Five Easy Pieces

August 15, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 9:28 pm

Joe Hill has written a helluva good ghost story.  It’s a supernatural bonanza of revenge and survival.  Judas Coyne is a retired death-metal recording artist.  He’s in his early fifties and lives with his 23-year-old girlfriend Georgia (actually it Mary Beth, but she is the latest in a long line of girlfriends he nicknames by the state they’re from) in a secluded house in rural New York.  He also is an avid collector of all things morbid, macabre and of the occult.  One day his assistant Danny discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, a commodity in the form of a black suit the ghost wore in his corporeal state.  After reading the history of the ghost, Jude doesn’t hesitate – he pays the $1,000 “buy it now” price tag and forgets about it.

The suit arrives in a large heart-shaped box and the book takes off from there and hardly lets up for the next 350+ pages.  The reader soon discovers Jude didn’t come across this suit by chance.  A deep, dark history involving the ghost, Jude and “Florida” (former girlfriend Anna) emerges.  The ghost doesn’t waste any time pushing his agenda of death upon Jude and Georgia.  Aided by Jude’s dogs (Bon and Angus, a tribute to the original singer and guitarist of AC/DC), Jude and Georgia escape the horrors of home and head on a bloody road trip to find the answer of how to rid themselves of the ghost.

This is Hill’s first novel (he has a collection of short stories published prior to this) and he has created an original and engrossing read.  The book is littered with musical references which are humorous, not gimmicky.  The violence and gore is plentiful.  The dreams and visions Jude pulls the reader into – some his own, some fueled by the ghost – are harrowing and flush with excellent description and suspense.  It reminds me of good Stephen King, before he got sidetracked into bloated, lackluster “thrillers” like Bag of Bones, Hearts of Atlantis and Cell.

Stephen King should take this book and read it a few times.  It may stir up some fresh “old” ideas for him.  And by the way, if King needs some advice from Joe Hill, I’m sure Joe would never turn down a call from his dear old dad…

July 24, 2007

Great Book…soon to be a (great?) Coen Brothers flick.

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 10:29 pm

Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country for Old Men. This is a helluva read. I was aware of the general storyline and the buzz the film has gotten since the Cannes Film Festival. I had never read any of McCarthy’s books, so the style threw me a bit at first. He doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue and doesn’t really use any punctuation except the period. He certainly doesn’t use an exclamation point! (Ha!) Also, he doesn’t write how the characters speak, he replicates their speech. I have never read an author that so authentically conveyed the locality of a book’s setting and its lifelong citizens.

The plot centers on Llewelyn Moss and his not-so-smart idea to lift $2 million+ from the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. Out hunting he stumbles upon dead bodies, bricks of heroin, loads of cash and shot up vehicles. He makes away with the cash but can’t resist coming back to the scene in the middle of the night to check it out again. Big mistake because someone is staking out the site to see if the $$ thief comes back for more. Moss escapes but the chase is on.

Moss continues to stay a step ahead but makes a few additional errors in judgment which keep the antagonist on his trail. Piecing this scenario together with a couple of seemingly unconnected murders is Sherriff Ed Tom Bell. He knows the man chasing Moss is a professional, a soulless (and that is understating the overall lack of morals or remorse this bad mother embodies) son-of-a-bitch who no one can identify…because he leaves no one to identify him. Unless, in the case of a lucky gas station owner, fate dictates otherwise. This scene plays out incredibly intense on the written page and is touted as a “moment” in the upcoming film. There are scenes of such frank violence and cold brutality that I can only imagine the Coen brothers filming it. The mood, setting and pace is very reminiscent of “Blood Simple”, the Coens’ first film.

When the book ends, it’s not happy. I wasn’t surprised by this, there just isn’t any other way for it to go. Pick this one up and prepare to not want to put it down- so cliche I know, but man it’s good.

April 26, 2007

Third great reason to return…

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 11:16 pm

My new job puts me back on the train heading downtown in the morning and back home in the evening. I did this a few years back for over two years and missed the fact that it afforded me the opportunity to basically read a book a week. The first one I picked to read upon my return to the world of public transit was The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.

It’s a great read, full of action, fantasy, heartache and great prose that appreciates the world of stories and writing. Young David, 12 years old, has witnessed his mother slowly die of illness, his father find new love, marry and then welcome another son, while World War II rages on. London is being bombed regularly and David’s new family is transplanted to his stepmother’s family estate in the English countryside. David sleeps in the room of her great uncle, Jonathon, who disappeared as a young boy. David, an avid reader and lover of the written word, much to the credit of his dead mother, soon realizes the books in his room are living things and the sunken garden in his backyard is the portal to a world so bizarre and fantastic he wouldn’t believe it if he wasn’t thrust into it. It is in this world that David is faced with seemingly impossible challenges, incredible friendships and the chance to save himself and the alternate reality he has stumbled into. This world is inhabited by storytellers who pass on tales by firelight and also by twisted versions of classic fairy tales. It is also savage and violent and the author spares no detail in conveying the dangerous and grotesque perils David and his companions face. And lurking behind the action is the Crooked Man, shadowing David, working his sinister magic and murderous devices to deliver David to his fate.

The opening chapter of the book sucks you in by detailing David’s love of literature, his mother’s declining health and the bond between them forged by both:

“Before she became ill, David’s mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren’t alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren’t paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn’t exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

Stories were different though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”

Damn, that’s poetry. It’s a great read and a great writer.

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