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Commentaires écrits par
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)
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World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III (Last Policeman Trilogy)
World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III (Last Policeman Trilogy)
Prix : CDN$ 9.71

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Not Prepared for the Loss, Aug. 17 2014
This final volume of the Last Policeman trilogy follows the former (young and novice) police detective, Hank Palace, as he attempts to find his sister and unravel a mystery before the world literally ends. The series has worked admirably not only because of "the asteroid racing towards earth" premise but because of Hank himself. He strikes me as having a bit of Asberger's. Hank is intensely aware and then seemingly lost. He grips the familiar while everything around him is falling apart. The devotion to duty neared sarcasm in the first two novels with it reaching a melancholy, if not, sad desperation in this outing.

Winters told us from the outset that the world would end but I was not quite prepared for the loss. The honesty of the characters facing the inevitable had me rooting for a Hollywood ending. Yet, what is delivered is right regardless of the hole it leaves. The author has shared the message that as flawed as we are as individuals, in our silly tribes and in the collective there was something worth searching and fighting for.

The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II
The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II
by Charles Glass
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.50
40 used & new from CDN$ 4.95

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Different Impression, Aug. 14 2014
The book's description, cover and reviews provide an impression that is much different than the actual content. Rather than being exposed to a study of desertion we receive verbose accounts of just three deserters. While I can see this is a way to humanize the subject it drastically reduces the scope and impact. It bounces back and forth between these three men with the surprising result being a growing lack of interest (at least that was my experience). While well written it just did not engage on an emotional level nor did it give comfort in the degree of research conducted. The best part were the quotes takes from Psychology for the Fighting Man that appeared at the start of each chapter. These soundbites told a better story than the larger book.

The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 13.00
46 used & new from CDN$ 9.32

4.0 étoiles sur 5 I Know What You Did in College, Aug. 12 2014
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
Earlier this year I read The Goldfinch and was astounded. It was my first novel by the author and I was pleased it won the Pulitzer. So I decided to go back and give her first novel a try. The Secret History is dark and brooding in plot, dense and suffocating in atmosphere. The novel has been called a "whydoit" as it reveals the crime and criminals from the outset. That device and the characters representing modern archetypes makes the book highly engaging. I found the group of college students entirely menacing in their intellectual detachment and arrogant entitlement.

There is more than a bit of Leopold and Loeb throughout. Consider this exchange, “But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’ Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.” Soon actions haunt all involved and their tell-tale hearts take many forms offering fascinating views of individual and group behaviour.

In 2013, John Mullan wrote "Ten reasons why we love Donna Tartt's The Secret History" in The Guardian. Mullan included in the list, "It starts with a murder", "It has all the best elements of the campus novel", and "It is obsessed with beauty." Indeed, there are many references to beauty, "Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” Tartt teaches us that beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder given what her characters find beautiful.

The book is thick with complex observations and challenging thoughts, "For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow, unhesitating, relentless. It is not a quality of intelligence that one encounters frequently these days. But though I can digress with the best of them, I am nothing in my soul if not obsessive."

Yet, at its core this is a horror story. One that creatively expresses fear, “There was a horrible, erratic thumping in my chest, as if a large bird was trapped inside my ribcage and beating itself to death." And, more disturbingly, it shows a calm and calculating student growing increasingly comfortable with murder, “A month or two before, I would have been appalled at the idea of any murder at all. But that Sunday afternoon, as I actually stood watching one, it seemed the easiest thing in the world.”

Z-Risen: Outbreak
Z-Risen: Outbreak
Prix : CDN$ 4.35

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Subtle as a Big Wrench, Aug. 7 2014
This review is from: Z-Risen: Outbreak (Kindle Edition)
In 2004, on a whim I picked up JL Bourne's Day By Day Armageddon. I would never have expected to become so enthralled with zombie fiction nor would I have imagined in the ten years following how the genre would explode. It seems there is no discernible demographic when it comes to fans but there are fairly recognizable types of zombie adventures. Bourne's series kicked off the traditional format whereby the world has disintegrated quickly, one or a few are fighting to survive, and the threat is the traditional shambling dead (think Moody's Autumn series).

A few years later authors began introducing faster zombies, smarter zombies, animal zombies, sentient zombies and more (think Brian Keene, David Wellington). Mashups also became popular with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as well as, Night of the Living Trekkies (I am so glad these appear to be over). Then there was the attempt to turn pulp into literary fiction with Zone One by Colson Whitehead (which was fantastic and refreshing). Towering above all of this remains World War Z which was both traditional, original and literary in my opinion. Throughout, and in growing numbers, there has been hundreds of self and assisted self-publishing zombie novels. For the most part, these have been campy good fun, often littered with typos, shallowly disguised would-be film scripts, money grabs, and frustrating introductions to longer planned series. It would be fair to say that one in a hundred is now novel or of any quality.

This long winded introduction (apologies) now gets us to Z-Risen. First off, I appreciate author Long's admittance at the end that he is a happy part-time writer who loves the opportunity to share his work and asks for frank feedback. If this had come out in 2006, it would garner a four to five star review. However, there is nothing original in this book. It has all been done to death. The pace is fast and the action exciting but it offers nothing new (the whole idea of a diary was introduced by Bourne). And, yes, there were typos, wooden characters and improbable dialogue. The whole outing is as subtle as the big wrench employed by one character to hove in undead heads.

The cover art, price and content suggest it to be more of a comic book and on that level it is a deal. Read it on rainy summer afternoon at the cottage, on your commute or in a coffee shop and it will entertain. It delivers in the traditional sense but I find that such efforts are getting entirely repetitive.

Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 14.44
48 used & new from CDN$ 13.50

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Is the Joke on Us?, Aug. 6 2014
This review is from: Infinite Jest (Paperback)
In May, 2014 the first annual David Foster Wallace Conference was hosted by the Illinois State University Department of English. This event took place six years after Foster Wallace took his own life and eighteen years following the first printing of Infinite Jest. I must admit having previously attempted to digest the thousand pages of prose in the late nineties and failed. This time around with nearly two decades more of living and reading accrued I both succeeded and failed. I will explain that claim momentarily.

The novel was included by Time magazine in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. By most accounts the book has sold approximately two hundred and fifty thousand copies. It continues to invite commentary and creative tributes. Jenni B. Baker, Editor of The Found Poetry Review, started a project in 2013 called Erasing Infinite that produces erasure poetry page by page from Infinite Jest. In 2009, a challenge was thrown out to people to read the novel over the summer. A blog was dedicated to this action that is still current with observations, insights and interpretations of Foster Wallace’s work. One can easily find numerous other essays, wikis, blogs, testimonials and homages (the author once made an appearance in animated form on The Simpsons).

Dave Eggers wrote the Foreward in the edition I waded through. He and authors such as Jonathan Franzen are said to have been influenced by Foster Wallace. Eggers honestly and beautifully introduces the original complexity that is Infinite Jest. It presents the debate that continues regarding fiction, namely, should it be easy to read and popular (think James Patterson) or “challenging, generally and thematically, and even on a sentence-by-sentence basis”. Eggers goes onto explain that it took him four weeks to read Infinite Jest suggesting that it is both daunting and worth savoring. On its originality he compares it to “a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart.”

Infinite Jest has been called an encyclopedic novel with three hundred and eighty eight endnotes. Those endnotes signal an amazing attention to detail and a curious insecurity at the same time. By no means is this an easy read but it can be a rewarding one. Just be warned that he employs a variety writing modes and voices that can trip you up and frustrate. Thrown about is dense jargon and often invented vocabulary from the tennis world, pharmaceuticals and geo-politics. Abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and explanatory footnotes and endnotes make it resemble either a brilliant college student’s paper or a troubling diary found on a homeless person.

Without a doubt the semi-satiric future North America he creates is astounding. The United States, Canada, and Mexico together compose a unified North American superstate known as the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. Many reviews refer to the novel as a screwball comedy but I found it much, much darker. Certainly there are funny bits throughout including the fact that corporations are allowed the opportunity to bid for and purchase naming rights for each calendar year for tax revenue. This is a tremendous foreshadowing of the extent of brand sponsorship we now experience. The years of Subsidized Time (and structure given to the novel) are:

Year of the Whopper
Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile
Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
Year of Glad

The action largely involves a junior tennis academy and a nearby substance-abuse recovery center. Both settings are drawn from Foster Wallace’s own life. He was a regionally ranked junior tennis player and one who suffered from depression for most of his life. That depression necessitated the use of medication.

The plot is outlandish. It involves a lost film that causes those who watch it to want nothing but to watch it continually until they die. Even more wild is the introduction of Quebec separatists who want the film for terrorism purposes. As a resident of Quebec who has been treated to the laughable (but very concerning) parochial, xenophobic and illogical arguments thrown up by the beautiful province’s social and intellectual luddites, I must admit this aspect was a treat.

Yet, I wondered how Foster Wallace thought to integrate French separatists into the novel. Was it because he actually considered them a joke or was it something else? I will never be sure but the inclusion of the Bloc Quebecois, PQ, FLQ and the wonderfully pathetic and fictional wheelchair-bound Quebecois secessionists he names Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents was fun stuff. He riddles the latter with bizarre cultural practices and hockey-team hazing rituals that reach dangerous levels. Along for the ride is a pan-Canadian Resistance who fight an insurgency against the union and for added measure there are Albertan ultra-rightists including the Calgarian Pro-Canadian Phalanx.

But this is all secondary to Wallace’s endless skewering, ruminations and speculations on addiction, corporate power, entertainment, art, and tennis (somehow in 1996 he predicted the rise of Venus Williams who plays a very minor role). In a 2008 retrospective by The New York Times, Infinite Jest was described as "a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric." That is all very well and good but as I teased at the outset, I both succeeded and failed at reading it. I got through it, contemplated the content and so far have concluded that either this is one big choppy mess or perhaps buried throughout is the secret of life. The answer may lie in the title itself with the inference being Foster Wallace was having us on.

The End of the Point: A Novel (P.S.)
The End of the Point: A Novel (P.S.)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 11.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Do Not Visit This Family, Aug. 3 2014
Graver's multi-generational tale started with an intriguing slow build that quickly eroded like a storm struck beach cliff. It falters by being too ambitious and self-serious. The family it chronicles are not "exceptional" as the book's description claims. They are largely unsympathetic, bland and entitled who punctuate their lives with loud moans and complaints. The whole lot of them shun change and diversity. To gloss over this fact, the author employs Scottish house servants in a lame attempt to communicate the family's largesse. This does not work and is actually uncomfortable.

The tritely clever title alludes to near continuous changes at their summer community and in their lives that they cannot objectively recognize. The plot mainly follows Helen who we learn to detest very early on and her son Charlie who we learn deserves his mother. Having to follow these two is like inviting the most obnoxious couple you know for a five day weekend. Graver tries to make multiple points .... you cannot escape yourself, change is inevitable, and surroundings cannot alone make someone happy. Yet, on this last point, this unattractive brood continues to return again and again.

Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52)
Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52)
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Co-dependent Relationship, July 28 2014
This rebooted series of the Batman franchise continues to pull me in. Though this was the weakest of the three volumes I have read, it was still very interesting to see how the author and artist dealt with one of the grandest co-dependent relationships in comic book history. Here we have the return of the menacing and psychotic Joker whose face has been sliced off and distractedly reattached (graphic novel indeed!). Of course, he wants Batman to pay for something...maybe just anything. The fascination the two hold for each is downright uncomfortable as is their inability to put the relationship to an end (psychiatrists would have a heyday).

The resolution was satisfying but like Moriarity at the Reichenbach Falls, one expects that the Joker will reappear with plenty of deadly gags in the future. On a side note, I am so out of touch with comics in general, I stopped buying them about thirty years ago, that I was perplexed by the number of sidekicks Batman now has. It is great to see Batman using actual detective skills in these stories which provides the linkage to his roots while making for more intrigue and mystery...heroes are often more relatable when they are not so "super".

Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Nearly Bat-tastic, July 26 2014
This volume wraps up the story involving the shadowy force that has controlled Gotham since its inception (or does it?). I love the dark energy the authors and artists have imbued in Batman. He now resembles the original detective that Bob Kane established in the 1940's. While the Owl story was a tad weak it was balanced with amazing atmosphere and a sharp engrossing tease dealing with Alfred's family and their service to the Waynes. I am hooked on the series.

The Pale House (A Gregor Reinhardt Novel)
The Pale House (A Gregor Reinhardt Novel)
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Prix : CDN$ 10.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A Principled Soldier, July 26 2014
A principled soldier of the first world war turned Berlin detective turned military policeman, Gregor Reinhardt, is trying to make sense of how Germany followed the Nazis and what will happen to his country as the Second World War comes to its conclusion. This introspection has led him to belong to a secret anti-Hitler resistance. All the while he continues discovering and solving crimes as the Nazis retreat. In this second of the series, Reinhardt is back in Yugoslavia in 1945.

At the outset of the book he is reassigned to the Feldjaegerkorps whose formation became necessary in the latter part of the war to help maintain discipline near the front lines. Here he discovers a massacre which hides a deeper conspiracy. McCallin treats us to the byzantine structure of the Nazi war machine where fanatics still exist in large number, the cruel Ustaše, and shadowy partisans. The author prides himself on historical accuracy and that dedication adds to the well constructed and exciting story, as well as, interesting characters who populate Reinhardt's world. I will keep tuning in to see what fate lies in store for the detective.

Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52)
Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52)
Prix : CDN$ 8.64

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Dark Detective Reboot, July 23 2014
Batman remains my favourite comic book hero. I began reading his adventures in my youth in the seventies. That era was enjoyable but I was more drawn to the earliest portrayals not because of his brooding and backstory but because Batman was positioned as a detective. He was a street crime fighter not a "superhero" tangling with outlandish villains in increasingly bizarre scenarios. To this day I believe the introduction of Robin as a youthful Watson changed the trajectory of Batman's character and though it increased sales, it created a path leading to satire rather than intelligent gritty action.

I have bought only a handful of graphic novels in my adult years so purchased The Court of Owls in hopes I would reconnect with the detective in the bat suit. It sets out well and gives the sense of an early Gotham. I enjoyed that the plot took time to develop and introduce the title's menace. The artwork is very good though the text a bit heavy giving the impression of an imbalance. Overall, it was satisfying but not just for my original purchase intent, additionally, I was treated to an imaginative reboot that credits the canvass Bob Kane and Bill Finger established in 1939 when they first sketched the dark vigilante. Suffice it to say, I have ordered Volume 2.

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