Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

***Spoilers galore***

I don't review every book I read. I don't have time really, nor do I always have something to say, but this novel shook me, had me recommending it to people within the first ninety pages, so, here it is:

I love this book.
I love this book.
I love this book.

I don't scare easily when reading. I don't laugh easily either. It doesn't make much sense; In person, I feel like I have a hard time not reacting, not completely breaking down or laughing in shrill, pelican-like bursts. Anyway, American Psycho scared me, House of Leaves scared me, and Broken Monsters has been added to the list - the holy, horrifying trinity.

The descriptions of the murder scenes are honest and disgusting without having to beg for reaction. The "monsters" are fantastic, classic and almost beautiful with their symbolism and weird innocence. There is also old fashioned suspense here; like an old crime mystery on acid (and access to Reddit). The Dreaming, the weird source of the, uh, issues, is never really resolved or fully laid bare to us, and I suspect that it didn't, and can't, go away. It had me asking: "Where do Gods go when people stop believing in them?" a la Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Apparently, they go to Detroit. 

Beukes's Detroit really excited me. I've only been to Detroit once, but I felt comfortable and oriented within the setting of this novel, and this familiarity made the thing a whole lot scarier. I'm not sure if I was so familiar with this image of Detroit because Beukes focused on the touristy hipster stuff that everyone looks at (can we talk about the girl we saw in her high heels taking pictures of Michigan Central Station with her iPad?), or if I know more about Detroit than I thought I did. Either way, I think Beukes did a great job of describing Detroit without demeaning it, for showing us the life and love and fears of people, normal, good people (and some not so good people), in a place that is hard to understand.

Beukes didn't shy away from embracing modern technology, which was a great credit here. Reddit was part of the problem, streaming was part of the problem. This is what gave the horrible beast its power, and I loved it. What is scarier than something unintended, something private spiraling out of control? The cluelessness of the viewers, of the recipients, of the bloggers all trying to figure the murders out first, of the stupid teens sharing explicit videos of each other because it's amusing - this was the monster. The internet's and Jonno's misinterpretation and subsequent exploitation of Detroit, of intimacy, were the real horror story here. It's easy to gawk at ruin porn (and, also in the case of this novel, porn in general), to revel in the destruction, to share videos of places and people's misfortunes. It's easy. But it's not easy to ask why this happened, or how this happened, or what will happen next. This is a story of exploitation, of ignoring the humanity of a thing, which is a force scarier than any serial killer or empty city.

It's almost certainly unrelated, but pretty disturbing in its own right: my dreams also took on a lucid, careening quality while reading Broken Monsters. True, my dreams were about Beyonce, car insurance, and Fifty Shades of Grey reimagined as a musical, but they were vivid and upsetting in their papableness. I know this dreaming is entirely different and a lot more benign than Beukes's Dreaming, but it was out of the ordinary for me, so it was easy to blame this strange, wonderful book.

5 Stars: The satisfying moment in which you deactivate your Facebook so you don't have to see that weird art video of that girl puking ever again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Spoiler-free summary:
Tsukuru Tazaki is the only one out of his group of friends whose name does not contain a color - his name, blunt and plain in comparison to theirs, means"maker." Though they were an inseparable group in high school, Tsukuru never felt as if he truly belonged. One day, his friends simply cut him out of the group. He reels from this rejection, becomes hardened without their support. Many years later, he begins the long process of learning what caused them to desert him without warning.


I'm on a Murakami kick and I've been reading reviews. I think this tendency, second only to my sentimentality, is one of my greatest flaws as a reviewer. I'll be forty pages from the end, already forming my next blog post, noting lines and moments that might be nice to pick apart, and I can't help but read other reviews. My hope is that I am not subconsciously swayed by these comments and that, instead, I find something I can respond to. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a great example of this. Much like his novels, Murakami's fans (and detractors) are thorough and thoughtful.

A lot of reviews I've come across mention that this novel is very similar to other Murakami works; This is absolutely true. There is a troubled, despondent man; a weird undercurrent, peppered through with magical symbols, that may or may not have anything to do with the main plot; time is seldom linear; everyone is very quiet, and very alone. Having just read his massive 1Q84, I picked up on a few similarities that seemed directly taken from that tome: the weird paralyzed sex scenes, the devastatingly beautiful and distant girl, the emphasis on career. These more specific references did somewhat pull me out of Tsukuru's story, causing me to think more about the author than I normally would like, but, I am horrendously in love with Haruki Murakami. It's kind of sick. Every time the man makes the same metaphor, describes an artfully prepared noodle dish, slips into an alternate dimension, or mentions a classical symphony I've never actually listened to, I feel like I'm really getting somewhere. The self-referential nature of his work, intended or not, is one of the things I like most about him. He's trapped in the weird little universe he writes about. The alternate world his characters inhabit is bizarre because it's improbable and warped, but oddly soothing because we've been there before. Each novel of his that I've read explores one small, new emotion. The large details are much the same, but there is a different feeling, cold and hard, at the center of this one that made it seem much more utilitarian than his previous works.

I can definitely see, though, how less fanatical, more logical readers might be tiring of the same old tropes. Murakami is good, but he's Murakami, over and over again. After reading one or two of his novels, you probably have a good grasp on what he's all about.

That being said, I do think this is a nice introduction to the author. This book, compared to other pieces of his that I've read, is straight forward and quick. I was shocked to find that I read it in three days (as opposed to the three months I spent with 1Q84). There is mysticism, of course, but it's implied or muted in comparison to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (which would be stop #2 on my Murakami tour).

5 stars: Puking as you kneel on the tatami, with Liszt playing in the background. Tomorrow, someone you've never met before will stare directly into your eyes on the train, and they will hum the melody of the symphony. Your stomach will roil pleasantly in response. You are frozen but for the subtle contraction of your insides.

Since I reference it so much, here is the link to my recent review of 1Q84: 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami