69. Die Trying by Lee Child (3 stars)
I’m not entirely sure why I keep returning to these kinds of books. I don’t know what “kind” of book it is, other than “airport fiction”. You know the kind; the mass market vaguely defined fiction that goes down easy without leaving much of an aftertaste. Easily digested and forgettable, these books cover the literary landscape without leaving any kind of quantifiable mark. They exist to sell books, and they sell books because they exist.
I don’t mean this to be acidic. I have nothing against Lee Child or Jack Reacher (or this book). It is what it is. I don’t begrudge its existence. But I am utterly baffled that I keep picking these kinds of books up. I get nothing out of them, and, in fact, know that I’m not going to. But, by golly, I’ll probably read the next one.
What happens here? I don’t know. The same thing that happens in every Jack Reacher novel (I say that like I’ve read them all – this is the second one in the series). Reacher arrives in a place (Chicago, this time) without planning to stay long, and gets caught up in a crime (the abduction of a woman) that only he can stop (because he’s a giant, and a badass). Violence happens. Sex happens. Reacher moves on to the next town. And scene.
The formula is well marked out at this point, and Lee Child has gone on to write approximately three hundred sequels. These books are for people who don’t like re-reading old favorites, but don’t want to encounter something new, either.
Apparently, I quite liked this books predecessor, Killing Floor, which I find somewhat odd. Whenever I think of that book, the only thing I can remember is Jai Courtney’s utter forgetfulness. Courtney, you may recall, was in the first Jack Reacher movie. That movie, imaginatively titled, has no relation to the first book. It is, from what I understand, an adaptation of the ninth book in the series (which I haven’t gotten to yet, obviously). That speaks towards the indistinguishability of the books fairly well, I guess.
Anyway, if you’ve seen the movies and wonder if the books are worth checking out…..presumably you liked the movies enough to want to check out the books. So, yeah. Probably. Give them a read – they certainly aren’t terrible.
70. What the Hell Did I Just Read? by David Wong (5 stars)
I read John Dies at the End without really knowing what to expect apart from, “David Wong is a writer for Cracked who occasionally appears on their podcasts. He seems intelligent and insightful.” What I got was the business end of a chainsaw, only instead of having my hands obliterated by the raucous destruction of buzzing metal, my brain was minced by the absolute insanity of a narrative which I inexplicably loved more than I probably should. So I immediately read the second book in the series, This Book is Full of Spiders and found, much to my delight, that Wong was able to harness the crazy, but make it serve the plot more. Here, the third in his series (though not the last), he grows even more. If you’ve made it this far into his writing, you obviously find his overactive imagination to be a source of pleasure, and you won’t be disappointed. But the narrative is a lot tighter, and the characters, I think, are a little better developed than in the previous books.
I will say, however, that the character of Amy Sullivan (David Wong’s – the character, not the writer – girlfriend) was annoying through some stretches of the book. She always seemed like the moral, intelligent center of the earlier novels, but came off as naive and, frankly, a little simple. I found her frustrating.
But it’s a pretty minor quibble. I think this book improves on the previous two in the series, and Wong has definitely reached the status of “immediate buy” whenever he publishes a new book. I highly recommend giving these books a try if you haven’t already.
71. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (5 stars)
Like Die Trying, above, A Man Called Ove fits into a category of fiction that I can’t firmly define, but immediately recognize when I come across it. In this class I put Richard Russo, Haruki Murakami, and Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. I’m not entirely sure what they all have in common apart from a kind of calm, slightly detached and irascible protagonist that the rest of the world seems to find somewhat bemusing. Think: the old man in Pixar’s Up. He’s rude and solitary, but absolutely endearing. But it’s more than that. These stories share a certain way of looking at the world. There’s a certain flavor to the book that I find utterly appealing and unmistakable. It’s not quite correct to call it wholesome, because while I find the stories to be heartfelt and honest, they aren’t particularly naive or ambivalent to the pain in the world. In fact, they tend to embrace life’s rough edges and find the beauty hiding behind the pain.
Ove is a 59 year old man, driven into retirement by a society no longer in need of men like him. Men who can do things. Men who know things. Ove hates computers, and has no use for people who struggle with what he feels are the basic tools of adult life, like being able to back up a car with a trailer attached, or make a pot of coffee, or obey the rules clearly conveyed by the signs placed around a neighborhood. SPOILERS—> His wife has died, and he is left utterly, irreconcilably alone. All he wants to do is die in peace, and he keeps devising ways of ensuring that it happens, only to be foiled at every attempt. And then he meets a new couple that has just moved in next door. Through his interactions with the wife, we begin to learn more about Ove and see him through her eyes. The story traces back through his life, and we see how his relationship with his wife developed, and his interactions with his father, and people at work, and friends changed him.
What we have is an utterly touching look at love, and loneliness, and the reaffirmation of life that can only come about through momentous change. But this book isn’t sad. It’s certainly touching, and often quite amusing, and it always feels like an honest portrayal of its characters.
This book has been reviewed eleven times, previously, and I am both saddened that it took me so long to read, and fortunate that I finally got around to it. I feel like this book, indeed all of these kinds of books, describe an essential part of my nature, and discovering a new example of it always leaves me with a feeling of completeness. Like a part of my personality has been so concisely described that I understand myself in a way that I didn’t even know I needed.
Which is all kind of a way of saying that if you like this book, I feel like you’re liking me, and that if you like me, you might like this book. So, I guess I can give no more personal a recommendation of a book than that.
Also, I’m left with no small relief that the CBR community generally loves this book, giving it an average of 4.27 stars. Even though none of those reviews are an endorsement of me, and I didn’t actually have anything to do with this book, I’ll still take that as a sign that you love me.
I feel like this review has taken a weird turn.