Thursday, July 3, 2014

June Reads

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

I read Coldheart Canyon back in 2002 or 2003, and I remember being impressed by the misnomer of "Hollywood ghost story" on the cover. The traditional ghost story structure, which this novel tricks you with, features hauntings and the protagonists' disbelief until the second act. Well, just like other Barker novels, this text dispenses with the traditional structure amazingly fast and provides a long (700 pages!) series of connected setpieces. It's the little things that make this novel good; specifically Barker's innate understanding that scenes should be connected by a "because this happens" rather than "and then." The prose and dialogue is almost as good as I remember it. Though the characters are less well drawn than my recollection would have it. The novel traffics in Hollywood stereotypes, but that could be on purpose. As for the explicit sex? It's less extreme! than I remember. Quite tame, actually. Not sure why the Goodreads community is clutching their pearls. Coldheart Canyon represents the first part of my newish project to reread his novels. I think I might have read them too young to appreciate them. I'm satisfied that my first step was not disappointing. This bodes well for the project. I might add that Barker still qualifies under 2014's "No Straight White Dudes" policy as Barker has been openly gay for his entire publishing career.

Laura McHugh's debut novel, The Weight of Blood tickled quite a few of my fancies, such as the Southern Gothic, the rich lush descriptions of the deep rural South, the oppressive heat, the looming ominous canopy of trees, and the inevitable crime that occurs in such deep poverty. McHugh's novel is very similar to Daniel Woodrell's middle career works: Southern noir, sexy, sweaty, and violent as all hell. However, McHugh appears to have set her sights higher than Woodrell, and she attempts to weave theme and meaning into her text. It's not always successful: a painfully obvious symbol is mobilized to demonstrate the already stated theme. McHugh's prose is good, and her characters well drawn. As with most debut novels, I can only presume that the next novel will be an improvement.

Americanah so far holds the title of best novel I've read all year. And this has been, so far, a year of great novels.

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