Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

"It is book of delight -- a love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory." - Jesse Ball describing The Way Through Doors (from The Elegant Variation)

Selah Morse, a recent recruit to the Seventh Ministry, is walking past when a young woman is hit by a speeding taxi. He rushes her to the hospital where he discovers that in addition to having lost her memory, she is without identification. An unexplainable urge possesses him and when asked by the doctor, he poses as her boyfriend. Charged with keeping her awake for the next 18 hours, and assisting her in recovering her memory, Selah passes the night telling her stories.

If you’ve read Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball’s first novel, then you are already familiar with the convoluted narrative methodologies he employs. The basic plot of The Way Through Doors merely provides a narrative framework for his wordplay. One reviewer, describing Ball’s fiction, stated his "stories are nested within each other, tumbling and turning inside and out like a narrative mobius strip."

The Way Through Doors is most often described by reviewers as "Russian nesting dolls," stories nestled within stories. Ball’s convoluted tales continually twist back upon themselves, causing readers to question the veracity of statements made by Selah. Each rendition of a story alters slightly with subsequent retellings, slowly leading readers to the conclusion that Selah is an unreliable narrator.

As a reader, one generally either likes or loathes contemporary, experimental fiction. Those who like straight, narrative lines and emotional arcs find this type of fiction messy and unsettling. There is little here to anchor the reader: Selah begins a story and then one of the characters will begin to relate another, perhaps one featuring Selah and Mora as characters.

In a novel where nothing is as it seems and readers continually search for narrative certainty, the writer’s ability is critical. It is incumbent upon the author to create prose that sings, carrying the readers along in its wake through sections devoid of all frames of reference. Ball handles words like a master and his delight in language oozes from the page.

As Ball says in the quote at the beginning of this review, The Way Through Doors is a "love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory." Yet I would argue that it is a love song of the imagination sung by Ball of his love for stories, expressing his love for stories. The way he views narrative is expressed most most clearly by one of his characters in this quote: "Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there..."

Interview with Jesse Ball about The Way Through Doors - BookSlut

A list of the music Ball listened to while writing The Way Through Doors - Book Notes

ISBN10: 0307387461
ISBN13: 9780307387462

Trade Paperback
240 Pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: February 10, 2009


Monday, February 23, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Peek-a-boo, I Love You by Sandra Magsamen

The newest offering in Little, Brown Kids’ “Snuggle-Me Stories” series is Peek-a-Boo, I Love You by Sandra Magsamen. Featuring Magsamen’s distinctive illustrative style and handwritten text, this 10 page board book invites young children to participate in a game of peek-a-boo.

Each of the five spreads poses a question and invites children to guess which animal is hiding under the flap, which reveals a small amount of the hidden animal. Once the child lifts the flap, the answer, written to rhyme with the question, is revealed.

“Who’s that snug as a little bug?


A kitty cat snoozing on a rug.”

Board books that provide methods for toddlers to participate are a perennial favourite. Peek-a-Boo, I Love You features a stuffed heart on the cover, which toddlers will poke and squish with delight. The flaps, initially a bit stiff, become easy lifting for little fingers. The most delightful aspect of this book however is the final question, the answer to which is a heart-shaped mirror shows your child his or her own face.

The “Snuggle-Me Stories” series is recommended for children 3 + but I test read Peek-a-Boo, I Love You with my 2 year old nephew and it quickly became one of his favourites.

ISBN10: 0316003891
ISBN13: 9780316003896

Board Book
10 Pages
Publisher: LB Kids
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Author Website: www.sandramagsamen.com


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

"I'm not sure where one should expect to find the bereaved daughter of a wealthy Malibu suicide in need of a trauma cleaner long after midnight, but safe to say a trucker motel down the 405 industrial corridor in Carson was not on my list of likely locales."

Former grade school teacher Webster Fillmore Goodhue, Web to his friends, has spent the past year relying on the good graces of his friends and generally slacking off. With time, people’s patience begins to wear thin and Chev, Web’s one remaining friend, informs him that his freeloading days are over. Faced with two equally unpleasant options (homelessness or continuing to take money from his embittered Dad), Web grudgingly accepts an offer of employment from a crime scene cleanup crew. One of the first Clean Team jobs is a messy suicide in Malibu; an odd scene that finds Web sponging brain’s from a bathroom mirror while flirting with Soledad, the dead man’s daughter.

When Web receives a late-night plea for help from Soledad, he ends up rushing to her aid even though ever instinct tells him to run fast in the opposite direction. Soon though, Web is the one in need of help when gun-totting cowboys show up at his door. Has Soledad landed him in the middle of her mess or is this really about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web needs to find out soon if he hopes to avoid becoming just another crime scene requiring cleaning.

I should start with a warning - The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death isn’t a novel for the squeamish or faint of heart. Full of Charlie Huston’s trademark violence, rapid fire dialogue, and unwavering eye for bizarre and grotesque details, this outrageous tale is sure to spawn a new legion of fans all eagerly anticipating a sequel featuring the unforgettable secondary characters. The action begins in the prologue, immediately dropping readers in the midst of outrageous levels of carnage, guts and gore. This is a novel which keeps readers off-kilter but pays dividends for those able to see it through.

If shocking violence, inappropriate language, and detailed gore leave you slightly nauseous, then The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is definitely not the novel for you. However, if you're the type who likes your noir served neat, with a side order of hilarity and unforeseen twists, then Huston’s latest will take you on a ride you’ll never forget.

ISBN10: 034550111X
ISBN13: 9780345501110

336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 13, 2009
Author Website: pulpnoir.com