Review: Grendel by John Gardner

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 4

I hesitate to call John Gardner’s Grendel a modern Beowulf from the perspective of the monster, though that’s the first description to come to mind. The open secret among English majors is that Beowulf is a snooze despite its historical value. Happily, Grendel is funny and smart, and creates a sympathetic portrait of one of literature’s original villains. This novel follows Grendel’s 12-year war with Hrothgar and his conflicting emotions towards the men he watches from afar. It begins with Grendel’s irritation towards the slow-witted forest creatures who cannot understand his language and mistake him for a monster:

The doe in the clearing goes stiff at the sight of my horridness, then remembers her legs and is gone. It makes me cross. “Blind prejudice!” I bawl at the splintered sunlight where half a second ago she stood. I wring my fingers, put on a long face. “Ah, the unfairness of everything,” I say, and shake my head. It is a matter of fact that I have never killed a deer in all my life, and never will. Cows have more meat and, locked up in pens, are easier to catch. (7-8)

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Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 2

For those high school students who hit up my blog to “research” their papers: knock it off. You’re reading good stuff, even if you won’t realize it for another decade. Like The Great Gatsby, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace was wasted on me in high school. (Will put this theory to the test when I read Catcher in the Rye in a few weeks.)

From the back cover: Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

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Review: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

a.k.a. Book 1 of the 20 Books of Summer 2015 reading challenge. And we’re off to a less than excellent start… Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead is not the introspective, suspenseful powerhouse it sounds from the back cover:

The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this city until completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out.

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