Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Rojo y negro,” and is by Spanish photographer Use (Flickr | Instagram | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
Big news brewing here at CCLaP headquarters — I’ve just officially started work on creating our new, completely redesigned online store, and by this time next month you’ll once again have access to the 40 full-length books, 100 literary journals, and hundreds of rare books that the center has put together over the last ten years. In the meanwhile, though, I’m happy to announce today that we’ve finally published our first new original book in two years, and that for a limited time it’s completely free to download!
Namely, it’s an essay series called Stalking the Behemoth, by our regular blog book reviewer Chris Schahfer, who’s been taking some time off recently in order to attend grad school, but will be back filing reviews once again starting this fall. As regular readers remember, Chris published a themed series of essays over the course of 2015 and ’16, in which he read a whole series of novels for the first time that were each over 600 pages long; and while these technically stretched all the way back to such classics as Don Quixote and Moby-Dick, the majority of the books he read were actually Postmodernist titles from the 20th century, since that’s Chris’s personal biggest interest in literature.
As is the case with all the themed essay series that CCLaP’s reviewers do here, we’ve finally gotten around to collecting them up and publishing them in book form; that includes not just the essays he originally published here at the website (including Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Ulysses, The Recognitions, The Sot-Weed Factor, Gravity’s Rainbow, Dhalgren, Women and Men, Infinite Jest, and 2666), but three brand-new essays written exclusively for the book version, covering William H. Gass’s The Tunnel, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s cultishly loved House of Leaves.
Since our online store is under construction right now and we’re unable to accept payments, I thought we’d do something special and give away Chris’s book for free for the next month, which you can download here at this particular blog post and nowhere else. (Heads-up, long-time visitors who are accustomed to our old policy of all our ebooks always being free; that policy will be changing with the new version of the store, although with a special new opportunity to not only access them all again but to also get free tickets to all our live events, and a discount on all our physical merchandise. But more about this in another few weeks!) To download Stalking the Behemoth, use one of the following links…
We’re working out a new system for hosting files, since our new WordPress installation doesn’t have enough memory to store them here directly at the website; so for now these are being hosted at CCLaP’s Google Drive, which means you first click through to the file and then download it once you’re there. (If anyone wants to give me some advice on better options, I’d love to hear it; you can reach me at email@example.com, and I’ll give out some free CCLaP swag for any advice that turns out to be helpful.)
Want a paperback copy? Well, then, go buy one at Amazon for $19.99! This is the only way Chris gets paid for these two years of hard work, putting these essays together in the first place, so I strongly encourage you to pick up the paper copy if you have the time and inclination.
Remember, this offer above for the free ebooks only lasts until October 2nd, at which point our new store will be open and we’ll be charging $9.99 for it; so if you’d like to read a copy, don’t delay. Much more about our revamped store, our reactivated publishing program, and our concurrent reactivated live events and podcast, in the coming weeks; but for now, I hope you enjoy Chris’s smart, always entertaining look at some real whoppers of novels.
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “To Me – Intimate Project,” and is by Italian photographer Francesco Spallacci (Flickr | Facebook | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Red is everywhere,” and is by Brazilian photographer Otacílio Rodrigues (Flickr | Facebook). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at email@example.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
The most heartbreaking thing about screenwriter Augustus Rose’s disappointing debut novel, The Readymade Thief, is precisely that it’s so good during its first half, a slow-burning character-heavy mystery story with just the lightest of supernatural elements, and that wisely takes its time in letting us get to know its complex, imminently rootable hero. To be specific, that would be teen runaway Lee Cuddy, whose compulsive need for approval led to her being her local high school’s resident drug dealer; when a deal goes bad and she randomly finds herself with a chance to break out of juvenile detention, she ends up in the community of street punks in the Philadelphia underground, where she ends up stumbling across a shadowy organization known as the Societe Anonyme, producers of an exclusive monthly “rave to die for” in the city and who are obsessed with the Modernist artist Marcel Duchamp.
Do they have something to do with the rash of burned-out teens cropping up in the city, fried on a new type of designer drug and whose eyes have expanded into the size of anime characters? It’s those kinds of questions that had me so intrigued and invested during the first half of the book. So how profoundly disappointing, then, to get to the second half and see it turn into such a scene-for-scene ripoff of The Da Vinci Code that Dan Brown has a viable claim for a plagiarism lawsuit; only instead of Brown’s conceit that Da Vinci left clues in his paintings that show that Jesus had a kid with Mary Magdalene (if that’s still a spoiler to you, you deserve at this point to have that spoiled), Rose’s premise is that Duchamp left clues in his various absurd Dadaist and Surrealist pieces that indicate that he knew the solution to the unified field theory, quantum mechanics, and how to access the fabled eleven dimensions that modern theoretical physicists insist exist all around us.
That’s the point when I found myself throwing my hands in the air and angrily sighing, because that’s the point where it felt like Rose had written half of a great literary novel and then suddenly remembered, “Oh, right, I eventually need to sell the movie rights to this sucker!,” throwing himself feet-first into the most hackneyed stereotypical cheese he could possibly dream up; it’s at that point that the plot suddenly becomes outrageous, the conspiracy theories are cranked up to 11, all the new characters suddenly become cardboard cutouts, and the technology that drives it all becomes laughably implausible. (His explanation of how Tor onion sites work has all the credibility of Sandra Bullock’s The Net; and his assertion that the members of a 4chan-like troll community would suddenly turn into the Goonies in the face of one of their members being murdered is exactly the kind of groan-inducing concept that makes me immediately think of some Paramount executive lighting a cigar after a thousand-dollar pitch dinner and boisterously shouting, “That’s gold, Augustus, PURE HOLLYWOOD GOLD!!!”)#AugustusRose's #TheReadymadeThief starts great, before devolving into #DaVinciCode territory Click To Tweet
Rose should’ve stuck with his instincts and completed this novel with the poise and restraint he admirably shows in the first half; because by embracing his hacky screenwriter side for the last half, he not only invalidates everything that came before, he makes readers feel like fools for buying into it in the first place. (And yes, I’m aware of the response that fans of the book will have to a statement like this; see SPOILER SPACE below for more.) A book even more disappointing than if it had simply been terrible, it unfortunately does not come recommended today.
Out of 10: Usually 7.0, but dropped to 5.5 for its bait-and-switch nature
SPOILER SPACE: DO NOT READ BELOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS NOVEL ENDS…
I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but in this case I feel like I need to preemptively prove that I actually did finish this novel, and therefore am aware that when the villains put their Duchamp Rube Goldberg machine into motion, it essentially outputs a snotty insult from the famed absurdist artist, and shows that Duchamp created all the Da-Vinci-Code-like smoke and mirrors purely as an elaborate joke for those who take these kinds of subjects too seriously. Fans of the book will claim that my criticism of it is invalid because of the novel ending this way, the reason I feel compelled to mention it in the first place; my response is that this kind of “ha ha, none of this really counted” reveal in the last ten pages doesn’t make up for 200 previous pages where the ridiculous conspiracy theory is treated at face value as real. Just because Poochie dies on the way back to his home planet doesn’t mean the terrible Poochie cartoon that came before it is any good.
I know it’s mostly my fault for having a mediocre reaction to the mostly loved Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed; and that’s because I read too many of these kinds of books during the Bush administration in the early-aughts, novels that posit in one way or another that an American apocalypse would for some reason bring about a new national society of Amish people, a subject that was used so many hundreds of times between 9/11 and Obama’s presidency that I even came up with a term back then, “Bushist literature,” to describe the phenomenon.
Gather the Daughters is yet another one of these, and unfortunately doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from the others; a sort of mashup of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, The Village, and James Howard Kunstler’s Bushism ur-example World Made By Hand, its central premise is that a group of Westboro-like extreme conservative Christians manage to take over a private island just before the US is blown into smithereens, and in the resulting generations of being left alone have formed an insular society that is King James Bible meets complete patriarchy meets the Taliban, in which the women-folk exist entirely and exclusively to poop out babies and please the man they’ve been assigned to, and are then encouraged to commit suicide once they hit menopause.
I’m not opposed to these kinds of stories per se — almost 35 years later, The Handmaid’s Tale is still rightly being read and loved by millions of new people every single year — but if in the 2010s you’re going to take on a story trope that’s been done so many times already by now, you better either bring something new to the table or do the expected extremely well; and unfortunately Melamed does neither of these things, turning in a manuscript that often sounds like the following made-up example, not an actual quote from the book but that might as well be…
Today in the wastelands I came across a Sacred Parchment by the prophet Roxane Gay; but Blessed Father informed me that she is a Harlot of Evil, and that I should ignore her wicked lessons on Female Empowerment and Thinking For Yourself.
I of course slightly exaggerate for humorous effect; but Melamed’s real prose actually sounds suspiciously like this jokey example, an overwrought and too-obvious style that sounds at all times like everyone is constantly talking in Capitalized Words about Things You And I Take For Granted but that have taken on Ironically Mythic Proportions For The Sake Of Easy Metaphor among their crypto-Shaker society of calico skirts and butter-churning.#JennieMelamed's #GatherTheDaughters is a #HandmaidsTale copycat and a bit of a hackneyed mess Click To Tweet
That unfortunately is not enough to elevate this book above the literally dozens of better examples from just the last 15 years of contemporary publishing; and while Melamed’s heart is absolutely in the right place, that doesn’t stop Gather the Daughters from being a bit of a hackneyed mess. Certainly worth your time if you’ve never read these kinds of books before — from all the glowing reviews at Goodreads.com, it’s obvious that most people who read it liked it profoundly more than me — you’re nonetheless bound to be disappointed if you’re already a fan and heavy reader of apocalyptic fiction, especially from urban liberal authors who are trying to make a political point about how backwards rural conservatives are. As an urban liberal myself, I agree with that sentiment, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit through 300 pages of “thee”s and “thou”s to be lectured on something I already know. Buyer beware.
Out of 10: 7.3
If you were to hold a contest to find The Most Underrated Commercial Author Who’s Sneakily Actually A Pretty Great Literary One, certainly Dennis Lehane would be on the shortlist, a Boston native and graduate of Florida’s prestigious Eckerd College whose string of crossover popular/critical hits include such Hollywood blockbusters as Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island (and who in fact now lives in southern California himself, where he’s been a staff writer on such critically lauded shows as The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, and regularly plays himself on the metafictional crime-novelist action-comedy TV show Castle).
And this streak continues with his newest, Since We Fell released just a few months ago, which technically is an action-packed crime thriller (and make no mistake, that’s not “crime thriller*” with an MFA asterisk), but that is set up and reads at many points like a slow-burning literary character study instead, one that wouldn’t be out of place sitting next to books by Joyce Carol Oates or Doris Lessing. And I specifically mention those female-oriented novelists, of course, because this is famously Lehane’s first-ever book to feature a female protagonist, from an author who got famous writing about a series of blue-collar white male tough guys from poor neighborhoods on the Eastern Seaboard, but who Lehane has publicly talked about “no longer connecting with” now that he’s a rich and famous middle-aged celebrity out in Los Angeles.
Switching to this new kind of hero has turned out to be a smart move for him, because Lehane has been able here to take all the push-pull between toughness and tenderness that’s marked his earlier novels, and apply it again but to a situation that’s the opposite from previous audience expectations, here presenting a woman who’s as hard and unrelenting as any of his male protagonists but whose softer and more complex side works particularly well within the realm of literary fiction. Specifically, it’s the story of Rachel Childs, whose tale wanders and meanders for the entire first two-thirds of the page count before we even get to the thriller setup that so strongly defines the last third.
The daughter of an equally complicated woman, a once-famous but now faded ’70s self-help author who’s turned into a manipulative but genteel alcoholic in old age, the main issue propelling the first two-thirds of the book is the mystery over Rachel’s long-fled biological father, and the equal mystery of why Rachel’s mother refuses to divulge even the tiniest little clue about his identity, even taking the mystery to the grave which sets Rachel on an obsessive quest in her twenties for the answers. And indeed, it’s tempting to call this book a bait-and-switch when we finally get to the last third, and learn that the main crime-thriller storyline actually has not a single thing to do with anything that happened in the first two-thirds, at least when it comes to the literal plot elements not aligning together between the two sections in any way.
But that’s why I call this a sneakily literary character drama, because what the first two-thirds of this novel does is give us an ultra-deep, ultra-complicated look at Rachel, what makes her tick, and what things have happened in her life all the way up to this point that makes her tick in the way she does; and all of that, from the trust issues to the bad relationships, her time as an investigative reporter in developing nations undergoing revolutions, her panic attacks and eventual time as a shut-in, gives us a richly dense sense of why she behaves as she does when the traditional genre part of her story finally kicks in. Most genre authors would make their entire book about just that last third; and that’s what makes Lehane special (and in turn has made projects he’s been a part of like The Wire special), that he takes the time and effort to let us get to know what are usually in genre novels a series of cardboard-cutout plot-mechanic-shufflers, to understand their motivations and what in their pasts make them behave the way they do here in the present.@dennis_lehane's #SinceWeFell is a sneaky literary character tale, masquerading as a crime thriller Click To Tweet
As a result, it makes Since We Fell a fascinating novel, the rare crime thriller for those who usually don’t like crime thrillers, and an opportunity for usual genre fans to get a sense of why fans of richly layered literary fiction become so obsessed with their own form of “genre” writing (that is, if you count “MFA fiction” as a type of genre unto itself, which I do). I’ve been burning through a whole series of books here recently that have each scored in the high 9s, and this is another of them, one of the most thought-provoking and thrilling reads I’ve had in the last year, and that will undoubtedly be making CCLaP’s best-of lists in December. It comes strongly recommended today, whether or not you’re a usual fan of crime fiction.
Out of 10: 9.7
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “DARE TO DREAM,” and is by Greek photographer Simon Silaidis (Flickr | Instagram | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.