Well! We are all back at the grindstone after multiple Thanksgivings and various nefarious activities, so I thought we'd offer up a triple-header of brief book reviews. Since my semester is drawing to a close, and I have been teaching the undergraduate edition of my Weird Stories class (which ends with a reading of perhaps my favorite weird book ever), today's theme will be New Weird Novels.
First up, Padgett Powell's new novel, The Interrogative Mood. We've been fans of Powell's for many years, particularly the short story "Mr. Irony Renounces Irony," which for the better part of a decade we walked around the apartment/house quoting at random. This new novel isn't quite a comeback, as Powell never stopped writing, but it does represent a new public interest in the man, which Rhian commented upon in an earlier post. Powell deserves it; the book is great fun--very smart, unexpected, bizarre, and just long enough. It consists entirely of questions, much like William Walsh's recent book Questionstruck, which I also liked, and in fact blurbed. Powell's book is different--much breezier, less rigorously po-mo, and about more stuff than pretty much all the other novels this year combined. The only reasonable response to it is to answer, at random, a page of questions. And so, my answers to page 64: 1) Any old paper is fine. 2) I have no idea. 3) Halberd yes, halyard no. 4) Yes. 5) Sometimes, I suppose. 6) I doubt it. 7) Probably not. 8) Yes, I certainly can.
Up next, Margaret Atwood's new one, The Year of the Flood, which is a sequel to her wonderful Oryx and Crake--indeed, the new paperback editions of that earlier novel now declare it "Book one of the MaddAdam trilogy," which suggests that the inventor of the LongPen is not through with this particular post-apocalypse. Personally I'm glad of it. I love Atwood in her sci-fi mode, and this book is every bit as good as the first, if perhaps a bit too dependent upon it in its formal approach. It consists of two parallel narratives, one in first person, one in third, from two narrators, onetime members of an environmental religious cult, and now two of the only surviving people in the world, in the wake of the events of the first book. The narratives here consist of a brief frame story in the ruined present, with generous helpings of flashback, just like Snowman's narrative in O&C, and we get to see some of the same characters again, this time from a new perspective, and with new contextual weight. Atwood is doing a marvelous job creating this world, and she sketches out the religious cult ("God's Gardeners") with something resembling breathless glee.
Finally, and I'll keep this short, is Stephen King's new one, Under the Dome. For several years I enjoyed nothing more than obsessing over my obsession with King, but all of a sudden I don't feel like talking much about it. I gave up about a third of the way through this one, and I think I have given up on King for good. There's a reference in the note in the back of UTD to some kind of heavy editing that supposedly took place, but I see no evidence of it here, as the plot, delightful as it is (inexplicable force field surrounds small Maine town), plods along dreadfully, with the exact same kind of gloomy events (rapes, beatings, murders) repeating themselves over and over every 25 pages or so. (King's embarrassing loathing of academia, by the way, is on display here as well, with probably the most pathetic portrayal of an English professor I've ever read. In what world are people really like this? And does he think professors don't ever read him? Hell, some of us even teach him.) It ought to be light, quick, and fun, and ends up being ponderous and depressing. I dunno, maybe it's me that's changed. But 35 bucks is a lot to pay for a book, and I think I've just dropped my final wad of scratch on the Master of Horror, alas. Great cover, though--lurid, glossy, and over the top. Tell you what--just grab this cover image, print it out, stick it to your fridge, and call it a day.