Friday, June 20, 2014

Bad Move by Linwood Barclay

Even though I did enjoy this book, I have to say it: writers, please stop writing fiction in which the protagonist is a writer! It is potentially the most boring choice you can make. Really. It makes me think, right off the bat, that you are unimaginative, which usually isn't even the case! I know they say "write what you know" but you really don't have to adhere to that maxim in EVERY aspect of your novel.

Ok now that's off my chest; I really liked this book. It is the story of an overly paranoid man who moves his family from downtown Toronto (although I don't think the name of the city is mentioned, from the street names - particularly the mention of Lakeshore - one can assume that's where it's set) to the suburbs, to escape the rampant crime and danger of downtown. And of course he discovers himself in a world of terrifying crime out in the suburbs, because that's what happens when people live places.

You know the main character, Zack, is an asshole from the beginning, and not just because he says so. I google mapped the street in Toronto where his family lived, and it is in Leaside. I used to work in Leaside, and I'm going to tell you right now, I wouldn't call it a crime mecca. Anyway he also does really annoying things to teach his family lessons about safety; like when his wife leaves her keys in the front door, he uses them to drive her car around the corner out of sight, so she will think her carelessness has led to her car being stolen. Instead of, you know, grabbing the keys, handing them to her and saying hey honey you left these in the door.

It is an attempt at one of these "lessons" that gets Zack embroiled in the web of embezzlement, kickbacks, blackmail and murder that make up the bulk of the story. It is one of those stories where at every step you want to yell at him - call the police! Now, I hate the cops as much as the next guy, but seriously, you find a dead body - call the police. Someone sends you threatening emails - call the police. You catch a murderer? Call the police! Seriously! And even the few times he does go to call the police - one time a police officer is IN HIS HOUSE - and it's too late. It is very frustrating; but honestly, the character is well constructed enough that it is never logically flawed.

This book is funny, it's interesting, and the characters for the most part act realistically even within very cartoon-ish situations. The author launches two brick jokes which fall deliciously perfectly in the last few chapters. And the underlying message about the city vs. the suburbs - that the shit you worry about will follow you regardless of where you live - is very clever and on point. The only thing that could make me like this more would be a protagonist who was less of an asshole, but I guess then it wouldn't have been the same book.

Four CN Towers out of five.

Friday, June 6, 2014

To Be Continued...Volume Two by Gordon J.H. Leenders

I didn't know this was a "volume two" until after I read it; however, it doesn't really seem to matter. The set-up of this novel is clever, straddling the line between novel and short-story collection through chapters that connect through the last line of each. It reminded me of that improv game where you do a scene and then someone yells "freeze!" and then they enter the freeze frame and turn it into a new scene.

The story (or stories) follows different people each chapter, from Montreal to Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Hamilton: a woman contemplates having an affair; a couple discusses 9/11 while overlooking Niagara Falls; a group of television addicts leave their meeting to provide first aid; a group of homeless people eat food from the most desirable dumpster in town; a man mentors his son in the art of pickpocketing, and so on. Each story picks up from the last line of the one before it, and none are really resolved; I guess you would have to read volume three for that. Really the author is writing several short stories which are all stretched across multiple books; rather an ingenious project.

I just wish I had liked the writing more. Some of the stories had a lot of potential but I had a hard time relating to or caring about the characters; I feel like when you only give your readers a short time in which to get attached, you have to take care to make the characters extra compelling, and most of them were not. It makes me wary when a male author tries to get into the head of too many female characters; I found the majority of them here to be rather shallow.

Mostly for me it was a style issue; I think if this style of writing is more to your taste, you might really enjoy this book. Toronto is not really a big player; it's more of a sort of central place that the characters and storylines revolve around. In the end I'd say it's probably worth a read, but for such a clever layout I found the book itself somewhat forgettable.

Three CN Towers out of five.