Saturday, November 26, 2011

$3 Book Report: The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Less Wolf, More Poof.

Jack London is a famous dead writer. However, he is not famous for having written The Sea Wolf because it is a poorly written book. I took someone’ recommendation and read this recently, even though I should have known better, considering the source.

The Sea Wolf is a salty, homo-erotic adventure aboard a seal-hunting schooner with a chaste, yearning nineteenth-century romance grafted onto the back.

The first chapter promises a rollicking love-hate war between the first-person protagonist, a literary prancer shanghaied off a sinking ferry in the San Francisco Bay, and the captain, a veritable perfection of Man, embodying a veritable parfait of Predatory Animal, although one with an intellectual streak. In noting that this is written in first-person, I stress that the paragraphs and paragraphs devoted to capturing the wild-animal bodily incredibleness of our Captain, Wolf Larsen, is all told to us by our prancing protagonist, Humphrey. Every creamy word.

Captain Wolfy’s aforementioned and self-taught intellectual streak allows the author to pit the two men in constant brain-battle, discussing the nature of man, the existence of the soul, and, well, the value of values. Captain Wolfy interprets all he reads to bolster his theory that life is a big Hill, and the only purpose of it is to play a life-long, full-contact, no pads, knives-and-power-saws-allowed, game of King of the Hill. Humphrey simperingly disagrees.

If you like that, along with some bounding main thrown in, then bully for you, you will have a half of a book of it.

Then, when you are ready for a final throw-down, the ship takes in a shipwrecked lifeboat full of sailors and one tiny, ever-so-womanly woman, and COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCES, she is known to Humphrey as a fellow writer. And BACK OF DAINTY HAND TO DEWY FOREHEAD! Wolfy attempts to force his perfect self upon her. And does Humphrey save his damsel from a fate worse than death? Well, he tries but in the end, Wolfy gets a headache. REALLY!

So, instead of a throwdown, Humphrey and his chaste, chaste lady escape in a lifeboat, get blown to an uninhabited island and spend the rest of the book plotting and effecting their escape and salvation. Do they get it on? Hell No. Is there a lot of talk about windlasses and halyards, riggings and hoisting tackles? Oh, yes.

Wait, no more Wolfy? Why, yes. COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCES, the ship wrecks upon the very (up to now) uninhabited cove in which the two lovebirds landed, as the ONLY SURVIVOR. So THEN, do they throw down? No, because Wolfy has a TUMOR. WHAT?

I know. Ridiculous. I think Mr. London gave up half way and finished it because he owed his publisher another book. I’m re-mad just writing this.

Consider this your warning. Read Call of the Wild.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

$12 Book Report: Damned If You Do.

(I know. My book and movie reviews are usually of the $3 variety, but I didn’t want to wait for the paperback of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk.)

I’ve followed Chuck Palahniuk since his unknown days. I am one of the few who can honestly say I read Fight Club before it became Brad Pitt’s Fight Club. I still follow his work, although, when he takes artistic chances (which artists should), I may not always choose to take those chances with him. And some of his later works, such as Rant, I found stuffed with great ideas and characters, but too full of plot holes to be taken seriously. Let’s just say I’m an affectionate critic. Or a skeptical fan.

His newest book, Damned, has an interesting premise and a 13-year-old girl as a protagonist. His last try at a feminine protagonist, Diary, was uneven at best. I was curious to see if he could pull this off (although by choosing a pre-pubescent girl, he at least made it a little easier on himself, difference-from-males-wise).

So here’s what I think, in short, because I hate long book and movie reviews that could serve as a miniature version of the book or movie. None of that here.

Even though the book opens with our 13-year-old hero, Madison, in a filthy cage in Hell, and the wordsmithery is fun and, well, Diablo Cody-esque, I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading until about halfway through, where the one important bit of plot intrigue is revealed. From page 1 to page 124, our author relies on Madison’s snappy banter with her Hell-mates, her memories of her jet-setting parents and her tours through Palahniuk’s concept of Hell, which, if not exactly biblically based, is very Palahniuk-y, being equal parts jolly and gross. It’s a long set-up to the payoff. A slow burn. I understand. But it made the first half of the book less than a page turner.

By the end I was thoroughly on board. However, Palahniuk’s use of dropping the reader into a scene with few linear time-line cues gave the book a dream-like hue, and I became more than a little worried that I was heading toward one of those “and then she woke up smelling eggs and bacon” endings. Luckily, he did not disappoint me with one of those, but he disappointed in a larger way with the last sentence, as he certainly had not hinted that this would be a BOOK ONE in a SERIES.

My final thought was to wonder why he had not collaborated with an artist and made Madison’s story into a series of illustrated novels. His imaginative imagery of Hell and the super-hero qualities Madison eventually develops are ideally suited for illustration. Okay, Chuck, I’LL do it if you can’t find anybody else. But think about it. Pictures of Hell’s ever-growing lake of semen? The dunes of discarded nail clippings? A conquering 13-year-old heroine with a belt of spoils, including Hitler’s scalped mustache? That’s comic book stuff right there.