the long walk

I can’t remember when I picked up The Long Walk by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)… it was a gift for my husband a while ago. He recently read it and asked me to read it so we could talk about it. Book club! 🙂 From Goodreads:

Every year, on the first day of May, one hundred teenage boys meet for an event known throughout the country as “The Long Walk.” Among this year’s chosen crop is sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty. He knows the rules: that warnings are issued if you fall under speed, stumble, sit down. That after three warnings… you get your ticket. And what happens then serves as a chilling reminder that there can be only one winner in the Walk—the one that survives…

What I thought would be a typical teen dystopia in the vein of The Hunger Games (never read, seen the movies) turned out to be something else entirely. Participation in the Long Walk is voluntary, and for much of the book that bothered me. I thought that it should be mandatory, a lottery or something (like in Hunger Games) but THEN I thought, no. This must be voluntary. Boys selected for the Long Walk against their will would protest—they’d flee the country and go into hiding, anything to get out of it. Citizens would be in an uproar (think the Vietnam draft… and that was for a war! This is just for “The Prize” at the end, anything the winner wants for the rest of his life). Oohh… is this book an allegory for military service?? Anyway, brilliant.

King makes subtle statements on adolescent masculinity in our culture, which I’ve noticed in other books of his. But in The Long Walk, it might be the first King book I’ve read without any supernatural elements. This makes the idea of a military state in the (near?) future, where we’d cheer 100 boys literally walking to their deaths frighteningly plausible. In The Long Walk, much of the “action” is cerebral—the internal dialogue and philosophical musings of Ray, mostly. But King is so talented at character development, he manages to keep a the repetitive, singular activity of walking compelling for almost 400 pages. Also in this one, there are no subplots or intersecting storylines. It’s just the Walk, from start to finish. There’s intense, relentless focus on the boys’ horrifying physical and mental breakdowns after hours and miles of walking without rest.

The Long Walk came out in 1979, but it still has many points relevant to today’s American culture—some shockingly so. I was especially struck by how similar the feel of the Long Walk event is to reality competition shows, in that people voluntarily put themselves in the spotlight competing to win (whatever), usually at their own or others’ expense (dignity), risk, and suffering. And how society is addicted to this kind of sick voyeurism.

Awesome book, I loved it! If you’re looking for a psychological thriller with some elements of horror and dystopia that will keep you thinking about it long after, check out The Long Walk. It would be a great warm-up for Halloween!

Read from August 23 to September 3, 2015.

authority

Last week I drove to Wisconsin for my family reunion and decided on Authority by Jeff VanderMeer first, to listen to on the way up there. From Goodreads:

For thirty years, a secret agency called the Southern Reach has monitored expeditions into Area X—a remote and lush terrain mysteriously sequestered from civilization. After the twelfth expedition, the Southern Reach is in disarray, and John Rodriguez (aka “Control”) is the team’s newly appointed head. From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and more than two hundred hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the secrets of Area X begin to reveal themselves—and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve.

I read Annihilation last year and thought it was great—a mind-bending and gripping slim fantastical sci-fi novel that sparked my imagination and kept me turning pages. Authority wasn’t quite on the same level, but I was compelled enough to listen all the way through. The characters in this one weren’t as intriguing as the expedition members in Annihilation. In general, I’d say Authority was long on words and short on action, especially in the middle section. The audiobook version I listened to was narrated well, by Bronson Pinchot (Cousin Balki from Perfect Strangers, for all you TGIF early 90s kids!)

I like that VanderMeer doesn’t go with white males in this trilogy—from the women in the first book to a Latino character as the protagonist in this one. In Authority, you start to wonder more about Area X’s wider effects on humans: physical, emotional, psychological? The interviews between Control and the biologist were great, and that ending! No spoilers, but it was a nail-biter and a good cliffhanger setting up the next installment, Acceptance (which I have, hoping to get to it by the end of the summer).

Authority is not a stand-alone novel the way Annihilation is. This second book is a slow, creeping mystery and (hopefully) a good bridge between the first and last volumes. I wanted this to be as good as Annihilation, but I still can’t wait to dig into Acceptance soon to find out what Area X is really all about.

Listened to audiobook on July 8, 2015.

the farm

For my final round of orchestra rehearsal commutes this past month, I listened to Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm on audiobook. From Goodreads:

“If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.”

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes. “Your mother… she’s not well,” his father tells him. “She’s been imagining things—terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.” Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: “Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.” Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

I picked this up on a whim browsing my local library last month. I recognized Tom Rob Smith’s name from the Child 44 movie info that’s all over the place lately, and decided to give this one a shot when I saw it on the shelf. The Farm‘s premise is great, with awesome potential for a suspenseful drama.

While there is quite a lot of drama, I’m not sure it was quite as suspenseful as I was expecting. Most of the book is in “tell” mode rather than “show”—more than half of it is Daniel’s mother Tilde recounting events leading up to her fleeing Sweden and ending up at Daniel’s apartment in London. Her account is engaging and rather convincing, but I do wish there was more of a balance—we’re supposed to be wondering whether she’s telling the truth or not, but there’s little to counter her story.

The Farm is a slow, steady, intense burn with some twists and turns, and Smith is a talented storyteller. I was just hoping for more action in this psychological drama. I’ll keep Child 44 on my radar, though—people love it and the movie looks like it could be great!

Listened to audio from April 17 to May 5, 2015.

mind of winter

Last month I was looking for an audiobook that was creepy and not too long for my orchestra rehearsal commutes, and found Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke. Edited from Goodreads:

Thirteen years ago Holly and her husband, Eric, went to Siberia to adopt the sweet, dark-haired child they had wanted so desperately. How they laughed at the nurses of Pokrovka Orphanage #2 with their garlic and superstitions, and ignored their insistent warnings. After all, their fairy princess Tatiana—Baby Tatty—was perfect. On Christmas Day, Holly senses that something is not right, and has never been right since they brought their daughter home. Now Tatty is a dangerously beautiful, petulant, and often erratic teenager, and Holly feels there is something evil lurking within their house. She and Tatiana are alone. Eric is stuck on the roads, and none of the other guests for Christmas dinner will be able to make it through the snow. With each passing hour, the blizzard rages and Tatiana’s mood darkens, her behavior becoming increasingly disturbing… until, in every mother’s worst nightmare, Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.

This book had its ups and downs for me, but ultimately came through with a strong finish. Most of the book is spent inside Holly’s head, and she’s paranoid, self-absorbed, obsessive, and honestly not all that interesting (except her backstory, revealed bit by bit in flashbacks). I think this may have been more effective as a short story instead of a novel—so much was repetitive, like “Something followed them home from Russia” or saying the whole name of the orphanage over and over… but the ending was such a gut-punch that I had the immediate urge to start the book all over again.

I had some theories and guesses as to what Mind of Winter was all about, but I was surprised in the end and I have to give the author credit for building the tension throughout. Looking back, it was a brilliant slow burning suspense, with things becoming more and more… off and not-quite-right as the story moves towards that climax.

Not a new all-time favorite, but a great psychological thriller that has stayed with me after I finished it!

Listened to audiobook from March 31 to April 13, 2015.

the silent wife

I received a copy of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison from a friend several months ago (a year?) and finally decided to read it in March, being a perfect fit for the KC Library Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program. From Goodreads:

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

I know I’m not the first to say it, and I totally agree—the comparisons to Gone Girl are way off. Sure, it’s a messed up marriage, like in Gone Girl. But The Silent Wife is less thriller than Gone Girl, for starters. While the final “act” is set up in the blurb above (and I kind of wish the blurb hadn’t given that away), Jodi and Todd are less conniving and sociopathic  than Amy and Nick, but still pretty awful to each other. Psychology is a huge element in this novel, with Jodi even being a psychologist herself. There were plenty of twists and turns in the story but I saw a few of them coming, and the ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me.

This was deliciously dark fiction, though, with plenty of sinister moments, and Harrison’s writing style and pacing keeps you turning the pages for more. I loved how she made Chicago another character in the story, mentioning specific locations, however, the language wasn’t quite right for Chicagoans in spots. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I’ve been many, many times to visit family there, and never once have I heard anyone I know from Chicago say “hell’s bells.” This would make a great book club choice, since there’s a lot to discuss: cheating and what you do or don’t do about it, what a marriage looks like after 20+ years, childhood trauma, and so on. The Silent Wife came out a couple of years ago so I’m sure many have read it already, but I don’t want to give out spoilers!

Basically it was a good book—not quite great, but still an enjoyable read if you’re into dark fiction about marriages and interpersonal relationships. I was sorry to find out later that Harrison died right before The Silent Wife was published, making it her only novel. I would have been interested to read more from her as she developed her style and voice past her debut.

The Silent Wife is my fifth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from March 15 to 20, 2015.

before i go to sleep

The first book I read on my vacation in Hawaii last week was Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, bought as an ebook on sale a few months ago. I heard it was going to be released as a film next month, so I thought now would be a good time to finally read it! From Goodreads:

“As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me…”

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love—all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.

I’m a little shocked I got through it on vacation—I usually NEVER read when visiting family. But Before I Go to Sleep was a real page-turner, an excellent psychological thriller that I couldn’t stop thinking about between reading sessions. Christine’s confusion and fear are palpable, you really root for her all the way through. By the end I couldn’t put the book down—I had to know what was going to happen. She’s both a reliable and unreliable narrator, if you can be both at the same time! Gotta say, I also liked that the protagonist is a middle-aged woman. I’m sure it’s not uncommon, but I don’t seem to personally encounter it much in the books I read, for some reason.

I think this premise could have been tough to pull off, but Watson does a great job maintaining believability and suspense throughout. There are a lot of questions, twists and turns here—it reminded me of the 2000 film Memento and reading Gone Girl a couple of years ago. Maybe I’m gullible but the twist ending totally got me. I can see Before I Go to Sleep translating well to film. I definitely recommend for fans of neo-noir and psychological thrillers, and even if you’re not usually a reader of those genres (like me, although I’m starting to get into them more) it’s an accessible and compelling story.

Read from August 13 to 20, 2014.