Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry*

I have never in my life dropped a galley so quickly. Thanks still go to Net Galley and Doubleday for the review copy, but I couldn’t finish this thing. Actually, I couldn’t even hold to my own reviewing rules.  This book is horrible.

The promotional description mentions several qualities that appeal to me.  I like literary fiction; dark humor; Irish fiction; and the Booker Prize nomination sealed the deal.  I was also aware that there would be violence and and that the characters would include terrible men, but I read grit lit—in small frequent bites when I can’t deal with longer stretches than that—and have reviewed many titles that include these things. But this is something else.

The distinctive writing style doesn’t appeal to me; I like a good paragraph, and having vast yawning spaces in between single brief entries seems wasteful to me. But that isn’t the deal breaker. The deal breaker is the hostility toward women.

Now of course one could say that twisted misogyny is not the author’s perspective but that of the characters, and blah-de-blah-blah, but let’s extend this a step further, for the sake of those that buy that kind of bilge as an excuse. Let’s write the whole thing, the whole book, as repeated child rape, with graphic descriptions and maybe a quick comeuppance or two at the end to make the reader feel better.

Would you buy that? Would you read that?  Then maybe you should give this a miss as well.  After all, this is fiction; its two purposes are to entertain and to convey ideas through the art of literature. How do either of these jibe with ugliness such as this?

My usual practice for a galley I don’t favor is this:  I read up to about 30% in order to give the author a chance, and then if I am still not engaged I skip to the last 25% to make sure there isn’t something wonderful about the climax and the conclusion that might make me reconsider. Fair is fair. But this book feels like a form of violence against women all by itself. I had trouble sleeping after having read five percent; I gave it a couple of days and came back, read another four or five percent, and queasily realized that this novel is the exception to my policy. I am not reading more of it for anyone or anything.

Usually when I don’t recommend a book, I consider whether there’s a niche audience that might still like it. Sometimes a lukewarm book gets a recommendation to read the book free or at a deep discount. But for this thing I confess that I would rather not be around anyone that wants it any time for any reason.

Waisted, by Randy Susan Meyers*****

Randy Susan Meyers wrote The Murderer’s Daughters and The Widow of Wall Street. Her new novel, Waisted is a fiercely feminist story that skewers the weight loss industry and a society that “treats fat people like out-of-control horrors” and the war against women with its “intersectionality of misogyny, fat shaming, [and] faux health concerns.”  Thanks go to Atria and Net Galley for the review copy. You should read this book.

Alice married Clancy when she was “break-up skinny,” not knowing that he isn’t attracted to any woman that isn’t thin. Daphne is tormented by her 108 pound mother, whose toxic monitoring and obsession with Daphne’s eating have nearly driven her daughter over the edge.  Alice and Daphne meet at Privation,  a live-in weight loss program in rural Vermont. They and five other women sign on because they are promised rapid weight loss free of charge, with the caveat that they must agree to be filmed 24 hours a day for a documentary. The program is not only extreme; it is cruel and dangerous.

“Welcome to hell, ladies, where we recognize that life is unfair, and you pay the price for every action you take…You’ve eaten your way through pain, through loss, through happiness, and just for the plain pleasure of crunching calories between your teeth. Not one of you knows how to live with privation. So you landed here. The last stop.”

The women don’t know that there are no doctors here, or that they are part of a nasty experiment to see what women will tolerate in order to become thinner, even when it is obvious that such a program cannot be sustained. Each time one or another of them considers decamping, there’s a weigh-in that shows them to be even lighter than they were earlier in the week, and with dreams of a new, sleek, lovable body ever nearer realization, they persevere.

The readers that will relate to this story best are also the ones that will have a hard time getting through the first half of it. Meyers drives home so many uncomfortable truths that overweight women like me have trained ourselves not to think about most of the time because they are painful. Do it anyway. It’s high time someone wrote this book.

Apart from its very real underpinnings, the story is far-fetched and features an unlikely outcome, but that doesn’t matter. A more nuanced or realistic version would fail to deliver the message in as brilliant a fashion.

This is urgent, angry, and at times darkly funny prose. It will be available Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Highly recommended.

The Goldfish Bowl, by Laurence Gough***

thegoldfishbowlIt’s seldom that I find myself so ambivalent about a galley; I read this free thanks to Net Galley and Endeavor Press in exchange for an honest review.  The writing skill is probably closer to a five; the respect level for women, people of color, and anyone that isn’t oriented straight as a bullet’s path is closer to a one. So those that are constantly inveighing about how tired they are of trying to be PC, here. This is for you. For those of us that have moved along, I am not so sure. This book was released digitally in January, 2016 and is now for sale.

I spent a good portion of this book confused, because it is billed as a new release, yet it really reads like a novel from the 1980s might.  A little digging revealed that it was initially published in 1988, and this explains a good deal. Mainstream attitudes have come a long way since then, and so some re-released novels stand the test of time, whereas others should perhaps be consigned, as Trotsky put it, to “the dustbin of history”.

The story is set in Vancouver, British Columbia, and this is part of what made me want to read this mystery. I don’t see a lot of fiction set there, and I know the area, so I thought this would be fun. And setting is done well.

Then we have our sniper:

“The sniper sat in the orange plastic chair, hunched over a Lyman ‘All American’ turret press. His hands were large and strong. The thick blunt fingers, nails carefully painted with a glossy red polish, moved with precision and grace as he assembled the shiny brass cartridges, primers, powder and fat 500-grain copper-jacketed slugs.”

Our sniper, who must surely be a baddy if twisted enough to put on women’s clothing and makeup, is referred to as clown-faced and is always designated as “he”. In the 1980s that boat would float with most of book-buying North America. Now, not so much.

There is one victim after another, and the beginning is paced at breakneck speed, relaxing readers only to suddenly shock us repeatedly, so there’s a sort of emotional whiplash. There are two detectives in charge of the sniper shootings, and one is a woman. That’s unusual in the department, where women are routinely referred to in demeaning ways and where hard core porn kept in a file cabinet is just a thing the boys in blue do. None of this appears to be there to make a point about what women put up with, however; it seems to be injected for realism and urban grit. And though none of the cops is particularly brilliant, Parker, the female cop, is particularly incompetent, emptying an entire gun at close range without hitting the target even once.

Okay.

Bright spots come with particular scenes. The climax is brilliant, and I love the detail of the guard horse in front of the evidence room. The author is clearly talented, but every time I found myself engaging with the text and not thinking about anything that had offended me, something else would come to the forefront, popping up like a turd in the punch bowl. Those that visit psychiatrists are all ‘fruitcakes’, and at one point, “a huge black” stands in the doorway. At this point my temper flared and I tapped into my tablet, “Huge Black WHAT, motherfucker?”

Yes, I know. Amazon won’t print that quote. It’s worth editing to have it in my blog, because that’s exactly how I feel about it.

There are good moments with figurative language, but then once in awhile a glaring fact that nobody checked pops up. Do people in Vancouver genuinely believe that the West Coast goes from British Columbia, to Washington, to California? Didn’t think so. Someone needs to apologize to Oregon, which is larger than some European nations.  The denouement, social justice issues aside, was a mighty long reach.

If you are already a tried and true fan of Laurence Gough—and he is an established writer with over a dozen published novels—then you will probably enjoy this one too.

As for me, I’ll pass.

 

The Strasbourg Legacy, by William Craig *

ThestrausburglegacyWhoa now! The times, they have a-changed, and isn’t that a great thing? Thus this once-socially-acceptable novel, a spy thriller steeped in the Cold War politics of the mid-20th century, no longer works. But thank you for the invitation to review, friends at Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media; I know you meant well.

The author presents a situation in which escaped Nazis are developing plans to foment a second fascist government, developed abroad till the time is right. The ones we visit are sequestered in Egypt. At the same time, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA is out hunting for escaped Nazis, who will die quietly and unofficially so as to avoid international incidents. The writer knows his craft well, and shows considerable skill in building suspense by jumping us from one group to the other at critical, cliff-hanging moments.

One single sentence caused me to climb off Craig’s bus, so to speak:

“It was the brandy that triggered them to drag the girl off the streets and rape her for two days.”

Had this been the perspective of a deranged psychopath, a mindset clearly different from that of the good guys, I would have been more generous with my rating and review, but this guy is supposed to be the marshmallow among his set, the old softy who gets himself into trouble by trying to save the suffering damsels.

Give me a fucking break.

For this novel: no, no, and one more time: no!