Review: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Can't Get There From Here

Wow. I thought picking up The Sparrow was a bit daunting – I never thought staring at the blinky cursor, trying to wrap my mind around all of the feelings the story evoked would be even more intimidating. But those feelings are bigger than even the Big Thinks the revolved around, and there are so many. It’s like Charlie walking into the Meadow Room at the chocolate factory, knowing everything was edible and he could eat to his heart’s content. That’s fantastic – but where does he start?

Trish over at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity (who is as wonderful and fabulous as her taste in books)(well, except for East of Eden, but I think that disconnect is more my fault, heh) chose Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow for her September readalong. A few other bookish friends had been clamoring for me to read it, too, and…

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Mini-Review: Be Safe I Love You, by Cara Hoffman.

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Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You shattered my heart as a reader and made me love returning war veterans’ stories in the same way Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell The Wolves I’m Home did for coming-of-age stories. You just wanted to crawl inside the story and hug so many of the characters. Kind hard to believe the stories weren’t real – that’s how alive the characters felt. I didn’t like Hoffman’s other book I had read (So Much Pretty), but the reviews from respected readers were so persuasive, I had to give it a try. So glad I did. Of course, it also made me want to smack Hoffman upside the head for not writing her other book this way – as a writer, I was definitely paying attention to so many things she did. I’m keeping my eye out for the paperback release to I can pick it up and read it again. 4 of 5 stars.

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey.

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I can’t remember who recommended M.R. Carey’s Girl with All the Gifts to me, but when I was browsing through my library’s e-collection, it was there and so I snatched it up. It’s billed as an end-of-the-world-type story where a tween girl waits in a cell for army-type dudes to collect her – at gunpoint – in a chair for class. They muzzle and cuff her despite the girl’s – Melanie’s – jokes that she won’t bite. I thought it would be like White Horse or maybe 5th Wave. I dived in, despite my quickly waning interest in post-apocalypse and dystopia tales.

The story didn’t help itself: the voice sounded child-like, like Room. It bugged. I wasn’t going to keep reading. Especially when I found out it was about zombies. Wth?! I am also over zombies, in case you needed to know. I didn’t care that they aren’t even called zombies – festering undead by any other name (including “hungries”) are still zombies. But then this thing happened – Melanie found her voice, for one; it grew up a little and lost it’s naivete and overly simple sentence structure. I began caring about Melanie. She hooked me. She hooked me with her love for her teacher, Miss Justineau, and for some rather interesting mythology.

The equation grew: Girl was more like Room + the movie Hanna + Pandora (of the opened-box fame).

I enjoyed the strength Carey gave Melanie at the same time he gave her more and more mysteries to puzzle over. She knew nothing. She put answers together a step or two behind the reader. And yet…I found her adorable and fascinating. She didn’t grate on me the way Justineau’s wretchedly flat mothering instincts did. I thought Justineau and Parks were horribly underdeveloped. Caldwell was delightful for all that she was evil (and can the actress who plays Leonard’s mom on Big Bang please play Caldwell in the film?).

The more I read, the more I needed to know how it all ended. Big, big things happened early on – how could there be more plot in a very plot-heavy story? What was left? A lot more. Sure, I skimmed over chapters (especially when I just wanted to know what this big, huge, YOU-WON’T-BELIEVE-IT! ending was), but for the most part the events and pacing felt right. Natural.

In the end, Girl with All the Gifts won me over. The ending was perfect – and yes, surprising. Sure I’ll recommend it to my zombie-loving reader friends. But not just them. Because Girl was a love story more than it was a fun-filled, zombiefied, end-of-the-world action story. It asks how far you’d go for redemption, and love, and what sacrifices you’d be willing to make. There were a lot of ethical, what-it-means-to-be-human questions raised. And not all the answers are predictably unpredictable.

4 of 5 stars (if you lop off the rough start).

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey.

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I can’t remember who recommended M.R. Carey’s Girl with All the Gifts to me, but when I was browsing through my library’s e-collection, it was there and so I snatched it up. It’s billed as an end-of-the-world-type story where a tween girl waits in a cell for army-type dudes to collect her – at gunpoint – in a chair for class. They muzzle and cuff her despite the girl’s – Melanie’s – jokes that she won’t bite. I thought it would be like White Horse or maybe 5th Wave. I dived in, despite my quickly waning interest in post-apocalypse and dystopia tales.

The story didn’t help itself: the voice sounded child-like, like Room. It bugged. I wasn’t going to keep reading. Especially when I found out it was about zombies. Wth?! I am also over zombies, in case you needed to know. I didn’t care that they aren’t even called zombies – festering undead by any other name (including “hungries”) are still zombies. But then this thing happened – Melanie found her voice, for one; it grew up a little and lost it’s naivete and overly simple sentence structure. I began caring about Melanie. She hooked me. She hooked me with her love for her teacher, Miss Justineau, and for some rather interesting mythology.

The equation grew: Girl was more like Room + the movie Hanna + Pandora (of the opened-box fame).

I enjoyed the strength Carey gave Melanie at the same time he gave her more and more mysteries to puzzle over. She knew nothing. She put answers together a step or two behind the reader. And yet…I found her adorable and fascinating. She didn’t grate on me the way Justineau’s wretchedly flat mothering instincts did. I thought Justineau and Parks were horribly underdeveloped. Caldwell was delightful for all that she was evil (and can the actress who plays Leonard’s mom on Big Bang please play Caldwell in the film?).

The more I read, the more I needed to know how it all ended. Big, big things happened early on – how could there be more plot in a very plot-heavy story? What was left? A lot more. Sure, I skimmed over chapters (especially when I just wanted to know what this big, huge, YOU-WON’T-BELIEVE-IT! ending was), but for the most part the events and pacing felt right. Natural.

In the end, Girl with All the Gifts won me over. The ending was perfect – and yes, surprising. Sure I’ll recommend it to my zombie-loving reader friends. But not just them. Because Girl was a love story more than it was a fun-filled, zombiefied, end-of-the-world action story. It asks how far you’d go for redemption, and love, and what sacrifices you’d be willing to make. There were a lot of ethical, what-it-means-to-be-human questions raised. And not all the answers are predictably unpredictable.

4 of 5 stars (if you lop off the rough start).

Review: A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout.

I’ve had some great luck lately with travel books. Not books that are about traveling, mind you, although A House in the Sky certainly discusses Amanda Lindhout’s extensive travels to remote and exotic locations around the world; rather, books I’ve picked up to read while traveling. I hadn’t planned on reading House in the Sky this past week: I’d packed (the fantastic) The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker and the delightful (from what I’ve heard) collection of essays from Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? One longer book (Harry Quebert, which I immediately delved into) and a slimmer volume. Balance. Perfection. And then I accidentally got on a train to Boston without either of them.

Luckily, there was the bookstand at South Station to rescue me. My sister had asked earlier if I’d read House in the Sky, and while I answered I hadn’t, I did add that it had a starred listing on my TBR list. When I spotted it on the shelf just at eye-level, I took it as a sign and snatched up the last copy. And then devoured much of it on the way home.

I knew the memoir involved Lindhout’s international travels, to counties in South America, southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa. I wasn’t prepared for her travel escapades to comprise the first half of the novel – and since it’s a rather hefty book at 400 pages, that’s quite a bit of travel notes. Lindhout’s stories flowed well, though, so while I was impatient to find out what happened when she was taken hostage in Somalia, I was able to enjoy the stories of her adventures on their own. A good thing, given I wasn’t expecting so many.

When Lindhout did recount her time spent as a hostage of the Somali extremists, I was surprised by the grace and strength she showed both during her time in captivity and in the recounting of the ordeal. She and her collaborator, NYTimes Magazine contributor Sara Corbett matched well, and found a style that was both simple and lyrical. Punches weren’t pulled, but nothing felt gratuitous in a situation that very easily could have been written in a more salacious approach.

I also very much enjoyed the decision to break up stories into very short chapters or section worked well; I enjoyed being able to put down the book during the week to join in the conversation around me (because I couldn’t easily put the book down) or to stop and think about the passage I had just read (which I did often).

Amanda Lindhout’s story is one that resonated, one I know I’ll think of often. I discovered page by page a story of strength and hope and having the will to survive, how to push oneself far past where you ever should have to in order to survive. It’s about finding peace with what you’ve been given and learning to be who you need to be in the moment. That there were so many notes of forgiveness in Lindhout’s memoir astounds and humbles me.

Absolutely, this is a memoir you should not pass up. (4 1/2 of 5 stars.)

Review: Only Time Will Tell, by Jeffrey Archer.

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Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell probably isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own. One of my reading buddies at work recommended it to me, and since I’ve dodged the last several books he’s recommended to me, I felt like I needed to pick one up before I was ex-communicated. That and I ran across it while looking for some books to borrow from the library.

Not that it’s that far out of my preferred reading choices. It’s about a young boy, Harry Clifton, as he grows up in England, during the years following the first World War and ending just prior to the second. The boy’s father (or who he thinks is his father) died under mysterious circumstances, only Harry’s mum has led him to believe his father died in the war. Harry’s mother makes sacrifice after sacrifice to ensure Harry has a better life than she did, conspiring with his school teacher, Sunday school teacher, and family friend Old Jack Tar to get Harry into an exclusive boarding school. The boarding school is where Jack makes two best friends, who seemed like pretty decent chaps even if one of them is the son of Harry’s secret father. (Uh, minor spoiler alert.)

So the plot was decent. It wasn’t brilliant, but it did keep me turning pages. Likewise with the voice. I wanted to throttle Archer for changing narrative styles so many times (omniscient third-person; no wait, first-person for a chapter or two; oh no! let’s go back to omniscient third, except not really). I also wasn’t expecting the book to be broken down into five parts that essentially told the same story from a different character’s point of view (Harry’s, his mother’s, the antagonist’s, Old Jack’s, and Harry’s love interest). I would have more enjoyed a more complicated narrative from Harry’s point of view, or if Archer really insisted on sticking with his carousel approach, I think ending with a second section from Harry’s perspective would have lent the story a sense of closure that was lacking.

I also didn’t care for the black-and-white characterizations. Harry was so goody-goody, as were most of his friends. Giles came closest to shades of gray, although for all the right reasons. Mr. Barrington played the villain to the T. Harry’s mom had to be the perfect fictional mom: makes all the sacrifices, works herself to the bone but catches some breaks, never finished school but is somehow whip smart and is a secret business ninja, turns down all suitors she meets while working all hours (when not dropping her son off and picking him up, natch) but somehow finds a man to satisfy needs at just the right point in the story. In fact, Archer’s treatment of the mother-figure was perhaps the most interesting part of the book, and I’m pretty damn sure that was unintentional.

I won’t be picking up any others of the series, but if you’re a fan of Downtown-type caste politics and British family scandals, this might be just the thing for you. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Top 10 Books of 2014 (so far).

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It’s odd: I’ve hit my 100-books-read mark for the year. That isn’t the weird part. It’s awesome and I’m jumping around and patting myself on the back. No, what’s odd about it is that I am exactly on track for my reading total of 2013. And I do mean exactly: I finished May 2013 having read 106 books. I have read 105 books and am less than 50 pages from finishing another. Exactly on the mark. (File under: things that interest only me.)

Also like last year: now that I’ve hit my 100-book mark, it’s time to separate the great from the merely good. I present my Top 10 Reads of 2014 (So Far)!

Honorable Mention: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. (Published 2008) Why I loved it: My two giant passions are reading and running. A memoir penned by one of the most interesting authors writing stories that focuses on how and why he became a runner? ABSOLUTELY YES. I loved the pro-tips I got on both sides of the aisle. I liked contemplating what I was losing and gaining by reading in translation. I loved everything about this. The stories might seem a little dry for some, but I found the stark writing gorgeous in its simplicity. There’s none of the fantasy that Murakami usually brings to the page, so you could enjoy these even if you don’t usually enjoy his writing. You’ll know for sure by the end of the first tale.

10. We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. (Published 2013) This story was very reminiscent of Americanah. It’s a coming-of-age tale of Darling and her group of friends set first in Zinbabwe, in a shanty-town, called Paradise, and later in America as we follow Darling and her dreams to escape the misery and starvation to a place called Destroyedmichycan. I liked the way Bulawayo played with identity and dreams, and with perspective as Darling’s voice changed from that of a child to a young woman who realizes desperation can’t be outrun simply by changing location. The tropes are familiar – at times too much so – and I wish Bulawayo had offered more originality to her characters’ surroundings and insight with her gorgeous, cutting voice. In the end, that voice of hers is what carries the stories, whether or not it feels like a tale told more than once before.

9. A Walk Across the Sun, by Corban Addison. (Published 2012) Let me tell you straight off: the writing in this book will make you cringe. Not often, but occasionally. It also smacks from time to time of Male White Author Out To Save The World. Those biggest faults out of the way, let me tell you that the story of two teenaged sisters who lose everything – family, belongings, their entire life – in the tsunami and are sold as sex slaves, and the American lawyer on the brink of losing his wife and his career until he is reassigned to an international human rights organization is a story that kept me turning pages (despite the cringing) until its rather inevitable ending. Yes, you can predict much that happens. But you’re not going to care. Much.

8. When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. (Published 2009) This was a fun Middle-School read I picked up during my #24in48 readathon. My sister had recommended it to me, and at first, I was leery. First, it’s science fiction/fantasy in nature, which isn’t really my cuppa. Secondly, it relies heavily on references to A Wrinkle in Time, which I hadn’t read yet (though it finally made me invest in reading AWiT). And thirdly, I didn’t like the tone or the characters until I got halfway through and realized I needed to know what happened. Yes, the mystery is that strong. Time travel, doors, the best kind of magical impossibility that you desperately want to be true. Folks, this is the good kind of fantasy, trust me. I was mad my sister wouldn’t let me keep the book. You’ll want to know what happens to 5th grader Miranda, her old friends, and whether her new friends can help her fix what may or may not even be broken. Fabulously nerdtastic spin on finding yourself while you’re trying to figure out the tricky business of navigating that leap into tweendom.

7. Eleven Days, by Lea Carpenter. (Published 2013) This was one of my first books of the year, and I’m surprised as how much I still like it. The story is simple: a mother is told her son has gone missing during a military mission in Iraq. Her story – and her son’s – is told alternately in flashbacks and in current time as she waits out the eleven days he is missing. The voice – my god it’s lyrical and heartbreaking and utterly anguished. I had to keep reminding myself as I was reading this that the story was fiction…even though I know there are so many stories like Carpenters that aren’t.

6. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. (Published 2014) I picked this book up not long after it was released because all of the book communities couldn’t stop raving about it. BSB is a story of beauty, vanity, identity, and blended families – it fact, it’s billed as a Snow White fairytale turned on its head. It’s very smartly written, an instant book club smash hit, and very easy to read. It didn’t hurt that as I read it I discovered it’s set in my not-well-known hometown in good ol’ Massachusetts – a nice surprise! Read it and make your smartest friends read it – this is a book you’ll want to unpack out loud.

5. Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork. (Published 2009) Fans of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory – you need to read this book! A delightful and insightful story of a boy with very strict rules and an unwavering sense of self as he navigates the “real world” that is seemingly meant for everyone but him. There are a few plot twists that seemed wonky, but Marcelo earned a spot on my favorite characters of all time. How this book escaped my notice until now, I have no idea. I’m making it mandatory reading for my girlies – and their junior high classrooms, because everyone could use a lesson in empathy and realizing the word “normal” is very subjective (and sometimes cruel).

4. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. (Published 2011) You guys, I love Ann Patchett’s voice. I love her fiction writing, I love her non-fiction writing, I love her personal essays, I love her characterizations and her narration of the world around us. So even though State of Wonder sounded like a retelling of Kira Salak’s The White Mary, except without the intense personal reflections and deft maneuvering between points of view, I was captivated from word one. I love strong female protagonists. I like characters going off into remote locations and forced to examine themselves. I wasn’t too keen on how under-developed some minor characters were, but meh. The lyricism of Patchett’s voice eased me through those few rough spots. And the ending – oof. There are surprises and there are twists and I wasn’t sure how I felt about some of them. I love squishiness like that when it’s done right.

3. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. (Published 2013) I wasn’t going to read this. It wasn’t on my radar. I read The Secret History and like it okay, but wasn’t much impressed with Tartt’s dry voice. The problem was that everyone else seems to love her. And raved about this book. And then the bookstore went and put it on a crazy ridiculous (I’m talking $6) sale right at Christmas…and so I caved. I bought it. I started it soon after the year turned over…and couldn’t put it down. It’s the rather Dickensian story of a boy who is orphaned after a terrorist attack on a museum kills his mother. He “accidentally” steals a painting titled – wait for it – The Goldfinch and all kinds of drama and odd coincidences and happenings unfold from there. I enjoyed all of The Bizarre and was able to suspend belief; I know others who felt differently (and rather strongly). And the story could have been shortened quite a bit. But I was rather delighted that Goldfinch won the Pulitzer because how often does the right story win?!

2. The Martian, by Andy Weir. (Published 2014) Are we sure this is his debut? I mean, really sure? Because this was awfully good. In a I’ve-made-all-my-friends-read-it kind of way. I loved the sarcastic voice. The pitch-perfect flow of events. I loved how one thing after another kept happening to our hero – who is stranded on Mars, by the way – and I loved that…well, I can’t tell you that. Just go! Go read this! I’ve already re-read it. And cast the movie. It’s going to be the blockbuster of the summer (the book this year and the movie whenever they hurry up and make it).

1. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I immediately had to go out and buy this book because I wasn’t satisfied making notes in my ebook. I knew I was going to need forever marginalia because this is a book I could talk to death. The politics of hair. Of race and identity. Of skin politics and the white beauty aesthetic. Of poverty and how easy (or not) it is to move between classes. Ex-pat communities. Ex-cultural communities. Can you even be “ex-cultural”? DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN?! When you read a book and want to go back and re-create your kickass post-soul college group to talk about a book, even though you haven’t seen some of those people in 20 years, you have a winner. When you know you’re going to re-read a book 20 times and find something new every single time? You have a winner. And when you know you’ve read the best book you’re going to read all year in January? That’s absolutely a winner.

The one with the reading challenge.

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Sometimes I think everyone is right – I must be crazy. To wit: a member of the online book community I stalk follow hosted a reading challenge this past weekend: #24in48. She hosts these challenges at least once a year, sometimes as often as quarterly, in which a participant pledges to read 24 hours during the set 48. Literally, half the designated weekend. You can link up with her personal blog, follow along on twittler, or through her tumbler. There are many ways to participate and so many cool people do. Seeing everyone’s progress, how many books – and what kinds of – books readers are going through…well, it’s all pretty cool for someone as book obsessed as me.

So I did it. Sort of. Technically, I didn’t sign up. It’s the first weekend in three weeks that I’ve had the girls for the weekend, and we had a birthday party and a day-long shopping date set up beforehand – not exactly outings I could cancel. Squeezing in 24 hours of reading was going to be tough. So I thought I’d just play along unofficially this time around to see what it was like. Also: I sort of tweaked the rules. I don’t even care that I did because you know why? IT’S FOR FUN. It’s okay to bend the rules for fun things that have, really, no consequences. So if I started on Friday night because I knew I’d be out of the running for 8 hours on Sunday? No big deal. It’s a reading challenge for fun, not life or death!

So, Friday night, I settled in with a pile of books. I finished my designated lunchtime-read, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I enjoyed but didn’t necessarily love. It was a lot like The Lovely Bones, except the sibling was the one who disappeared and the overall effect wasn’t quite as zomg-keep-reading as Lovely Bones.

Next, I finished off my nighttime book, the deliciously smutty and historical fiction novel, Blindspot, by Harvard professors Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore. Guess what? It’s also set in revolutionary Boston. No wonder it still rings my bells after four – yes, four! – re-reads.

I read a bit of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the girls, then made quick work of E. Annie Proulx’s novella, Brokeback Mountain. It was a bit more…abrupt?…than the movie, but just as beautiful and moving. Of course, there isn’t much you’re going to get out of it if you’ve already seen the movie, so.

After that, I moved on to a YA selection, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, a book my sister left for me to read. You guys – you need to read it. Especially if you like books about doors and travellin’ and rabbit holes. It heavily references Wrinkle in Time and the possibility of time travel, but focuses mostly on the trials and tribulations of being eleven. Sticky friendships, bullying, what exactly to do with the opposite sex (especially if your friend is no longer talking to you), parents, being the least bit different, and other YA plot points. Only our protag gets mysterious notes from a maybe-stalker, maybe-guardian angel who leaves creepy, mysterious notes that…yeah, maybe just go read it before I give it all away.

When You Reach Me was split between Friday night (I stayed awake until 2 a.m.) and Saturday morning, and then I switched to Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak!. I’m not one for short stories, but I could listen to Danticat talk about the phone book; she’d make it seem lyrical, fluid, and full of shiny magically realistic (but still hard to swallow) truths.

Finally, I moved on to a re-read of Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. It’s another re-read for me, but my book club is reading it and it’s so frickin’ fabulous that I couldn’t not pick it up again. Sure I wanted to be able to rattle off quotes and discuss the little things right along with the big things I already remembered, but mostly I needed only the tiniest nudge to make me pick it up again. Go. Read it. Best book I read this weekend, even though I already had.

All of that and I still only hit 20 1/2 hours. 20 1/2 of 24. Close…but not quite goal. I think it’s the first reading goal I’ve ever set and failed to accomplish. But you know what? I’m okay with that. Really and truly, all-the-way-to-my-toes okay with it. I got a ton of reading – and six books – read over the course of a single weekend. It was fun! And I know that if I can plan around the next one a little better, I’ll hit goal. I loved reading right along with some of my favorite people; the shared experience was pretty awesome.

#24in48 – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quit you.

The Great Stephen King Re-Read: The One with the Giant, Pissed-Off Dog.

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Did I tell you all that I was re-reading the works of Stephen King? I am. In order of publication, to be precise. There are my well-worn favorites that I read over and over – It, Insomnia, Rose Madder, Black House, and – of course – the Dark Tower series, which happens to be my favorite book/series of all time. Then there are what I think of as my midlist novels – the ones I liked pretty good at the time, but haven’t re-read all that often – the short story collections, Shawshank, Misery, 11/22/63, Bag of Bones… all decent, solid stories, but ones that seem to get pushed aside because I only have so much time you read, you understand. And then there are the novels that I’ve probably only ever read the once: Christine, Cycle of the Werewolf, Needful Things, The Dark Half. Why didn’t I like them? What was it that made me rank them so low? It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve read the books, in some case. Wouldn’t it be fun to go through and read them all?

Yes, yes it has been fun. Even when I confirmed what I thought the first go around, to have all the characters and settings and creeptastic details dancing in the forefront of my imagination again, I feel so grounded and so me again. It’s fantastic.

The latest horse on my deliciously creepy carousel is Cujo. Cujo is one of those cellar dwellers, a story that would never rank even as high as midlist, but all the same a story I’ve read more than once, though not even close to anytime recently – perhaps not since high school? Why? I like the voice. I love that it’s a return-to-Castle Rock book, I love that other recurring people and images come up – the mess from The Dead Zone, in particular. But still – Cujo is not a book I like. (And there are going to be spoilers in the whys of it, so turn back now if you don’t want to know.)

It’s not just that the ending wasn’t a happy one. There are plenty of less-than-happy, delightfully complicated endings that make me love them. But an unhappy ending to what feels like a gratuitous read? No. way. Then there really feels like there’s no point. Sure, King insists that he didn’t mean to kill Tad, that it just sort of happened that way – and I have to believe him. I’m not a writer, but I’ve written enough, and read enough stories, to know the truth about writing when I hear it. But just because it’s true doesn’t mean I need to like what’s being said.

Because after Tad’s gone, what’s the point? The whole book feels like an old, stodgy New England cautionary tale about cheating on your spouse. The Trentons move from New York City to Castle Rock, Donna’s unhappy, she has an affair that she later regrets and ends. Meanwhile, there’s some trouble with Vic’s ad agency, so he leaves town for damage control with a client. Donna takes Tad to have their car repaired at the edge-of-the-boonies mechanic and the rabid Cujo ramps up the climatic action. (Told you there’d be spoilers.) Oh – and did I mention that Cujo’s owners, the dad beats the mom and son. So. Not technically what we call cheating on your spouse, but not what I could call remaining faithful to your vows of love and faithfulness in spirit. And ta-da, we have our message: disrespect your vows, bad things happen. All bad things, no good things. Sure, there’s a reminder at the end that Cujo didn’t mean to do anyone any harm and that he always wanted to do right, but WHAT DID THAT GET US? Bupkus.

I’m glad I re-read Cujo, I love having the story fresh in my mind (even for all I don’t prefer it), but I can’t say I’ll be picking it up again for a pleasure whirl any time soon.