Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I recently finished Gone Girl (just in time for Valentine’s Day!) and agree it was quite the read. Very gone girl indeed! Absorbing and twisted with well thought out yet surprising developments and excellently depicted characters – with a unique play it back journal entry style and point of view alternate takes.(Grammatically incorrect – thanks Amy). I especially enjoyed the pair of detectives -Boney and Gilpin, who may have been in over their heads with this one!
I was thinking about movies and couldn’t place a female lead until I listened again to the year’s best Podcast and heard a library colleague mentioning Reece Witherspoon. That would be a great fit (I think of her in Election). Some other movies that crossed my mind while reading this were: High Fidelity, American Beauty, Basic Instinct, Magic and, maybe most of all, The Game (w/ Michael Douglas). And maybe the play Deathtrap. I couldn’t help think of Nancy Grace circa the Scott Peterson case as well with the Ellen Abbott character. But with any great book it’s the nuances and thoughts of the characters you are privy to and the acute descriptions that make this one to read (before a movie based on it comes out).
The story opens in Carthage, Missouri where Amy and Nick Dunne, displaced (from NYC) and unemployed ex-writers have returned to reside in a McMansion near the Mississippi, enabling Nick to tend to his ailing parents and work at a bar he owns with his twin sister, Margo. From here, on their fifth wedding anniversary Amy disappears in an apparent abduction; possibly a set up…
But this book is so much more and truly is a masterpiece of psychological intrigue; with a marriage gone really wrong, a what is going on here?! and what may possibly develop next? plot that tumbles ever forward. It is hugely absorbing and the characters are very believable – from Nick’s sister Go and her stark directness to Amy’s annoyingly alike parents, Rand and Marybeth, both psychologists who have been living off the royalties of the Amazing Amy series, children’s books that may have run their course. Other characters have memorable bit roles while Amy herself gives new meaning to terms for a clever, manipulative spouse. Anniversary treasure hunts with disguised clues are just the tip of the iceberg here with the games she plays.
I haven’t heard anyone who has not been impressed by this book, which is unforgettable and merits its praise as one of the year’s best (and probably a rereading by me). This story is gripping and diabolically twisted with a sharp, modern edge (and really funny at times too). Maybe a disclaimer is in order: not for everyone – adult situations, sexual content and language and an addicting plot that will not let you down easy while confounding and surprising.
A whirlwind of a novel.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
I’ll admit after reading many of the early King classics – Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Firestarter, Christine, and the epic The Stand, I lost track of his writing somewhere around the time the scary clowns in the sewers of It were creating nightmares. That was 1987 and that one was set largely in circa 1958 Derry, Maine.
Strange coincidence – some of this tale takes place in that year and town as well. The plot: time travel in which a dying shopkeeper gets to explore the past through a portal that eventually allows a present day schoolteacher the same opportunity. After testing the pre- Civil Rights era waters of ‘58, this ultimately leads to a plan to stop Lee Oswald from shooting JFK in ‘63. It’s a quirky, absorbing tale of love and desperation played out between Jake Ebbing of Lisbon Falls, Maine and Sadie Dunhill of Jodie, Texas as the plot unfolds over several trips into the past. Full of touchstone Americana details in the time before cell phones, King’s characters spend a lot of time inhabiting the milieu of Oswald’s world in run down areas of Dallas and its environs.
The story pulls you through to the end with some heartbreaking occurrences and well-depicted scenes, although a few of the characters aren’t completely developed. The ramifications of actually being able to alter a string of events in world history are always present in this book – the underlying and thought provoking possibility of changing fate and reality. Everyone’s life matters and is interrelated (see The Butterfly Effect) and it’s clear that “life can turn on a dime.” But remember, as the author makes clear “the past is obdurate.”
Interesting that King cites several books in his notes including Oswald’s Tale by Norman Mailer and Case Closed by Gerald Posner (I’d add Reasonable Doubt by Henry Hurt, Plausible Denial by Mark Lane and Crossfire: the Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs to any budding conspiracy theorist’s to- read list!) but really this is a twisted journey into the past and a well done exploration of the “what if’s?” leading up to that fateful day. Take a ride!
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
Another atmospheric, absorbing and unique work by Charles Frazier, whose acclaimed debut, Cold Mountain was published in 1999 (although it seems so short a time ago). (Also, Thirteen Moons). He takes his time between books, which in my opinion, is usually a good thing!
This one is also set in the North Carolina Appalachian mountain areas he knows so well but the time is the ‘60s (think backwoods). The primary characters are Luce, whose sister was killed, leaving her to take care of her semi-mute, abused, pyromaniac kids – Frank and Dolores, and her stepfather/Deputy – Lit. Luce resides in an old abandoned lodge on a large piece of land that has recently changed hands and becomes the inherited property of a Mr. Stubblefield (the grandson). Stubblefield clumsily tries to revive a long ago love interest with Luce and the plot takes some surprising turns, always with the ominous specter of bad men doing bad things in the background.
The dialogue is usually sparse but you’ll really get a feel for the issues and realities Luce is facing. That’s the way of a good writer and there is no question that Mr. Frazier deserves his positive reviews.
An interesting novel which defies simple murder-mystery classification – one that balances beautifully rendered scenes, suspenseful build ups and stark, gritty reality. I started this as an e-book, listened to it on CD audio (narrator didn’t work for me as this was a more thought provoking story that unfolded slower for me) and finished the hardcover edition. Whichever format you choose – this book is worthy of your time and will pull you into the night woods!
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova is clearly an author who writes from what she knows. She holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and lives with her family in Cape Cod, Mass. This story incorporates many details that come into play from one who knows about physical therapies and the maddening and real disorder resulting from a traumatic brain injury – Unilateral Spatial Neglect or Left Neglect. It feels very real.
This is a whirlwind ride that is filled with terrific nuanced detail about a couple and their three young kids living hectic, action-filled lives in the suburbs of Boston (Welmont…nice!). Smart, well written dialogue – quick moving scenes – this is modern life! Sarah Nickerson is at the center of it all as Vice President of Human Resources at Berkley Consulting, where she manages numerous duties and multitasks to the max.
In a harrowing and well depicted scene it all changes in an instant. She suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident and must radically adapt to a completely altered life. She cannot really see what is in her left frame of vision among other difficulties and has to work extremely hard to get incrementally better. This part is really well done and you’ll feel her frustrations!
After some time, her long estranged mother enters the scene to offer her help and we get some interesting plot developments and tough choices all around. Sarah’s husband Bob, on rocky financial ground, an oldest son with ADD and a chance development while visiting a ski area all factor into their having to make some hard decisions. This story is definitely about changing and working within the twisted paths our lives can take.
Much like her excellent and emotionally wrenching first novel – Still Alice, Lisa Genova has come up with another book that will transport you completely into someone’s world.
West by West my charmed tormented life by Jerry West
Always known as a straight shooter (as well as Mr. Clutch and one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time) Mr. West taps his memories and unburdens his soul with a detailed and interesting autobiography.
His upbringing in rural West Virginia, the loss of his brother in the Korean War and an abusive father factor into his many quirks and years of masked depression. His incredible career with the Lakers following the Olympic gold medal victory in 1960, where he and Oscar Robertson led a dream team to victory (one of the happiest days of his life) -is given somewhat of a short shrift. The teams that featured him and Gail Goodrich in the backcourt and Wilt and later Abdul-Jabbar at center were always formidable (although the Celtics with Russell, Havlicek and later Cowens often bested them in the playoffs, if my vague memory serves).
West explores in more detail his years as GM and an executive with the Lakers, his relationships with numerous players like Kobe Bryant, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and others that made the Lakers’ Showtime years so dazzling. He recalls many personal moments with unvarnished feelings; the snubs, the misunderstandings (Hello Phil Jackson), the incredibly difficult decisions, the high stakes inner circles – that all nearly drove him crazy.
His family life, love of the outdoors, ambitious golf game (He has lent his business savvy and energy in heading up a major tournament – Northern Trust Open in recent years) and ever evolving professional life are presented with his unique no-nonsense style (save for his interest in really snazzy shirts, pictures included). He even includes a really fascinating chapter of a multi-era dream NBA game (in which he participates). Go Jerry – you were truly one of the best!
A really solid, absorbing autobiography here. Bonus points for great photographs, his career statistics and a listing of all the injuries he sustained as a pro.
Lost in My Own Backyard : A Walk in Yellowstone National Park by Tim Cahill
This is a very small but really enjoyable book from a witty and knowledgeable author – who resides in Montana, about 50 miles north of America’s first National Park.
Part Walk in the Woods, part love letter and part trail guide, Cahill has a knack of giving you just enough information for you to want to come along for the adventure. He is really well read on the park’s history and it’s stunning geological features but leaves the detailed minutia to others (and includes an excellent selected bookshelf at the end for further reading).
He’s big on respecting wildlife, especially thousand pound plus bison and bears but will definitely take you on some trails less traveled. Just don’t get him started on the discovery and naming rights of waterfalls in the park!
Great summer reading; makes me want to plan a trip!
Montana 1948 : a novel by Larry Watson
I’ve been living with several Larry Watson books for some time now; thinking them over and appreciating his writing. They are thought provoking, evocative and memorable and really capture a sense of people and places with skill and economy. Detailed enough to take you there in a few pages and hold your attention throughout. Montana 1948 is a story of moral dilemma told through the eyes someone who was a 12 year old boy at the time. In that year his small-town sheriff father was involved in the ultimate family/moral test that builds and unravels in a compellingly written novel that remains haunting to me.
I first read American Boy which is an intriguing coming of age story set in 1962 in Willow Falls, Minnesota. Funny, heartbreaking and absorbing with great characters – this pulled me right in, eager to explore other books by this author. This reminded me of another writing instructor’s memorable book – Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy, but with a completely different theme.
I then read Justice, a surprisingly cohesive collection of short stories tracing back the Hayden family of Bentrock, Montana and their offshoots. Great stories abound with the brothers Wes and Frank getting into trouble on an ill-fated hunting trip in North Dakota in 1924 leading off the book in dramatic fashion. But it’s really the clear-headed, understated, character driven writing, often with a sense of menace or uncertainty that stands out. This is a great one to read before settling in for the brilliant Montana 1948. You’ll definitely have some more background to appreciate the family dynamics which come to the forefront in that one.
All three are great reads by a recently discovered author (Thanks to Book Pages) that I now consider a favorite.