The Savage Instinct by M.M. DeLuca follows Clara Blackstone after her release from a mental institution. She was forcibly committed after a stillbirth and received no actual care. Instead, she suffered a variety of traumatic and dehumanizing “treatments.” At home, Clara struggles to be calm and “normal” enough to avoid her husband Henry’s wrath, but he finds fault everywhere. He never says anything kindly, or even neutrally—every line drips with condescension and loathing. His behavior is so extreme that “caricature” is the only word that comes to mind. It also means that for the first half of the novel, he and Clara repeatedly have the same interaction: She offends him by existing, and he responds with cruelty. read more
I didn’t include The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells on my Classics Club list because it didn’t appeal to me at the time. It’s one of those books that, while influential, is too well known to offer any surprises. Plus, while I knew Spielberg’s movie took liberties since it’s set in modern times, I thought it was a fairly faithful adaptation since it opens and closes with quotes from the book (as read by Morgan Freeman). While some story beats are adapted faithfully, the book is very different. For starters, Tom Cruise flees aliens alongside his children, but the book’s unnamed narrator spends much of the book alone. Many disaster books/movies show people banding together to survive, but the narrator’s isolation adds to his vulnerability and the book’s overall tension.
I bought and read Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal expressly for my Reading World Tour. It was an absorbing read, but very different from my expectations. According to Goodreads, it’s “tender” and “funny” and many reviews describe the narrator, Haňťa, as a relatable booklover, but some of these descriptions strike me as odd. Despite his love of literature and tragic occupation, Haňťa is a mouse-infested drunk, and each poetic description is balanced by something ugly. read more
I’ve experimented with monthly wrap-ups, but a mid-month update is better for me . . .
Eight reviews and a Sunday Short have gone up since my last update:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (4.2)
- The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (4.6)
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (4.0)
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (4.6)
- “Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff (Sunday short)
- The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (4.5)
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (5.0)
- On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (4.8)
- The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen (4.8)
As influential as Lovecraft’s work is, I’m not a fan. Lovecraft uses old-fashioned (and often xenophobic) language and paces his stories in such a way that there’s little tension. That said, he has a few creepy stories and I like how he writes the Old Ones as inconceivably ancient and alien entities that are indifferent to humanity. So when I heard about The Ballad of Black Tom—a Lovecraftian story without the Lovecraft—I had to read it. It’s a retelling of “The Horror at Red Hook,” which Lovecraft wrote with an extra shot of xenophobia after his Brooklyn apartment was burglarized. In an interview with the Lovecraft ezine, Victor LaValle says he intended The Ballad Black Tom as a corrective:
. . . I’m in Harlem on a pretty regular basis. What I wanted to get across most about uptown as a whole was the sense of life and community, exactly the things Lovecraft missed, or simply couldn’t see. His depictions of the immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn were so baffling to me because I simply couldn’t recognize the kinds of places he feared as exactly the kind of places I’m so happy I grew up in, and where I still live now. So my depictions of Harlem had to work as a kind of corrective. If Lovecraft seemed to be suffering blurred vision about these neighborhoods then I wanted my story to be like the contact lenses.