Monday, December 11, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

We're All In This Together by Owen King -- A Book Review

Photo: Book's cover, from its Goodreads page

Extremely good writing here, in Owen King's first effort, which I decided to read after having read his recent collaboration with his more-famous father, Sleeping Beauties. The self-titled novella is a bit over-written about in the promos, and it took awhile to grow on me, but the shorter stories are excellent.

More Jack Ketchum than Stephen King, Owen King does sad and weird very well, which I mean as a compliment. (I'm thinking of Ketchum's excellent and sad zombie stories as I write this.) The stories here, though, also have an odd scariness, more of the everyday and common-to-life variety, I guess. There's a 1930s ballplayer who's bringing his kind-of girlfriend to an alley abortionist and wondering if he's a decent person: "Wonders." (That scene isn't to be missed--and it's not grisly at all.) There's a tooth-pulling in a locale straight out of The Revenant--and this in 2006, long before that movie: "Frozen Animals." There's a sad and strange story about life-drifting people who would seem like losers if they weren't like so many of us, and perhaps most of us: "My Second Wife." As I said, the novella picks up steam halfway through and is touching and meaningful by the end, and has perhaps the best fleshed-out characters. One story, about a lost teenage boy running into a shyster and his snake at a hole-in-the-wall mall didn't really work for me, but has things in common with the other stories that worked in those.

The end result is a memorable read, with scenes very Tarantino-like, more of a build-up to a tense payoff than anything horrifying. The writing and characterization are really very good, up to par with his father's characterization at his best, and frankly the overall writing is better here--though Stephen King is a much better storyteller. Overall I prefer Owen King here to anything Joe Hill, his more-famous brother, has written, though in fairness I haven't given Hill's stuff a very serious look. I have given it a serious effort, though--and just can't get into it. Owen King's stuff was much easier to dive into. One wonders why Owen King hasn't become more popular, especially since he shares the famous last name that Hill has gone out of his way to distance himself from. Maybe Owen King hasn't written as much, and not in the same genre. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Man Called Ove

Photo: the paperback's cover, from its Goodreads page

Outstanding book, alternately funny and sad, wise and silly, that became a huge bestseller around the world via word-of-mouth--a true rarity. The author, a Swede living in Stockholm, hadn't had a bestseller before, but the grapevine took off with this one, and rightly so. You should read it.

Ove is an older man who loses his wife and his job in six months. Like most of us, especially as we get older, his life revolves around those two things, and with them both gone, he's got nothing. Or so he thinks. He spends a great deal of time not living, both before he met his wife and after she died, and this book is a good warning to not live that way. Your life is what you make of it, so you'd better make something of it.

The book is never preachy, but it seems very true. Things turn out pretty well, and almost everyone in it is like the Abominable--good people inside who just need someone to flesh it out. It's a little too nice and neat at the end, but that's the kind of pleasant book it is, and you'll be okay with that, even if you're not normally, in books and in daily life. I'm sure as hell not, and it worked really well for me.

Also true to know is that Ove is an older guy who is the definition of a curmudgeon. I've often been called a little grumpy myself, and the thing to know, this book says, is that such people a) have reasons for being that way, all sad and unbelievable, and b) that's not all who and what they are.

What is also good and rare about Ove is that he is no talk and all action (Stupid is as stupid DOES), and that he has a set standard of morals and life lessons he lives by that seem strict and unbending only to those who don't have them and who don't understand those who do. I speak from experience here. But he is a very strong and steadfast guy, of a high moral compass, even if he does come across as just a tick easier to deal with than Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. But where Melvin Udall (the character name just came to me) has a clinical obsessive-compulsive diagnosis (which Ove may also share), Ove has a life of hard knocks and solitary strength that has led him to become this man. 

Seeing him learn to live life again, and yet stay true to his own character, is a helluva ride that you'll want to take. And you won't forget that you took it. I recommend this book very, very much.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2017 Comic Con: John Cusack

I spent all day Saturday in Providence, RI at the 2017 Comic Con. I took TONS of pics and spent a couple mortgage payments there. Lots of pics to come in the following days.

First one up: John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. When I was at the signing table, h
e smirked in a grumpy way when he used the wrong pen, instead of my blue sharpie, and his assistant said he'd sign a different picture in my blue sharpie, which he did. And then he kept the sharpie! I'm glad I got his autograph, but he lived up to his curmudgeon reputation. But it was poetic. Just as Ione Sky gave him a pen in Say Anything, so did I at Comic Con.

Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman

Photo: the hardcover, from its Goodreads page

Better-written than usual for this type of book, Pedro nonetheless continues a string of multi-millionaires complaining of lack of respect and then throwing their teammates and colleagues under the bus. Mike Napoli, for example, may wake up one morning, read a page of this, and wonder WTF?

It is well-written and it has a better narrative flow than is usual for the genre. Michael Silverman has created a structure of Pedro's voice, narrative voice (certainly not Pedro's), author voice (same) and then enmeshes direct quotes from others, like you're reading a screenplay of a documentary. It doesn't sound like it works (and, sporadically, it doesn't), but overall it does work and you read on.

You get the childhood background, but without the grittiness that you think the self-proclaimed poverty would demand. It's smoothed over when maybe it shouldn't have been, but then this isn't really a documentary, it just sounds like one. You get the beginning, with the Dodgers, then the other teams: the Expos, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies. (Did you remember that Pedro's last start was in the 2009 World Series against the Yanks? I did, but it seemed surreal, then and now.) You get the typical beef about the management: the Dodgers and Sox especially.

And this is the first of two things that made me rate this a three rather than a four: it's hypocritical about two things, so glaring you wonder they weren't amended. The first: Every Sox fan knows Pedro's last game was Game 4 of the 2004 World Series. Immediately he let it be known that he wanted a 3-4 year contract, and the Sox wanted to give him the shortest one possible, a year, or two, at most. That was known before the season ended and for as long as it took for him to get a guaranteed 3-4 year deal with the Mets. And it was also known that his shoulder and arm were frayed. More time on the DL; more injuries; more babying at the end...All of this was known. And it was just as well-known that the Sox were right: Pedro had one good year left for the Mets, and then the rest of that contract he mostly spent on the DL. If the Sox had given him a 3-4 year deal, they were going to eat 2-3 years of it. They said that out loud, and they were right. If you were Sox ownership, do you make that deal? The Mets did, as they candidly said, because they had a newer ballpark and the fan base was dwindling, and they had to bring in a name.

The hypocritical part is that this book whines about a lack of respect from the Sox about all this--and then shows in following chapters that they were right! He acknowledges he lasted just one more good season (a very good 2005) and then had one injury after another. The 2009 season with Philadelphia was a half-season for him--he was 5-1 and basically started in September. The rest of the year he was the same place as the previous three--on and off (mostly on) the DL. He narrates all this without saying the Sox were right, but clearly shows in his narration that the Sox were right. He calls it a lack of respect that the Sox weren't willing to give him a long guaranteed contract and then eat 75%-80% of it. But of course that's not what businesses do. And the casual fan could see his physical regression in 2003 and 2004. It was obvious. I wouldn't have given him that contract, either. (He's made hundreds of millions from baseball and endorsements, so don't feel bad for him.)

The other blatant example of hypocrisy is how he states all book long that he was misunderstood, that he was mislabeled, that he didn't throw at batters intentionally, that he wasn't a headhunter--and then, often in the same sentence or paragraph, admits that he hit someone on purpose, and that he often told the player he would do so, and then does it. He threatened players verbally with it all the time, then hit the player--and then says he's misunderstood, that he's not a headhunter. This is so obvious in the book that you shake your head.

But, again, that's what these books do, right? They complain about money, about disrespect, about how the media screws them, all that same stuff all the time. It makes you yearn for another Ball Four, and to truly appreciate how direct and honest it was. Say what you want about Bouton, but he was well aware of how not a God he was, about how lucky he was to do what he did and to make the money he did, and he had actual thoughts to say, and didn't complain too much about management or anything else. Yes, he was traded for Dooley Womack, but he never says he shouldn't have been.