In addition to fiction, I also write computer training manuals and software manuals to help users get up to speed quickly with whatever software they’re using. My “Up To Speed” guides are available in ebook format from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. If you’re a PDF type of person, the PCM Courseware site carries them in PDF format.
So I know that this isn’t a new book – in fact, the novel was published in 1966 I believe. It originally started out as a short story that was published in 1958. But I’ve never read it, and it somehow came to my attention recently, so I picked it up. I listened to the audiobook version of this, which was narrated by Jeff Woodman and I really ended up loving his narration – he did a fantastic job of telling the story through our protagonist’s voice.
So if you haven’t read it, the story takes place in the mid–1960’s and follows a developmentally disabled 32-year-old man named Charlie Gordon, who has an IQ of 68. But Charlie is given the opportunity to undergo a surgical procedure that will supposedly dramatically increase his intelligence. This procedure has already been performed on a laboratory mouse named Algernon with amazing results. Charlie, however, is the first human subject. So the story is told by a series of progress reports written by Charlie, in which he chronicles everything that happens to him. Via these reports, we see Charlie’s intelligence reach genius levels as evidenced by these progress reports. It was interesting to note slow changes and Charlie’s writing ability increased slowly.
Before and after the operation, Charlie competes against Algernon to complete a maze and initially, Algernon beats him because of course, he is extra-clever thanks to the experimental brain operation. But Charlie is determined to beat Algernon and eventually, he does.
But getting smarter brings some cruel realizations along with it. For instance, slowly, Charlie is able to remember past events in his life and realizes that those people whom he called friends — his coworkers at the bakery where Charlie works sweeping floors and scrubbing toilets — have been making fun of and laughing at Charlie all along. Disturbing memories of his parents and his home life also resurfaced during this time. And as more of his past become clear, it’s sad when Charlie becomes anti-social, bitter and even resentful, especially toward those who he felt had taken advantage of him. Throughout this story, it was interesting to ponder what affect Charlie’s intelligence had on his own humanity, especially in his treatment of others. It was also worth noting how Charlie’s intelligence negatively affected his personal relationships.
What follows is a sort of emotional reckoning of sorts, as Charlie tries to come to terms with who he was and who he his now, as he attempts to balance his constantly changing worldview and throughout all, Charlies learns that high intelligence is not without its problems and challenges.
So, finally, because of his genius-level intelligence, Charlie eventually even surpasses the scientists in charge of the experiment and is able to discover what he refers to as the experiment’s fatal flaw.
WHAT I LIKED
I really liked the diary entry format of the story, told completely from Charlie’s point of view. I also felt that the author did an excellent job of first making us feel sorry for Charlie, then happy for him following the experiment’s success, with those feelings then turning into anger toward him as he lost his innocence, and his kindness — and all of this was done via the progress reports, which I thought was a brilliant device.
In fact, the whole premise of the novel intrigued me. I loved the idea of asking: “What would the life of an intellectually disabled man be like if he could be given genius intellectual capacity?” – and the result as envisioned by the author was not only gripping and mesmerizing but also disturbing if not slightly terrifying.
Another thing that really resonated with me during the story was how Charlie struggled to be seen as a person and not as an experiment. This need of Charlie’s was responsible for his sudden rudeness and ungracious-like behavior in the novel. It was almost horrifying as Charlie discovered that before the operation, people barely considered him a person. This made me think of how often people dehumanize those who are different than themselves in order to justify their mistreatment or hatred of those people, which lead me at one point to conclude that as a society, in some ways we haven’t come all that far since 1958. This was especially evident when – I believe it was Dr. Nemur — stated something to the effect that he “created” Charlie when they operated on him, implying that he wasn’t a legitimate person before the operation.
In this way, this novel makes the reader perhaps stop and take a serious look at how we treat the other people in our lives or simply people we come across in day to day life.
I also enjoyed the exploration of different levels or kinds of intelligence. For instance, though Charlie’s IQ may have been at genius levels, his emotional intelligence lagged, leading to difficulties in his relationships with women. So while the story was kind of a coming of age or coming into oneself, in many ways it also went hand in hand with the loss of Charlie’s innocence.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Though I felt that this novel aged well since 1966, there are some parts of it that feel kind of dated. For instance, people constantly referring to Charlie as “mentally retarded” which is considered a derogatory expression today.
In fact, I remember a few years ago when the words “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” were stripped from federal health, education and labor policy and replaced with “Intellectual disability.” In any case, today those words are considered not only politically incorrect today but also hurtful and dehumanizing.
What was also jarring was how everyone in the novel smoked, which isn’t a negative of the novel itself — just that in some ways, it was a novel of its time period. Another thing was that the book was more or less predictable. I pretty much figured out from the get-go what was going to happen though I didn’t know when or how.
Another niggle was that some of the characters could have been developed a little better — namely Fay and Alice. They felt a little flat to me.
I did feel that the novel went out of its way to illustrate how shitty and broken people are. Yes, I realized that it was meant to show society’s bad side, but maybe it went a little overboard in places.
Flowers for Algernon was powerful and absolutely amazing, and I’m so so glad it finally came to my attention. Though the book was easy to read, it was at the same time heart wrenching and thought-provoking. It leads the reader to take a step back and ponder several important questions, such as what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to “fit in”? Though it was heartbreaking and difficult to read in some places, it was insightful and a book that will no doubt stay with me for a long time to come. I really loved this book and ended up giving four stars.
In The Golem and The Jinni, we have a blend of Arab and Jewish mythology and folklore resulting is a mesmerizing historical fantasy.
The story begins when a golem, a creature of Jewish folklore made of clay is created by Kabbalistic magic by a former rabbi now turned dark magician and sold to a merchant who had plans to make the Golem his wife. Not yet awakened, the merchant and his sleeping Golem head from Poland to America to begin a new life.
His plan was to awaken the Golem once they arrived in America but the man could wait no longer. He opens this Golem’s crate and awakens her. She barely has a chance to get to know her master when he suddenly dies on the ship from a burst appendix. Now masterless, confused and frightened, she finds herself in New York in 1899. Luckily, a local Rabbi — Rabbi Meyer — recognizes her for what she is and offers to help her integrate into this strange new society. New for her, that is, as she’s only been alive for a couple of days.
Given that he can’t simply refer to her as “The Golem”, the Rabbi names her “Chava.”
The second creature in our story, a Jinni, a creature of Arabic folklore who is given the name Ahmad, perhaps more commonly known as a Djin or a genie. The Jinni is a creature of fire, and this particular Jinni was born in the ancient Syrian Desert over a thousand years ago. He is released accidentally from a flask by a tinsmith, and when the Jinni awakens, he notices that he now wears an iron wrist-cuff which means only one thing: that he was trapped in the flask by a wizard and that he’s been inside the flask for over a thousand years. The Jinni, however, has no memory of the wizard nor how he came to be in the flask.
So the story follows both our Golem and our Jinni as they try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while hiding who — or should I say what — they really are. It’s a wonderful tale of two creatures trying to fit into a world they don’t understand. One evening, they haphazardly meet by chance on the streets of New York and an unlikely friendship develops between the two. But a few weeks after their initial meeting, a dreadful incident occurs involving both of them, and because of it, the two of them retreat back into their own world and stop seeing each other.
So then a powerful evil — the villain of our story – arrives in town and we learn he is someone who links the two of them together. But not only that, his arrival threatens both the Golem’s and the Jinni’s existence, bringing them back together once again out of necessity.
WHAT I LIKED
The characters of the Golem and the Jinni are some of the most unique that I’ve encountered. I really enjoyed the fresh premise of a creature of Jewish mythology and one of Arab mythology coming together to form an alliance — and all of this blending into a fantasy/historical fiction novel made it all the more rich. Speaking of rich, the characters of the Jinni and the Golem were not only well-developed but quite complex.
I thought it was fun how this ended up being a story of opposites, with the fiery, free-spirited, womanizing Jinni on the one hand and the stoic, overly cautious, almost prudish Golem whose sole purpose is to serve a master, on the other. And even their age is miles or should I say centuries apart, with the Golem being just days old and the Jinni well over a thousand. I also enjoyed all of the wonderfully eccentric supporting characters: Ice Cream Saleh, Anna, Chava’s coworker at the bakery, Arbeely the tinsmith who freed the Jinni, the Rabbi’s nephew Michel who runs a homeless shelter and Maryam Faddoul, the owner of the coffee house. Each of them added an essential element and depth to the story. Of course, my favorite characters were the Golem and the Jinni.
Speaking of the characters, I’d have to say that the character development is profound and pretty much ongoing throughout the entire novel which made reading this all the more fun. It’s also worth mentioning that though was was an enormous cast of characters, they were introduced slowly, one at a time, so the story never became confusing.
I love how, though Chava was only recently brought to life, she possesses an all-too-human empathy toward others. In fact, the day of her arrival in New York, she steals food from a vendor in order to give it to a hungry boy. She’s definitely the more emotional of the two creatures and extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, as we also see in her caring for her Coworker Anna. This might have something to do with the Golem’s ability to hear the thoughts and know the desires of others.
The Jinni, on the other hand, is wilder, passionate and much more rash than the Golem. He’s willing to explore his new world whereas the Golem approaches it more hesitatingly, more cautiously.
But no matter what happens to them, we as the reader, always need to remember that the Golem and the Jinni are two creatures tied to their natures, no matter how much they may wish to convince themselves otherwise. In this way, the author brings her characters to rich life, letting all of them thrive in their complexity and near-humanness. I did find it especially interesting how whenever these two creatures got together, they always ended up deeply discussing the human condition, an interesting topic for two non-human creatures.
Another thing that really worked for me in this story was the exquisite world-building. It’s apparent that the author did an incredible amount of research for this novel – research into setting both turn-of-the-century life in New York as well as the Syrian desert of old, research into culture, religion, into the different groups of people represented in the story, into cultural magic as well religious magic. The author did an expert job of integrating these details into the story while never thrusting an information dump onto us and at times, I felt as though I really were in another place and time. We also get a riveting look into both the Jewish and the Arabic immigrant subculture communities of the late 19th century.
I also really enjoyed how the author gives us bits and pieces, only a little at a time, of the Jinni’s past and how he came to be trapped in the flask and what actions led up to his entrapment.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
In my humble opinion, there’s not much to dislike about the book. My only real niggle is that it took about six months before the Jinni and the Golem finally encountered one another – I think it was around page 172 in the book – and I was getting a bit impatient at this point for them to finally get together.
There were a few points in the book where the story dragged and I felt that there was some unnecessary description in places but apart from that, I loved every moment of the story. I also would have liked to have learned a little more about the Kabbalistic magic that brought the Golem to life. A little more backstory about the Jinni’s people would have been welcome as well.
This book is phenomenal! It’s one of the most surprising and engrossing books I’ve read in awhile, with plenty of action and drama that kept me interested in what happens next.
It’s a wonderfully rich and fascinating story of mystical creatures, old magicians and ancient cultures with a unique, well-developed plot that was all brought together into a marvelous conclusion. So in this way, it was both a plot-driven and a character-driven story.
And the prose is beautiful! The author really has a knack for bringing a scene to life in her pages, and I could easily picture the characters and the evocative setting.
The Golem and The Jinni was not only engaging but also a wonderful study of human nature and included such themes as religion, diversity, duty, choice, desires, loneliness, free will and freedom, religious faith or the lack thereof, tradition and loving our neighbors.
It was an engaging book with flowing evocative prose, well-rounded characters, a magical atmosphere and phenomenal world-building that I had a hard time putting down. I could really give this book no less than five stars.
So this book was actually written a while ago – in 2013. But after researching the author a bit, I learned that she is working on a sequel entitled “The Iron Season” which is due out this year (2018) from Harper Collins. I can’t wait to get it!
This is a book that was this month’s read at my book club. I knew nothing about this book going in and judging by the title, I figured that it probably wouldn’t be a book that I’d enjoyed. Well, it just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its title. When I was younger, I used to love reading biographies of old Hollywood Actresses, such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn and I thought about them as I read this book. There were many times as I was reading the story that I had to remind myself that this was only a fictional account of a fictional actress. But it felt so real!
This book follows an unknown celebrity magazine reporter at Vivant Magazine named Monique Grant who is beyond surprised when she learns that Evelyn Hugo, an aging reclusive Hollywood movie icon who hasn’t given an interview in decades – specifically requests Monique to interview her, much to the magazine editor’s dismay. Her editor is freaking out, not understanding why this actress would choose a rookie reporter who’s only done puff pieces up to this point and she has serious doubts as to whether Monique is up to the task. But regardless of her boss’s doubts, Evelyn wants Monique, and if she doesn’t get her, she threatens to go elsewhere.
Now Monique herself has just gone through a bit of bad luck herself. Her husband David has left her, and she feels as though her professional life is going nowhere. But regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to move her career forward.
But once Monique arrives at Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, she learns that Ms. Hugo does not, in fact, wish Monique to interview her at all. What she wants is for Monique to write a book of Hugo’s entire life story, a story that nobody else knows and a project from which Monique could make millions.
What can she do but agree? So Monique then becomes Evelyn Hugo’s biographer.
There is, of course, a reason for this generous offer, one of the two twists in the book…this one not revealed until the end.
So Evelyn Hugo, though she has lived her entire life in the public eye, is full of secrets and she lets them loose one at a time. Evelyn constantly reinforces the fact that she has hidden many things from the public but all will become clear during their time together. Let me just say that there are so many juicy stories about Evelyn’s life’s that surprise and shock and reader.
The novel reads like an autobiography as we hear Evelyn Hugo’s life unfold. We learn how she started out as a 14-year-old Cuban girl who traded in her virginity for a ride to Hollywood and once in Hollywood, Evelyn became unstoppable, trading on her beauty and her sexuality, in order to achieve her dream of becoming a star.
The novel progresses, in linear order, from one husband to the next and each husband is given his own chapter with a special title that reflects their personality or Evelyn’s opinion of them. Some were good, some not so good. But Evelyn used all of them for her own gain in one way or another, often to move ahead to the next step in her career.
Her love life and her career take numerous twists and turns, but via her narration, we learn that what the public believed was nothing at all like what actually went on behind closed doors. It was all a fictional image – a mirage. It kind of reminded me of a line from the Wizard of Oz “Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain.” But however she managed it, Evelyn nearly always got what she wanted.
So true to her promise, Evelyn tells everything to Monique, and we learn about the scandals surrounding her, her heartbreaks and successes, the ups and downs of being a commodity in Hollywood during the 1950’s to the 1980’s, her constant plotting and planning to stay at the forefront.
Evelyn played the Hollywood game expertly — dated famous men to further her career and used her brains and her body to get what she wanted.
Yes, Evelyn is deeply flawed and aware of it, and even tells Monique on several occasions that she’s not a very nice person. She’s made mistakes — serious mistakes. But despite all her shortcomings and flaws and the lying, I strangely grew to like Evelyn more and more as the story moved forward.
But as Evelyn begins to share with Monique stories and events about her present-day life, a secret becomes finally exposed – one that connects Monique and Evelyn in a startling twist, causing both of the women to face the truth of it together as Evelyn removes her final mask.
WHAT I LIKED
I thought this book was fascinating with its glamorous tale of an over the top Hollywood life as well as its gripping portrayal of love in many iterations. I had a blast imagining all the Directors and Movie Stars from the golden age of Hollywood and what their lives may have been like.
But this book wasn’t just a simple tale of a woman who had a difficult time hanging onto husbands. Instead, what we have in this book is a multifaceted story of a powerful, career-driven woman who’s lived her whole life basically being two people, and in so doing, has created her own heaven and her own hell in the process.
I really loved the little newspaper gossip snippets that preceded each chapter. It was a brilliant juxtaposition between what the public was seeing and what was really going on behind closed doors.
I also really liked the diversity in this story. Evelyn is half Cuban, Monique is half African American, and there are three interracial relationships in the book, so it was refreshing to read a story with such a diverse set of characters.
I also enjoyed the friendship that developed between Monique and Evelyn as the day progressed. There grew a closeness and intimacy between the two of them as Monique learned more and more about the actress’s life and how she had to sacrifice her happiness many times over.
Evelyn, now at the end of her life, has come to terms that all the money, all the fame, all the glory, all those the phony people fawning over her meant nothing at the end of the day. Evelyn gave up the life she truly wanted for the fame she so desperately sought after and in the process, was never really able to obtain what she genuinely wanted — the love of one very special person.
Her life was sad in this way, illustrating well how money cannot buy happiness.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There were only a couple of things I didn’t like about this book.
First of all, there was a bit of heavy foreshadowing which I didn’t care for and felt that it took a little bit away from the surprises at the end. I’m not a fan of the foreshadowing device, and I think this story would have been better served if the author had left it out.
I also felt that the details of the car accident were a bit rushed and unbelievable and I didn’t quite buy how easily the whole thing was swept under the rug.
Evelyn Hugo’s story was so gripping and compelling that it kept me turning the pages in a desperate need to discover the stories behind her seven husbands, and of course the answer to the one question everyone wants to know: who was her greatest love? The answer was quite the surprise, let me tell you.
This book has it all from excessive ambition, romance, love, betrayal, abuse, injustice, non-traditional families, race, misogyny, competition to survival in a difficult world.
I felt that it was also a reminder that life is short and we shouldn’t spend it being something we’re not, especially if we have to sacrifice love in the process.
Evelyn was a strong, brave, complicated, multi-layered character and as a reader, it was difficult at times to decide whether we liked her or hated her. Sometimes she was so self-absorbed and selfish that you wanted to scream at her; other times, so vulnerable that your heart broke for her.
This was a brilliant and fascinating read amidst all the glamor and scandals, and I loved it! When a book makes me feel as though the characters are real, that’s an accomplishment of a gifted writer. Kudos to my book club for choosing such a mesmerizing book. I gave this book five stars.
Thunderhead is book two in the Arc of a Scythe series so if you haven’t yet read Scythe, this review may contain some spoilers for the first book. But I’ll try not to give away too much.
Thunderhead picks up a year after where the first novel in the series “Scythe” left off. So if you’re not familiar what a scythe does, or what scythes are or don’t know what the Thunderhead is, then you’ll probably want to read the first book before watching this review.
It’s worth first mentioning that there are no longer any governments in this society – all jurisdiction falls under what is called The Thunderhead (evolved from the Internet’s “Cloud”), which is the title of this Novel.
The Thunderhead is the ultimate jurisdiction and knows everything about everyone, and intervenes when necessary. As a society, nobody fears the Thunderhead; on the contrary, it is revered, almost like a god. The Thunderhead protects and provides for everyone. It has also developed its own consciousness as it evolved from cloud to thunderhead.
The one exception to the Thunderhead intervening in the lives of others is when it comes to Scythe business. It was agreed upon long ago that the Thunderhead would have absolutely no jurisdiction when it came to Scythes —- and it completely and always stays out of Scythe business.
But even though the Thunderhead cannot get involved in Scythe business without breaking its own rules, it watches — and it becomes increasingly apparent to the reader that it does not like what it sees.
One of the main characters in the book is Scythe Anastasia, who has recently caused quite a ruckus in the Scythdom because of her gleaning methods. You see, instead of just sticking someone with a knife without any warning (which is the custom of her mentor, The Grande Damme of Death), Scythe Anastasia gives her subjects one month to get their affairs in order. Not only that, she allows them to choose their own method of gleaning. Such actions are unheard of in the Scythedom, and the old guard was pretty up in arms about it. But as with all scythes, she has a right to glean as she sees fit. I felt that Scythe Anastasia really came into her own in this novel.
There’s another scythe who’s also attracting a lot of attention these days, and that’s Scythe Lucifer. Scythe Lucifer is a rogue scythe who is hunting down corrupt scythes as a vigilante and bringing permanent death — by burning — to those scythes who do not adhere to the original principals of compassion and high moral standards. The scythdom is outraged by his actions, and any attempts to put a stop to his killing of scythes has failed. It’s also worth mentioning that Scythe Lucifer is someone whom Scythe Anastasia knows and cares about very much.
I find it interesting that both of these scythes are trying to fix the same problems only they have extremely different methods of doing so, one from the inside, one from the outside.
Given that the Thunderhead has no jurisdiction over the Scythedom, it has done absolutely nothing to stop Scythe Lucifer from killing Scythes. Even though the Scythdom has asked the Thunderhead for intervention, the Thunderhead has refused, which the Scythdomn found strange and unsettling. But what’s the kicker is that Scythe Lucifer is not a scythe nor has he ever been ordained as one. So naturally, it doesn’t make sense to the scythdom why the Thunderhead hasn’t stepped in and put a stop to these murders.
Scythe Lucifer himself is confused and surprised by the Thunderhead’s apparent lack of intervention — he thought for sure the Thunderhead would put a stop to his antics right away. But when it didn’t, Scythe Lucifer figures “what the hell” and keeps right on doing what he’s doing. That is until he falls into the hands of an old enemy.
Scythe Lucifer isn’t the only one who is taken aback by this enemy’s appearance. In fact, this person’s resurfacing throws the Scythedom into utter chaos as a result of his scheming, conniving, deceit and malice, we can’t help but wonder whether the Thunderhead will eventually break its own rules and intervene. Let me just say that some really horrible things happen at the hands of this enemy.
There is also a new and multi-layered character named Greyson Tolliver who plays an important role between the scythdom and the Thunderhead, and I can’t wait to see how that role will evolve in the next book.
What I Liked
One aspect of this novel that I especially enjoyed was that we delve deeper into the Thunderhead’s brain and learn more about how the Thunderhead operates and thinks, through various “diary entries”, much like we saw with the Scythe Journals in the first book. I felt that the Thunderhead viewpoints were not only fun but also added an incredible element to the story.
Like the first book in the series, the world building is amazing, especially once the island comes into the scene. I definitely felt like I was there in person. For some reason, I felt that the world building was much expanded from the first book making it even more believable.
I also really liked the new character of Grayson Tolliver and his connection between both the Thunderhead and the Scythdom. It really worked for me when the Thunderhead sends Grayson to do things the Thunderhead can’t because of its own laws. I’m really curious to see what the Thunderhead has in store for him. And that’s all I’m going to say on that matter because as always, we never want to head into spoiler territory.
Like the first book, I adore the writing style, and the story-telling is first-rate. I love how the book deals with the questions of life and death in a utopian society. I also liked that it was practically impossible to predict how this book would end and it caught me totally off guard — in the best possible ways.
I also liked how the Thunderhead is an AI – basically a machine — but it displays an astonishing degree of human emotions, which, as the story progresses, we can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Thunderhead were to exhibit, shall we say, anger or outrage?
I have to admit that I was a bit leery going into this book as my experience has often been that the middle book in a series falls kind of flat. Not so here. This book was amazing.
Oh, one thing that gave me a chuckle was that one of the scythe’s name was Scythe Beyonce.
What I Disliked
I can’t say that I really disliked any of the plot devices, character development or story elements. Of course, I detested the villains so so much — but then again, we’re supposed to And yes I’m using the plural here as there is more than one villain in this tale,
Though I wasn’t too thrilled that it ended on a such a cliffhanger, I did feel that the momentous ending was very well done.
But other than that, I can’t pinpoint anything that I particularly disliked about this novel.
Fantastic multi-layered characters who experience immense growth from one novel to the next, perfect pacing and a serpentine plot that takes numerous unexpected turns, made this book a delight to read. It was a thought-provoking, fast-paced, gripping, and haunting tale with plenty of dramatic action and political intrigue — and I absolutely loved it. This book blew my mind.
Now all I will say is that there his a HUGE climax and twist of the nail-biting variety at the end of this book which left its hook deep within me and now I can’t wait for the next book. Even though I am not a fan of cliffhangers, I have no choice but to give this book 5 stars, and I loved it that much. Often, I feel robbed when slapped with a cliffhanger ending but not so with Thunderhead. This ending satisfied but yet wanting more.
I just hate that I have to wait until 2019 to see this story resolved in the final installment called “The Toll.”
This review was transcribed from a video review on my YouTube channel “Roger’s Reads”
After the Blue Hour by John Rechy is a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards so I decided to give it a try. Each year, I try and read as many as the finalists as possible.
This book particularly caught my eye as I’ve read some of Rechy’s earlier works City of Night and Numbers in the late 70’s think.
Set in the 1960’s, the story follows a 24-year-old writer named John Rechy who is received a letter from a fan — Paul Wagner – who, after having read some of Rechy’s work, invites him to spend the summer on his private island along with his sensual mistress Sophia and his very strange — if not creepy — 14-year-old son Stanty (who’s real name is Constantine).
A good part of the book revolves exploring the sexual dynamics between John and Paul via conversation. These intellectual discussions often devolve into the retelling of past sexual encounters (mostly consisting of Paul sharing hateful memories about his exes). There are times, however, when it sometimes seems as though the two men are attempting to mask sexual desires.
The conversations take some strange turns especially when Paul attempts to draw John out into discussions of the inherent nature of evil and cruelty and seems to try to get John to admit his own innate cruelty and the pleasure he receives from exercising his power over others.
It doesn’t take us too long to figure out that Paul is not only a master manipulator who wormed his way into money through marriage and divorce. It’s also clear that he loves to indulge in power plays and mind games, especially darker ones, and that he may also be a very dangerous man.
The story is told from Rechy’s point of view and throughout these conversations, we learn of the protagonist’s contempt for both Paul and his potentially mentally unhinged son, which only increases as the days pass on the island. The only positive portrayals are found in descriptions of Sonya’s beauty and as with the others on the island, there is more to Sonya than meets the eye as well.
WHAT I LIKED
This book really tickled my bibliophile bone as books play a large part in the story. John spends the majority of his time Paul’s vast library browsing through books by classical authors, and much of the discussion the two men have on the deck revolves around literature.
There was also the mystery surrounding a book entitled “The Origins of Evil” which was deliberately left out in the library for John to find, but then subsequently disappeared, only to reappear again later on in John’s room.
I also liked the device the author uses of blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction, by using his own name — John Rechy — as the main character and including his own biographical data.
In fact, Rechy refers to the book as “A True Fiction” and I believed at one point in the book he referred to his writing as autobiographical fiction. Whether it means that the story is fiction with a few autobiographical elements thrown in, or whether the novel is autobiography but some overly exaggerated truths is up to the reader to determine.
If I recall, Rechy also says something to the fact that: all fiction is autobiographical, and all autobiographies are fiction.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Though Stanty was a bit strange, the reader also got the feeling of possible neglect and abuse as the hands of his distant, manipulating father, which may explain some of the boy’s strange behavior.
I disliked the extreme misogynistic views of Paul, and his excessively vulgar misogynistic rants became tiresome and offensive after awhile.
The first time he let loose with one of his rants it succeeded in providing shock value and adding a grittiness to the story. But these repeated tirades lost their effectiveness and provoked disgust at the continued usage of his hate speech.
Because of the bitter feelings of the Island’s owner toward woman (including his mistress) and our protagonist’s ever-growing dislike for his hosts, I found the atmosphere of the novel growing more and more toxic as I progressed through it.
There was a feeling of seediness to it that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.
Truth be told, I didn’t like any of the characters, including the protagonist John Rechy, so it’s difficult to have positive feelings about a novel when I felt that none of the characters where deserving of those feelings. They were not only damaged and messy, but I found them wholly unlikeable and completely unrelatable. Especially Paul — I him to be a vile human being.
I was only about 50 pages from the end of it and I thought about throwing in the towel and bailing on it. But I figured I was so close to the end and had stuck it out this far, I needed to finish it. Plus I was hoping that this “huge climax” which was promised at the end of the book would be worth it. It wasn’t. The big event was more cruel and degrading, rather than climatic and explosive, in my humble opinion.
There is no doubt that Rechy is a master at turning a phrase and this novel was no exception. It was beautiful written and evocative in places — and excessively vulgar and graphic in others.
That being said, it did contain elements of suspense, intrigue, love, desire mystery, and human relationships but most of this was presented through the guise of conversation between the sundeck and the bar.
In other words, not a whole heck of a lot happens in the book. The characters were interesting, especially once their backgrounds were revealed and so was the setting, but I don’t feel that there was a lot here that will stick with me now that I’ve closed the last page.
Additionally, the novel does take the reader into some pretty dark, gritty and uncomfortable places, which may be difficult for some people. And because of the continued hate speech and near pornographic actions of the characters, I found the novel difficult to read as I related less and less to the characters and to the story.
So I would have to say that this book was not for me and I ended up giving it 2 stars.