does not spoil the book!