segunda-feira, 26 de setembro de 2011

sábado, 24 de setembro de 2011

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, A book review by Mark Flanagan

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Review By Mark Flanagan, Guide

     The myth of the werewolf, the man who by curse or design transforms himself by the light of the full moon into a wolf or into some sort of man-wolf beast and then roams the countryside killing and feasting upon the tender flesh of unsuspecting villagers, has long been a well-loved and well-trodden motif. From the ancient Greek story of Lycaon, who fed human flesh to Zeus and was summarily transformed into a wolf by the angry god, to the 1940's Lon Chaney portrayal in The Wolf Man, we've long loved this terrifying folktale. Werewolf fiction is as alive and well today as it ever has been, but no recent author has so quickly and uniquely lifted the genre from its limited fan base to the center of popular attention as Toby Barlow has done with Sharp Teeth.
     Sharp Teeth takes the werewolf myth to new heights. It poses the question, "if there were werewolves - not just a single werewolf or even sporadic instances of lycanthropy, but lots and lots of werewolves - what would they do?" According to Barlow, they would form packs like wild dogs, except they wouldn't be dogs - they'd be men. Sometimes, they'd be intelligent, powerful men like, for instance, lawyers. Such an individual would become the alpha dog of a werewolf pack, would grow the pack's strength, bind it together, and give it purpose. What sort of purpose? Well, the same as any pack of wild dogs, or men for that matter - power.
Packs of werewolves, like any urban gangs - like the Sharks and the Jets, like the Crips and the Bloods - roam the streets of L.A. cutting each other down, vying for power. The main difference of course is that these gangs eat their kill. Yes, Sharp Teeth is brutal and will make an equally brutal movie someday to rival the likes of The Wolf Man or any other in the oeuvre. In fact it's not unlikely that Quentin Tarantino is at this very moment closing a deal to turn Toby Barlow's novel into a vicious and blood-soaked film.
     Sharp Teeth is a gang story, but it's also a love story and a detective story in which werewolves clean the city of meth labs and enter bridge tournaments. Yes there is humor in Sharp Teeth - the sort of anthropomorphic humor popularized in the cartoons of Gary Larson, except much much darker. And there are tongue-in-cheek references to to children's books like Go Dog Go.
     Sharp Teeth is truly a pleasure to read. I had no idea how I would approach reading a novel in free verse, but the answer is pretty much like any other novel, except different. Free verse is verse without meter or rhyme, so it's not at all like reading poetry, though the novel is very poetic:

Her teeth hit his neck.
The last thing he sees are her eyes.
The last thing he feels is the heat of her breath on his neck.
The only thing he hears
is the might of the surging blackness
as it softly growls
for him.
     Though werewolf fiction doesn't normally fall into my bailiwick, Sharp Teeth has happily risen above the genre and has garnered a good deal of buzz. Does a werewolf novel have to be written in verse to gain attention or be taken seriously? I don't know. What I do know is that Barlow has breathed such life, such intensity into his lycanthropic tale, through verse or otherwise, that I found myself compelled from page one to rip straight through it. Like teeth through flesh.

Serena by Ron Rash - A review by John M. Formy-Duval

Serena by Ron Rash

A review by John M. Formy-Duval

     There was an image of a woman on horseback. She was haughty, blond, tall, elegant. The sun was behind her illuminating her hair and creating a shimmering crown as she rode in the fog. Somehow, he saw her between Earth and Olympus. It was 1929-30 in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. So, in a voice straight out of the mountains of North Carolina, where his family has lived since the 1700s, Ron Rash described how Serena came about. The image stayed with him, a sign that he was destined to write the story.
     He was interested in two major plot elements. The first was the fight for and against the creation of the Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park was rescued at a crucial point by a $5m donation from Rockefeller. The second issue was how nasty the fight between those with the timber interests and those who supported the Park became.   There were elements of environmental destruction and loss of jobs as the talons of the Great Depression sank into the peaks and coves of the mountains. He wanted to bring Serena to this world and give her control of the timber camp. She quickly assumed mythical status among the men.
     Although she married an important, powerful man from an old Boston family, she was the dominant force. Rash wanted something to ratchet up her control to impress the men in the logging crew. He knew that in the wild eagles kill rattlesnakes, a real danger to the loggers. Could she train an eagle to respond to her commands, he wondered? He began to research the concept, quickly learning to go to the fanatics so he called around. "I've got the right accent. They'll think I'm afflicted" and listen to me. He knew he was on the right track when various people said, "You've got to talk to Scott" one of only twelve people in the United States who are licensed to hunt with eagles. Scott explained how, and then suggested using a Mongolian eagle, a Berkute, which has been used for hunting since Kublai Khan. She trains the eagle, which adds to her mythic status among the men.
     Rash has always appreciated Elizabethan drama, including Shakespeare, but especially Marlowe. He wanted the novel to read like a drama. He created 4 parts and a brief "Coda" which, in a nod to Marlowe, provides a fitting end to the tragedy of Serena. Serena's speech is loosely iambic pentameter to elevate her status from the common people. There is a Chorus of "good ole boys" to contrast with her, to comment on the action, and provide comic relief. Snipes sees himself as a philosopher while McIntyre is a preacher who sees Serena wearing pants as a sign of Satan. The eagle at one point drops a rattlesnake right in front of him. This causes him to be taken to the "nervous hospital" where they "electrocute" people.
     This novel succeeds on two levels. First, it is a really good story, immediately engaging and interesting. You could easily enjoy reading this while lounging on the beach. It has action, sex, and memorable characters. Second, it is highly literate, drawing on Elizabethan drama at its best. Truly, Rash has done exactly what the Elizabethans did. He took an old story – primarily "Macbeth" – and reworked it for contemporary times with the complexity and richness in character development one hopes for but seldom finds in modern novels. This is truly "contemporary literature."
     His background as a narrative poet enlivens the imagery of this story. Rash captures the language of the mountains, long reputed to be Elizabethan in character and pronunciation, a myth that reinforces the reality of the characters' speech. The historical reality of the fight for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is brought to life here, both sides being presented.
     Serena is a reference to Selena, Goddess of the Moon. Rash saw it as an erotic name. She is certainly not serene in any sense of the word. The doctor who delivered her says she kicked hard to get out. Her fatal flaw is an inability to admit to her humanity. She has allegiance to design not to people and is willing to sacrifice those she loves. She shows shades of Absalom, Absalom or an evil Gatsby who cannot accept Daisy.
He did not know the end when he began writing. "I never outline. That sets up limitations on me as a writer and on the characters. There needs to be ‘free will' for the characters….If I have an image which stays with me, I believe the novel is always there. Michelangelo believed the statute was already in the marble and he just chipped away the stone to reveal it."
     Asked about critics' tendency to see Southern writers as having only regional appeal, Rash noted that Ulysses is about as "regional" as one can get, yet it is undeniably a classic. "I want to write about the universal through the particular." Clearly, he does not see "regional" writing as a negative. Faulkner was certainly a regional writer, and critics outside the US have recognized Southern writers for years, he said. "I see two types of writing. There's local color writing" that does little more than show what makes a place. "Regional writing" uses the local to illustrate universal themes, Flannery O'Conner being a prime example.
     Rash described Serena as a great story well told, on a different scale, more ambitious than his previous efforts. It is, by his judgment, the apotheosis of his career. "I was obsessed by this one," thinking about it 10 – 12 hours per day. He worked on it for 6 hours per day, 6 days per week, for 3 years, completing 12 full drafts. Friends knew that "something had let go when I finished." "I feel that this is the best thing I'll ever write. It contains Elizabethan drama, environmental issues, rich language. I hope it worked."
     It worked beautifully. This is a must-read novel.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - A book review by Mark Flanagan

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

A book review by Mark Flanagan, Guide

     Malcolm Gladwell  excels at pinpointing a social phenomenon, be it cultural epidemics (The Tipping Point) or snap judgements (Blink); putting forth his thesis; and illustrating his proof through a series of short, engaging, self-encapsulated histories. In Outliers, he examines the phenomenon of high achievement, fantasic stories of success often attributed to the tenacity, hard work, and innate individual talent. Gladwell doesn't discount the necessity of innate ability, and he points to hard work as a crucial factor for success in any endeavor. But he finds in these success stories that factors such as timing, circumstance, and cultural heritage play an oft-overlooked yet critical role. Outliers is Malcolm Gladwell's ode to these unsung heros.
     In the first part of the book, Gladwell profiles high achievers and the historical conditions surrounding their successes, illustrating anecdotally how they prove what Gladwell calls the 10,000 Hour Rule, that mastery at anything - music, programming, sports, chess - is dependent upon 10,000 hours of practice, roughly three hours a day over the course of ten years.. In his illustrations, Gladwell shows how these individuals were provided with unique opportunities to log these critical practice hours.
     In 1968, when Bill Gates was 13 years old, his school, Lakeside Academy in Seattle, Washington, acquired a computer, a terminal on which Gates could program non-stop for the next few years, a once in a lifetime opportunity to practice something that would have unforseen value. At the age of 16, Gates learned that a mainframe computer was available for free in the middle of the night at the nearby University of Washington.    Unbeknown to his parents, the young Gates snuck out each night to write code between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Good fortune played an critical role in Bill Gates' success by allowing him significant programming practice time that very few others his age had during a critical juncture in computer history.
     In Part II of Outliers, Gladwell shifts his focus from circumstantial good fortune and serendipitous timing to the cultural legacies we inherit from our forbears. Key among the illustrations in this section is that of agrarian Chinese from Southern China, who for thousands of years engineered, built, and toiled in rice paddies. The work is famously grueling as well as surprisingly complex, and Gladwell contrasts Chinese commitment in this rigor to the lassitude of peasant farmers in Europe, pointing to the differences in the different systems that evolved around the two forms of work. Through a string of narrative that also references studies of mathematical learning, Gladwell leads us deftly to very plausible explanations for the truth inherent in cultural stereotypes about Asians in academia.
     Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted story-teller, and his ability to present his ideas within compelling narrative form is half of what makes his work so engaging and popular. The other half of course is his ability to ask questions, synthesize ideas, and make connections where others fail to see them, or where those who do lack the narrative ability to serve them up irresistibly as Gladwell is known to do.

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru - A book review by Traci J. Macnamara

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

A book review by Traci J. Macnamara

     Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions is a thrilling novel with a plot that readers will find more than relevant in today's political climate. Idealism, anger, and social ambition fuel the fictional Michael Frame's involvement with a group of radical activists who protest the Vietnam War in 1960s London. The main character's turn to terrorism runs a recognizable course and offers striking insight into the modern tensions between individual and family, nation and state.
     Hari Kunzru has been named one of Granta's "Twenty Best Fiction Writers Under Forty," and he is the author of two other acclaimed novels, The Impressionist and Transmission. Kunzru's novels differ greatly in subject matter, but the thought-provoking quality of his previous work is also evident here.
     From the outset of the story, readers will find themselves scrambling to solve an identity crisis that is as political as it is personal. On page one, we meet Michael Frame. And then we promptly realize that Michael Frame is really a man named Chris Carver.    This book's main character is living a lie, or at least a truth that is "partial, incomplete," in order to cover up the crimes that he committed as a radical youth.
     Michael Frame, however, seems like an innocuous enough character. He's nearing his fiftieth birthday and has lived for the past sixteen years in a country cottage with a woman named Miranda and her daughter Sam. Miranda is the ambitious owner of Bountessence Natural Beautycare, a company that Frame sees as the highest expression of his common-law wife's romance with nature. Frame tries to hide his revulsion with the little recyclable product containers he finds in their home, but he can no longer hide from the ghosts in his past.
     His revolutionary background is decades behind him, and his placid lifestyle would seem to belie its existence. But as the young Chris Carver, he was a member of various activist groups, one that focused its efforts on stealing food from grocery stories and then giving it away for free, and others that blew up buildings and conspired with foreign terrorist organizations.
     The justification for Chris Carver to participate in such activity was always simple. In the case of the food stealing and redistribution ploy, he reasoned: "Principle number one: if we wanted to call ourselves revolutionaries, we had to be prepared to break the law." And: "Principle number two: it was our food already." Stealing was justifiable to Chris Carver because society's power structure had been perverted, and his was a mission to set things right.
     Readers will ultimately wonder - as does this book's main character - whether or not Chris Carver's actions are justified in the end. He is beaten by cops during protests and thrown into prison. He spends time recovering in a Buddhist monastery, only to resurface in England with a new name taken from a tombstone. And even then, he can't keep his secrets from catching up with him.
     When Miranda and Michael take a well-needed vacation to France, Frame thinks he sees Anna Addison, one of his former lovers who had supposedly died in a bombing decades earlier. Shortly after sighting this woman, another man from Frame's past shows up and attempts to blackmail him. Michael Frame is finally confronted with the decision to continue running or to turn around and face his past.

     By telling his hero's story through a series of flashbacks, Hari Kunzru delights his readers and keeps the plot fresh until its resolution is revealed on the book's final page. The author's personal research, real-life models, and vivid imagination keep this book alive at every turn. Ultimately, readers will find My Revolutions' greatest success to be the way in which its plot echoes Michael Frame's revolutionary mindset and fundamental belief that "Nothing is permanent.
Everything is subject to change."