Vigil: Christopher Walken Did It Better

August 30, 2008

I probably should have consigned Robert Masello’s purported thriller Vigil to the “Abandoned” pile but it was just good enough to save it. Barely. Doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel a few brain cells rot away though. 

Vigil is another entry in the sub-sub-genre of fiction dealing with ancient, apocryphal texts of the Bible and the truth that may or may not be contained here.  You could probably consider The Da Vinci Code to be part of this group as well due to its use of apocryphal texts for the Mary Magdalene-Jesus relationship.  But I digress. 

Vigil explores the Book of Enoch and its legend about the Watchers, a group of angels whose responsibility it was to look after the human race.  As they watched, they began to lust after human women and mated with them, violating God’s law. Other accounts say that they began to envy humans their souls, which made them especially beloved to God, and believed humans were unworthy of God’s regard.  A great battle took place with the rebel angels being cast from heaven forever. 

So, in Vigil we have a Jewish scholar attempting to translate the Book of Enoch and a paleontologist working with an amazing fossil that appears to be from before time began and whose DNA makes it almost human but not quite.  And then one night, an accident happens in the lab and the lab explodes, destroying everything in it.  But strangely, people report a glowing form leaving the burning lab.  Soon after, the mysterious Arius appears and he seems to have an especial love for the ladies.  Gee, who (or rather what) could he be? Oh, and throw in an infertility subplot with the main character who is sterile but trying to create a family with his beautiful wife and a strange being who loves the ladies, and it’s just too much.

I can say that this book had a lot of potential.  The idea is interesting, but Arius coming to life is almost ridiculous.  While none of the characters were especially well-drawn, his was really lacking.  Is he evil?  Is he just misunderstood?  His motivations are sort of explained yet seem so mundane (SEX!) for what he is.  I also found it a little preposterous that Ezra, the Jewish scholar, was going to all the effort to translate the Enoch scroll.  Um, the book was written in 2005.  Who doesn’t know what Enoch says by now (or then)?  And if he’s such a great scholar, he should have known already.  I know it was a way for Masello to introduce the legend to us, but really, he wasted a lot of space (and my time) on a legend that would have already been familiar to readers. 

The plot seemed to have a hard time getting anywhere fast.  Have you noticed that the harder a time an author has with a plot, the longer the book gets?  Action happened in fits and spurts but wasn’t consistent.  Say what you will about The DaVinci Code, but at least it was a genuine page turner.  A book like Vigil wants to be should be fast-paced.

I guess I’m just as frustrated with myself.  When will I learn that books dealing with this subject matter are more-often-than-not crap?  Sigh. 

However, if you are interested in the legend of the Watchers, I have a few recommendations:

  • Link (Becker):  In the vein of Graham Hancock and other fringe writers and pseudo-archaeologists, it explores the Watcher legend as evidence of extraterrestrial aid to the human race.  Interesting and fun.
  • The Prophecy : The legend of the Watchers as a movie.  Really, Christopher Walken in leather pants camping it up…what more could you ask for? 

The Garden of Last Days: Stunning Microcosm

August 28, 2008

I associate Andre Dubus with The House of Sand and Fog and Jennifer Connelly’s cool, elegant beauty.  I had little interest in reading the book the film was based on likely because it kept getting confused in my mind with this awful, incoherent film I watched in film class in college.  Damn.  I’m pretty sure that horrid movie had “sand” in the title but I have inconveniently blocked it out of my mind.  Oh well.

Anyway, therefore, Andre Dubus was not an author on my radar until I kept coming across glowing reviews of his latest book in the oh-so-highbrow periodicals to which I subscribe: Time and Entertainment to be exact.  So, intrigued, I requested it from my local library branch and was impressed.

The Garden of Last Days is not a pretty book, but that is because it is about life and life as we all know is seldom pretty.  It’s about a stripper, “Spring”, who strips at a club in Florida in order to support her young daughter.  Primarily set in early September 2001, it focuses on one night in particular when Spring is forced to take her daughter with her to the club due to childcare problems.  That night she also encounters a client who is Muslim and who monopolizes her time in one of the private rooms.  That same night another man is thrown out of the club because of his misinterpretation of what his relationship is with one of the strippers.  And Spring’s daughter, left to watch Disney movies in the club, disappears. 

Dubus is a fantastic, amazing writer.  Each character is fully alive and he probes their lives for the tiniest detail, the most inane raison d’etre.  The story is advanced through various characters’ points of view, and the way in which he digs deeply into their pysches and motivations is stunning.  Dubus makes no judgments about his characters’ lives.  In his storytelling, the characters speak for themselves.  No one is wholly good or wholly bad.  Even the Musliam customer, clearly one of the 9/11 terrorists, has redeeming moments.  All of these lives intersect for a few hours in Florida before moving on, their lives changed by the contact. 

While most of the action takes place over the course of a few hours, the book does make it 9/11 and beyond.  Once the action left Florida, I felt like the book began to drag a little bit.  You knew the inevetible outcome of the trip to Boston and you wished Dubus would get on with it.  Once the terrorists made it to Boston, I began to have less and less sympathy for them.  That’s my only quibble with the book.  Life goes on, and it does for the characters.  That one night impacts them all, but the aftermath is the most tedious part of the book.  I wish that Dubus had brought things to a close earlier.

The Bible of Clay

August 26, 2008

Maybe I don’t fare well with translations of Spanish books.  The second book I had to abandon this year was Julia Navarro’s The Bible of Clay. It’s another “thriller” about a Biblical discovery. In this case, a few clay tablets talking about Abraham’s version of the creation of the earth written about a thousand years before the earliest known versions.  The archaeologist responsible for this discovery is Clara Tannenberg, who is pushy and comes from a long line of pushy, irritating adventurers.  She of course is targeted by a group of people who will stop at nothing to keep these tablets from being exposed.  And tiresomely, the novel is a dual narrative also featuring Abraham’s nephew’s account of what happened.  Ugh.  I put it down after about 100 pages.  It completely failed to hold my attention and the character motivations seemed preposterous.

Me Talk Pretty One Day: I cried

August 26, 2008

Yes, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris made me cry.  Granted, they were tears of laughter, but they were tears.  Me Talk Pretty One Day explores Sedaris’ childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, time in college, jobs and eventual move to Paris.  It’s a book about his inability to communicate, and Sedaris has a genius for finding the wit and eccentricity in everyone around him, and it is a gift to the reader.

Most of the book elicitied an occasional guffaw from me.  I don’t know if I expected the entire book to be laugh-out-loud, side-splittingly funny, but some of the essays were sad.  I often wanted Sedaris to get his act together, finding some accounts painful and a little too revealing.  I guess I expected Sedaris’ success to mean that his life was somehow “together” even though I should know better. 

The part I enjoyed the most was Sedaris’ time in France.  I cried with laughter at his experiences trying to learn French and how he and his fellow students tried to explain Easter–in pidgen French– to a Muslim classmate.  Deep, can’t breathe, not nearly as funny to anyone else as it was to me kind of sobs. 

Sedaris, you may not be a native Southerner, and your family may have tried to keep you from becoming one, but to me, you are an honorary one.  You are too eccentric not to be.

The Last Cato

August 24, 2008

I find it very difficult not to finish any book I start no matter how horrid it may be.  However, I must admit that I have been unable to finish 2 books this  year.  I’m not going to count them in my finished book total (naturally since I didn’t finish them), but I did want to post about the few books that I could not bring myself to finish to spare you, dear readers, from making the same mistake I did.

The Last Cato by Matilde Asensi is about a nun who works in the Vatican as a paleographer.  She is called in to investigate strange scars found on a dead man who was found with shards from what is believed to be the True Cross.  Sister Ottavia finds herself embroiled in intrigue, hunting down an ancient sect of guardians of the True cross along with a member of the Swiss Guards and a Egyptian professor.  Apparently Dante’s Divine Comedy–specifically Purgatory, the middle section–hold clues as to the location of this sect and the True Cross.

Sounds very interesting, doesn’t it?  And it was written in 2001, well before The Da Vinci Code and its subsequent imitators.  Unfortunately, it was unreadable.  I managed to get to around page 150 before throwing in the towel.  It was originally written in Spanish and translated, so I like to believe that some of the problems I had were caused by a poor translation.  The other possibility is that it was just as sucky in Spanish as it is in English. 

Sister Ottavia is annoying.  Apparently only she could possibly have the right answer.  She looks down on her partner, the member of the Swiss Guards.  I guess the fact that he has only 2 master’s degrees to her (too-often emphasized) many doctoral degrees makes him an idiot.  The professor is nice but kind of a confusing character.  The language is weird.  The dialogue seems stilted, and the plot was difficult to follow.

Names My Sisters Call Me: Not so bad being an only child?

August 18, 2008

I’m an only child who has always longed desperately for siblings.  However, after reading Megan Crane’s Names My Sisers Call Me, maybe I should abandon the sibling fantasy and enjoy being an only child. Lessee…Courtney, the youngest of three sisters, decides that her engagement and wedding will be the event that heals rifts in the family.  Rifts caused when free-spirited middle sister Raine ruined controlling, Type-?A oldest sister Norah’s wedding and then departed with her best friend Matt who was also Courtney’s first boyfriend.  Years have gone by since those events, and against Norah’s wishes, Courtney decides to visit Raine…and Matt.  Soon, artistic, cellist Courtney is questioning everything in her life, and Raine and Norah are fighting as bitterly as always.  Matt seems to be everywhere, and Raine seems to be determined to make Courtney doubt everything. 

I had read Crane’s earlier book English as a Second Language and hadn’t been all that impressed, so I was surprised to like Names My Sisters Call Me as much as I did.  Courtney seemed rather naive yet real, and the entire family is dealing with some heavy issues as their father left the family to live in CA and died before Courtney was born.  I can understand the allure of wanting your entire family around you or just wanting your family whole and healed.  All the characters were well-developed with the exception of Raine who remained a touch undeveloped, which in a way contributed to her role as catalyst.  Through her, Courtney grows up and accepts and appreciates the life she has worked so hard for.  Norah’s control freak tendencies are put into perspective and she is softened somewhat.  You end up feeling slightly sorry for Raine, which is ok.  It’s a book that has more depth than I expected although throughout I had that “it’s going to end up badly feeling”.

Blood Noir: Anita Blake #16

August 18, 2008

This must be my week for sequels.  I know that I have expressed my irritation with Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series in other posts, but I find it difficult to stop reading a series after I have invested time in it.  Especially when you have read the previous 15 books (15!!!) in the series; at that point, you’re invested.  Lemme re-cap my problems with the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series: too much sex.  Sex so vigorous it borders on soft-core porn.   Sex with multiple partners including someone who seemed to be jailbait just a few books ago and who has dominance issues.  Anita being a human succubus who feeds on sex.  That just about do it for you?  But it’s not just the copious amounts of sex.  Anita’s character had become a bit of a bitch in the last few books as she accumulated abilities, and frankly, it was unattractive and unlikeable.  Frankly, I don’t think she’s all that though the books make her out to be.

So, it was understandably with some trepidation that I picked up Blood Noir, the latest, 16th installment in the series.  But I couldn’t not read it.  Blood Noir focuses on Jason, the young werewolf who has been in the series since the beginning and who is best friends with one of Anita’s lovers.  His father is dying, and Jason has never gotten along with him.  He was and is a disappointment to his father, and his father is convinced that he is gay.  He wants to see his father before he dies and asks Anita to join him as his girlfriend to try to convince his father once and for all that he (Jason) is NOT gay and not the disappointment he thinks Jason is.  Oh, and it should be convincing since Anita and Jason are occasionally lovers.  So Anita travels with Jason to his hometown of Asheville, NC (!!!).  Once there they become embroiled in a situation involving the local political power (whose sons Jason strangely resembles) as well as the problems involving the strains of were-creatures Anita holds going crazy thanks to Marmee Noir, the ancient vampire. 

All in all, Blood Noir was better than I thought it would be (if you can get past the first sex scene which takes place about 2 pages into the story).  I think it did wonders for the plot to have Anita and Jason out of St. Louis and in a new environment, and it was especially interesting to me to read about their adventures in Asheville (they stayed at the Grove Park Inn) since I am a North Carolinian and go to Asheville almost every year.  The plot seemed a little more substantive than in the last few books, and the slightly reduced emphasis on sex was refreshing.  Often in the recent books, it seems like there is 20 pages of set-up, a zillion pages of orgiastic sex, and then about 20 more pages to wrap up everything.  Some of the plot elements still wrapped up oddly and too neatly at the end, but I didn’t feel like the action suddenly started as the book was about to end.   I also like that Anita was taken to task for some of her “I’m all that” behavior that irritated me so much in recent books.  In some ways it seems that maybe, just maybe Hamilton has been paying attention to some of the disgruntlement about where she has taken the series and characters lately.  Just a bit.  Anita seemed a bit more introspective in this book. 

Maybe there’s hope for the series yet.  It’s funny, though, because I read some of the reviews, and they all hated it.  I guess I see this one as better than the last couple.  I hope that Hamilton is regrouping and figuring out where to take Anita and the series because it has gotten out of hand.

Recommended:  the first 8 Anita Blake novels