Monday, May 27, 2013

A Writing Experiment: "The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards" by Kristopher Jansma.

For me, fiction falls into two rough categories.  In the first category are novels that seem to be living things,  porous and organic, drawing the reader completely into another world:  it may look like you are lying on a couch reading a book, but in fact you are gone.

In the second category are novels that are hard and bright; you see that it is a constructed object that can be admired or analyzed.  You may not love the book, but you might admire the technique and the effort.  I found The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma to fall into this second category.

Jansma's novel is about an unnamed young man who wants to be a writer, the outlandish and rich friends the man falls in with while in college, and how those friendships and his writing career play out.  The protagonist is an excellent liar.  He reminded me a bit of Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Although he is good at speaking fiction, he has difficulty launching a career writing it.  Beyond those basics, the rest of the plot is a bit of a mosaic, with stories within stories, which makes it difficult to summarize but interesting as a creative project.

If you are looking for something to read that has an edgy, experimental feel to it, then The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is for you.  If you are looking for a book with a plot to you can soak up and be drawn into, try something like The Last Summer of the Camperdowns.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Entertaining, Who-Done-It Mystery: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino.

Salvation of a Saint is a great mystery to read over a weekend.  I'd categorize it as a combination cozy mystery and police procedural.  Here is the puzzle:  A business man, Yoshitaka Mashiba, tells his wife that he is divorcing her because, although they have been married one year, she has not yet become pregnant.  A few days later Yoshitaka is found dead; his coffee had been laced with poison.  His wife has an alibi: she was hundreds of miles away, visiting her parents.  So who did it?  his girlfriend? a business associate? and how was the poisoning accomplished?

Tokyo police detective Kusanagi, his partner Utsumi, and a clever university professor named Manabu Yukawa struggle to solve what appears to be the perfect crime in this absorbing mystery by the popular Japanese author Keigo Higashino.

Reading Salvation of a Saint reminded me a bit of reading an Agatha Christie book. Like a Christie mystery, it is a relatively peaceful puzzler, where time is devoted to character, relationships, and motive. And based upon this book, I'll definitely check out Higashino's first English-language publication, The Devotion of Suspect X.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Highly Recommended Reading: "The Last Summer of the Camperdowns" by Elizabeth Kelly.

If sometime in the next few months you plan to be stretched out on a chair somewhere with a book, here is a title to consider:  The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly.  I greatly enjoyed this funny, scary, tense, and memorable novel.  

The novel takes place in the summer of 1972 on Cape Cod.  The protagonist is a 12-year-old girl, Riddle James Camperdown.  Riddle witnesses something dreadful and is terrorized into keeping what she saw a secret.  The secret and her fear reverberates, shaking loose other secrets, and changing Riddle and her parents forever.

Elizabeth Kelly's writing is fresh and energetic, and the plot structure is fantastic. Kelly creates incredible suspense and a long note of tension that is broken only at the very end of the book, when much of what we think we know gets turned onto its head.  At the very end, I had tears in my eyes and could only think one thing: Wow.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is a very good book and highly recommended reading.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Current Reading List: "The Last Summer of the Camperdowns" and More.

Lake Monona Morning.

Despite a great many distractions and a lengthy to-do list, I'm managing to find time to finish a terrific new book, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly.  I plan to write about it here shortly.  After Camperdowns, I have a stack of books to work down, including:

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, and

Given that President Obama is visiting Mexico this week, I think I'll start with This Love is Not for Cowards, which received good reviews when it was published last year.  In the book author Robert Andrew Powell writes about a season of soccer in Ciudad Juarez.  Ciudad Juarez is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.  A snarl of murder and gang violence, Ciudad Jarez has been called the world's most dangerous city.  It should be an interesting read.