Eliza Clark’s debut novel Boy Parts is disturbing, but also heartbreaking in a really uncomfortable, visceral way. This read is truly a sucker-punch of mixed emotions.
The story follows Irina, a cut-throat erotic photographer who is obsessed with making unconventionally attractive men model for her. Though the men’s initial agreement to be the subject of Irina’s photos is consensual, what they eventually partake in is hardly in accordance with a typical photo shoot.
My favorite stories are the ones with protagonists who are almost completely horrible, but at the last second reveal something that reels me back in. That is absolutely Boy Parts, with an obscured critique of our male-dominated world at the heart of Clark’s novel. While Irina is mostly an awful human, I can’t help but understand her frustration with being perpetually held under the patriarchal thumb.
As the plot unfolds, we discover much more about what makes Irina’s psyche, and art, so twisted. We are ultimately plunged into what makes her tick through her relationships with her border-line obsessive best friend, Flo, and a homely young man who works at the local Tesco grocery store.
The entire novel begs the question: What if Irina were a man? Much of her attitude towards the male body is a very crude and concentrated imitation of how women’s bodies are often considered by men. The fact that the main character in Boy Parts is a woman behaving as the worst kind of man is cutting and intentional. Clark picks apart the vulgarities we often expect from men, but are horrified by when we experience them from women.
I highly recommend for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is a wintery noir set in an anonymous town, and follows Eileen Dunlop and her miserable existence. If you are familiar with Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, you will appreciate the tonal and characteristic similarities of Eileen. This author does not write likable characters, but rather ones that are deeply flawed, often disturbed, and always challenge the reader’s tolerance for abnormality.
It’s Christmas time in X-Ville, the anonymous city in which Eileen spends her dreary days, but that does little to lift the darkness shrouding her life. Eileen is stuck, and is only coaxed along by bottles of gin shared in the kitchen with her drunk, nasty father and the prospect of escaping X-Ville. Beyond her job as a secretary at the boy’s prison, she has and is nothing–except for the proud new owner of her father’s gun.
That is until the synthetically joyous Rebecca Saint John takes a counseling position at the prison. Rebecca is clean, polished, and poised–a stark difference from the quietly unsettled and perverted Eileen. Rebecca unearths something inside her: Attraction? Maybe. Infatuation? Undoubtedly. The events after Rebecca descends upon Eileen’s life are catastrophic, though eventually lead to Eileen’s permanent release from the psychological grip X-Ville has on her mind and body.
Moshfegh is truly a literary master. Her ability to create a character wrought with flaws and failings and still make her readers feel a twinge of empathy for them is incredible. Eileen is more than just an eerie story: It’s a portrait of how poisonous loneliness can be and how it can warp our realities. A refreshingly strange, and sometimes uncomfortable read. I’m looking forward to reading more from Moshfegh.
Hello! Welcome to the July edition of the Online Reading Challenge!
We’re going over to the dark side this month, since July’s subject is: Crime!
Crime is actually a pretty popular subject at the library, between True Crime books (lots of serial killers and murderers in the 364.1523 Dewey section) and Mysteries (the majority of which involve a murder). There are (sadly) plenty of other crimes to consider, some that don’t even involve bloodshed! Here are some suggestions.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A classic murder story that, even many years after it came out, will give you chills and make sleep difficult. Based on an actual murder, Capote delves into the background of the Clutter family and the two men who killed them. A masterpiece.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones follows the devastation and long-term consequences to a man and his family when he is wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Kevin has been convicted of killing nine students when he went on a shooting spree at his high school. Kevin’s parents are devastated and try to come to terms with what their son did.
Prefer something a little less grim? Try Lawerence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series about a burgler based in New York City. Bernie takes great pride in a well-executed burglary and is offended when a dead body intrudes. Much lighter than Block’s Matthew Scudder PI series (which is excellent if you’re looking for something hard-hitting).
As always, check out the displays at each Davenport Library location for lots more suggestions!
I don’t usually read crime novels and only a few mysteries so it took me awhile to settle on a title. I finally decided to read Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf. It caught my attention for several reasons including that it’s set in Iowa and that the protagonist is deaf. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Now, what about you? What will you be reading in July?
The audiobook of Michael Connelly’s latest (hopefully, not the last) Harry Bosch novel is brilliantly narrated by Titus Welliver. The Burning Room is enjoyable on multiple levels. First, there’s the evolving relationship between Harry and an assigned protegee, Detective Lucia Soto, as well as Harry’s internal monologues about the careerists in charge of the LAPD and the incredible talents of Welliver and, probably least of all, the actual plot.
Bosch grows into an ever more fascinating character; professional in that he cares first and foremost about solving cases, rather than the political implications of each and every action. He skewers the bureaucratic bluster in the guise of the bumptious Lieutenant Samuels, Bosch’s nemesis. As they investigate two entwined cold cases, Harry imparts his survival skills and hard-won knowledge to Lucy Soto, a smart and hard-working disciple. Will she carry the torch in future Connelly books?
There’s a fine balance in audiobooks when it comes to altering the reader’s voice between characters; they should be distinct enough that the listener can follow a conversation, but not so in-your-face that you’re brought out of the story. Welliver’s gift is his ability to create, with consistent and subtle intonation, a conversation’s back and forth action. So much more efficient than “he said” and “Harry replied,” and “she shouted.”
His narrating work can be heard in several Robert B. Parker novels, while his acting can be seen in The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Twisted and Transformers. Age of Distinction. I’m sure acting is not easy, but reading aloud in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner must be even harder.
It is rare that a novel based on a successful television program amounts to anything more than a slap-dash rehash designed to turn a profit, but in the case of Erin Kelly’s Broadchurch: A Novel the story is as finely fashioned with words as the 2013 British crime drama is with moving images. Both explore the ramifications of an eleven-year-old boy’s shocking murder on the life of a coastal tourist town in Southwest England as two detectives gradually uncover a complex network of closely-held secrets.
At the center of the story is the relationship between the two investigators assigned to the case. Detective Ellie Miller, an integral part of the Broadchurch community, struggles with the need to delve into her friends and neighbors’ affairs while suffering the loss of young Danny alongside them. She is at odds with DI Alec Hardy, unexpectedly brought in to fill the leadership position on the police force that Ellie had been promised. Alec takes a cold and cynical attitude in conducting the investigation and is skeptical of Ellie’s ability to remain objective. He bristles and becomes more defensive under the watchful eye of the press: both local and London-based journalists are suspicious of his handling of an earlier child murder case. With each question the detectives raise, each encounter they have with a Broadchurch resident, further suspicions mount. In a cascading effect, relationships begin to falter, irretrievable words are spoken, and yet more harm is unleashed.
Kelly relates the story through the eyes of other main characters as well, including bereaved mother Beth Latimer and opportunistic reporter Karen White. She takes full advantage of the novel form to explore the principal players’ internal lives: their memories, their questions about the case as more information is gathered, their reflections on their own behaviors and interactions with others in the community, and their concerns for the future once the truth is finally revealed. She deftly weaves these musings into the action and closely examines the consequences of the investigation on each character without sacrificing suspense.
In addition to Chris Chibnall’s superb writing, the award-winning television series Broadchurch (BAFTA Best Drama Series) features Olivia Colman (BAFTA Best Actress) and David Tennant’s nuanced performances, Olafur Arnalds’ evocative music, and cinematographer Matt Gray’s gently charged contemplation of the Dorset landscape.
Read Broadchurch: A Novel and watch Broadchurch the series, in no matter what order. The experience of one enriches that of the other.
I have an embarrassing admission…
I’ve never read anything by Carl Hiaasen before. I’ve never read Hoot or Skinny Dip or Native Tongue. And I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I picked up his newest novel, Bad Monkey. With reviewers calling the novel a “misadventure” and described Hiaasen as a “premier humorist”, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed.
Bad Monkey introduces Andrew Yancy, a former Miami Police detective and soon to be former Monroe County sheriff’s officer, who now spends his days counting the cockroaches in local restaurants as a restaurant inspector. Wanting to leave behind his “roach patrol” duties, Yancy believes he may have found his way back onto the force when a tourist fisherman pulls in a human arm and the scandal adverse county sheriff declares the arm’s loss an accident. Yancy believes that there is more going on than meets the eye, so he begins his own investigation.
There is a lot going on in this book, but it never feels weighted down or overly ambitious. The stories weave together in a way that feels natural, and Yancy is perfectly imperfect in the way of all the best anti-heroes. Employing a dark sense of humor, Bad Monkey is moralistic without ever coming off as preachy and weird without forgetting reality. Revenge fantasy at it’s best, Bad Monkey, is a seriously fun read. I feel kind of lucky that I have such a backlog of Hiaasen books to read until his next book is released.
Hillary Jordan’s novel When She Woke is often described as a new dystopian take on The Scarlet Letter. It is set in a future where an epidemic has left the majority of women sterile and abortion has been made illegal to prevent a declining population. Prisons are also wildly overcrowded, so to remedy this, criminals who aren’t considered dangerous to society are not locked up but are instead “melachromed”: their skin is dyed so that their crime is instantly recognizable to the population.
The novel’s main character, Hannah Payne, is a very religious young woman who broke the law by having an abortion in order to protect the baby’s father, world-famous Reverend Aidan Dale. Hannah is caught and tried, and she wakes up a the beginning of the novel with scarlet red skin. The book flashes back to how she ended up in this position and how she deals with entering society as a an outcast due to the color of her skin and the nature of her crime.
This book was very compelling, so much so that I found it a little painful to have to put it down at times. It’s a very interesting take on a futuristic society; it’s unique, but not so out-there that you can never imagine it happening. This might even be a fun pick for a book club because its controversial nature could bring up some very lively discussion!
Though the recent cold and snowy weather makes us all dream of warmer places, I still can’t stop reading more Scandinavian mysteries, where the cold climate plays a major role. The Preacher is the second mystery novel by Swedish author Camilla Lackberg – if you have recently enjoyed other Scandinavian crime fiction you may want to add her to your list. I blogged about her first novel, The Ice Princess, a few months ago and after I finished reading this book I couldn’t wait for the next book in the series to be translated into English.
In The Preacher, again we meet Erica and Patrik who are now expecting their first child. As a detective in Fjallbacka, a tiny fishing village in southwest Sweden, Patrik has been thrown in to a new investigation – the murder of a young tourist from Germany. With this new case, the 30 year old unsolved disappearance of two young women is also thrust into the spotlight – the young tourist’s body is found with the remains of these two young women.
The case takes an unexpected turn when a young girl, Jenny Moeller whose appearance is nearly identical to the murdered tourist, is kidnapped and Patrik and his fellow detectives know that time is running out to try and save her. With Jenny’s disappearance, clues come to light that focus the investigation on a local and radical family, the Hult’s, whose public feud only complicates the case further. The ending is completely unexpected and shocking – definitely well worth it!
Many readers are trying to get context for what’s going on in Jerusalem and Palestine. Novels can give social and cultural insight into ancient (and modern) disputes beyond the strife of war and conflict.
The Walls of Jericho by Jon Land
This is a thriller that proves that the stereotypical “strife in the Middle East” can be woven into highly entertaining crime fiction. The first in the series about a pair of detectives (one Israeli and one Palestinian American) who are assigned to work together to catch a serial killer. Danielle Barnea is an Israel Security Agency officer, and works with Ben Kamal to unravel the plot that may threaten the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Beynon Rees
Rees keeps the “military maneuvers in the background and [focusses] on ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives,” according to the New York Times. The hero is a Palestinian teacher, who helps with the investigation of the theft of a priceless scroll.
Damascus Gate by Robert Stone
This is a mystery that “transcends its genre” and is a “novel of place, securely grounded in the stones of Jerusalem.” Religious radicals (Christian and Jewish) plan to blow up Mosques in Jerusalem, for their own convoluted reasons. Stone ‘s “meditation on belief”….and “suspense all come together is a stunning finale that satisfies on all levels.” Booklist
Martyr’s Crossing by Amy Wilentz
An incident at a Jerusalem checkpoint sparks riots and the soldier and young Palestinian mother are reluctantly pulled into the ensuing chaos. The author is the Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and is “masterful at turning the Israeli/Palestinian predicament like a prism to expose multifaceted viewpoints, leaving the reader with insight into the politics and an overwhelming empathetic vision of the human pain that is part of daily living in this region of the world,” according to Booklist.