Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It`s all Greek to me



Achilles would like his mortal nemesis, Hector, to know that there are no pacts between lions and men. In fact, he yells that very thing at him right before skewering him with a big, pointy spear. Madeline Miller would like her readers to know that there were, in fact, a lot of  "pacts" between Achilles and his best friend Patroclus with lots of skewering going on there too, nudge-nudge-wink-wink.

Now that I've talked about the homoerotic stuff in the most mature way that I am able, let's talk about the rest of this book. Well, it's the Iliad by Homer. I suppose that's all you need to know unless you think the Homer I'm referring to has the surname Simpson. Miller's twist on that old sod is telling the whole thing from the perspective of the aforementioned Patroclus and putting his relationship with the famous Demigod front and center.

Miller's prose is sparse and just a few extra words away from being an epic poem in it's own right. If her uber-impressive bio on the back page is to be believed, she also knows what she's talking about so rest assured that this is pretty damn faithful to the source material.

The problem is the story itself. We all know how it ends. Unless you are one of those wonderfully optimistic people who watch movies like Titanic and hope for a happy ending, you can see every spear, arrow and God-vengeance plague coming. It probably didn't help that I got all Iliad crazy while reading it and watched Troy for the third time. Reading the last half of the book picturing Brad Pitt slaughtering Trojans does not increase one's enjoyment, believe me.

Bottom line; read it if you just can't get enough big wooden horses and man-love. Skip it if your idea of a good Greek tragedy is too many black olives in your salad.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Puzzle Box Stuffed with Goodness


Nick Harkaway makes my brain hurt. The kind of pleasant I-don't-quite-get-it pain that usually stabs at me in advanced calculus classes or conversations about reality television programs. He likes to plunk his readers down in a story that feels already in progress, in a world that is just one little wrinkle in quantum space away from our own. It is puzzle box fiction that asks a lot of the reader and rewards you for your efforts. As the answers slowly unfold, and the train rockets towards an epic conclusion, we feel elated and self-satisfied. It's a little like reading and a little like solving a Rubik's Cube blindfolded. It's also a LOT like a great story.

It also provides the best justification for becoming an outlaw since Tom Robbin's thesis on the subject in Still Life With Woodpecker. I will forever after think of Three-card Monte as an analogy for the inherent injustices of a life lived "by the rules". Those of you who have solved this particular Rubik's cube will know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The King is Dead. Long live the King.


When a van hit Stephen King back in 1999 and nearly killed him, it created a ripple in the space-time continuum. In the alternate reality of Mr. King getting home from his walk safe and sound, we have a golden age of brilliant fiction from a seasoned writer in his August years. In the reality that we live in, however, we see a once-great word smith struggling to recapture the magic of his early work. Until now. With 11/22/63, my favorite blue-collar novelist has been born again. Hard. His characters have real blood surging in their veins, and King makes us care about them before reminding us that he is not afraid to spill that blood. His monsters are not of the supernatural variety that lurk under the bed and wait for us to turn out the light. They are the ones we see every day. The ones that have a few too many beers after a long day at the steel mill and come home angry and hit mommy. His heroes are just average guys and girls who could be monsters themselves if looked at in the right light.

This is a book about time travel. It is also a surprisingly moving love story. It has a satisfying ending that not only makes us contemplate the past, but presents a twisted, Faustian bargain to the hero: Would we destroy everything just to have what we want the most?

Ladies and gentlemen, the King is back. Long live the King.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The New Zombie Survival Guide


When you see your first zombie shuffling down Main Street, it doesn't necessarily mean there is an apocalypse on the way. If you see the same zombie standing up in front of a room full of pre-teens, convincing them that eating brains is the way to go, I would start amassing food and weapons, because dark days are ahead, my friend. Last night, I saw my first zombie:

It was open house at the school down the street, where my kids spend Monday to Friday learning about stuff. My wife and I did the requisite meeting, ate a hot dog and were then hustled into the Gymnasium for a "quick" presentation on UPower, brought to you by the parent's council. They normally hold a book fair in the library, but not this year. This year we got Sarah Westbrook talking in a mumbling rapid-fire about dreams, perseverance, and seemingly, The Worst Thing That Can Ever Happen To You: Not getting accepted as a contestant on Canadian Idol. There was some audience participation (from the few that were left after an hour of this). She asked us to share OUR dreams and say them right into the microphone. Somebody said "artist", someone else said "The best mom", when she got to me I said: "Sarah, in Ontario right now, my dream is to keep my job so I can continue to support my family and contribute to my community in a meaningful way."

Okay, I didn't say that. But I should have.

My two-and-a-half year old daughter started to fidget midway through, so I took her for a walk to the play equipment outside. There I ran into another dad who was wrangling his tweenage daughter out of there. "I couldn't listen to that anymore." He said, "All she talks about is me, me, me. My daughter doesn't need to hear that." I agreed. Sarah is probably a really nice person, but she was spreading the disease.

The book at the top of this post is going to become very important in the years to come. Think of it as the new Zombie Survival Guide.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Good Man, Good Book, Good God, has it been this long?


Getting back in the habit of writing is no easy thing. Unlike bad habits, things that are good for me take an effort that eludes me most days. I read A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe a LONG time ago. It was a good book. Sorry I can't think of anything more insightful to say about it. If turn of the century Canadian history is your thing, than this is your "Guy"? How's that? Good enough? There is also a fancy picture of a horse on the cover standing beside some old buildings. Yeah, I like horses too. It's sad that he is all alone and if you are wondering where his owner is, I'm not sure. I don't remember if it tells you because I read this book almost a year ago.

What were you expecting? this isn't about current events. Unless you are currently interested in this book, I guess. In that case, go buy it and leave me alone.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Too Close for Comfort


Tales of the near future often involve dystopian shenanigans of the Orwellian variety. Capitalism in its most extreme form has oppressed the 99% and turned them into GDP generating cogs in some great fascist machine and blah, blah, blah. Gary Shteyngart, the brilliant satirical author behind Absurdistan has penned something a lot more frightening with Super Sad True Love Story. He has a written a story of the future that feels like it could take place next week. A story that feels true, set in a future that probably will occur if our leaders continue to steer the ship down this ever narrowing strait of corporate greed.

China is now the superpower the United States once was with the yen-pegged dollar the only currency of value. Most communication between people takes place via  àpparat (the logical next step in ``smart`` phone technology) making the need to ```verbal`` other people obsolete and moving civilization further down the road to man as an island that John Donne warned us was not a very happy state of existence.

There is also a love story tucked in here somewhere, but I was to busy being terrified by Shteyngart`s vision of the future to really notice. Many critics praised this book for its satirical humor but I would like to praise it for something else entirely: It just might be the scariest piece of fiction since Stephen King introduced us to Pennywise the clown.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Open Letter to the Coen Brothers

Dear Joel and Ethan,

I hope I'm not being presumptuous when I say you guys seem pretty preoccupied with the western genre lately. Not that I'm complaining, it's a fantastic playground rich with great story opportunities. Men were men and women were the plot devices that made them do manly things. Life and whiskey were cheap and a well-oiled Colt Peacemaker was the iPhone of the day.

Gentlemen, here is your next movie:

 It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, came in a close second for the Giller Prize and is on just about every top 10 list of must-read books for 2011. Imagine No Country for Old Men told entirely from the perspective of Anton Chigurh. Now imagine that he is a gun-for-hire at the turn of the century with a brother who is even more ruthless and coldblooded than he is. It is the sad tale of a man yearning for a redemption that will forever be denied him. It's got plenty of morbid humor and some of that casual violence as social commentary that has become your trademark.

I'm sure whatever your working on now can be put on hold for a while. You'll thank me when the awards start rolling in.

Sincerely,

Michael Ward

P.S. "A Serious Man"....What the hell were you thinking?!?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Less Ready. More Writey



Hard to believe I haven't written a thing in this cyberspace since July. Summer packed it's beach bag and left town, fall rendered the trees naked and the Christmas spirit is nothing more than an enlarged Visa balance and stale eggnog hangover.

I have read many wonderful books in the intervening time. In fact, I have been so busy reading great books, I've had no time to blog about them. Having a 2-year-old toddler who is too smart for her own good and criminally cute doesn't help much either. A few significant changes in my life have made my schedule more manageable, so I think it's a good time to renew my commitment to writing regularly. This is not, I repeat: NOT a new year's resolution. I prefer to think of it as one small step on the long road of self rediscovery.

Stay tuned for some great reading suggestions for the long dark days of winter. Here's a little taste to get you started:


The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway is a funny, dark, kung-fu adventure that not only pulls out all the stops, but lights them on fire and pees them out. It takes place in the worst kind of Dystopian future where the only defense against the looming end of the world seems to be a sharp, British sense of humor and the best plot twist I've seen since the days of Fight Club and The Sixth Sense.